Michael R. Dietrich, Pitt, History and Philosophy of Science

Finding the Right Organism for the Job

In biology, the organism you use matters.  It can allow you to make new discoveries from an existing biotechnological scaffold but can also constrain what you can discover and know.  In this session, we will consider how biologists make decisions about which organisms to use, how those decisions are justified, and why organism choice matters.  Our exploration will be marked by historical case studies, including research on cell division, fertilization, and sex determination.

Dietrich, M. R., Ankeny, R. A., Crowe, N., Green, S., & Leonelli, S. (2020). How to choose your research organism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 80, 101227.


Jonathan Fuller, Pitt, History and Philosophy of Science

Philosophy of science in a pandemic

Some philosophers of science have been wondering: how should philosophy of science contribute in the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. http://www.thebsps.org/auxhyp/fast-science-stegenga/)? One challenge is that the science is unsettled. Philosophers of science often work with real-world examples, but the story of COVID-19 is still being written and therefore its lessons are still emerging. Another challenge is that epidemiology is relatively unexplored by philosophers compared to many other sciences. In this seminar, we will explore infectious disease modeling in an epidemic and the nature of the science of epidemiology, making connections with broader topics in philosophy of science, especially models and evidence. We will also think about the role of philosophers of science in public life, sometimes called ‘public philosophy’. The COVID-19 pandemic will be our guiding case study.



Jonathan Fuller. “Models v. Evidence.” Boston Reviewhttps://bostonreview.net/science-nature/jonathan-fuller-models-v-evidence

Optional: See responses by:

Trish Greenhalgh. “Will evidence-based medicine survive COVID-19?” Boston Review.  http://bostonreview.net/science-nature/trisha-greenhalgh-will-evidence-based-medicine-survive-covid-19


Edouard Machery, Pitt, History and Philosophy of Science

Should We Trust Science?

The behavioral and biomedical sciences have gone through a decade-long replication crisis: Scores of influential findings happen to be very hard to replicate when independent scientists try to redo an experiment. This replication crisis has led to widespread debates about the scientific experimental, and statistical practices in the behavioral and biomedical sciences and about scientists’ incentives and the organization of scientific communities. More fundamentally, it raises questions about how much trust lay people and scientists alike should have in science



Romero, F. (2019). Philosophy of science and the replicability crisis. Philosophy Compass14(11), e12633.


John Norton, Pitt, History and Philosophy of Science

Thought Experiments in Science

Course description, easy preparatory exercise, and readings available at https://sites.pitt.edu/~jdnorton/lectures/CPS_summer_2022/CPS_summer_2022.html


Lisa S. Parker, Pitt, Center for Bioethics

Genetic Technologies: Personal Decisions and Social Responsibilities

James Watson, one of the discoverers of the structure of DNA, commented in 1989, “We used to think that our fate was in our stars, but now we know that, in large measure, our fate is in our genes.” But myriad genetic technologies—from gene testing to preimplantation genetic diagnosis to gene editing—seem to place, if not our fate, at least a lot of power in the hands of people (and parents) who would select or alter the genetic makeup of themselves (or their children). We will examine the sociopolitical context of those personal decisions and evaluate arguments for and against a range of uses of those technologies.


Required Reading:

Davis, Dena. Genetic Dilemmas and the Child’s Right to an Open Future

Optional Reading:

Parker, Lisa S. In Sport and Social Justice, Is Genetic Enhancement a Game Changer?

Resource for future exploration: https://elsihub.org/


Anya Plutynski, Washington University in St Louis, Department of Philosophy

Genetic “Disease,” Genetic Causation & Explanation 


When is a disease “genetic”? Given that all biological traits are (at least in part) shaped by gene expression, what could it mean to say that this or that disease is “genetic”? In Chapter 3 of her book, Anya Plutynski considers what is meant when scientists and clinicians refer to cancer as a “genetic” or “genomic” disease. In service of this end, she unpacks different kinds of projects philosophers have engaged with, toward this larger end: defining causation, saying when and why scientists have good evidence for causation, unpacking the role causes play in scientific explanation, and determining when causal generalizations count as good advice. Plutynski will discuss how these questions become conflated, and how to pull them apart, in particular in the context of cancer research and clinical practice. The aim of the discussion will be to become familiar with some major theories of causation and concepts associated with different accounts of genetic causation and explanation.


Required reading:  Ch. 3 from her book (on genetic causation)


Wayne Wu, CMU, Philosophy and CNBC

Attention and Consciousness

Debates about attention’s role in perceptual consciousness draw on a rich set of experimental data that purport to show that attention is necessary for consciousness. To adequately assess that claim, we need to understand both what consciousness and attention are. This discussion will focus on attention as a topic of philosophical and empirical investigation. Attention will be situated within an explanatory framework proposed by David Marr that begins with defining the function of attention and then draws on behavioral and neuroscientific work to flesh out how attention is implemented in the primate brain. We will discuss the idea of top-down and bottom-up modulation and of the prospects for a unified account of attention. We then return to the debate about consciousness and show that despite widespread agreement that attention is necessary for consciousness, the standard evidence falls short of supporting that claim. we’ll look at the role of attention in consciousness as well, with an emphasis on integrating with psychological and neural data. So, the title can be: the cognitive science of attention.


Required Reading: Chapter 2

Optional Reading: Chapter 3


Christopher Weaver, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Philosophy

Introducing the Arrow of Time Puzzle


The fundamental dynamical laws of physical science do not privilege a direction in time. What these laws allow to happen in one direction in time they allow to happen in the opposite direction. Despite this fact, everyday macroscopic phenomena we observe seem to be temporally irreversible. In other words, our experiences provide evidence for the view that there is a privileged direction in time. But what could be the explanation for the observed asymmetry if the fundamental dynamical laws are invariant under time-reversal? This is the puzzle of the arrow of time. In our brief time together, I hope to discuss one proposed solution to the puzzle, one that is commonly attributed to Ludwig Boltzmann but articulated and defended by modern thinkers such as David Albert, Sheldon Goldstein, Joel Lebowitz, and Barry Loewer.



Lebowitz, J. L. (1993). Boltzmann’s entory and time’s arrow. Physics Today.


Kevin Zollman, CMU, Philosophy

The Reward System of Science


Abstract: Scientists care about truth, but they also care about becoming famous.  The social reward system for science has important implications for how science is done and whether science progresses.  We will look at recent discussions about the benefits and costs for the system of scientific rewards for scientific progress.  The overall moral is that while scientists pursuing social reward has negative consequences it also has positive one as well.


Required Reading: Romero

Optional Reading: Zollman

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