Science Studies Symposia

Friday colloquium

The Annual Science Studies Symposium is an opportunity for scholars from diverse areas at the University of Minnesota to communicate their research related to the nature, dynamics, and intricacies of one or more of the sciences, including broader implications for scholarship and society. Past lectures have featured faculty from Architecture, Art, Bioethics, Food Science and Nutrition, the Institute on Child Development, Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development, Law, Statistics, and the Stem Cell Institute.

3:35 - 5:00 pm Friday, January 21st, 2022

Far from the Tree? Evolving Perspectives on the Nature of Parent to Offspring Transmission

Matt McGue, Psychology, University of Minnesota

Abstract: One of psychology’s defining issues has been to understand how children come to resemble their parents. Throughout most of the 20th century, psychoanalytic, behaviorist and social learning traditions dominated within psychology and parents were seen to be the primary socializers of the children they raised. This view was challenged by a series of behavioral genetic studies in the late 20th century, leading some of the more extreme behavioral geneticists to question whether parents had any effect in shaping their children’s psychology. The current century has seen a moderating of extreme positions and a more nuanced view of parent-offspring transmission. I will make use of findings from a series of long-term longitudinal family studies to discuss how genetic and genomic research designs have helped us understand the nature of parent-offspring resemblance. Illustrations will be drawn from four trait classes that show different patterns of parent-offspring resemblance: personality, academic abilities, mental health and social attitudes

3:35 - 5:00 pm Friday, February 12th, 2021 (CST)
online Zoom webinar

Evidence-Based Medicine is stuck: Suggestions to unclog it

Steven Stovitz,  Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota

Abstract: Evidence-Based Medicine asks clinicians to use the “best available evidence…”, but clinicians are not taught to interpret evidence from a viewpoint of causes and effects. Consequently, studies may consistently find associations that confuse those trying to provide the best in clinical care. Observational studies can be conducted with no measurement error and repeatedly come to the same incorrect conclusion. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are not correcting the situation. This colloquium will describe a case study in the misinterpretation of evidence that is not captured by our current system of evidence evaluation. Improving our current situation will require a change in how we teach the interpretation of information to those entering the field of clinical medicine.

3:35 - 5:00 pm Friday, January 24th, 2020
101 Tate Hall, University of Minnesota

Evolving Plant Populations and the Contingency of Genetic Effects

Ruth Shaw, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota

Abstract: Darwin deemed the pace of evolution extremely slow, but evolutionary change on timescales amenable to direct study soon became apparent. This captured my interest and motivated my studies using field experiments to investigate evolutionary processes in the wild. I provide an overview of my research group's investigations of evolutionary processes and their consequences in wild plant populations. Our findings highlight the profound contingency of genetic effects on evolutionary fitness and the development of traits, underscoring previous powerful challenges to genetic determinism. Despite these challenges, the view that an individual's traits are encoded in their genomes continues to dominate academic and public perception. There remains an urgent need to confront this pernicious misunderstanding, especially given renewed investigation of the genetic basis of human behavioral traits.

4:00 - 5:00 pm Friday, January 25th, 2019
155 Nicholson Hall, University of Minnesota

Optimizing the Human-Machine Partnership with Zooniverse

Lucy Fortson, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Minnesota

Abstract:  Citizen science—the involvement of hundreds of thousands of people in the research process— provides a radical solution to the challenge of dealing with the greatly increased size of modern data sets. is the most successful collection of online citizen science projects which have enabled over 1.7 million online volunteers to contribute to over 120 research projects spanning disciplines from astronomy to zoology. Dr. Lucy Fortson, cofounder of the Zooniverse and Associate Head and Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota will briefly describe the Zooniverse platform and some of the results to date from the Zooniverse collection of online projects in the context of new approaches to combining machine learning with human classifications. She will then provide an overview of recent data science experiments with the ultimate goal of producing a system that most efficiently balances the human and machine classifications. She will finish with a short description of future developments of the Zooniverse platform.

3:35 - 5:00 pm Friday, February 2nd, 2018

275 Nicholson Hall, University of Minnesota

“Hypernatural: Architecture's New Relationship with Nature”

Marc Swackhamer, School of Architecture, University of Minnesota

Abstract: Recent decades have witnessed the increasing popularity of nature-focused movements in architecture, such as sustainability, biophilia, biomimicry, biodesign, and emergent design. These movements are dramatically altering the relationship between the designed environment and the natural world, and although overlaps exist, there is no common discourse that unites these areas of study. A holistic framework is therefore needed to address these disparate areas of inquiry, the full spectrum of their operations, and their common goals and methodologies. This talk will address the ways in which architectural designers increasingly work directly with natural processes—rather than against them—in order to amplify, extend, or exceed natural capacities.

3:35 - 5:00 pm Friday, January 20th, 2017
275 Nicholson Hall, University of Minnesota

“Considering Temporal Heterogeneity in Autism”

Jed Elison, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

Abstract: The genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity integral to the phenomenon of autism is well characterized, yet recent evidence highlights a third source of variability that warrants careful consideration. Temporal heterogeneity, a term borrowed from ecological theory, considered in the context of psychiatric disorders, denotes observed variability in developmental timing as it relates to disease phenomena. Temporal heterogeneity may represent a specific feature of phenotypic heterogeneity or capture evolving patterns of environmental demands that temporally coincide with changes in the developing organism. And yet, simply entertaining the concept challenges traditional notions of diagnostic stability and issues related to nosology.

3:30 - 5:00 pm Friday, January 22th, 2016
275 Nicholson Hall, University of Minnesota

“Precision Medicine & the Challenge of Sharing Genomic Results”

Susan Wolf, University of Minnesota Law School

Abstract: In January 2015, President Obama announced plans to fund a nationwide Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI). A year later, plans are under way to assemble a large and diverse cohort of 1 million participants to build a prospective research resource to fuel population-wide research. The PMI aims to use a new model of research driven by highly engaged patients actively partnering in data collection and having broad access to their own results as well as the cohort’s aggregate results. However, there remain big questions about this ambitious plan for return of results. For the last decade, the research community has actively investigated and debated those questions. Among them is how to determine what results are sufficiently understood to return, whether individuals should have access to uncertain results, and whether family members should be able to obtain a loved one’s genetic results that may have implications for relatives. These questions raise pressing issues in ethics, law, biomedical science, and clinical care.

3:30 - 5:00 pm Friday, February 12th, 2015
275 Nicholson Hall, University of Minnesota

“Spanning Cultural Difference in Food and Health”

Craig Hassel, Food, Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota

Abstract: I will explore examples of University outreach/cross-cultural engagement with older, non-biomedical thought systems (African, Chinese Medicine, Indigenous knowledge traditions) bringing profound cultural difference in epistemology and ontology. Spanning these chasms of cultural difference involves cognitive bridge-building, a form of community engaged scholarship wherein habitual attachment to familiar, self-affirming, biomedical mental models is relaxed, allowing for temporary dwelling within unfamiliar, and often unsettling assumptive terrain. Perseverance with such bridge-building creates novel cognitive locations and perceptual lenses through which to reconsider disciplinary issues of the day and to illuminate otherwise opaque cultural/disciplinary “hidden subjectivities” that too often escape conscious attention and peer review. I refer back to nutrition science with its positivist legacy, its history of success with deterministic, acute deficiency disease, and its current struggle with more complex diet-related chronic disease and concepts of well being. I propose that nutrition as a biomedical science would advance by learning and adapting discourses and/or thought styles akin to those within the humanities and/or social sciences. A recording of this colloquium can be found at

3:30 - 5:00 pm Friday, January 25th, 2014
275 Nicholson Hall, University of Minnesota

“Art, Emotion, Mind: What can Brain Scans Tell us about Being Human?”

Jan Estep, Department of Art, University of Minnesota

Abstract: This talk will describe my participation in a collaborative interdisciplinary art and cognitive neuroscience project titled Thinking Portraits: Mind, Body, Language. The group used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the relationship between abstract and concrete language as processed by the brain during semantic decision tasks. As a test subject in the study, I collected hundreds of anatomical MRI images of my brain. Viewing these remarkable images got me wondering about the way brain scans convey empirical data, given the often hidden decisions and processing procedures that contribute to their production. They appear photographic and indexical, yet their actual relationship to their referent is far more complicated. They appear so informative, yet brain science is still very young. As an artist these philosophical issues naturally paralleled a set of more personal, emotional concerns about the connections between brain, body, mind, and world. Hoping to understand these connections on a more visceral, intuitive level, I began a series of drawings using the MRI images as a substrate. Working back into the brain with my hands has become a means to investigate my embodied experience and a way to question and qualify what a brain image does and does not show. 
Bio: Jan Estep is an artist, writer, and educator with an expanded creative practice. Trained as a philosopher—PhD, Washington University, St. Louis, 1993—and an artist—MFA, University of Illinois, Chicago, 1997—the relationship between mind, human behavior, and visual expression fuels a wide range of formal and conceptual investigations, particularly involving how our sensory experience relates to the conceptual. She is Professor of Art at the University of Minnesota.

12:15 -1:15 pm Friday, October 26th, 2012
130 Murphy Hall, University of Minnesota

“40 Years Growth of Developmental Biology”

Jonathan Slack, Director, Stem Cell Institute, University of Minnesota

Abstract: Developmental biology deals mostly with the mechanisms of embryonic development of animals. Since the 1980s it has been one of the high visibility branches of modern molecular bioscience, along with others such as neuroscience, cell biology, evolutionary biology and cancer biology. It has its origins in classical experimental embryology, dating back to the late nineteenth century, and developmental genetics, dating to the 1920s. But it really took off in the 1980s when these traditions were brought together and reinforced by the newly invented toolkit of molecular biology. Many major discoveries were made during the 1980s and 1990s, especially concerning the mechanism of regional specification: i.e. how different body parts come to be specified in different positions starting from a simple fertilized egg. Very important in this phase was the use of “model organisms”, animal species which were suited to work in the lab and which enabled universal problems to be solved using the most technically favorable developmental system. At this time it was discovered that many of the basic developmental mechanisms were common to all animals, involving the same genes and cellular signaling systems despite the obvious differences of morphology between different types of animal.
The overall level of academic research activity showed a steep and continuous rise from the 1970s to the 2010s, but the number of key discoveries fell off significantly in the 2000s. This was accompanied by a number of social processes, probably very similar to those seen in other academic subdisciplines at this stage of their life cycle. The exponential growth engine built into the academic system generated many more investigators in the field, there was a focus on detail rather than principles, and competition for funds and for prestigious publication slots became extremely severe. Developmental biology came to resemble a landscape which had been almost “mined out” but where ever more miners are trying to process lower and lower grade ores. 
In fact, there are still important and general unsolved problems in developmental biology. But these are hard to solve with no obvious route of entry. The risks of addressing an unsolved problem area are very high and the incentives built into the academic career system rather reward a focus on detail and on aggressive competitive behavior to secure resources. Developmental biology has also generated important inputs for stem cell biology, which is an even faster growing academic enterprise with a much more practical and translational focus.

3:30 - 5:00 pm Friday, January 20st, 2012
131 Tate Lab of Physics, University of Minnesota

“What Statistics 101 Doesn't Teach, But Should”

Charles Geyer, School of Statistics, University of Minnesota

Abstract: Introductory statistics courses teach the math not the philosophy, partly in order not to offend, because statistically questionable methodology is widely used in science. This questionable methodology has recently been highlighted in articles with provocative titles such as “The truth wears off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method?” (The New Yorker) and “Why most published research findings are false” (PLoS Medicine). Both parts of The New Yorker title are wrongheaded. The apparent decline of "statistical significance" in follow-up studies is a well-understood result of publication bias and multiple testing without correction, and it does not show anything wrong with "the scientific method." The PLoS Medicine title needs an addendum: in areas of science that rely heavily on statistics (which is understood in that journal). I will explain where the questionable statistical inferences go wrong using the electric power lines and cancer debacle as an illustration.

3:30 - 5:00 pm Friday, January 21st, 2011
131 Tate Lab of Physics, University of Minnesota

“The Clinical Trial as Pharmaceutical Marketing Tool”

Carl Elliott, Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota

Abstract: When a young man committed suicide in an industry-sponsored clinical trial of atypical antipsychotic drugs at the University of Minnesota in 2004, critics charged that he had been coerced into the study. They may be right, but the ethical problem is even larger. Today pharmaceutical companies are designing and analyzing clinical trials not to produce reliable scientific data, but to ensure that their own drugs look superior to the competition. These trials are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and distributed by drug reps as a way of marketing the drugs. Which raises the question-when is it ethically justified to enroll human subjects in marketing studies?

3:30 - 5:30 pm Friday, January 23rd, 2009
131 Tate Lab of Physics, University of Minnesota

“Teaching Science Lawlessly”

Douglas Allchin, Program in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine & Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science

Abstract: Boyle's law is the epitome of science in the classroom. Yet using recent philosophical perspectives on scientific laws, one can see that Boyle's law is not universal or invariant, as implied by the term 'law'. Indeed, Boyle's law—and other scientific "laws"—are not lawlike at all. In addition, from a cultural studies perspective, we might also examine why we teach laws in science and what it means to name them after someone. Science studies thus seems critically poised to inform science education. Indeed, properly understood, it might well lead us to revolutionize what and how we teach.

"Objectivity as Trustworthiness”

Naomi Scheman, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies & Philosophy, University of Minnesota

Abstract: Why does objectivity matter? I argue that its importance stems from epistemic dependency: we are irremediably dependent on others, including institutionally accredited experts, notably scientists, for much of what we need to know. Objectivity is supposed to allow scientists to serve as generic knowers, in part by bracketing the influence of social location. But traditional accounts of objectivity leave unexamined factors crucial to the actual trustworthiness of scientific claims: (1) broader questions of the trustworthiness of the institutions within which science is done; and (2) the relevance of diverse social locations for understanding how the world works.

"Verbal–Visual Interaction in Science”

Alan Gross, 
Department of Communications Studies, University of Minnesota

Abstract: My current work focuses on the interaction of words and images in the creation of meaning in the sciences. Since the majority of scientific texts—from laboratory notebooks to published papers—consist of both words and images, an examination of their interaction seems a worthwhile means of illuminating scientific meaning. I approach the problem from the point of view Peirce's semiotics viewed within the framework of a general theory of cognitive processing, Allan Paivio's Dual Coding Theory. I ground my work in the philosophy of science of Martin Heidegger, a philosophy that, unlike analytical philosophy, does not privilege the proposition; rather, it places 'seeing as' at the center of the scientific enterprise.

"Thinking Through Science: Philosophical Perspectives on Biology, Geography and History"

Spring Science Studies Symposium of McKnight Summer Fellows, University of Minnesota

“Temporal Dimensions of Reductionism in Biology”

Alan C. Love, Department of Philosophy

Abstract: Although reduction clearly concerns spatial dimensions, such as relations between macroscale and microscale properties, at least three relevant temporal dimensions can be distinguished: historical, iterated compositional, and emergent process. The first two are prevalent in prior philosophical discussions but the third is surprisingly absent given its centrality in experimental biology. This neglected dimension is shown to be more appropriate for the representation of time in reductive explanations of development. My analysis uncovers an array of previously unrecognized questions about reductionism that revolve around potentially competing explanatory preferences and the diversity of temporal measures available to investigators.

“Cartographic Knowledge and Emerging Dutch Colonialism: the View from Population Biology”

Arun Saldanha, Department of Geography

Abstract: There has been a comeback in understanding human migration through biogeography, as can be seen in popular authors like Jared Diamond. This paper will tentatively suggest some ways that the concept of population in Ernst Mayr and Theodosius Dobzhansky can aid in studying shifts in the patterns of settlement and long-distance control in our species. For instance, there was a rapid change in the ways that populations around the Indian Ocean world related with Holland around the turn of the seventeenth century. Historians usually attribute this shift to the Dutch accumulation of cartographic and economic information about the region. They find a environmentalist framework such as Diamond's overly reductionist, incapable of explaining forces such as monopoly capitalism or religious zeal. This paper will argue that to properly understand the spatial functioning of colonialism, an adapted biogeographical notion of "population" can still be useful. For humans, however, empirical due needs to be given to factors such as money and maps, as such communication channels are necessary for spurring movement and social organization. Causality does not go one-way from the biophysical to the cultural as in Diamond, but only emerges through and within uneven webs in which culture and biology are already entwined.

“Galileo without Modernity? Preliminary Reflections on the Project of Writing Galileo Today”

J. B. Shank, Department of History

Abstract: What are the new trends in Galileo studies? None, I would suggest, because work on Galileo remains trapped, as it has been for three quarters of a century, in the modernist narratives of the "Scientific Revolution." These narratives also continue to anchor the modernizing project of mainstream history and philosophy of science (HPS), for ever since the founding fathers of the discipline institutionalized Galileo as the father of modern science by making him a central pillar in the discipline-defining edifice of the seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution (modernity through the passage From Galileo to Newton in Hall's classic formulation), writing about Galileo has essentially worked to reproduce the discipline of HPS through a continual reenactment of these founding stories of origin. Is it possible to liberate Galileo studies from the echo chamber of this discipline-bound conceptual framework? My paper explores these possibilities by asking whether there are alternatives to the "Galileo, First Modern Scientist" framework, and by exploring the implications of breaking free from this discipline-defining and modernity-enacting hermeneutic.

“Getting Real about Genetics and Genomics: An Antirealist Perspective”

C. Kenneth Waters, Department of Philosophy

Abstract: Inflated accounts of knowledge in genetics and genomics are reinforced by the epistemological idea that successful research is organized by comprehensive theoretical frameworks that identify fundamental entities and processes. According to this epistemology, the success (or failure) of genetics and genomics depends on a comprehensive, theoretical framework that identifies the fundamentals of heredity and development. In this paper, I advance a deflationary epistemology for understanding genetics and genomics. Research in these sciences, I contend, is organized around investigative strategies involving the manipulation of a broad range of biological processes; it is not structured by comprehensive theorizing about the fundamentals of information, genetic programs, or developmental systems.

3:30 - 6:00 pm Friday, May 9th, 2008
131 Tate Lab of Physics, University of Minnesota
The research presented at this symposium was funded by the McKnight Summer Fellowship program

Time and Relativity Symposium
October 25–27, 2007 
Co-sponsored by: Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science, Department of Philosophy, Program in History of Science and Technology, University of Minnesota.