International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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TUESDAY, JULY 7  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-R510
Organized session / standard talks
Social and epistemic values in evolution (2)

Carla Fehr (University of Waterloo, Canada); Ingo Brigandt (University of Alberta, Canada)

The purpose of this two-part session is to both broaden and deepen philosophical discussions of social and epistemic values in evolutionary biology, with some of the papers specifically discussing evolutionary psychology. With this in mind we consider values in evolutionary biology from a wide range of philosophical perspectives. There are three philosophical themes that run though this session. The first theme looks at social and epistemic values in different stages of scientific knowledge production. Papers engaging this theme include discussions of the positive and negative roles of values in scientific practice ranging from the formation of research questions, to the development and implementation of scientific controls, and ultimately to theory choice. A second theme in this session involves the critical scrutiny of values in science. Papers exemplifying this second theme explore how social and epistemic values can be insulated from critical scrutiny. These accounts urge attention to the social structure of biological research communities and their place in the academy, as well as to differences in the ways that philosophical assumptions and methods pertain to different politically-valenced values. The final theme running through these papers involves analysis of the philosophical practices and methods that we use to characterize and evaluate scientific practice. This theme is exemplified in papers urging philosophers to integrate epistemic and ethical critiques of evolutionary psychology, as well considering strategies for maximizing the impact of philosophical critique on scientific practice. This session offers an exciting variety of perspectives on values in science and a rich depth of understanding of the ways that values are part of evolutionary biology.

Social protection of pernicious values in the biological sciences

Carla Fehr (University of Waterloo, Canada)

In this paper I explore how the structure of, and relationships among, epistemic communities can hinder the ability of those communities to detect, critically discuss, and negotiate the appropriateness of the roles of particular social and epistemic values in their own practices. I explore this topic using the example of philosophical critiques of Evolutionary Psychology (EP), a discipline that many philosophers of biology argue harbors pernicious social and epistemic values. I argue that these values in EP are protected by the relatively isolated and local nature of biological research communities in the academy, and by global epistemic and ethical norms such as academic freedom. As a result of these protections, members of the community of EP researchers may have good arguments for ignoring philosophical critiques of their research. However, EP is highly socially relevant and the philosophical critiques are both apt and ethically, politically and epistemically significant. So, it is important to cast a critical eye not only on EP, but also on those protections. Also, the social epistemic features that isolate and protect EP are not only common, but are often prized, in university research environments. As a result, what we learn from this case has the potential to be broadly applicable.

Fixing bad science: Is good science enough?

Sara Weaver (University of Waterloo, Canada)

This paper looks at how philosophers critically deal with the science of evolutionary psychology (EP), a science infamous for its controversial claims about social categories and human nature. I tease out two distinct approaches. The first approach predominantly criticizes EP for its flawed theory, methods, and data interpretations (TMDs). It proposes that, to fix its program, EP needs to adopt the standards of "good science," namely, those of evolutionary biology. The second approach also criticizes EP for its flawed TMDs but also rigorously addresses the harmful social values embedded in, and the pernicious social implications which stem from, EP research. Any remedy to fix EP, according to this approach, would also have to contend with its harmful social dimensions. In Part One of this paper, I argue that the first of these approaches, by addressing the social dimensions of EP only minimally, is both injurious to the philosophy of science and inadvertently contributes to the social harms necessitated by EP. In Part Two, I argue that the second approach (1) avoids the ills of the first approach, and (2) contributes to socially responsible science. I conclude more broadly that those who wish to philosophically engage with socially relevant science, ought to model their approach after the second of these approaches.

On the resilience of politically-valenced biases

Letitia Meynell (Dalhousie University, Canada)

It is surely a truism to say that good scientific method should control for bias. When the distorting effects of a type of bias have been revealed through countless case studies, are widely acknowledged, or at least to some extent theoretically understood, it stands to reason that scientific communities should expect researchers to control for them. In this presentation I compare two types of politically-valenced biases that scientists appear to have been reluctant to control—sexist or gender bias and anthropocentric bias. Although the distorting effects of these biases are important in their own domain, due to the centrality of reproduction and evolutionary continuity between species in biological study, these types of bias have implications beyond the considerable body of research that directly investigates sex differences or uniquely human capacities. Because these biases are politically-valenced one might expect the biases themselves and the disputes around them to have a similar character and similar solutions. However, this is not straightforwardly the case. The criticisms of gender bias have typically been made from an empirical basis, citing various case studies (consider Fausto-Sterling 2000, Lloyd 2005, Jordan-Young 2010, Richardson 2013), while the criticisms of anthropocentric bias have typically been made from a principled basis, citing problematic assumptions, such as the fallacy of anthropomorphism (consider Fisher 1996, Keeley 2004). Suggested remedies have also varied. Moreover, because criticisms of gender bias in the life sciences often involve the cultural contingency of sex differences, while criticisms of anthropocentrism tend to emphasize continuity between nonhuman and human behaviors these critiques tend to function at cross purposes. Through the comparison of these different types of bias we can begin to appreciate the character of each type of bias and politically-valenced biases more generally, and gain insight into the reluctance to control for them despite their clearly distorting effects.