Integration in the psychological and brain sciences

Does the fragmented mind benefit from integrative research?

Does the fragmented mind benefit from integrative research?

Recent attempts to explain, predict, and to understand cognitive and mental functioning have been characterized as integrative: they pursue an answer to a novel question or research problem in a way that draws upon multiple different sources of evidence from different fields. Calls for "integration" and "integrative research" are increasing, especially in the study of mental illness, whereby scientists use a variety of data, methods, and perspectives from genes to circuits to behavior to understand the causes and effects of mental disorders. A common justification for integration is that because all aspects of the brain "work together," no single perspective can provide a complete understanding. Integration is argued to be a necessary approach toward explaining the complexities of mental phenomena.

But what does integration in scientific practice actually look like? What is actually being integrated? Where does integration happen? When do scientists do it? How do they do it? When does it work? When does it fail? Are scientists justified in their calls for integration? Should all research on mental illness be "integrative"? What about scientific research in general? Are we in the early stages of an "integration crisis"?

My research centers on understanding the nature and function of integration and integrative research in the psychological and brain sciences. Drawing on case studies in brain connectomics, sex and alcohol use disorders, and team-based memory research, I am working to describe and explain the scope and limits of integrative approaches in these sciences.

“Benchside” Research Ethics

Advancing the ethics of paleogenomics. Reprinted from  Science .

Advancing the ethics of paleogenomics. Reprinted from Science.

The past decade has witnesses the emergence of “benchside” research ethics consultation services (BRECS). Such services strive to provide ethical guidance for biological and biomedical researchers upstream from the formal evaluation provided via the institutional review board, institutional animal care and use committee, and/or biosafety committee. Moreover, BRECS can engage researchers in both microethical discussions about individual and internal research matters, as well as macroethical deliberation about collective social responsibilities and the societal dimensions of research.

Bearing in mind the contentiousness of debates about core competencies for clinical ethics consultants, and drawing on past experiences with both formal and informal BRECS, I am working to answer questions like: what are the requisite skills and knowledge for benchside research ethics consultants to be effective in practice? How are such skills and knowledge distinct from clinical ethics core competencies? What do BRECS need to know to advance science responsibly?

The greatest challenge facing philosophy of science today (according to philosophers of science)

The 30 working philosophers of science featuring in the initial study presented at the 2018 Philosophy of Science Association meeting.

The 30 working philosophers of science featuring in the initial study presented at the 2018 Philosophy of Science Association meeting.

In September of 2016, I started a social engagement project in the form of an interview-based podcast featuring prominent and up-and-coming philosophers of science. The initial goals of the project were to develop an outreach platform that would connect philosophers of science with other areas of academia, and to the public; to learn of the origin stories and diverse backgrounds of philosophers of science; and to gain a better understanding of philosophy of science methods. After two years and fifty interviews, the project continues to reach its initial goals, while evolving into a forum for working philosophers of science to freely share their meta-philosophic views on the conceptual, epistemic, and structural problems facing their discipline. In particular, I have made it a point to discuss in detail with each guest, “What is the greatest challenge facing philosophy of science today?”

The responses from podcast guests have been so telling, that I decided to do my own qualitative research on the interviews themselves, and presented my findings in a poster at PSA 2018: The 26th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association on November 3rd, which received a write-up in The Daily Nous.

Developing a general understanding of the challenge areas in philosophy of science as perceived by those in the field may prove useful in helping to direct current and future philosophy of science work, and to strengthen connections with science, philosophy, and the public. Thus, a goal of my research with this social engagement project will be to develop the transcribed interviews into a book, The Greatest Challenge Facing Philosophy of Science Today (according to philosophers of science), with a similar structure to Werner Callebut’s Taking the Naturalistic Turn, Or How Real Philosophy of Science is Done published in 1993