"Why It Matters That Idealizations Are False", Idealized Models Workshop put on remotely by FraMEPhys, University of Birmingham, October 2020
This is a 30 minute talk to a philosophy of science audience. Many of our best scientific explanations incorporate idealizations, that is, false assumptions. Philosophers of science disagree about whether and to what extent we must as a result give up on truth as a prerequisite for explanation and thus understanding. Here I propose reframing this. Factivism or veritism about explanation is not, I think, an obvious and preferable view to be given up only under duress. Rather, it is philosophically fruitful to emphasize how departures from the truth facilitate explanation (and understanding). I begin by motivating one version of the idea that idealizations positively contribute to understanding, and then I make the case that it is philosophically important to emphasize this contribution of idealizations. I conclude with a positive account of what theorists about science stand to gain by acknowledging, even emphasizing, how certain departures from the truth benefit our scientific explanations.
"Simple solutions, dangerous realities: Truth and understanding in science," iai News, Institute of Art and Ideas, September 23, 2020
"Awareness of Our Biases Is Essential to Good Science," policy & ethics opinion, Scientific American, August 9, 2020
"Toward a More Expansive Conception of Philosophy," guest post for Daily Nous, news for and about the philosophy profession, August 2020
"Divergence of Values and Goals in Participatory Research", Doing Science in a Pluralistic Society Colloquium, University of Dayton Philosophy Department, April 17 2020 (remote presentation with Melissa Jacquart of a paper in progress with Lucas Dunlap, Amanda Corris, Melissa Jacquart, and Zvi Biener)
The inclusion of members of the lay public in the conduct of scientific research has gained prominence in some fields of science and received attention in science and technology studies. A handful of proposals have been made regarding how to categorize and what to prioritize about including members of the public in research, but theory of participatory research is still very limited. In this pa per, we survey two approaches to delimiting varieties of participatory research, and then build upon both approaches to advocate a more general framework for classifying and assessing approaches to participatory research. In our view, relevant variables in approaches to participatory research include level of public participation in the research, the epistemic and ethical advantages of public participation, and degree of overlap in public participants' and researchers’ goals.
"Why It Matters That Idealizations Are False", Idealization Across the Sciences Workshop, Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, June 13 2019
This is a 45 minute talk to a philosophical audience. An increasing range of philosophers of science believe the use of idealizations in science is justified, including in permanent roles. Disagreement now largely regards how broadly idealizations can be employed and the epistemic consequences of their use. In this talk, I argue that idealizations are extremely widespread and comparatively little is needed to justify the use of most idealizations. In other words, idealizations are rampant and unchecked. I then argue that it is philosophically important to emphasize the ways in which idealization involves a sacrifice of truth. The recognition that false posits positively contribute to science’s epistemic success sheds light on the nature of that epistemic success, as well as ways in which the features of science are shaped by its practitioners and audience.
"Causal Patterns and How our Theories Change", PhilInBioMed, University of Bordeaux, April 5 2019
This is a 45 minute talk to an interdisciplinary philosophy and life science audience. I motivate the importance of identifying causal patterns (not just causes), talk about how that lowers the bar for an account's success, and discuss two different patterns of theory predicted as a result: changes motivated by the discovery that a causal pattern fails to obtain, and changes motivated by a shift in research priorities toward a focus on different causal pattern(s). The latter is an important variety of theory change that is worth explicit recognition.
"Causal Patterns and How our Theories Change", Evolution Evolving, University of Cambridge, April 2 2019
This is a 30 minute talk to an audience of evolutionary biologists and philosophers of biology; it focuses on examples from evolutionary biology and especially calls for an Extended Synthesis. I motivate the importance of identifying causal patterns (not just causes) and talk about how that lowers the bar for an account's success. For this reason, we should not expect a 'synthesis' or integrated account of evolution. I then discuss two different patterns of theory predicted as a result: changes motivated by the discovery that a causal pattern fails to obtain, and changes motivated by a shift in research priorities toward a focus on different causal pattern(s). The latter is an important variety of theory change that is worth explicit recognition. Research that identifies classically under-appreciated causes in biology has motivated both forms of theory change.
SciPhi Podcast interview, October 4 2018
SCI PHI is a weekly philosophy of science podcast featuring interviews with prominent and up-and-coming philosophers of science who engage with scientists in interesting ways. On Episode 47, Nick chats with Angela Potochnik, Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Director of the Center for Public Engagement with Science at the University of Cincinnati, about her time studying in Vienna and how she came to love the history of logical empiricism, her co-written work, “Recipes for Science” on scientific methods and reasoning from a philosophical perspective, and her new book, “Idealization and the Aims of Science” on the centrality of idealization in science.