In any introductory course in philosophy of science we ask the question whether philosophy of science should be normative or descriptive. This question has a history of its own, which also influenced what has become the ‘mainstream’ in philosophy of science, and that marked a difference between philosophy of science on the one hand and the social studies of science on the other hand.


Conference: Grading Evidence of Mechanisms


Date: 4-5 September


Location: University of Kent



Science is largely involved with discovering mechanisms. While protocols have been developed for grading evidence of statistical dependencies as a means to establish causal claims in medicine and public health, not as much has been said about how to grade evidence of mechanisms on the path to mechanism discovery – this task is typically left to the intuition of individual researchers. Also, while the role of mechanistic research strategies has been widely studied regarding molecular life sciences, and to some extent social sciences and psychology, not as much has been said about the role of mechanisms in the physical sciences. This conference will explore issues related to the role of mechanisms, and the quality of evidence of mechanisms in the sciences.


Submissions are especially welcomed for presentations considering and comparing the role of mechanisms in physics and biology, but also more widely touching questions (but not limited to) such as:


  • What are the various kinds of evidence of mechanisms in the sciences?


  • What similarities and differences are there in mechanistic explanations and their evidence-conditions across the sciences?


  • How can case studies of mechanism discovery be used to shed light on the way in which different kinds of evidence of mechanisms should be graded?


  • How can philosophical work on evidence shed light on how scientific evidence of mechanism should be graded?


  • Can one develop simple protocols for grading evidence of mechanisms, analogous to the GRADE system of evidence-based medicine?


  • Is there more to grading scientific evidence of mechanisms than can be gleaned from philosophical theories of evidence?


  • Which philosophical theories of evidence best fit the use of mechanistic evidence in science?


Keynote speakers:

Emma Tobin (UCL)


Erik Weber (Ghent University)


Meinard Kuhlmann (University of Mainz)


Tudor Baetu (University of Bristol)


Please submit an abstract of max 500 words by the 14th of July to Veli-Pekka Parkkinen The project is organised by the Centre for Reasoning and the project Grading Evidence of Mechanisms in Physics and Biology at the University of Kent.​

Back in 2001, Leonard Leibovici presented an RCT which found a correlation between remote, retroactive intercessionary prayer and length of stay in hospital. The patients in question had bloodstream infections in Israel during the period 1990–6; the intervention involved saying ‘a short prayer for the well being and full recovery of the group as a whole’ in the year 2000 in the USA, long after recovery or otherwise actually took place. The study also found a correlation between the intervention and duration of fever. The author concludes:


Have you recently needed to recite the dates of King Tut’s rule? Nope. Not necessary. Finding information at the point of care?  Knowing how healthcare systems work? Necessary.  We learn so many things that we never need. Evidence based medicine (EBM) is so important and our time with students so limited, that we must teach the most clinically relevant EBM topics.  Take (or leave, really) the pyramid of evidence for example.