Philosophy and Science

*  second part of this issue – an essay by Dr. Marcel Weber from UNIGE – find on our blog*

What’s new in the science community? Last year John Hopkins University in Maryland (US) launched R3 PhD Program, which name stands for the values that they put on their shield: rigor, reproducibility, responsibility. This programme offers a panel of classes that help PhD students to be thinkers not just specialists (as they call it, “to bring ‘Ph’ back into PhD”). This initiative obviously goes against common pressure that pushes out things, which distract graduates from their daily work routine. It also states the importance of putting PhD research into its wider context.

Classical philosophical disciplines of epistemology and scientific ethics here are tightly tailored to the real practice of biological research and blended with classes on critical and creative thinking, scientific outreach (as an assignment they’d critically analyse opinion pieces from New York Times), entrepreneurship and history of science. Of course  many PIs weren’t at ease at the beginning, as they’d say that “scientific productivity depended more on rote knowledge than on competence in critical thinking”. However the Program gradually finds its way into the future. You can read a bit more about its theoretical framework here:

Graduate Biomedical Science Education Needs a New Philosophy
Rigorous Science: a How-To Guide


This is particularly interesting, as the problem of narrowing the scope of individual research (hyperspecialization) is clear not only to scientists, but to philosophers too. In the opinion paper “Why Science Needs Philosophy” a collective of authors give some examples of how philosophical approach can contribute to modern life sciences. Examples from stem cells, microbiome and cognitive science research show how philosophy helped to clarify concepts, to criticaly assess assumptions or methods and to formulate new theories.

Stressing the importance of joint quest for knowledge, the authors propose some steps towards it. This is what they suggest:

1) Make more room for philosophy in scientific conferences.
2) Host philosophers in scientific labs and departments.
3) Co-supervise PhD students.
4) Create curricula balanced in science and philosophy that foster a genuine dialogue between them.


Philosophy of science is broad. Nevertheless, it’s cool to be informed. Here eLife journal offers a series of articles giving philosophical perspectives on the life sciences. They might help you to get a first idea of what it is it we are talking about.

Also you might not know, but University of Geneva has a strong school in philosophy of science. Its Department of Philosophy is a nest for the groups working philosophy of biology and physics. For this issue we’ve reached professor Marcel Weber, a head of IgBIG, to write for us an essay about “What is Philosophy of Science?”. You can find it on the Phageblog.

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