University of Tennessee, USA
Academic Year 2010-11
Explanations, Predictions, and Weight of Evidence Analysis: Comparing Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches
Heather E. Douglas works on science and public policy, and understanding the implications of the relationship between science and public policy for philosophy of science. While her recent work has focused on the role of values in scientific reasoning (Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal, University of Pittsburgh Press 2009), her project at the Center will focus on how to weigh complex (i.e. multi-disciplinary and often divergent) sets of evidence central to policy-making, a project instigated by colleagues from the Society for Risk Analysis. Despite the importance of assessing where the “weight of evidence” lies, it remains obscure how to do this. Her work for the year will be to develop an explanatory approach to the problem and to compare it with other possible approaches, in both theory and practice. She gratefully thanks the National Science Foundation for providing the funding (Grant #1026999) for the project.
She also has an abiding interest in the history of philosophy of science in the 20th century, and how the movement of scientific philosophy became the discipline of philosophy of science.
Heather has a bachelor’s degree in physics and philosophy from the University of Delaware and a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Pittsburgh (1998). She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Tennessee. She also sits on the governing board for the Philosophy of Science Association and the Section L committee for AAAS.
In addition to mulling over the science/policy interface, she enjoys playing with her daughter, savoring her husband’s excellent cooking, walking her dog, and digging in the garden. Heather does not claim to be a virtuoso, but she has admitted that she can play Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on harmonica.
Heather has had a busy and enjoyable year at the Center, and has made progress in thinking about the weight of evidence problem, on which she has given four talks this spring (including at AAAS and the Science, Knowledge and Democracy conference at the University of South Carolina), and on which she will give two more this summer (at SPSP in Exeter and at the University of Bielefeld). She thanks both the National Science Foundation for funding the year and the Center for being such a vibrant community in which to pursue the project. And she is looking forward to being a visiting professor at HPS at Pitt in the fall!
Heather had a great time as an visiting professor in HPS at Pitt last fall, and she is equally enjoying her new job as Waterloo Chair of Science and Society at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. She has had a busy first term, with talks at UT Dallas, at AAAS in Vancouver, and at the NAS in D.C. She is also thrilled that a paper about weighing evidence is finally forthcoming, "Weighing Complex Evidence in a Democratic Society," in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, this summer.