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Research projects at the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society
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These are some of the research projects currently actively pursued at CHESS:


Philosophy of Medicine

Philosophy of medicine is a major developing research area at Durham and globally. At CHESS, the Philosophy of Medicine project encompasses central editorial contributions to the field, including editorship of the journal Philosophy of Medicine, the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Medicine, and the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Public Health. The project runs a regular seminar and works with a partners at the Universities of Aarhus, Cambridge, Copenhagen, Johannesburg, Kings College London, Stellenbosch and Tubingen. Themes include complexity in epidemiology and public health, decolonisation and medicine, politics of medicine and public health, causal inference, prediction and intervention in epidemiology and public health, as well as intersecting with PhilAI on the medical and public health significance of developments in artificial intelligence. 


Intellectual Humility

Templeton funded project

Scientific endeavours fail or succeed for many reasons, but our hypothesis is that intellectual humility (IH), or its lack, plays a significant role, not just as a virtue of individual scientists but as embodied in the norms, practices and institutions that constitute science. This project is invetigating successes and failures in science through the lens of IH in order to chart what constitutes IH in scientific institutions and how IH affects scientific success. We are looking at successes and failures in different domains of pure and applied science, including physics, chemistry, and the socio-economic sciences. In the initial phase of this project we are aiming to test our central hypothesis that IH is significant and to map its effects. 


Objectivity and Social Activism (Ruth First in Durham)

British Academy funded project

It is often claimed that social activists cannot be objective in research relevant to the social movement they endorse because their judgements will be too clouded about any results that might undermine the values of that movement. That seems to constitute a strong psychological claim, it also raises a philosophical and scientifically practical question of what constitutes objectivity for social activist research. What kind of special requirements are there? If any. This project uses the activist research of anti-apartheid martyr, Ruth First (who was employed at Durham University) to explore this question. 


Exploring Uncertainty and Risk in Contemporary Astrobiology (EURiCA)

Leverhulme funded project

Uncertainty is a prominent feature of contemporary astrobiology: open questions abound, and in recent decades astrobiologists have been surprised by unanticipated developments, both theoretical and empirical. This poses novel methodological challenges compared with other fields, in particular concerning the (lack of) justification for theoretical conservatism. We propose a collaboration across disciplines, modelling the actual and ideal distribution of community effort devoted to low/medium/high-risk research, drawing on cautionary tales from recent history. We will offer a strategy for balancing risks and rewards in projects/missions, particularly in biosignature research, not only benefiting astrobiology, but also illuminating neglected questions in philosophy of science.


Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence

The Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence (PhilAI) project aims to inform ongoing developments in artificial intelligence as they bear on medical, public health, and policy contexts. This young project includes collaborations with the Center of Excellence: Machine Learning in Science at Tubingen University and with the University of Johannesburg. Members of all three universities meet online for a regular reading group and collaborate on papers, workshops and grants. One set of specific interests covers the impact of machine learning techniques for medicine, beyond familiar decision support and imaging applications, especially with regard to epidemiology and public health. Another is the relationship between machine learning as an investigative tool and more familiar conception of scientific method, and its product.


History and Philosophy of the Physical Sciences

The physical sciences have traditionally been central objects of study for the history and philosophy of science, which has seen them as a source of paradigm cases of how empirical knowledge and understanding grow and change. CHESS is the centre of an interdisciplinary group of philosophers, historians and scientists who seek to continue that work, but with a different focus. Philosophers have tended to limit their attention to the most fundamental parts of physics such as relativity and quantum mechanics. We focus instead on non-fundamental physical sciences, and especially chemistry and condensed matter physics.



We are always keen to attract new PhD students. If you are interested in undertaking a PhD in any of our research areas, please contact the Centre Administrator, Nicola Craigs