Department of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh
My research concerns epistemological and methodological issues that arise when we study the fine details of scientific practice. My current focus is on the practice of modeling in the biological sciences.
I also do scientific research using models. Currently I am working with Michael Grabe on the model of pH regulation and ion homeostasis in lysosomes and osteoclasts [Lab Website].
- Philosophers generally understand a scientific model to be an object with parts or properties that a scientist interprets as representing parts or properties of the real-world system of interest. To illuminate the complex ways in which scientists interpret and use parts and properties of their models, I develop this idea further by following scientists' interpretations and uses of models over time---in their notebooks, letters, and papers. I argue that some interpretations of parts or properties of a model are more fixed and stable over the course of research than others in the sense that certain parts or properties of a model are interpreted as representing the same parts or properties of the real-world system over the course of research. The relative fixity and stability of these interpretations help maintain the identity of the model over time and enable a scientist to determine and explore the representational content of the model. I also argue that within the constraints imposed by the relatively fixed and stable interpretations, other parts or properties of the model are given relatively flexible and transient interpretations: these parts or properties of a model are interpreted as representing different things at different times in response to theoretical, empirical, or technological developments and a variety of practical needs that arise over the course of research.
Historical and Philosophical Analysis of the Genetic Maps in Seymour Benzer's Research on Genetic Fine Structure
- This is a project supported by a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant from National Science Foundation [Award Abstract]. The project aims, among other things, to identify various uses of genetic maps (diagrammatic models) in the course of Benzer's research.
Stein's Conjecture: Realism, Instrumentalism, and Uses of Models in Science
- Howard Stein once suggested that if realism and instrumentalism become properly sophisticated by taking into account the features of best scientific practice, then there will be no difference between them that makes a difference. In other words, best science is both realist and instrumentalist. But what does this mean? I am trying to spell out Stein's conjecture in detail, using my study of various uses of models in everyday scientific research, and explore any difference that may exist between sophisticated realism and instrumentalism as well as new questions that arise if the conjecture is (or is not) born out by exemplary uses of models.
- I am trying to extend the idea that a model is good insofar as it serves the purpose at hand. This simple idea gets complicated once we appreciate that a model can be put to many different uses in the course of research. How should we evaluate the goodness of a model on the basis of what it does, if it does many different things? Should we devise a set of evaluative criteria that applies to all uses, or should we think that relevant criteria must change according to how a model is used?
Random Sampling, Offspring Distribution, and Genetic Drift
- This is a joint project with Alirio Rosales (UBC). We presented a paper-in-progress at POBAM 2012 (see Presentations).
Sewall Wright's Analysis of the Distribution of Flower Color in Linanthus parryae, 1941-1978
- This project reconstructs the details of Wright's research on Linanthus using his research notes, correspondence, unpublished manuscripts, and published works. So far I have analyzed Wright's resistance to the hardening of the Modern Synthesis, his uses of various models at different periods of research, and a radical shift in his assumption about the spatial distributions of evolutionary parameters of interest. I have presented tentative results of this project at two ISHPSSB meetings (see Presentations).