Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Values in Science: This is an ambitious project to bring arts and humanities research to bear on understanding the role that values play in the different sciences and the role that they should play to help science better serve the public good. The project is premised on the assumption that understanding and getting into the open the roles that values play in scientific practice and getting the values debated can remodel policy debate and the ways the public and science engage with each other. Getting straight where values enter, what roles they play, how to manage them and whose voices should influence their choice can change the ways the sciences are practised and the results they are able to achieve. This project involves an international team of researchers from Durham and elsewhere, across a range of disciplines from history and philosophy to economics, archaeology and climate science.

Policy Insight aims to set up a consortium modelled on the original Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations. This is especially timely in view of the UK’s 5 new government-sponsored 'What works' centres on evidence for social policies in crime, growth etc. This is an excellent opportunity to move beyond what we now have available from institutions like the Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations, NICE, the US Dept of Education What Works Clearinghouse, the Oxford Centre for EBM, etc. These provide an excellent handle on what counts as a good comparative study to test what policies have worked in particular study populations and also make readily accessible reliable information about the results of good studies. But they do not provide good user friendly guidelines on what to do with this information. That is the problem that Policy Insight aims to tackle. We are now engaged in a series of meetings in Durham and London giving shape to this consortium. Click here to see more.

Knowledge for Use. This is a related but academically broader project than Moving On, joint with the London School of Economics. It grows out of earlier studies the research team from Durham (Professors Cartwright and Reiss) and those from LSE have been engaged in of the evidence-based policy (EBP) movement. What we have come to see through that research is that EBP cannot be expected to accomplish enough. It looks at the problem from the knowledge production side, not the knowledge use side, and it focuses on policing the production of scientific knowledge. Its central failing, we have come to believe, is that it does not ask how this knowledge can be integrated with other forms of knowledge, with the pulls and pushes of competing interests, and with competing spiritual, political and moral ideals of the good to create and achieve those social purposes that will make for better societies. Similar questions require urgent attention in the case of climate science, as it tries to move beyond basic research to provide information for real-world adaptation and planning decisions (known as 'Climate Services'). Knowledge for Use aims to address these big questions.

Scientific Expertise in Philosophical Focus. Scientific experts profoundly affect our lives, on many levels and in many contexts. Socio-economic, scientific and technological decisions are almost always at least influenced by experts; policy makers and executives, judges and juries, businessmen and ordinary citizens rely on experts habitually both for technical as well as everyday decisions. Whether fixing a crashed hard drive or heart failure, responding to a sovereign debt crisis or climate change, solving many problems of everyday life, of science and of public policy is inconceivable without scientific expertise. Despite its obvious importance, philosophers of science have not paid enough attention to the topic of scientific expertise. The overarching aim of this project is to engage philosophers and scientists from various disciplines in a joint interdisciplinary effort to lay out systematic principles for the use of expert judgement in science. The project will advance normative philosophic principles for understanding how, why and where expertise can be used reliably and effectively in science; lay out methodological guidelines which improve the reliability and efficiency with which expert judgement is employed; delineate, in the context of concrete cases, where in the process of scientific investigation expert judgement can be replaced or supplemented by mechanical methods such as randomised trials; and address the issue of relevant expertise with respect to individual experts and the composition of expert committees.

What We Own. Rights to private property are at the core of our socio-economic order and have been argued to be responsible for economic prosperity, innovation and freedom. And yet, there hasn’t been much systematic examination of the philosophical foundations of property rights since John Locke. This project takes a look at both ordinary property rights and rights to intellectual property and addresses three interrelated questions:

  1. Are they justified?
  2. If so, in what precise form?
  3. And what are their consequences?