“Has Quantification Seduced Higher Ed?” with E. Scarffe
This article examines the challenges and pressures liberal arts programs are currently facing, as well as their responses to them. We argue that while liberal arts programs do in fact develop transferable skills that promote ‘work-place readiness,’ these skills are best understood as derivative goods of a liberal arts education and not the value of the education itself. Further, we argue that valuing the liberal arts for these derivative goods may be self-defeating—insofar as a liberal arts education is constituted by a certain set of social norms, values, practices. Like friendship, therefore, a liberal arts education has instrumental value; however, pursuing a liberal arts education for the instrumental value may diminish (and may even preclude) the realization of these derivative goods and values.
“The Trouble with Knowing You Were Trouble” with E. Scarffe
Taylor Swift and Philosophy – Blackwell Pop Culture and Philosophy Series (forthcoming)
“I knew you were trouble when you walked in,” sings Taylor Swift in her song I Knew You Were Trouble (IKYWT). But what, exactly, does Swift know? And how does she know it? This paper considers three possible interpretations. The first interpretation considers whether Swift is simply profiling or stereotyping her would-be suiter. The second interpretation considers whether Swift is actually making a self-knowledge claim–where what is claiming to know is something about herself. Finally, the third interpretation considers whether we should take Swift at face-value. When Swift says she “knew you were trouble when you walked in,” she meant it. Indeed, women and other minorities are socially conditioned to be attenuated to body language and other non-verbal cues that help keep them safe. Swift’s claim, therefore, may not simply be a morally problematic instance or stereotyping, or a claim about her self-knowledge (which is somewhat unsupported by the lyrics); rather, Swift’s claim to know you were trouble helps reveal shortcomings in popular contemporary accounts of epistemology. Shortcomings that can be corrected by thinking about claims like the one Swift makes here.
“A Processual Revolution for Philosophy of Biology?” Book Review of Everything Flows Edited by John Dupré and Daniel J. Nicholson
Philosophy of Science (2019)
This anthology heralds a revolution in the philosophy of biology, arguing that the long-standing dominance of the mechanistic framework should finally come to an end. Ambitious and innovative, yet cogent and empirically grounded, Daniel J. Nicholson and John Dupré’s Everything Flows is a must read for anyone interested in understanding new directions in the investigation of the biological world. While they come from different perspectives, the authors in the volume represent a robust community of philosophers and scientists who take seriously the idea that the world is not made up of particles or things but rather processes.
Public Facing Projects
“Will Data Save Us From Ourselves? Epistemic Uncertainty and Data-Driven Policy Making”
Blog Post with E. Scarffe for What to Do About Now (2022)
Policy driven by data and science represents the gold standard amongst politicians of all political stripes who seek to break through the partisan gridlock. From health and safety protocols surrounding COVID-19 to long term projects related to infrastructure and public transit, the ideal appears to be to let the data “speak for itself” and lead the way. In this post, we examine the relationship between science, scientific practices and policy making, and highlight one aspect of this relationship that has been underappreciated: namely, the relationship between science and policy making is symbiotic not unidirectional. Implicit and explicit value assumptions made by policymakers and scientists alike inevitably frame and shape the data we collect. As a result, we argue the relevant roles of scientists and policymakers have often been misunderstood, and appreciating the symbiotic relationship that exists between these two sets of actors may indicate a need to reform policymaking institutions such as the FDA and CDC.
“For what it is worth, I had an abortion”
Blog Post written for Journal of Medical Ethics (2022)
The stories we tell, which stories we listen to, and what counts as a ‘good reason’, are all shaped by what we deem socially worthy. This post explores that way common narratives about which abortions are okay often overlook important considerations.
Works in Progress
“When Will Scientific Disagreement Bear Fruit?: A Case Study About Angiosperm Origins” – Under Review
The timing of the origin of flowering plants (Angiosperm) is hotly debated. It has been suggested that the disagreement between the fossil record of angiosperm origin strongly conflicts with the origin estimates generated by molecular clocks. I argue that this apparent conflict reveals lessons about how we should understand disagreement in science, and whether (and under what conditions) such disagreement is likely to bear fruit.
“Neutrality Isn’t Neutral: Gender, Race, Science, and Law” with E. Scarffe – Under Review
In 2016, then presidential candidate Donald Trump questioned whether Judge Gonzalo Curiel could be impartial while presiding over a case involving Trump University because of his Mexican heritage. Since then, there has been a renewed interest in role of ‘impartiality’ has (or should have) in law. In this paper, we draw an analogy between concept of ‘impartiality’ found in science and law. Then, drawing on the work of many feminist philosophers of science, we explain why impartiality within science is not only theoretically impossible, but may be counter-productive to the goals of scientific inquiry. We conclude by showing how these insights are productive for thinking about the role of impartiality within the domain of law. We believe that appreciating the overlap between the role/ideal of impartiality in science and law helps to show how this (seemingly intuitive) ideal has been misplaced.
“Barriers to Increasing Diversity in Environmental Science” with J. Bradham and M. Kelly – Revising Draft
The aim of this project is two-fold, (i) to demonstrate the existence of one systemic barrier to students interested in majoring in an environmental field at the undergraduate level, and (ii) suggest ways to increase the diversity of this field based on these findings. First we assessed whether the type of degree offered, Environmental Studies or Environmental Science, differed in credit hour requirements. Information on schools and degrees offered were downloaded from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-2018 database. We found that nearly a full semester’s worth of credit, could lead to late-declaring and transfer students being unable to complete an environmental science degree in a four-year time frame. Beyond the implications for those working on degree design for environmental programs, we believe this project can serve as a model for those interested in quantifying and reversing the systemic barriers that exist to diversity in STEM. By better understanding the paths different students might take to their degrees, STEM degree programs can become more accessible and inclusive.
“Biological Timescales and the Processual Nature of Life” – Completed Draft
Historically, life forms have often been defined by essential properties (e.g., their anatomy or their DNA sequences). Much of biological science still seeks to define unique features of living things or their parts (i.e. the distinctive shape of a protein or the distinctive diet of Pandas). This practice of defining entities and their properties is part of the “mechanistic” framework in biology, which tells us that entities are stable and finitely definable. Recently, however, some have been calling for a processual revolution in biology. Despite these recent calls, and the rich history of philosophy and time, philosophy of biology has been slow to turn its attention to the role of time in biological science. This paper offers sustained attention to the role of time in biological science, and argues that this lens supports the growing number of voices calling for a processual understanding of life. I begin by arguing that the concept of a “timescale” deserves the philosophical attention we’ve given to concepts like “fitness” or “function”. I extend this argument by exploring the ways methodological choices support the suppression of the importance of time in biological science. Specifically, I catalogue four ways of abstracting away from the timescales of living things, including physical, procedural, mathematical, and conceptual abstractions. Finally, I close by suggesting that the recognition of the importance of time to biology highlights the processual nature of life.
“The Possibility of Metaphysical Dialetheism” – Completed Draft
Metaphysical dialetheism is the belief that there are contradictions in the world. This paper argues that (1) metaphysical dialetheism is, properly understood, the most (and possibly only) controversial form of dialetheism, and (2) that metaphysical dialethism remains an open possibility. This paper explores what different versions of dialethism might look like, and how some of these versions could be more plausible than others. While few authors have considered the possibility of metaphysical dialetheism, there are some important arguments against the position to consider. Frederick Kroon (2004) argued that in so far as we find arguments for dialetheism persuasive, we also have good reason to reject realism. Tumoas Tahko (2009) argued against the possibility of metaphysical dialetheism by explicitly arguing for a metaphysical definition of contradiction, and a metaphysical version of LNC. Finally, Graham Priest (2006) also challenged the idea of a “consistent” metaphysics in principle. This paper takes up all of these challenges, and defends the possibility of a metaphysical dialetheist position.
“From Metaphysics to Methods: Foundations for Pluralism” –Competed Draft
There is a growing recognition among many scientists and philosophers that metaphysical presuppositions guide scientific research. These metaphysical presuppositions guide scientific research by articulating an ontology for a particular domain of phenomena, that is, by making a claim about what sort of things there are and what they are fundamentally like. These ontological claims, in turn, prescribe a particular methodology for how to go about investigating and explaining those kinds of things. There is thus what I call a move from metaphysics to methods. I argue that we ought to take an “agnostic” attitude towards the metaphysical presuppositions guiding research. I defend this agnosticism on two grounds: first, the underdetermination of metaphysical frameworks by empirical research, and second, on the ground of inductive risk, namely that when it comes to certain research, there are more than just epistemic consequences for making the wrong metaphysical choice. I conclude that one should instead allow for a pluralism of metaphysical frameworks to guide scientific research.