Kristin Intemann. “The tangled web of values and evidence in public health policy disagreements”


Location: Malloy 200

Philosopher of science Kristen Intemann, from Montana State University, will be speaking at Kristin Shrader-Frechette's invitation, on Monday March 23, 2015 at 4:45 pm in Malloy 200.  All are welcome.



“The tangled web of values and evidence in public health policy disagreements”
Kristen Intemann, Montana State University

Abstract: Although science plays a key role in public-health policy, the economic and political interests of scientists have produced some cases of bad science that have been used to manipulate policy debates.  For example, U.S. research on the safety of GMOs,  largely funded by Monsanto, has been challenged by many European scientists as relying on problematic methodology.  Similarly, in debates over the safety of homebirth versus hospital birth for low-risk women, both sides have accused the other of ignoring scientific evidence in order to advance policy agendas. Moreover, even when there is agreement among scientists that some research is epistemically sound, the public often is reluctant to accept certain scientific findings.  Pediatric vaccination has decreased in the U.S. despite overwhelming evidence against the claim that there is no link between the MMRI vaccine and autism.   In both instances, disagreement (between scientists or between scientists and the public) is understood as disagreement about the science---that either ignorance or economic-political values are causing some scientists or members of the public to ignore or neglect good scientific methodology and evidence.  I argue, however, that both types of disagreement occur not because values and special interests cause some to neglect good methodologies or evidence, but rather because there is a lack of attention to the ways in which value judgments are relevant to methodological decisions and evidentiary assessments.  As a result, what are taken to be empirical disagreements about the science are really disagreements about what values ought to guide such decisions.  The aim of the talk is to reveal that certain empirical disagreements are better understood as disagreements about values in the case of GMOs, homebirth, and vaccine safety and to draw out the implications for how one might avoid such disagreements and advance health-policy debates.