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Science, Medicine and Society

The Science, Medicine and Society cluster is the focus of a number of research activities. Its staff members co-ordinate an M.A. in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine. As such, many of the members of the group are postgraduates who have completed the M.A. and continued their research within this group. The cluster, which is one of only a few of its kind in the UK, provides exciting opportunities for dialogue between philosophers and historians with a range of interests in science and medicine. Many of the group's members contribute to the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS) and the Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease (CHMD).

Research Cluster Books

Below are a selection of publications from our academic staff in the Science, Medicine and Society Research Group: 

The Tangle of Science: Reliability Beyond Method, Rigour, and Objectivity

By Nancy Cartwright, Jeremy Hardie, Eleonora Montuschi, Matthew Soleiman, and Ann C. Thresher 

ISBN: 9780198866343  

2022, Oxford University Press

Science is remarkably reliable. It puts people on the moon, performs laser eye surgery, tells us about ancient civilizations and species, and predicts the future of our climate. What underwrites this reliability? 

This book argues that the standard answers—the scientific method, rigour, and objectivity—are insufficient for the job.

To make up the deficit, the book proposes a new model of science which places its products front and centre. The Tangle of Science shows how any reliable piece of science is underpinned by a vast, diverse, and thick network of other scientific products.  In doing so it brings back into focus areas of science that have been long neglected, emphasizing how every product, from the screws that hold the space shuttle together, to ways of measuring the consumer price index, to Einstein's theory of general relativity, work together to support results we can trust.

Media and the Mind: Art, Science, and Notebooks as Paper Machines, 1700-1830

by Professor Matthew Eddy

ISBN: 9780226183862

2022, Chicago Press, 512pp 

A beautifully illustrated argument that reveals notebooks as extraordinary paper machines that transformed knowledge on the page and in the mind.

Information is often characterized as facts that float effortlessly across time and space. But before the nineteenth century, information was seen as a process that included a set of skills enacted through media on a daily basis. How, why, and where were these mediated facts and skills learned? Concentrating on manuscripts created by students in Scotland between 1700 and 1830, Matthew Daniel Eddy argues that notebooks functioned as workshops where notekeepers learned to judge the accuracy, utility, and morality of the data they encountered. He shows that, in an age preoccupied with “enlightened” values, the skills and materials required to make and use notebooks were not simply aids to reason—they were part of reason itself.

Covering a rich selection of material and visual media ranging from hand-stitched bindings to watercolor paintings, the book problematizes John Locke’s comparison of the mind to a blank piece of paper, the tabula rasa. Although one of the most recognizable metaphors of the British Enlightenment, scholars seldom consider why it was so successful for those who used it. Eddy makes a case for using the material culture of early modern manuscripts to expand the meaning of the metaphor in a way that offers a clearer understanding of the direct relationship that existed between thinking and notekeeping. Starting in the home, moving to schools, and then ending with universities, the book explores this argument by reconstructing the relationship between media and the mind from the bottom up.

Nature, the Artful Modeler: Lectures on Laws, Science, How Nature Arranges the World and How We Can Arrange It Better

by Professor Nancy Cartwright

2019, Open Court, 172pp

ISBN: 9780812694680

How fixed are the happenings in Nature and how are they fixed? These lectures address what our scientific successes at predicting and manipulating the world around us suggest in answer.

One--very orthodox--account teaches that the sciences offer general truths that we combine with local facts to derive our expectations about what will happen, either naturally or when we build a device to design, be it a laser, a washing machine, an anti-malarial bed net, or an auction for the airwaves.

In these three 2017 Carus Lectures Nancy Cartwright offers a different picture, one in which neither we, nor Nature, have such nice rules to go by. Getting real predictions about real happenings is an engineering enterprise that makes clever use of a great variety of different kinds of knowledge, with few real derivations in sight anywhere. It takes artful modeling. Orthodoxy would have it that how we do it is not reflective of how Nature does it. It is, rather, a consequence of human epistemic limitations. That, Cartwright argues, is to put our reasoning just back to front. We should read our image of what Nature is like from the way our sciences work when they work best in getting us around in it, non plump for a pre-set image of how Nature must work to derive what an ideal science, freed of human failings, would be like. Putting the order of inference right way around implies that like us, Nature too is an artful modeler.

Contesting Medical Confidentiality: Origins of the Debate in the United States, Britain, and Germany

by Andreas-Holger Maehle

2016, University of Chicago Press, 168pp

Medical confidentiality is an essential cornerstone of effective public health systems, and for centuries societies have struggled to maintain the illusion of absolute privacy. In this age of health databases and increasing connectedness, however, the confidentiality of patient information is rapidly becoming a concern at the forefront of worldwide ethical and political debate.
In Contesting Medical Confidentiality, Andreas-Holger Maehle travels back to the origins of this increasingly relevant issue. He offers the first comparative analysis of professional and public debates on medical confidentiality in the United States, Britain, and Germany during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when traditional medical secrecy first came under pressure from demands of disclosure in the name of public health. Maehle structures his study around three representative questions of the time that remain salient today: Do physicians have a privilege to refuse court orders to reveal confidential patient details? Is there a medical duty to report illegal procedures to the authorities? Should doctors breach confidentiality in order to prevent the spread of disease? Considering these debates through a unique historical perspective, Contesting Medical Confidentiality illuminates the ethical issues and potentially grave consequences that continue to stir up public debate.

How Stereotypes Deceive Us

by Dr Katherine Puddifoot

2021, Oxford University Press, 224pp

ISBN: 9780192845559

Stereotypes sometimes lead us to make poor judgements of other people, but they also have the potential to facilitate quick, efficient, and accurate judgements. How can we discern whether any individual act of stereotyping will have the positive or negative effect? How Stereotypes Deceive Us addresses this question. It identifies various factors that determine whether or not the application of a stereotype to an individual in a specific context will facilitate or impede correct judgements and perceptions of the individual. It challenges the thought that stereotyping only and always impedes correct judgement when the stereotypes that are applied are inaccurate, failing to reflect social realities. It argues instead that stereotypes that reflect social realities can lead to misperceptions and misjudgements, and that inaccurate but egalitarian social attitudes can therefore facilitate correct judgements and accurate perceptions. The arguments presented in this book have important implications for those who might engage in stereotyping and those who are at risk of being stereotyped. They have implications for those who work in healthcare and those who have mental health conditions. How Stereotypes Deceive Us provides a new conceptual framework-evaluative dispositionalism-that captures the epistemic faults of stereotypes and stereotyping, providing conceptual resources that can be used to improve our own thinking by avoiding the pitfalls of stereotyping, and to challenge other people's stereotyping where it is likely to lead to misperception and misjudgement.


Staff Research Interests

Research Group Staff  Research Interests
Professor Alex Broadbent
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Epidemiology
  • Philosophy of Medicine
  • Epistemology
Professor Nancy Cartwright
  • The philosophy of social technology
  • History and philosophy of science (especially physics and economics)
  • Causal inference
  • Objectivity in science
  • Evidence, especially for evidence-based policy
Dr Philip Goff
  • Consciousness 
  • Panpsychism
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Metaphysics 
  • Metaethics 
Professor Robin Hendry
  • History and philosophy of chemistry and its relationship to physics
  • History and philosophy of science
Dr Gregory Lusk
  • Philosophy of climate and environmental science
  • Science and society
  • Measurement and computer simulation
  • Data science
  • Environmental philosophy
  • Epistemology
  • Logic
  • History of science
Professor Holger Maehle
  • History of medicine and the life sciences
  • Ethical issues in the history of medicine
  • History of pharmacology
  • History of stem cell research
Dr James Miller
  • Metaphysics
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Linguistics
  • History of Analytic Philosophy
Dr Katherine Puddifoot
  • Social philosophy
  • Philosophy of psychology
  • Philosophy of psychiatry
  • Feminist epistemology.
Dr Peter Vickers
  • Philosophy of astrobiology
  • Social epistemology
  • Exoplanet science
  • Scientific realism/anti-realism
  • Evidence
  • Inconsistency in science
  • The relationship between history of science and philosophy of science
  • Eliminativism and pluralism about concepts
Dr Sarah Wieten
  • Philosophy of Medicine
  • Meta-Research
  • Bioethics
  • Philosophy of Social Science