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Integrated History and Philosophy of Science: Sixth Conference

3–5 July, 2016

School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 20 of 20
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    Seeing is Believing: A Historical Perspective on the Ontological Status of UFOs
    (2016) Dorsch, Kate; kdorsch@sas.upenn.edu
    This paper will examine the ontological status of unidentified flying objects as it pertains to a series of Cold War United States Air Force investigations into unidentified aerial phenomena (also referred to as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs). Between 1947 and 1969, the USAF directed a number of projects meant to reveal the actual nature of UFOs. Project SIGN, the first of these inquiries, sought to discover whether or not these reported observations represented a national security threat. The answer being no,’ in the many projects thereafter UFOs became objects of scientific interest. Expert scientists from nearly every field of science were contracted for their assistance on identifying the true cause of the observation. Out in the world, the scientific community split into roughly three camps over the nature and existence of unidentified flying objects: there were the hard skeptics and non-believers; the cautiously curious; and the “true believers” who, in UFO witnessing, sought evidence of extraterrestrial intelligences. But within the boundaries of the sanctioned, federally-funded UFO investigations, scientists searched for all possible explanations for UFO phenomena, from the physical to the psychological. In over 80% of the tens of thousands of cases the Air Force programs reviewed, physical phenomena were accounted for as the cause but this leaves nearly 20% for which the conclusion was rendered Unknown.’ The question about the existence of a source for observed phenomena was always at the foreground of the investigations. In a majority of cases, actual phenomena fuel UFO reports; whether it was airplanes, meteors, meteorological phenomena, or the planet Venus, real physical objects account for a vast majority of reports. But what of those reports ultimately classed as unknown’? In his report-cum-expos of early Air Force investigative efforts, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (1956), former Project Blue Book director Captain Edward J. Ruppelt writes, “The hassle over the word proof’ boils down to one question: What constitutes proof?... There are certain definite facts that can be gleaned from [a report]; the pilot did see something and he did shoot at something, but no matter how thoroughly you investigate the incident that something can never be positively identified.” Some sightings might be psychological, as with hallucinations; but surely, Ruppelt argues, not all of them are. Likewise, in a set of anonymous survey interviews conducted by astronomer J. Allen Hynek in 1952, Astronomer R argues that as late as 1800 meteorites were thought impossible and that it would be folly to suggest that “a century and a half later all the physical phenomena that exist have been discovered.” Status report after status report supports the position that reported observations, in a gross majority of cases, are being generated by real phenomena. (And the reports in which this is not the case are easily identifiable, based on the character of the witness.) Historians of science are often quick to suggest ways in which their case studies and methodologies can be better applied to critical issues in the philosophy of science. But here, I attempt to work in the other direction, demonstrating how philosophical questions about the ontological status of scientific objects shapes methods of scientific inquiry and assumptions about observers and witnessing. (These assumptions work in multiple directions, as lay observers make claims on scientific authority based on their understanding of the importance of the empirical in the practical sciences.) Drawing on Hacking, Cartwright, and discussions around scientific realism, I will demonstrate how philosophical concerns about theoretical and un-seeable’ objects do not pertain only to the problems of the microscopic world. Furthermore, I will discuss how understanding these central philosophical questions on real versus immaterial objects is crucial to understanding, in this case, the UFO problem more broadly. The UFO case study allows us to see philosophy of science in action. It is a case of applied philosophy of science. Additionally, I hope to demonstrate that, in these histories of “fringe” science, an integrated approach is necessary for a truly productive analysis. Historical concerns are entwined with philosophical ones; a straight-laced historical analysis will miss the critical ontological and epistemological concerns that lie at the heart of these little-studied historical moments, while a purely philosophical inquiry may fail at demonstrating the importance of these “weird” events in the larger historical context. Philosophical positions lay at the heart of practical decision making, on a scientific and political level, while a historical narrative illustrating the change of those positions over time can help illuminate how those questions shaped and were shaped by outside forces. This paper is part of a larger project that both recovers the history of USAF studies on unidentified aerial phenomena and explores knowledge creation, classification, and distribution in the face of ontologically-unsound phenomena.
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    Spot the difference: Causal contrasts in scientific diagram
    (2016) Raphael Scholl; aphael.scholl@gmail.com,
    An important function of scientific diagrams is to identify causal relationships. This commonly relies on contrasts that highlight the effects of specific difference-makers. However, causal contrast diagrams are not an obvious and easy to recognize category because they appear in many guises. In this paper, four case studies are presented to examine how causal contrast diagrams appear in a wide range of scientific reports, from experimental to observational and even purely theoretical studies. It is shown that causal contrasts can be expressed in starkly different formats, including photographs of complexly visualized macromolecules as well as line graphs, bar graphs, or plots of state spaces. Despite surface differences, however, there is a measure of conceptual unity among such diagrams. In empirical studies they often serve not only to infer and communicate specific causal claims, but also as evidence for them. The key data of some studies is given nowhere except in the diagrams. Many diagrams show multiple causal contrasts in order to demonstrate both that an effect exists and that the effect is specific – that is, to narrowly circumscribe the phenomenon to be explained. In a large range of scientific reports, causal contrast diagrams reflect the core epistemic claims of the researchers.
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    Repertoires: A Post-Kuhnian Perspective on Collaborative Research
    (2016) Sabina Leonelli; Rachel Ankeny; s.leonelli@exeter.ac.uk
    We propose a framework to describe, analyze, and explain the conditions under which scientific communities organize themselves to do research, particularly within large-scale, multidisciplinary projects. The framework centers on the notion of a research repertoire, which encompasses well-aligned assemblages of the skills, behaviors, and material, social, and epistemic components that a group may use to practice certain kinds of science, and whose enactment affects the methods and results of research. This account provides an alternative to the idea of Kuhnian paradigms for understanding scientific change in the following ways: (1) it does not frame change as primarily generated and shaped by theoretical developments, but rather takes account of administrative, material, technological, and institutional innovations that contribute to change and explicitly questions whether and how such innovations accompany, underpin, and/or undercut theoretical shifts; (2) it thus allows for tracking of the organization, continuity, and coherence in research practices which Kuhn characterized as ‘normal science’ without relying on the occurrence of paradigmatic shifts and revolutions to be able to identify relevant components; and (3) it requires particular attention be paid to the performative aspects of science, whose study Kuhn pioneered but which he did not extensively conceptualize. We provide a detailed characterization of repertoires and discuss their relationship with communities, disciplines, and other forms of collaborative activities within science, building on an analysis of historical episodes and contemporary developments in the life sciences, as well as cases drawn from social and historical studies of physics, psychology, and medicine.
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    The Structure and Growth of Evidence about the Earth's Deep Interior
    (2016) Teru Miyake; tmiyake@ntu.edu.sg
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    At the Intersection of Historicity and Epistemology
    (2016) Kate MacCord; kmaccord@mbl.edu
    Early in the twentieth century, biology was seen as grounded in the dual foundations of cells and evolution. Cells provided the most basic living unit, and evolution provided a way for cells to become established in different organisms. However, as the twentieth century progressed, cells and cellular level phenomena became embedded in different research traditions within developmental biology with varying connections to an evolutionary framework. While researchers focusing on differentiation could continue to link their research to evolution through heredity, those focused on morphogenesis largely gave up any evolutionary perspective. Morphogenetic research programs continued, without evolution, until late into the twentieth century, when fruitful new insights brought development back into the process of evolution. This chapter takes teeth as an exemplary case study for these changes with special focus on the enamel knot, now thought of as the morphogenetic control center of the developing tooth. Once development, and especially cellular level phenomena, was seen in the light of evolution, the enamel knot became the central component of a new paradigm in evolutionary developmental biology-one that, to this day, continues to provide a means of understanding the development and evolution of teeth. The intersection of cells and "the Darwinian tradition" is a complex relationship. This chapter offers an alternative history of the ways in which development, evolution, and cells were brought together throughout the twentieth century and challenges the common conception that genes are the sole locus of explanation for research at the intersection of development and evolution.
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    Imagination Rather Than Observation in Econometrics: Ragnar Frisch's Hypothetical Experiments
    (2016) Catherine Herfeld
    In economics, thought experiments are frequently justified by the difficulty of conducting controlled experiments. They serve several functions, such as establishing causal facts, isolating tendencies, and allowing inferences from models to reality. In this article, I argue that thought experiments served a further function in economics: facilitating the quantitative definition and measurement of the theoretical concept of utility, thereby bridging the gap between theory and statistical data. I support my argument by a case study, the “hypothetical experiments” of the Norwegian economist Ragnar Frisch (1895–1973). Frisch aimed to eliminate introspection and a subjective concept of utility from economic reasoning. At the same time, he sought behavioral foundations for economic theory that enabled quantitative reasoning. By using thought experiments to justify his set of choice axioms and facilitating the operationalization of utility, Frisch circumvented the problem of observing utility via actual experiments without eliminating the concept of utility from economic theory altogether. As such, these experiments helped Frisch to empirically support the theory’s most important results, such as the laws of demand and supply, without the input of new empirical findings. I suggest that Frisch’s experiments fulfill the main characteristics of thought experiments.
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    Formal analogies in the development of electromagnetism and the Higgs model
    (2016) Doreen Fraser; dlfraser@uwaterloo.ca
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    Epistemic Justification and Luck in Inflationary Cosmology
    (2016) Casey McCoy; casey.mccoy@philosophy.su.se
    I present a recent historical case from cosmology—the story of inflationary cosmology—and on its basis argue that solving explanatory problems is a reliable method for making progress in science. In particular, I claim that the success of inflationary theory at solving its predecessor’s explanatory problems justified the theory epistemically, even in advance of the development of novel predictions from the theory and the later confirmation of those predictions. 1 Introduction 2 A Portrait of the Argument as a Short Précis 3 A Brief History of Inflationary Theory 4 Empiricist Interpretations of Inflationary Case 5 A Confutation of Empiricist Interpretations 6 Explanationist Interpretation of Inflationary Case 7 Concluding Remarks
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    Can we understand the black hole information paradox by studying its history?
    (2016) Jeroen van Dongen; Sebastian de Haro; J.A.E.F.vanDongen@uva.nl
    This is one of a pair of papers that give a historical-cum-philosophical analysis of the endeavour to understand black hole entropy as a statistical mechanical entropy obtained by counting string-theoretic microstates. Both papers focus on Andrew Strominger and Cumrun Vafa's ground-breaking 1996 calculation, which analysed the black hole in terms of D-branes. The first paper gives a conceptual analysis of the Strominger-Vafa argument, and of several research efforts that it engendered. In this paper, we assess whether the black hole should be considered as emergent from the d-brane system, particularly in light of the role that duality plays in the argument. We further identify uses of the quantum-to-classical correspondence principle in string theory discussions of black holes, and compare these to the heuristics of earlier efforts in theory construction, in particular those of the old quantum theory.
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    Causality in Medicine and the Streptomycin Case
    (2016) Donald Gillies; donald.gillies@ucl.ac.uk
    This paper considers what evidence is needed to establish the effectiveness and safety of a drug therapy. The claim that A cures D is a particular case of a causal claim in medicine. So the paper begins with a general analysis of the evidence for causal claims in medicine. Such evidence is divided into two types: statistical evidence and evidence of mechanism. These are further divided into observational and interventional, producing a 2x2 classification. It is shown that historically there have different assessments of the importance of these different types of evidence. Evidence-based medicine (EBM) puts forward the thesis that claims of the form ‘A cures D without harming the patient’ can be established using only randomized controlled trials or RCTs. This thesis of EBM is criticized by considering two historical examples: streptomycin and thalidomide. Generalizing from these, it is claimed that the effectiveness and safety of a drug therapy can only be established by using both statistical evidence and evidence of mechanism. This is a specific instance of the Russo-Williamson thesis.
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    The Reichenbach-Einstein Debate on the Geometrization of the Electromagnetic Field
    (2016) Marco Giovanelli; marco.giovanelli@unito.it
    This paper analyzes correspondence between Reichenbach and Einstein from the spring of 1926, concerning what it means to ‘geometrize’ a physical field. The content of a typewritten note that Reichenbach sent to Einstein on that occasion is reconstructed, showing that it was an early version of Section 49 of the untranslated Appendix to his Philosophie der Raum-Zeit-Lehre, on which Reichenbach was working at the time. This paper claims that the toy-geometrization of the electromagnetic field that Reichenbach presented in his note should not be regarded as merely a virtuoso mathematical exercise, but as an additional argument supporting the core philosophical message of his 1928 monograph. This paper concludes by suggesting that Reichenbach׳s infamous ‘relativization of geometry’ was only a stepping stone on the way to his main concern—the question of the ‘geometrization of gravitation’.
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    Cybernetics, Computationalism, and Enactivism: Lessons from a Forgotten Past
    (2016) Joe Dewhurst; joseph.e.dewhurst@gmail.com
    This chapter describes the development of enactivist thought from its cybernetic origins, via the autopoietic theory of the Chilean cyberneticist Humberto Maturana. It explores this analysis is twofold: firstly, to illustrate that many of the ideas central to enactivism need not necessarily entail an opposition to computational characterisations of cognition; and secondly, to identify exactly how and why enactivism came to be seen as an anti-computationalist tradition. The chapter introduces enactivism and computationalism, and explains why the traditions are usually seen as being opposed to one another. It discusses the respective origins of the several traditions in the cybernetic notions of biological homeostasis and neural computation. The chapter reviews the basic details of both computationalism and enactivism, before outlining the reasons enactivism gives for rejecting computationalism. The computational theory of mind developed out of work associated with cybernetics, but it was given its first proper philosophical articulation by the American philosopher Hilary Putnam in the 1960s.
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    Stability and Scientific Realism
    (2016) Massimiliano Badino; massimiliano.badino@univr.it
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    The operon model and scientific explanation
    (2016) Melinda Fagan; mel.fagan@utah.edu
    It is widely assumed that mechanistic explanations are causal explanations. Many prominent new mechanists endorse interventionism as the correct analysis of explanatory causal models in biology and other fields. This article argues that interventionism is not entirely satisfactory in this regard. A case study of Jacob and Monod’s operon model shows that at least some important mechanistic explanations in biology present significant contrasts with the interventionist account. This result motivates a more inclusive approach to mechanistic explanation, allowing for noncausal aspects.
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    The Historical Epistemology of Evidence-Based Medicine
    (2016) Miriam Solomon; msolomon@temple.edu
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    Concept dynamics and the realism question
    (2016) Friedrich Steinle; friedrich.steinle@tu-berlin.de