Philosophy Colloquium ‘Results May Vary’ March 23

Philosophy colloquium speaker Vadim Keyser

The Philosophy department will present a colloquium, “Results May Vary: How to Navigate Scientific Disagreement,” with Vadim Keyser, of San Francisco State University, from 3-4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, in Room 3212 of the Henry Madden Library.

Keyser describes what his colloquium will entail:

The process of cross-checking something requires adding a new perspective, measurement, or mode of analysis. For example, how do you check if you’re witnessing a mirage? Try to touch it, or ask a friend for a new perspective. (Preferably a philosopher, if you have some extra time.)

We say, “Two heads better than one”; “two out of three experts agree”; but warn, “there are no two ways about it.” So how does the methodology of cross-checking work, specifically when multiple results disagree (diverge)?

Understanding how multiple modes produce reliable information is especially difficult in scientific contexts that contain multiple instruments, experimental conditions, and models. Scientists often use multiple methods to distinguish reliable results from those produced in error. Philosophers of science refer to this process as ‘robustness analysis’. Recent philosophical accounts have emphasized the methodological value of converging results. In contrast, I present a theory of robustness analysis that focuses on diverging measurement processes.

By focusing on the value of divergence, I show how multiple independent modes can be used to check each other’s results. Instead of applying this theory to neatly-calibrated scientific cases, I apply it to areas of currently-developing, dynamic, and uncertain physical and biological measurement. For example, I discuss measurement problems where context influences what is measured. My aim is to push the development of philosophical methodology by using dynamic empirical case studies; but it is also to make suggestions for scientific practice and interpretation. I conclude with a point about navigating through unreliable information—memes and also “memes”—in the context of technology.

Dr. Vadim Keyser is a Visiting Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California, Davis.

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