Current Research Areas
Goals and Values in Science
I am leading an NSF-funded project, with my co-PIs Jon Herington and J.T. Laverty, studying scientists' views about values in science. One of the project's goals is to understand how views about good science corresponds to attitudes about ethics in science, and to determine how better to train and mentor scientists in ethics and responsible conduct of research. We are leading a small group of academic scientists in discussions about topics such as the choice of statistical methods, inductive risk, replication, dual-use research, public engagement, and diversity in science.
- (w/ Jon Herington) The Social Risks of Science. The Hastings Center Report (forthcoming)
Many instances of scientific research impose risks, not just on participants and scientists, but also on third-parties. This class of “social risks” unifies a range of problems previously treated as distinct phenomena, including: so-called bystander risks, biosafety concerns arising from “gain of function” research, the misuse of the results of “dual-use” research, and the harm caused by inductive risks. The standard approach to these problems has been to extend two familiar principles from human subjects research regulations - the favourable risk-benefit and informed consent requirements. We argue, however, that these moral principles will be difficult to satisfy in the context of widely-distributed social risks about which affected parties may reasonably disagree. We propose that framing these risks as political, rather than moral, problems, may offer another way. By borrowing lessons from political philosophy, we propose a framework that unifies our discussion of social risks and the possible solutions to them.
I am interested in the roles values play in deciding core methodological questions in science, especially in the interpretation of experimental results. I am working on misinterpretations of null results and on conceptual replications of experiments.
- (w/ Les Loschky) Thinking About Null Results (in preparation)
Expertise and Communication Ethics
I am interested in the responsibilities of experts when communicating complex information, such as scientific theories or results. Concerns about objectivity and respect for autonomy raise interesting questions about how much experts should shape their communication to best serve the public.
- Expertise and Self-Determination in Public Participation in Science. In J. Goodwin (ed.), Confronting the Challenges of Public Participation: Issues in Environmental, Planning and Health Decision-Making (Science Communication Project, 2016)
I suggest that we assess the value of public participation at least partly by its effect on the public’s individual and collective self-determination, measured by how well the science aids the public to rationally and effectively pursue its own ends. I explore two areas of expertise relevant to science’s ability to foster rational, effective self-determination: expertise in evidential reasoning and expertise in value identification. I describe ways in which public participation may introduce trade-offs between accurate reflection of public values and evidential quality and precision, where loss of either may lead to a failure of public self-determination.
- (w/ Bruce Glymour) Reasons, Values and Evidence: Rational Dissent from Scientific Authority. In J. Goodwin (ed), Between Scientists and Citizens (GPSSA, 2012)
We argue that value-based dissent from scientific consensus need not be irrational, as is often supposed. Instead it may commonly be a rational response to information which, if accepted, induces a conflict in core values. We briefly survey normative theories of rationality, drawing specific attention to the role values play in those theories. We then characterize the conditions under which it is rational simply to reject the contextual facts generating conflict among values. We close with some observations about the values to which science communicators may effectively appeal without relinquishing the authority of the science.
Niels Bohr and Decoherence in Quantum Mechanics
I continue to do some work on approaches to quantum mechanics, and interpretations of science more generally, inspired by Niels Bohr's focus on observer frames and descriptions of phenomena as givens.
- Individuality and Correspondence: An Exploration of the History and Possible Future of Bohrian Quantum Empiricism.” In J. Faye and H. Folse (eds.), Niels Bohr and Philosophy of Physics: Twenty-First Century Perspectives (Bloomsbury, 2018).
I offer an interpretation of Bohr’s philosophy grounded in both the history of his work in early quantum theory and developments in interpretation post-Bohr. I consider Bohr’s philosophical writings to be insightful but also often vague and occasionally impenetrable, and in the end incomplete as interpretation. I nevertheless believe we have a lot to learn from Bohr if we put his writings in the right context. I attempt to provide such a context and thereby develop a story about what we can take away from Bohr. I then offer an outline of an approach to interpreting quantum mechanics that I believe updates Bohr. While I aim to make this account accurate with respect to history and to Bohr’s writings, I will not focus on historical or interpretive detail and instead will aim for general account that, I hope, fits details that can be found elsewhere. I hope also that it is of some interest independent of whatever it adds to our understanding of Bohr.