Colloquium Series: Heather Douglas (Michigan State)


Location: 138 DeBartolo Hall (View on

Heather Douglas (Michigan State) will be giving a talk titled: "Epistemic Humility and the Limits of Foresight in Science Policy", on April 5th from 3-5 pm in 138 DeBartolo Hall.


Responsibility is bounded by foreseeability and our knowledge of the implications of our choices, even for our knowledge production practices themselves.  In deciding which projects to pursue, scientists should make their choices on the basis of their currently available knowledge, of what is a promising research path and which outcomes (both intended and unintended) are likely or plausible.  For individuals, responsibility lies in both using their available knowledge and in epistemic humility about these projections, i.e., being aware of the limits of that knowledge—and when additional help might be needed.  For policy that governs communities of scientists, epistemic humility is just as important.  In the allocation of science funding, epistemic humility regarding the outcomes of research suggests that attempting to optimize science funding distribution will neither be successful nor an efficient use of cognitive effort.  Rather, we should rely on floors for minimum adequacy, and then consider pluralistic (including random) distribution above those floors.  The floors, however, should be based on both the epistemic merits and the broader societal importance (or disvalue) of the proposed work.  We don’t need perfect foresight to govern science responsibly, but we do need cross-disciplinary expertise in project evaluation.