Melinda Bonnie Fagan, Assistant Professor of PhilosophyMelinda Fagan Homepage
I am a biologist-turned-philosopher of science, and my work focuses on the relation between those two fields. I arrived in philosophy by the rather circuitous route of studying the biology of clonal organisms: first the population structure of Lonicera hirsuta (the hairy honeysuckle), then the histocompatibility response in Botryllus schlosseri (a colonial sea squirt). The silliness of their common names was not a decisive factor in my choice of these organisms for study. I was initially attracted, instead, by their novelty (to me) and vivid coloring. But in the course of studying their composition and habits, I became increasingly troubled by discontinuities - between ‘textbook’ science and actual research; theoretical and experimental practices; the myriad uncertainties of ongoing inquiry and the solid reliability of established results. By the time I had completed my dissertation (on the colorful botryllids), it was clear that my primary intellectual interests were at one remove, so to speak, from those of contemporary experimental biologists. So I began to study philosophy, the proper home of the questions that troubled me. These same questions are at the core of my research today: How is scientific knowledge related to experimental practice? How do (or should) social interactions and values impact scientific knowledge? What counts as scientific knowledge anyway - and on whose authority? I investigate these and related questions by looking closely at areas of science I know well, and so bring these fields into closer contact with core debates in philosophy of science and social epistemology.