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As you can tell by the fact that we haven’t updated this blog since January, the pandemic has hit our research group pretty hard. With one of our postdoctoral fellows stuck in Italy, and all of us having at best spotty access to much of our digital humanities infrastructure, things have been moving pretty slowly. But there is some good news to report! As a part of a seven-university consortium, the lab has just been awarded a new grant from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 “Science with and for Society” program. Read on to learn more!
This year has been amazingly busy. As part of keeping us honest, I want to step back and think about our accomplishments, what we’ve done well, and what we’ve done badly – and speculate a bit about what 2020 might bring!
There’s a common refrain that I hear when talking to students, even doctoral candidates, that I wish we could somehow communicate better about. It starts with mentioning something about getting a new draft finished or what have you, and then somebody says something like:
“Oh, sure, this writing is easier for you because you’re good at it.”
Sure, for some people this may be right. We all know stories of people who publish six or eight books a year, or can sit down at their laptop and crank out an article in a half an afternoon. But not for me. (Me, I’ve only once written an article in a single day, and it was only because it fell sideways out of my book project, so I’d already finished all the research for it.) And, I suspect, not for many of us.
As I’ve been doing more PR for the lab online, a few people have been confused by the fact that I call the group a lab in the first place. What do you mean, a philosophy lab? Does that make any sense at all?
On the one hand, I have a pretty simple answer: I’m borrowing from the way that our scientist colleagues organize their research groups, and I think they both have a lot more history doing it, and are a lot better at it than philosophers are! But that’s not all, and I wanted to write something here to say why.
(N.B.: Français ci-dessous !) I was asked recently by the Brussels newspaper La Libre to provide some comments regarding research ethics concerning some recent experiments in macaques, which involved inserting a gene responsible for human brain development into a number of monkeys. (See some very nice coverage at MIT Technology Review.)
Continuing the series of articles about the lab’s grant funding, I now have the distinct honor of describing our new project under the auspices of the FNRS (Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique – FNRS), Wallonia’s scientific funding organization. The grant is a “Mandat d’Impulsion Scientifique,” an early-career fellowship designed to kickstart a new research program for an incoming researcher. And the most important thing that the grant is funding is two two-year (or, possibly, three-year) postdoctoral fellowships!
Last month, I had the chance to visit the incredible group of folks at the Université de Bordeaux led by Thomas Pradeu under the auspices of the PhilInBioMed project. I delivered a talk focusing on new work from my book project, particularly the role of Francis Galton’s work.
After a much-too-long period without anything new here (I’ll spare you the moving-related excuses), I’m overdue to write a few summaries here of the lab’s newest projects! First up is our NSF grant, which is currently around two-thirds complete, having funded me entirely for the first half of the academic year, and concluding at the end of May. The goal is to produce a book – now around half-finished (the discrepancy between these two fractions is a touch disconcerting) – that details the introduction of statistical methods and, more importantly, the philosophical understandings of chance that were taken to license their use, into biology, from the publication of Darwin’s Origin to the early days of the Modern Synthesis.
Sorry for the continued rarity of content here as things are still settling down from the big move to Europe. But for the moment, I was given the opportunity to talk in the GRICE seminar here at UCLouvain (broadly on the topic of the ecological crisis, but this year more narrowly focused on ethics and the human-animal relationship).
I’ve been thinking for a while now about a parallel between group behavior in the biological context and some of the research that I’ve been doing on questions of the application and ethics of contemporary weapons technologies. We often talk about behaviors as “emergent” from groups, but it’s genuinely unclear what we mean when we do.