Research team

Expertise

causality, mechanisms, experiments

Evidence-based policy, fallibility and ignorance. 01/10/2022 - 30/09/2026

Abstract

Evidence-based policy (EBP) is based on the idea that policy makers should use evidence as the basis for their policy decisions, in the hopes that the latter will work. EBP is highly important in present-day societies, and has been heavily discussed in the social sciences (i.a. public policy literature) and in philosophy and philosophy of science. If we look at what has been done, we see that many divergent definitions and characterizations of EBP have been proposed. As of yet there is no agreed upon definition of EBP. Furthermore, EBP faces many challenges in practice. For most of them it is not clear how they should be addressed, in part due to the lack of consensus about what EBP is or should be. This project wants to contribute to the solution to this problem by clarifying existing meanings of 'EBP', by tackling two specific epistemological problems relating to EBP and by striving towards a consensus definition.

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  • Research Project

Electroencephalography system for cognitive experiments in social sciences and humanities. 01/06/2022 - 31/05/2024

Abstract

Electroencephalography (EEG) is a technique of recording electrical activity of the brain. By using electrodes placed on the scalp the researchers are able to track the activity of cortical neurons. Despite the fact that EEG It is the most widely used way of studying cognitive processes in the current century, the University of Antwerp still does not have an EEG laboratory. EEG is used so widely because of the numerous advantages that it can offer researchers. It has a high temporal resolution, which means that it captures cognitive processes in real time, as they occur. This is a great feat, since cognitive processes are fast. They occur within tens to hundreds of milliseconds and other neuroimaging techniques (such as fMRI or PET) are only able to record the processes that last longer than a second. Furthermore, EEG is inexpensive, lightweight, and portable. It allows for ecologically valid experimental designs at an affordable rate. The price of a whole EEG system can be less than 30,000 EURO, while fMRI scanners cost millions. However, the biggest advantage of using an EEG system is the ability to study the unconscious drivers of human behavior. Our researchers at the The Social Lab, Media and ICT in Organizations and Society (MIOS), Translation, Interpreting and Intercultural Studies (TricS), the Centre for Philosophical Psychology, and the Centre for Ethics are interested in investigating implicit attitudes, language comprehension, response inhibition and many other processes that are inaccessible to survey research. In this application we summarize several research projects which would greatly benefit from utilizing an EEG system at the University of Antwerp. We cite recent, world-renowned research which was made possible only thanks to EEG data collection and point out specific ways in which our scientists could use an EEG to achieve similar world-class results.

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  • Research Project

Perspectives on reality: Investigating the emergence of scientific narratives about experiments and their results. 01/10/2019 - 31/07/2023

Abstract

This project investigates the role of perspectives in scientific knowledge production. The general idea is that, e.g., a scientific model does not depict reality as it is per se; it rather offers one of multiple possible points of view for producing and evaluating knowledge for specific uses. Perspectives always arise out of a specific historical context. For example, whether a new measurement counts as knowledge depends not only on its correctness, but also on whether the experimental procedure lives up to the scientific community's knowledge standards. As such, perspectivists try to steer between absolutist scientific realism (absolute, ahistorical truth) and constructivism (everything-goes relativism). The current literature, however, is unclear on how to identify perspectives and their influence on knowledge production. As such, they are not yet really applicable to actual historical research. To improve on this I will study, for one episode where the historical literature shows a clear influence of different perspectives, how particular scientists distinguished these perspectives, and how these influenced their work. I will focus on how M. Abraham and P. Ehrenfest, between 1900 – 1912, used electron models from different perspectives (electromagnetic, relativity, and quantum) to interpret measurements of the electron's mass, and evaluated others' use of these models. This will then inform my work on a historically adequate account of perspectives and their influence.

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  • Research Project

Medical Treatment, Evidence of Effectiveness, and Placebo. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

Medical treatment is of profound importance to patients and society. This project explores the key features of medical treatment and its relation to disease, what sorts of evidence are required for the assessment of treatment effectiveness, and the roles placebos should play in research and treatment. The dominant paradigm in the field is evidence-based medicine, which has engendered a great deal of philosophical controversy. One debate has focused on whether mechanistic evidence (how a system works) and difference-making evidence (such as from placebo-controlled trials) are both required to establish a causal claim in the health sciences. Yet research gaps exist with respect to how these types of evidence specifically apply to medical treatment. Alternative classifications of types of evidence may do a better job of assessing treatment effectiveness and elucidating the nature of the conceptual link between disease and treatment. This project will explore current debates in these areas and endeavor to contribute to a better philosophical understanding of medical treatment.

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  • Research Project

Inter-level causality in the life sciences. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

For most people, it will be uncontroversial that causal relations can exist between mechanisms and their parts: a decrease in serotonin levels can cause depression, and a bust spark plug causes engine failure. Yet in the philosophy of science, many believe that these inter-level relations are in fact only causal because they are hybrid: they contain both a causal, horizontal part, and a noncausal vertical part. Although most philosophers agree on this, they disagree about how to characterize the non-causal, vertical relation. Several attempts have been made, including constitution and mutual manipulability, but all these attempts face problems of their own. Consequently, the debate has becomoe mired by all kinds of difficulties. The present project seeks to remedy this situation by rejecting the interdict on inter-level causality. If analyized properly, many scientific studies and experiments aim at uncovering inter-level causal relation. Thus, it seems that in this case, philosphers have it wrong. The project tries to dispell the arguments used to justify the interdict, and show why they were so convincing in the first place.

Researcher(s)

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Medical Treatment, Evidence of Effectiveness, and Placebo. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

Medical treatment is of profound importance to patients and society. This project explores the key features of medical treatment and its relation to disease, what sorts of evidence are required for the assessment of treatment effectiveness, and the roles placebos should play in research and treatment. The dominant paradigm in the field is evidence-based medicine, which has engendered a great deal of philosophical controversy. One debate has focused on whether mechanistic evidence (how a system works) and difference-making evidence (such as from placebo-controlled trials) are both required to establish a causal claim in the health sciences. Yet research gaps exist with respect to how these types of evidence specifically apply to medical treatment. Alternative classifications of types of evidence may do a better job of assessing treatment effectiveness and elucidating the nature of the conceptual link between disease and treatment. This project will explore current debates in these areas and endeavor to contribute to a better philosophical understanding of medical treatment.

Researcher(s)

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Disputes about Reality: A Practice-Based Approach to Naturalistic Metaphysics and Interpretation in Science 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

A lot of contemporary metaphysicians (James Ladyman & Don Ross, Penelope Maddy, Tim Maudlin, ...) describe their philosophical inquiry as naturalistic, i.e. grounded in scientific practice: both their domain of study - the nature of reality - and their methodology are inspired by the functioning of science. These naturalistic approaches, however, all seem to suffer from the same problem: it is not completely clear what it is about scientific practice that makes it valuable to their metaphysical inquiry. This vagueness in what they take to be science leads to a specific problem, the problem of interpretation. Scientific results have often received different interpretations in the past, i.e. different (mutually incompatible) accounts of what these results tell us about reality. Because of the vague conception of science employed, it unclear how these naturalistic approaches can handle this ontological ambiguity of scientific results in a way that is actually naturalistic. My goal is to improve these naturalistic approaches by investigating what can be metaphysically useful in the practice of working scientists. To this end I will study, via historical cases, the way in which interpretations of scientific results are handled in scientific practice: how do scientists arrive at a particular interpretation, and what do they do when there are different interpretations of the same result? Such an analysis can then inform naturalistic metaphysical inquiry, since it can provide us with a model of how reality is investigated in science.

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  • Research Project

Logical and methodological analysis of scientific reasoning processes. 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

The aim of the scientific research community Logical & Methodological Analysis of Scientific Reasoning Processes is to coordinate and stimulate research on two themes: - Logical analysis of scientific reasoning processes. - Methodological and epistemological analysis of scientific reasoning processes. Examples of specific topics that fit into the first theme are: logical analyses of paraconsistent reasoning, reasoning under uncertainty, defeasible reasoning, abduction, causal reasoning, induction, analogical reasoning, belief revision, reasoning about action and norms, erotetic reasoning (i.e. reasoning about questions), argumentation. Examples of specific topics that fit into the second theme are: methodological and epistemological analyses of causation and mechanisms, scientific explanation, scientific discovery, the structure of scientific theories and models, experiments and thought experiments, theory choice, theory dynamics, conceptual change, scientific expertise.

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  • Research Project

Interlevel causation from an interventionist point of view. Solving problems in the philosophy of mind and in the philosophy of the psychological sciences. 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Woodward's interventionist theory of causation, which starts from the intuition that causal relations are relations which are potentially exploitable for manipulation and control, has become increasingly popular in philosophy of science in the past years. One of its unique selling propositions is that it dovetails nicely with scientific practice, including the psychological sciences, and with people's everyday causal reasoning. Interventionism has recently been invoked in two distinct yet related philosophical discussions. First, several authors have used it to guard mental causation against the epiphenomenalist's causal exclusion argument. Yet these promising endeavours have strongly been criticized by Baumgartner in a series of papers. The second discussion concerns Craver's account of constitutive relevance in mechanisms. Even though his account is inspired by Woodward's interventionist theory of causation, he insists that constitutive relevance relations cannot be causal. This gives rise to a number of problems. The central goal of this project is to find a unifying solution to these related - yet distinct – problems. The central research hypothesis is that this can be done by giving up the twin assumptions that supervenience and constitutive relevance cannot be causal. This is a plausible solution, since we have good independent reasons for interpreting these relations as bidirectional – bottom-up and top-down – causal relations.

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  • Research Project

How to amalgamate scientific evidence for causal claims? A comparison of different approaches to evidence amalgamation and a philosophical analysis of their epistemic status. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

For many causal claims there exist overwhelming amounts of – often discordant – evidence. As a remedy, different approaches for amalgamating such evidence have emerged . Examples are meta-analysis and qualitative reviews. Evidence amalgamation is omnipresent in the empirical sciences, especially in the psychological sciences, the social sciences and the biomedical sciences. It is often deemed the height of objectivity and it has an important impact on e.g. policy and medical practice. Still, apart from a few critical voices it has received little attention in philosophy of science so far. The aim of this project is to analyse the epistemic status of different approaches to evidence amalgamation to see whether and when their outcomes are reliable.The following cases will serve as the starting point: the Cochrane Collaboration in evidence-based medicine (EBM), IARC in epidemiology and cancer research, the Campbell Collaboration in the social sciences, and reviews in the psychological sciences (e.g. in the Psychological Bulletin). These cases will be analysed and compared from the point of view of three philosophical topics and related research questions. For each of these topics there exists a fascinating, topical philosophical literature which explicitly seeks contact with scientific practice in the aforementioned scientific disciplines. (a) What is the role of mechanistic evidence in these approaches, and what should it be? (b) Should we give priority to evidence from randomized controlled trials? What do we risk or gain by also including non-randomized studies? (c) Sometimes the 'Principle of Total Evidence' is used to criticize the practice of evidence amalgamation. But what does it mean and what version applies best here? The answers to these questions will help to see how the diverse approaches to evidence amalgamation work, what they can learn from each other and how they can be improved. Evidence amalgamation is very important, but its philosophical analysis is mostly virgin territory. The aim of this project is to contribute to its exploration.

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Causality in cognitive science and philosophy of mind. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Many philosophers of mind profess to being naturalists: if science and philosophy clash, it is the latter, not the former that should give way. Yet this presupposes that one can compare scientific and philosophical claims. In the philosophy of mind, there is one bad habit that hampers our ability to make such a comparison: the tendency to leave the notion of causality, which is central to a number of key debates, unspecified. Talk about the causal closure of the physical domain, causal overdetermination, and the causal efficacy of mental states abounds, yet the concept of causality in these debates is rarely explicated beyond such vague notions as 'causal powers', or 'making a difference'. This means that it is unclear how causal claims about mind and cognition in philosophy, relate to causal claims made about these topics in the scientific disciplines that study them: the cognitive sciences. This project aims to remedy this situation. In philosophy of science, numerous, often highly sophisticated theories about causality have been developed. By drawing on these theories, I will explicate what notions of causality are actually used in cognitive science. These insights will then be used to bring the philosophical debates about mental causation, causal overdetermination, and mental content, in line with scientific practice, thus helping philosophers to live up to their own naturalistic standards.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Disputes about Reality: A Practice-Based Approach to Naturalistic Metaphysics and Interpretation in Science. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

A lot of contemporary metaphysicians (James Ladyman & Don Ross, Penelope Maddy, Tim Maudlin, ...) describe their philosophical inquiry as naturalistic, i.e. grounded in scientific practice: both their domain of study - the nature of reality - and their methodology are inspired by the functioning of science. These naturalistic approaches, however, all seem to suffer from the same problem: it is not completely clear what it is about scientific practice that makes it valuable to their metaphysical inquiry. This vagueness in what they take to be science leads to a specific problem, the problem of interpretation. Scientific results have often received different interpretations in the past, i.e. different (mutually incompatible) accounts of what these results tell us about reality. Because of the vague conception of science employed, it unclear how these naturalistic approaches can handle this ontological ambiguity of scientific results in a way that is actually naturalistic. My goal is to improve these naturalistic approaches by investigating what can be metaphysically useful in the practice of working scientists. To this end I will study, via historical cases, the way in which interpretations of scientific results are handled in scientific practice: how do scientists arrive at a particular interpretation, and what do they do when there are different interpretations of the same result? Such an analysis can then inform naturalistic metaphysical inquiry, since it can provide us with a model of how reality is investigated in science.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Is the mental causally effective? Towards an interventionist defense of mental causation. 01/02/2015 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

In our everyday reasoning and in the psychological sciences we like to think that our thoughts may causally influence other thoughts as well as our behaviour. Yet since decades this supposed mental causation is under philosophical pressure. Attempts to safeguard it on the basis of the recent interventionist theory of causation are promising, but were also criticized. I want to help to undermine this criticism.

Researcher(s)

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Amalgamating scientific evidence for causal claims: a comparison of different approaches to evidence amalgamation and a philosophical analysis of their epistemic status. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2017

Abstract

For many causal claims there exist overwhelming amounts of – often discordant – evidence. As a remedy, different approaches to amalgamating such evidence have emerged. Examples are metaanalysis and qualitative reviews. Evidence amalgamation is omnipresent in the empirical sciences, is often deemed the height of objectivity, and has an important impact on e.g. policy and medical practice. Still, apart from a few critical voices it has received little attention in philosophy of science. I analyse the epistemic status of different approaches to evidence amalgamation to see whether and when their outcomes are reliable. I focus on the following cases: the Cochrane Collaboration in evidence-based medicine, the IARC in epidemiology and cancer research, and different approaches in psychology and the social sciences.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project