Navigating Social Values in Science: A Project in Political Philosophy of Science


LAC Burkhardt




For residence at the Institute for Practical Ethics at the University of California, San Diego during calendar year 2021


Although most of us think of science as an “objective” or “value-free” endeavor, philosophers and other scholars of science have shown that this isn’t right. Doing good science requires making value judgments - e.g., in constructing classification schemes, operationalizing concepts, analyzing data, and managing uncertainty. Current codes of scientific ethics provide scientists with little guidance in making such choices. This project develops a framework to help scientists make those value judgments. The key innovation is to view the choices as lying within the domain of political philosophy, rather than ethics. This makes concepts like democratic legitimacy and accountability central, and gives the public an important role in the process. In collaboration with scientists, the project aims to produce a set of case studies and concrete guidelines to help scientists better navigate the value judgments their work requires.