Research – Projects

Research Projects | People | Publications | Values in Science Lab

SCIENCE, VALUES, AND DEMOCRACY

Project Leader: Matthew J. Brown

The research objective of my project is to develop a theory of the ways that scientific inquiries and human values mutually impact one another, and the implications of those interactions for science policy. My research will draw on a growing literature in science and technology studies about the interactions of science, values, and politics, and it will engage with the science and values debate within philosophy of science over whether there is a normative role for values in science, and if so, what it is. On that basis, I will develop an account of the role that values can and should play in various stages of scientific inquiry (common to the natural, social, medical, and engineering sciences), based in part on analyses of cases where they do play such a role (especially in the history of psychology and the history of physics) and on normative arguments about what is necessary for the production of objective, reliable, scientific knowledge as well as the conditions of justice and morality in scientific research. I will also examine the ways in which the processes and results of scientific inquiry have and rightly ought to have an influence on our values. Such an understanding is necessary for an adequate account of the interactions between science and politics. The ultimate aim of the project is to provide a more unified, adequate, and engaged account of the role of science in democratic politics that is applicable to questions such as the ideal social agenda for science, public and corporate funding of science, the politicization of science, legal restrictions on scientific inquiry, evidence-based policy, the role of science advisors, and other related problems.

This research project will attempt to transform our philosophical understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry, its relationship to personal and social values, and its role in democratic society. I will apply a synthetic approach and hope to make contributions relevant to history and philosophy of science, science and technology studies, naturalistic ethics, political theory, and science policy.

ENGINEERING ETHICS AS AN EXPERT GUIDED AND SOCIALLY SITUATED ACTIVITY

Project Leaders: Matthew J. Brown, Nicholas R. Gans, Magdalena Grohman

This NSF Ethics Education in Science and Engineering funded project is a study of ethical decision making in research teams of engineering students, with the aim of improving ethics education for engineering students and ultimately ethical practice among professional engineers. The study focuses on the group dynamics of ethical decision-making in project teams and research labs to determine whether the presence of an “ethics expert” acts as an effective resource to improve ethical decision-making. Answering this question requires a multidisciplinary approach involving theoretical work in both practical ethics and situated learning as well as qualitative observational that includes experimental studies of ethical decision making in group projects. The project includes developing a normative philosophical framework for situational, collaborative ethical reflection and problem solving, and applying that framework to ethics training for engineering. Graduate and undergraduate students in engineering are observed in ethical decision making in situ and participate in activities where they consult with “ethics experts”—students in a special ethics course about ethical and social issues in technology—about concerns arising in their research projects. Experimental studies compare the behavior and results produced by teams that do and do not interact with the “ethics experts.” 

THE SCIENCE OF CREATIVITY

Project Leader: Magdalena Grohman

Creativity is complex, multi-faceted, and absolutely fascinating concept to study. To understand and predict creativity psychologists ask what is creative, how a creative product emerges, who is likely to create, and what contextual factors improve or impair creativity. My current research projects center around the who— self-perception, personality, and the what—creative achievements. The first project—in collaboration with Dr. Heather Snyder of Edinboro University—has to do with the changes in students’ creative self-efficacy, and their self-perceptions as creative individuals, as a function of engagement in creative project incorporated in the Psychology of Creativity course. We are also interested in creative project as a tool to promote experiential and deep learning. The second project—in collaboration with Dr. Scott B. Kaufman of NYU—focuses on grit, conscientiousness and creative achievement. The study has been inspired by growing evidence linking achievement in some domains (spelling, academic achievement) with grit—passion for the long-term goals, deliberate practice and self-regulation (see studies done by Angela Duckworth). In it, we strive to learn about grit and creative achievements in less structured domains, and establish if the same causal relationships—as observed by Duckworth and her colleagues—exist. I see the outcomes of this particular study as a potential base for educational programs to foster grit, passion and self-regulation in students.

During our lab meetings, I also urge and challenge students to reflect on the methodological practices in research on creativity. Just like personality and intelligence, creativity is a value laden concept, and as researchers we need to carefully consider implications of using labels when presenting and discussing results of our research.

THE ROLE OF ETHICS CODES IN SCIENCE

Project Leader: Matthew J. Brown

Handbooks and manuals created by a group of individuals which dicates the behaviour, practices, and ethics for an entire industry seems inherently problematic given the wide array of diversity arising out of differences in laws, cultures, and preferred practices. Yet, with assorted codes of ethics going into their fifth, sixth, seventh, and even tenth editions, one has to wonder: What is changing? What is the historical or social context surrounding that change? How are stigmas and sociocultural changes influencing the development and amendments made to the code of ethics? Are these practices even ethical at all? And by whose definition? Which codes are persisting and which codes are being signficantly revised? Why?

These questions will be the guiding force of this project which seeks to answer these questions with the ultimate goal of identifying problematic elements of the current practices and content of the code of ethics, recommending better future practices for the development and changes made to the code of ethics, and potentially expand this project into a more comprehensive evaluation of the use of code of ethics in science and medicine.

By evaluating the history and potentially problematic elements of the code of ethics, particularly in science and medicine, further recommendations to policy makers, scientists, and academics may be made for a more complete and ethically sound code of practices–not just in the practices and codes themselves, but in its creation as well.

COGNITION, CULTURE, AND COMMUNICATION

Project Leader: Matthew J. Brown

Cognition, communication, and culture traditionally mark ontological distinctions as well as disciplinary boundaries. Cognition covers the individual operation of the isolated human mind, and is the domain of psychology (and the associated cognitive sciences). Communication is the interaction of human minds through a medium, and is covered by the eponymous field of study as well as media and information theory. Culture includes the shared knowledge, values, and practices of a larger social group and is the traditional field of anthropology. The humanities cover aspects of culture and communication but are not considered relevant to their “scientific” study. The ideal unification of science would relate these three categories reductively: culture can be reduced to acts of communication, acts of communication can be reduced to the cognitive operation of individual minds… and so on down to the level of physical particles.

We will examine a host of radical challenges to this traditional picture of separate, hierarchically organized ontological categories. We will examine critical and constructive approaches that treat cognition as embodied and enacted, constituted by culture and communication, socially and technologically distributed, extended, and mediated, as well as approaches to culture and communication which recognize them as inherently cognitive activities, rather than the epiphenomenal residue of the operation of individual minds. Rather than individualism and reductionism, we should think of cognition, culture, and communication as mutually co-constituting.

Past Projects

THE VALUES GAME INITIATIVE

Project Leader: Monica Evans

The Values Game Initiative is a project intended to create and develop serious games that further the mission and themes of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology. Games created as part of the Center for Values are designed to teach and explore the pressing issues of our times through new models for digital education, and created around content suggested collaboratively by students, faculty, community leaders, and the Advisory Board of the Center for Values.

As the Center for Values is committed to creating new future-thinking models for education, the creation of serious games as part of the Center provides a test bed for research and ideas, as well as heightened visibility for the Center. These games will be playable on the Center for Values website, and are available to a wider audience than the lecture series and courses. All parts of the development process and creative thinking are also documented online, as a way to inspire collaboration and involve the greater community in the game development process.

These values games are intended to be short, densely-packed, and introspective: to engender experiences that are jumping-off points for deeper, more nuanced thinking about the major issues in values we face today.

To reach these goals, the Values Game Initiative is implementing a four-phase project in 2010-2011 that includes collaborative idea generation, concept refinement and selection, and the creation and release of two to six online games that explore the values associated with human enhancement, modification, and genetic manipulation.

For more information about the Values Game Initiative or to play the developed games, please click here. Read news coverage of the project here.