Reflecting On Science

Reflecting on What Doing Science Means

My research program consists of cross-disciplinary studies at the boundary between science and philosophy, attempting to articulate what doing science entails with the goal of informing science policy decisions and advancing science education and public understanding of science. My philosophical approach explores the assumptions and challenges implicit in practice.

Currently, two projects are underway.

Science Education and High School Science Fair

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) describes the practices of science as one of three key dimensions of science education along with the nature of science. By bringing together problem selection, experimental design, implementation, analysis and communication of the findings, science fair potentially is an ideal opportunity through which students can experience these practices for themselves. Despite the long history of science fairs supporting formal and informal learning, few empirical studies have examined the extent of student participation in science fair and the impacts of science fair on student understanding of and interest in science. Our current research focuses on the high school science fair experience by high school and post‑high school students on STEM education trajectories, analyzing diverse topics ranging from research integrity to questions about the value of competitive vs. non-competitive models of science fair.

Assessing Risk in Human Research

Improving risk/benefit assessment in human research depends on the effective functioning of institutional review boards, also known as research ethics committees (IRB/RECs). Uncertainty of outcomes, a central feature of the precautionary principle of environmental ethics, has received little attention in the context of human research review and risk/benefit assessment. The environmental risk-assessment approach known as post-normal science  evaluates decision stakes and system uncertainties separately. The resulting theoretical framework produces a pyramid of three distinct oversight domains known as applied science, professional consultancy, and post-normal science that resemble the three different levels of human research oversight: funding agency and principle investigator; full IRB/REC review and subject informed consent; and national advisory oversight committees. Consequently, trying to evaluate risk and uncertainty separately might be of value in IRB/REC assessment of human research. While many factors could contribute to uncertainties within the human subjects protection system, the personal experiences, attitudes and beliefs of IRB/REC members clearly will be involved. Our current studies aim to measure risk and uncertainty as separate variables during IRB/REC review by asking IRB/REC members specifically about one potential indicator of uncertainty -- their confidence in their risk assessments. Rather than a retrospective study or analysis of theoretical cases, our studies focus on decision making carried out by IRB/REC members in real time about real projects under review.