International Postdoc Forum

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The effects of COVID-19 and associated economic downturn have had a disproportionate effect on recent PhDs and emerging scholars without tenured positions across the globe. For example, many have lost conference and workshop opportunities to present their research due to cancellations and restrictions on travel. In response to this situation, the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science (MCPS) introduced the International Postdoc Forum for the Philosophy of Science (IPDF) as of Fall 2020. This program showcases virtual research presentations from international scholars with commentaries from local MCPS community members. These opportunities are a complement to our existing colloquium series and will facilitate interactions with scholars who would not otherwise be able to visit Minnesota due to prohibitive costs. The presentations will by Zoom. Please join our mailing list or email for a link. Please direct any questions about the program to Alan Love (

Fall 2024

February 7, 2024, 12:15pm CDT (UTC -5)

Kate Nave, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh

Commentator: tba

November 6, 2024, 4pm CST  (UTC -6) 

Quantifying the Human: Values in Measurement or Measuring Value? 
Cristian Larroulet Philippi Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge

Quantitative measurement in the human sciences remains controversial. Are depression scales, intelligence tests, etc. valid measurement instruments? Do they deliver quantitative information? I discuss two approaches for understanding practices of quantitative measurement. One uses causal notions to characterize the attribute at stake and it aims at standard epistemic desiderata in science (discovery, explanation, prediction). A second approach uses the notion of value (Hausman 2015) to make sense of quantification practices. This approach is not designed for the testing of tentative concepts, but rather to standardize political decision making. Still, it is the most plausible candidate for making sense of some human sciences’ measurement practices as quantifying anything.

Commentator: tba

Visit our Youtube channel to see recorded presentations.

Previous IPDF events

April 24, 2024

Grouping approaches to PFAS and industry funding: a case study on the findings of a recent panel of experts
Pedro Bravo Philosophy, University of São Paulo

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large class of chemicals, whose carbon-fluorine bonds allow a wide range of industrial applications but also make them highly persistent. Since there is evidence about a few of them and their properties may vary, one of the pressing issues regarding PFAS is how to group them for different purposes. Here, I aim to show how a panel of experts about grouping PFAS had their credibility used in a way that favored the fluorine industry. To do so, I will draw upon the literature about industry-funded science and the material related to the case study.

Commentator: Corey Dethier, Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Minnesota

February 7, 2024

Measuring Ancestry
Yasmin Haddad, FRQSC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Québec, Montreal

In the past decade, there has been a significant shift in the choice of labels used to describe human populations in large-scale genomic studies. Such labels are known as population descriptors. The once prevalent descriptor “race” has progressively given way to the concept of “ancestry”. This shift reflects social and political concerns regarding the reification of racial categories through DNA information. The adoption of “ancestry”, however, isn’t without complexities. In this paper, I aim to explore the epistemological and methodological aspects of the “ancestry” concept as a population descriptor. Drawing upon insights from philosophy of measurement, I outline three primary challenges in clustering humans based on genetic ancestry: coordination, bias, and the problem of legacy data. Additionally, I propose potential solutions to address these challenges.

Commentator: Maria Nieves-Colón, Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota 

October 11, 2023

Exploring Goal-directed Uses of the Replicability Concept
Eden Smith, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies and MetaMelb Research Institute, University of Melbourne, Australia

The replicability concept plays an important role in assessing the credibility of research claims. Meanwhile, studies into replication practices suggest that conflicting sets of characteristics are being used to determine which practices counts as replications in different contexts. Rather than attempt to explain or resolve these tensions, I focus on exploring how the replicability concept is being used for studying scientific practices. In doing so, I draw upon scholarship into the uses of goal-directed concepts as tools within investigative practices. Building on this field of scholarship, I propose that there is also value in reflexively interrogating the concepts we use, in turn, when studying investigative practices. To support this proposal, I offer a brief account of how the replicability concept has been used for both analytic and evaluative goals within studies of the sciences. In doing so, I also hope to draw attention to how different goal-directed uses of the replicability concept can provide complementary insights for those seeking to understand when assessing replicability is appropriate for establishing the credibility of a given research claim.

Commentator: Samuel Fletcher, Philosophy, University of Minnesota

November 8, 2023

Ethnographic philosophy – articulating embodied ideas in science
Helene Scott-Fordsmand, History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge

Recent philosophy of science has seen an upsurge in the use of qualitative methods to anchor philosophical debates in actual scientific practice. This paper argues that ethnographic methods – using a contextual, immersive and embodied approach – allow us to gain understanding not only of the meaning of certain practices, but also of their significance, that is, how they affect systems around them. It then explores how such insight may contribute to philosophical enquiry. Adopting Chang’s suggestion from integrated history and philosophy of science, that we may see concrete case studies as occasions for abstract concept-articulation, the paper asks what it takes to articulate a concept and how ethnographic fieldwork may help in doing so. It answers this question by drawing notions of articulation from Latour and Rouse and by providing an example from the author’s own work on abject object relations in clinical medicine.

Commentator: Karen-Sue Taussig, Anthropology, University of Minnesota

February 8 2023

Just a tool? How AI challenges views on scientific discovery
Donal Khosrowi Philosophy, Leibniz University Hannover

Artificial intelligence (AI) plays increasingly important roles in scientific discovery, e.g. when identifying three-dimensional protein structures with the help of DeepMind’s AlphaFold. Discovery involving AI raises several important epistemic-ethical questions, including: who is responsible for the discoveries made? The engineers who build systems like Alpha Fold; Alpha Fold itself; both? How should we credit the agents and entities involved in AI discovery? And are there principled limitations regarding what kinds of contributions machines can make to discovery? Traditional accounts of discovery have been agent-centred: they aim to identify a specific agent who is responsible for conducting all, or at least the important part, of a discovery process. It is argued that these accounts experience difficulties capturing scientific discovery involving AI and that similar issues arise for human discovery. An alternative, collective-centred view is proposed as superior for understanding discovery, with and without AI. This view maintains that discovery is performed by a collective of agents and entities, each making contributions that differ in significance and character, and that attributing credit for discovery depends on various finer-grained properties of the contributions made. Detailing its conceptual resources, it is argued that this view is considerably more compelling than its agent-centred alternative.

Commentator: Cat Saint-Croix, Philosophy, University of Minnesota

April 5 2023

The Value-Free Ideal and the Resilience of the Deficit Model in Science Communication

T.Y. Branch  
CONCEPT - Cologne Center for Contemporary Epistemology and the Kantian Tradition, University of Cologne

In the wake of science’s triumphs and terrors in the first and second World Wars, our techno-scientific democracies necessitated that publics continue to fund basic science. By the Cold War, they also needed a baseline understanding of science. Science communication set out to establish a new standard of public knowledge about science so that publics could competently engage information with a scientific component. The diffusion-focused Deficit Model for science communication was adopted. Despite decades of polemics over the model’s over-simplistic view of science and publics (Bauer, 2016), the ‘deficit concept' remains a staple science communication model even today. Scholars have attempted to explain the resilience of the model (Cortessa 2016; Simis, Madden, Cacciatore, and Yeo, 2016), but I argue that their accounts leave out a crucial normative dimension of the issue: the deficit model’s alignment with the value-free ideal for science.

Commentator: Benjamin McMyler, Affiliate, Philosophy, University of Minnesota

November 16 2022

What is an informative replication?

Duygu Uygun Tunç
 Philosophy and Ethics, Eindhoven University of Technology

Replication is regarded as a benchmark of scientific rigor, but there is vast disagreement as to what makes a study a replication of another and what function replications serve. In this talk I will propose a general account of replication from a novel theoretical perspective on the severity of a test. Assessing the severity of a test involves assessing whether and to what extent a test is a genuine test of a hypothesis. Given that we must make various auxiliary assumptions in formulating and testing hypotheses, one of the challenges in hypothesis testing is to determine how to allocate the impact of negative results between the main hypothesis and the various auxiliary assumptions that are made in devising its test. This problem applies directly to the current dissensus about the success conditions of replications, because the interpretation of replication failure is similarly underdetermined. From the perspective I propose, an informative replication is a test of certain alternative explanations of the findings that are associated with certain auxiliary assumptions of the original test. A replication aims to reveal if the corroboration or refutation of a hypothesis is conditional on certain auxiliary assumptions, thereby to increase severity. We can maximize the informativeness of replications by identifying which particular kind of auxiliary assumptions they can test.

Commentator: Sarah Volz, Psychology, University of Minnesota

September 28, 2022

Rethinking the Nature of Immunity

Martin Zach
Analytic Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences

How should we think about immunity? Many immunological writings suggest an immediate option: the view that the immune system is primarily a system of defense, which naturally invites the talk of strong immunity and strong immune response. We argue two things. First, we argue that the immune system is involved not only in defense. Second, by disentangling various possible meanings of ‘strength’ and ‘weakness’ in immunology, we also argue that such a construal of immunity generally contributes to the distortion of the overall picture of what the immune system is, what it does, and why it sometimes fails. Instead, we propose to understand the nature of the immune system in terms of contextuality, regulation, and trade-offs. We suggest that our approach provides lessons for a general understanding of the organizing principles of the immune system in health and disease. For all this to work, we discuss a wide range of immunological phenomena.

Commentator: Alan C. Love, Philosophy, University of Minnesota

April 13, 2022

Making Peace in the Statistics Wars: Simulation Studies in the Philosophy of Statistics

WJ Peden (Philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Abstract: What constitutes a good statistical test? According to frequentists, the test should follow a procedure that would minimise inferential in the long-run. According to Bayesians, the test should discriminate among models according to a coherent structure of beliefs. Deborah Mayo has called these debates the “Statistics Wars.” These debates generally involve a mixture of intuition arguments, existence proofs, and proofs about the methodologies’ long-run consequences. Unfortunately, both frequentism and Bayesianism do well on these grounds.

A different approach is to simulate assess the short-run performance of “players” based on these methodologies and their hybridisations. I discuss the results of two collaborative research projects using this approach. We simulate a statistical problem and examine compare the short-run performances of various player settings. We obtain some surprising results, suggesting the possibility of some peace among the “warring” factions. I consider the philosophical implications and also propose some directions for future research.

Commentator: Samuel Fletcher, Philosophy, University of Minnesota

February 9, 2022

Ecosystem Health: an Organizational Perspective

Emiliano Sfara (Philosophy, University of Sao Paulo)

Abstract: Since the end of the last century, the idea of ecosystem health in ecology was deeply criticized by those who argued that, since ecosystems are not organisms, they cannot share the typical properties of organisms such as health. However, in recent years an organizational approach to philosophy of biology and ecology argued that organisms and ecosystems may share a fundamental characteristic: the organizational closure. Proceeding from this analogy, I will elaborate on the idea of ecosystem conceived as a vital environment organizationally grounded on its intrinsic capacity to ensure, under favorable conditions, adequate levels of normativity, and therefore of health, to the organisms that inhabit it.

Commentator: Max Dresow, Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Minnesota

November 3, 2021

Unpacking Politics & Values in Cultural Evolution

Azita Chellappoo (Philosophy, Open University)

Abstract: There is a long, and often dark, history of the application of evolutionary theory to human societies. In recent decades, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology have faced sustained criticism, often on the basis that they naturalise stereotypes or unequal social arrangements. Cultural evolution shares the broad aim of using the tools of evolutionary theory to explain cultural phenomena, although it emphasises cultural, rather than genetic, transmission and inheritance. Unlike other evolutionary approaches, thorough analyses of sociopolitical considerations in evaluating cultural evolution have been sparse thus far.

In this talk, I identify ways in which particular social or political values operate within cultural evolution research, shaping the inferences that are made and the potential impact on marginalised groups. I focus on one strand of cultural evolution research, cultural selection, although similar critiques apply to varying extents to other strands. I highlight two features of cultural selection work of particular relevance: the tendency to construct ‘thin’ descriptions of cultural phenomena, and the de-emphasising of human agency.

Commentator: William Wimsatt, Department of Philosophy, University of Chicago (emeritus)

September 29, 2021

Feyerabend on the quantum theory of measurement: A reassessment

Daniel Kuby (Philosophy, University of Konstanz) and Patrick Fraser (University of Toronto)

Abstract: In 1957 Feyerabend delivered a paper on the quantum theory of measurement at the Colston Research Symposium in Bristol to sketch an alternative to a "positivist" treatment of quantum measurement. In particular, Feyerabend proposes a way to dispense of von Neumann’s projection postulate by using only unitary quantum dynamics and well-motivated statistical assumptions about macroscopic quantum systems. Feyerabend’s paper has been recognized as an early contribution to the nascent quantum measurement problem, but has not received much attention in Feyerabend scholarship as of yet. Our talk reassesses the physical and philosophical content of Feyerabend’s contribution in light of his later views and with respect to more recent discussions in the philosophy of physics. 

Commentator: Jos Uffink, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota

April 23, 2021

Pursuitworthiness, Inductive Risk and Female Viking Warriors

Rune Nyrup (University of Cambridge)

Abstract: Debates overvalues in science usually focus on acceptance. The use of nonepistemic values to guide decisions about pursuit is often seen as unproblematic but uninteresting. Elliott and McKaughan (2009, Phil. Sci. 76:598-611) have questioned this division, pointing out that decisions about pursuit can indirectly influence acceptance, by shaping what types of evidence and well-developed hypotheses become available. This paper further complicates these pictures, by highlighting influences running in the opposite direction, from acceptance to pursuit. I focus on an argument by feminist archaeologist Joan Gero (2007,  J. Archaeological Method and Theory, 14:311-327), which criticizes the tendency to overvalue certainty and avoid ambiguity in archaeological interpretation. I argue that this can be interpreted in terms of inductive risk considerations: traditional archaeology overvalues the avoidance of false or poorly supported interpretations and undervalues new interpretative hypotheses, especially ones that are more tentative or speculative. As this tends to disincentivize archaeologists from pursuing certain kinds of questions—ones concerning marginal groups that were less likely to leave behind unambiguous material evidence—this methodological norm is not value neutral. In this paper, I propose an account of the complex interplay between pursuit and acceptance which underpins Gero's argument, and use it to analyze a recent debate in archaeology over whether there is evidence for the existence of female Viking warriors.

Commentator: Alan Love, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota

Youtube recording for Pursuitworthiness, Inductive Risk and Female Viking Warriors

March 26, 2021

A Category Theoretic Framework for Physical Representation

Sarita Rosenstock (Philosophy, Australian National University)

Abstract: It is increasingly popular for philosophers of physics to use category theory, the mathematical theory of structure, to adjudicate debates about the (in)equivalence of formal physical theories. In this talk, I discuss the theoretical foundations of this strategy. I introduce the concept of a “representation diagram" as a way to scaffold narrative accounts of how mathematical gadgets represent target systems and demonstrate how their content can be effectively summarized by what I call a “structure category". I argue that the narrative accounts contain the real content of an act of physical representation, and the category-theoretic methodology serves only to make that content precise and conducive to further analysis. In particular, one can use tools from category theory to assess whether one physical formalism thus presented has more "properties", "structure", or "stuff" than another according to a given narrative about how they both purport to represent the same physical systems.

Commentator: Samuel Fletcher, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota

Youtube Recording for A Category Theoretic Framework for Physical Representation


November 20, 2020

How Anthropocentric is Thermodynamics?

Carina Prunkl (Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford)

Abstract: Thermodynamics “smells more of its human origin than other branches of physics”, Bridgman famously wrote in 1941. Taking a closer look at the history of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, we find that this ‘human smell’ enters the subject as early as the writings of Maxwell, who makes use of concepts such as ‘knowledge’, ‘observation’ and ‘the mind’ in order to explain thermodynamic phenomena. E.T. Jaynes some decades later goes even further and distinguishes between the ‘physical’ nature of energy and the ‘anthropomorphic’ nature of entropy. Both authors seem to suggest that thermodynamic concepts are in some sense mind-dependent, that they in some sense rely on the presence of an external observer. In this talk, I will revisit the question of how and when the ‘human smell’ enters thermodynamics by taking a closer look at Maxwell’s means-relative approach to thermodynamics. I will show that, in fact, Maxwell’s approach does not commit us to an anthropocentric reading of thermodynamics, but that it instead provides us with a powerful conceptual framework that carries over into classical and quantum statistical mechanics.

Commentator: Jos Uffink, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota


December 11, 2020

Evidence-based paradigm and the challenge of assessing effectiveness of preventive surgery

Saana Jukola (Institute for Medical Humanities, University of Bonn)

Abstract: Criticism of the principles of evidence-based medicine (EBM), especially the so-called hierarchy of evidence, has become common in philosophy of medicine. Often the discussion has focused on the challenges of using randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for assessing the effectiveness of pharmaceutical interventions. However, some medical specialties have distinct features raising epistemological and ethical questions that are not answered by analyses of drug trials. In this talk I will focus on evidence producing practices in one such field, namely surgery. I will first discuss how the tenets of EBM have been debated in the context of preventive surgery in carriers of carcinogenic BRCA1/2 genetic mutations. Second, I explicate the ways in which the case of preventive surgery challenges the existing philosophy of medicine accounts of EBM.

Commentator: Alan C. Love, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota

Youtube recording for Evidence-based paradigm and the challenge of assessing effectiveness of preventative surgery