Archive for February, 2011


Defining the “Evidence” in EMB and EBP

February 25, 2011

Lisa Lederer

Nancy Cartwright has been a key figure in the Evidence-Based Policy movement, an effort to formulate philosophically-respectable guidelines for translating social scientists’ conclusions into policy. In his contributions to the Evidence-Based Medicine movement, John Worrall anticipated Cartwright in criticizing how evidence produced from within the scientific community is used outside of it. Worrall’s criticisms are strikingly different from Cartwright’s; while he focuses almost exclusively on methodology in Randomized Controlled Trials, Cartwright’s main concern is more general, with any study that she would call a “method-of-difference” study (after J.S. Mill’s Method of Difference) comparing two groups. Yet although Cartwright’s and Worrall’s main concerns recommend different corrective measures, they derive from the same source: researchers’ inability to identify and understand all the causal factors that produce an effect in the world. Worrall stresses the inevitable existence of unknown causal factors, while Cartwright stresses scientists’ limited knowledge of how even known ones combine. Her defense of the kinds of causal laws uncovered through social science research points to the necessity of “expert judgment” for interpreting these ceteris paribus laws, and thus leaves open the question of just whose expertise is appropriate for predicting their effects in the world. Pace Cartwright, the proper role of philosophers in facilitating the translation of social science results to practice and policy, instead of telling practitioners and policy-makers how to proceed, may be to clarify what kinds of expert judgment they should seek.

*actual quotes taken from the Onion. Just priming you to be careful about your evidence!


Generation as Disease, Generation as Idea: William Harvey on the Generation of Animals

February 18, 2011

Benny Goldberg

The goals of this talk are twofold: first, I shall analyze William Harvey’s causal explanations by utilizing Aristotle’s concept of the soul as a triune cause (efficient, final, and formal); and second, I shall examine both of Harvey’s purported explanations, arguing that generation as disease (his contagion theory) is meant only as a description of the transmission of the male’s semen, whereas generation as idea (the conception theory) is meant as a more elaborate response to the problem of form and the causes of generation, and should be viewed as primary.

Yet Harvey realizes that the model of the De conceptione is not a fully satisfying explanation. Ultimately, Harvey must invoke God, and I shall end by articulating how Harvey appeals to God in his account of generation.