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Fourth Annual Graduate Conference Brings Heather Douglas, Diverse Graduate and Post-doctoral Presenters to UT for Conversation on the Relationship between Science and Ethics

The Philosophy Graduate Student Association at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville held its fourth annual PGSA@UT Philosophy Conference on March 13–14, 2021. This year’s theme was “The Relationship Between Science and Ethics.” The conference attracted a record number of abstract submissions. It drew together faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students, researchers, postdoctoral scholars, scientists, government science advisor(s), and research funder(s) from UT as well as from institutions in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

The conference took place entirely online owing to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic and featured nine talks – six by graduate students, three by postdoctoral scholars – as well as a keynote address by Professor Heather Douglas (Michigan State University), a renowned scholar working in the intersection between philosophy of science and ethics. Linh Mac, a PhD graduate student at The University of Tennessee and president of the Philosophy Graduate Student Association, gave opening and closing remarks on both days.

The first day of the conference featured four talks and the keynote address. Teemu Lari (PhD student, University of Helsinki) spoke first, discussing public standards norms and contextual empiricism. Vincenzo Politi (postdoctoral scholar, University of Oslo) then spoke about individual ethical reflection and training within research settings. Next, Michał Sikorski (postdoctoral scholar, Gdańsk University) discussed the nature of value-free and value-laden forensic science, and Michael Pope (PhD student, Boston College) spoke about trust and divergent values in science.

The keynote address, “Responsibility and Accountability in Science,” was delivered by Professor Heather Douglas, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University who has authored a monograph on Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal (2009). Prior to working at MSU, Professor Douglas held the Waterloo Chair in Science and Society at the University of Waterloo and was an Associate Professor at the University of Puget Sound and the University of Tennessee. Professor Douglas is also a fellow of the Institute for Science, Society, and Policy at the University of Ottawa and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her work focuses on the role of values in science, the nature of objectivity in science, and the relationship between science and democracy, particularly the role of science in policymaking and citizens’ trust in science.

In her address, Douglas discussed the nature of freedom, accountability, and responsibility in science. She highlighted the importance of distinguishing between responsibility and accountability in science and argued that full accountability in scientific practice is not the same as responsible science. Douglas explained how accountability mechanisms are important but could become excessive, at which point they make too many demands on scientists and undermine the capacity for responsibility. She recommended that accountability measures be crafted to foster responsible scientific practice without overburdening scientists. After her address, Douglas fielded questions from an audience of professors and students from UT and other universities. Here is the link to her recorded keynote address.

The conference continued on Sunday with five more talks. The first talk, given by Georgia Aitkenhead, Susanna Fantoni, and Ismael Kherroubi Garcia (The Alan Turing Institute and LSE), focused on epistemic injustice and the ethics of participatory science. The slides are available with the following DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.4603091. Next, Ahmad Elabbar (PhD student, University of Cambridge) discussed the ethics of dual-use research in the life sciences, and Melissa Rees (PhD student, University of Toronto) spoke about the ethics of randomized controlled trials with respect to groups and individuals. Seth Goldwasser (PhD student, University of Pittsburgh) then discussed the relationships among fake news, function, and model systems. Last, Trevor Hedberg (postdoctoral scholar, The Ohio State University), who is an alumnus of the philosophy PhD program at the UT, spoke about universities’ role in regulating cognitive enhancers.

Overall, the conference was judged to be a great success by the speakers, attendees, and organizers. The considerable amount of work invested in the event by the members of the organizing committee resulted in a high-quality event that was a credit to the UT Department of Philosophy. It set a new standard for a Philosophy Graduate Student Association event and will hopefully have helped to increase the visibility of the UT Department of Philosophy both nationally and internationally.

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