5th Biennial Conference of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP) Aarhus 2015

Parallel Session 4E
Thursday, 25 June 2015, 09:00–11:00 in G4
Session chair: Anna de Bruyckere (Durham University)
Bridging the Gap Between Well-Being research and Policy
  • Alicia Hall (Mississippi State University)


Scientific research on well-being has increased substantially in recent decades, leading to a growing interest in applying the findings of this research to public policy. Because of the potential of well-being research to guide the allocation of societal resources and affect people’s lives, it is important that we carefully assess whether the conception of well-being as operationalized in the social and medical sciences is something we ought to pursue, and whether researchers in these diverse fields are studying the same concept or are instead interested in many different ‘well-beings.’ Philosophy of science, then, can make an important contribution to this field of study. However, questions have been raised about the relevance of philosophical theories of well-being to this research. Recently, Alexandrova (2012) has argued that traditional theories of well-being are of little use here, and that instead some sort of pluralist approach should be applied to the empirical study of well-being.

In this paper, I explore scientific pluralism about concepts of well-being in research. Well-being is both a normative and a functional concept, and so we need to be clear about what we aim to achieve in doing well-being research in different areas (e.g., doing well for an elderly cancer patient often means something very different from doing well for a developing child). Many of the prevailing philosophical theories of well-being are difficult to apply in research contexts. For instance, subjective theories of well-being, wherein a person’s well-being is dependent on her attitudes or desires, typically contain idealizing constraints, but it can be difficult if not impossible to know in practice whether these constraints have in fact been met. There are good reasons for believing that a pluralist account may be best for describing the substance of well-being for research purposes.

However, because of the interest in applying the results of well-being research to public policy, we need some way of comparing across different contexts to make decisions at the societal level. To do this, we need some unified account of well-being that can be applied to diverse areas of scientific research. Unlike traditional theories of well-being, however, this account should be procedural rather than substantive. Rather than listing a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for when a person counts as living well, it should focus on how we deliberate about well-being and when we can be justified in believing that something will be prudentially beneficial for someone. I briefly describe an example of such an account and show how it can be applied in specific areas of interest in scientific research and public policy. Finally, I note how empirical research in turn can be used to develop and improve a procedural account of well-being for use in scientific research.


  • Alexandrova, A. (2012). “Values and the Science of Well-Being: A Recipe for Mixing.” In H. Kincaid (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 625-645.
Science-Based Policy-making in an Interdisciplinary Perspective
  • David Budtz Pedersen (Humanomics Research Centre, University of Copenhagen)


In recent years there has been significant debate about the definition and role of scientific experts in advanced liberal societies. Some scholars have noted that experts are mediators between science and government, or between science and the lay public. Others have focused on the hybrid epistemological and cognitive character of expertise and the reliability of expert testimony (Brewer 1998; Selinger & Crease 2006; Maasen & Weingart 2005; Lentsch & Weingart 2011). In this paper, I take a different look at the discussion and focus on certain problems internal to the definition of expertise. More specifically, the paper challenges the notion, prominent among scholars in Science and Technology Studies, that expertise is to be identified primarily as technical knowledge. The selective use of technical expertise in policy-making and science advisory systems represents a serious challenge for wider conceptions of societal change. Only very rarely is expertise from the social sciences and humanities used in public policy-making (Bocking 2013; Budtz Pedersen 2014). As Sergio Sismondo observed in his SPSP 2013 keynote: “We see in the current knowledge regime a substantial concentration of power in few hands and strong incentives to flood the market with knowledge that serves narrow interests” (Sismondo 2013). Yet, with the recent refocusing of science funding agencies and research institutions on solving the “grand challenges” of society, such as food security, energy safety, environmental change and healthy ageing, more effort is needed to ensure that expertise from the social sciences and humanities (SSH) inform policy-making in a meaningful way. In effect, I claim that an interdisciplinary approach to expertise will have substantial positive effects on the perception and legitimacy of policy interventions, including the perceived lack of democratic legitimacy in science-based decision-making (Bovens 2006; Hulme 2011; Stehr 2013). Using the framework of “trading zones” as suggested by Collin & Evans (2007) and Collins (2010), the paper explores different strategies for including SSH research within a philosophy of scientific expertise. At the core of this framework is the idea that interdisciplinary collaboration should be managed through the medium of “interactional expertise.” The paper concludes that it is only by promoting interactional expertise (i.e. the capacity to interact and exchange disciplinary perspectives) that SSH researchers and policy-makers can engage in effective dialogues, and ensure that the provision of expert knowledge responds to the complexity of real-world problems.


  • Bocking, S. (2013). “Science and Society: The Structures of Scientific Advice”, Global Environmental Politics, 13(2): 154–159.
  • Bovens, L. (2006). “Democratic Answers to Complex Questions - An Epistemic Perspective.” Synthese AB(1): 131-153.
  • Brewer, S. (1998). “Scientific Expert Testimony and Intellectual Due Process.” Yale Law Review BF: 1535-1681.
  • Budtz Pedersen, D. (2014). “Political Epistemology of Science-based policymaking”. Journal for Society (Springer) vol. 51 (5): 547-551.
  • Collins, Harry (2010): “Interdisciplinary Peer Review and Interactional Expertise”. Sociologica vol. 3: 1-5.
  • Collins, Harry, & Evans, Robert (2007): Rethinking Expertise. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Evan Selinger and Robert P. Crease (eds) (2006). The Philosophy of Expertise. Columbia University Press.
  • Hulme, Mike (2011): “Meet the humanities”. Nature Climate Change vol. 1: 177-179.
  • Lentsch, J. and Weingart, P., (eds) (2011) The Politics of Scientific Advice: Institutional Design for Quality Assurance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Maasen, S. and P. Weingart (2005). Democratization of expertise? exploring novel forms of scientific advice in political decision-making. Dordrecht, Springer.
  • Stehr, N. (2013) “An Inconvenient Democracy: Knowledge and Climate Change”, Society, 50(1): 55-60.
Knowledge Creation in the Congressional Research Service
  • Holly VandeWall (Boston College)


It would be difficult to find a group of U.S. researchers who have been forced to defend their claims of objectivity with the regularity and rigor as those who staff the U.S. Congressional Research Service. The CRS, often referred to as “Congresses’ Think Tank,” was founded (as the Legislative Reference Service) in 1914. In direct contradiction to the Mertonian goal of autonomy in selecting questions for research they are asked for very specific information from Congress. Their goal, as described in their own mission statement is to provide analysis that is “timely, objective, authoritative, and confidential” on any subject about which a member of the U.S. Congress should feel like inquiring – a tall order indeed.

While CRS area of analysis extend well beyond the scientific, one of their research divisions, Resources, Science and Industry, is of particular interest to philosophers of science. This division produces a vast array of publications every year, which in 2012 alone included “Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress”, “The National Institute of Standards and Technology: An Appropriations Overview”, “EPA Regulations: Too Much, Too Little, or On Track?”, “An Overview of the ‘Patent Trolls’ Debate”, and “Airport Body Scanners: The Role of Advanced Imaging Technology in Airline Passenger Screening.” Many of these publications are brief updates on the status of current law. But a significant percentage CRS reports are the work of multiple authors working across disciplinary boundaries to provide analysis that brings together data that has not previously been assessed as a whole.

It might be argued that this is not scientific research as such – the authors of these reports do not have their own labs; their work is entirely literature review. But using the specific examples of the 2010 on “Deforestation and Climate Change,” the 2013 report on “Environmental Regulation and Agriculture” and the 2014 report on “Asian Carp and the Great Lakes Region” I will argue that CRS research reports contribute novel interdisciplinary work by experts in their fields. Because these reports exhibit knowledge creation in a form that has unusually direct political ramifications I will argue that philosophers of science in practice ought to pay closer attention to the epistemic significance of these documents.

Industrial Intellectual Property Law as Technology
  • Ave Mets (University of Tartu)


My aim is to treat industrial intellectual property (IP), particularly plant-based patenting, in a framework of technology meant in the broader sense as (prospective) ontology considered in a practice-based philosophy of science as a structure of culture and world picture.

Technology is an ontology – a way to see what there is in the world. At the same time it determines future ontology by prescribing conceptual and material conditions for what yet can and need to be brought into existence. Human conceptual state guides his actions, including technology as human doing. Contemporary scientific technology is guided by the analytic-mathematical enframing, guiding the dissecting of nature into “elementary parts” to be manipulated separately to achieve certain predictable ends. The broader notion of technology takes it to be the changing of any part of the world (material, social, conceptual, theoretical) according to preconceived aims, and the world in technological view to be the sum total of possible resources.

This account of technology bases my case study in two respects: 1) concerning industrial IP as applicable narrowly on scientific-technological products of material technologies, e.g. chemical conceptualisation of plants, endowing them the shape subsumable under IP law; law models its object in certain legal terms, patent law presupposes both legal and scientific-technological terms; 2) IP law as a social technology: it models the (social) phenomenon that it is about (creativity), being an idealised representation of it; it thereby shapes the way how that phenomenon is seen in the society and thence designs future treatment of it. So nature is theoretically or conceptually turned into a technological artefact accountable for with scientific and technological terms and through them informed legal terms, and the social phenomenon ‘creativity’ is defined by and for legal aims such as property, rights, autonomy, and only exist for legal (and political) spheres as far as thus defined.

I primarily aim to delve into epistemological and social aspects of IP law: what are the philosophical prerequisites (a) to define something as IP, (b) of the requirements to patentability; (c) what is the effect of technological and legal definition of nature upon cultural practices and world picture.

Industrial IP law – plant based technologies

The chosen case study concerns part of nature that is an object of cultural significance and normal human perception. Plants have various roles in culture, of which agricultural and medicinal are interesting here as most conspicuously aspects of scientific research, technological application and legal regulation based on those. Many new technologies have evolved out of traditional technologies concerning those plants. (Chemical) science and technology reduce plants to compounds of substances, changing their role in culture: scientific descriptions are not available to traditional practices and technologies, creating basis for technological exploitation in new ways and thus for legal regulation that disregards traditional knowledge. The case study will thus inform the narrower and broader concepts of technology and scientific-technological world picture and ontology to be undertaken in the paper.