My research interests are mainly in philosophy of neuroscience, philosophy of experiment, neuroethics, and social studies of science technology and medicine. Topics I have worked on include methodology of modeling and experimentation in neurobiology, unity of neuroscience, as well as issues of animal experimentation.
The purpose of my dissertation Animal Models and the Unity of Neuroscience (2014) was to provide an account of animal experimentation in neuroscience and to articulate a model for knowledge integration in the field. The validity of laboratory animal models of human conditions and the unity of science have been challenged on various occasions. However, with the realization that neurobiologists use multiple different experimental protocols for the study of presumably identical phenomena, the two problems come together to challenge both the validity and the integrity of neurobiological knowledge. This challenge affects neurobiology directly but it extends to the whole of neuroscience. Furthermore, it stands in the way of the project in philosophy of neuroscience that endeavors to articulate a model of the unity of neuroscience. In order to address the challenge, a philosophical account of neurobiology would have to articulate a model of both validation of experimental designs in neurobiology and also integration of experimental results produced using different protocols. Neurobiology relies almost exclusively on animal experimentation to study the human nervous system. Thus, one of the major goals of my dissertation was to provide an analysis of the process of validation of animal models of human conditions. The analysis revealed that the multiplicity of protocols used in animal model experimentation is maintained with the goal to increase the validity of the experimental results produced in different laboratories. This is so because when the results of multiple different experiments converge, they are taken to validate one another. Thus, the thesis defended in the dissertation is that the multiplicity of experimental protocols fosters the validity of neurobiological knowledge. Consequently, these findings motivate a pluralistic model of the structure of experimental neurobiology. Nevertheless, the model also captures the conditions for integration of neurobiological knowledge. This is so because convergence requires at least compatibility and often an overlap of the results from different experiments. When it occurs, it enables integration of those results. In other words, the pluralism of experimental perspectives in neurobiology is associated with an optimistic view about its unity. Thus, the dissertation articulates optimistic pluralism as a model of knowledge integration in neurobiology. This model justifies the possibility for multiple experimental results to converge and produce integrated knowledge about complex natural phenomena. The dissertation further motivates optimistic pluralism as a model for integration of neuroscience in general.
This dissertation provides the first systematic account of animal models as tools for experimentation in neurobiology. Its contribution to the philosophy of neuroscience has been recognized in the professional community and some of its results are already published in the article “Validating Animal Models” (2015). The article makes the case that the multiplicity of experimental designs and protocols in neurobiology is justified on the basis of adopting a calibration strategy which secures the reliability and validity of animal models employed in experimental neurobiology. More results have been presented at several conferences. Currently, two other articles are in preparation and have been selected for a Visiting Fellowship at the Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh in Fall 2018. The first article, “Convergent Perspectivism: A Model of Integration in Neuroscience”, aims at refining the model of integration through convergence of experimental knowledge in neurobiology. The second article, “Virtual Morris Water Maze: The Independent Life an Experimental System”, traces the methodological decisions that experimenters make when they employ the Morris water maze task which is among the most commonly used behavioral tests in cognitive neurobiology. The purpose of the paper is to make the case for the role of technology in generating experimental and theoretical novelties. This presents a challenge to the model of theory-driven science which has been the leading philosophical account of scientific progress since mid-20th century.
Another larger project I work on aims at reconciling two competing prescriptions for animal model experimentation. On one hand, animal models have to exhibit sufficient similarity to human conditions in order to justify extrapolation of the knowledge produced by animal experimentation to knowledge about the human nervous system. On the other hand, too much similarity may entitle nonhuman animals to the same protection against experimentation that causes suffering and pain as granted to human subjects. This puzzle raises a serious challenge for the consistent application of the rules regulating animal experimentation. An abstract of the project was published under the title “Animal Models of Pain and the Puzzle of Similarity” (2014). The first phase of this project was funded by a research grant from the Office of Research and an award from the Graduate School at the University of Cincinnati during my last semester there. This project will give rise to at least two other articles which will be ready for publication within the next two years. The project complements the research from my dissertation. I plan to integrate the two and prepare a book manuscript within the next three years.
Another project I have laid out for the near future is related to the topic I explored in “Mechanistic Explanations and Animal Model Simulations in Neuroscience” (2012). This article challenges two of the leading mechanist accounts of neuroscience. The thesis is that animal model construction is a special kind of modeling that often takes the form of simulating human conditions. Because this practice cannot be considered an activity of explaining phenomena by describing their underlying mechanisms, it cannot be captured properly by the existing mechanist accounts of neuroscience. The project aims to study the cognitive and epistemic benefits from using models and simulations in the production of knowledge in neuroscience. It also sets out to articulate the properties of animal models and simulations in relation to the well analyzed physical models and dynamic simulations in cognitive neuroscience. This project will make contributions to the account of modeling and simulation in neuroscience. I plan to complete it within the next five to six years.
In sum, I have established the grounds for a strong line of research. It covers topics ranging from specific methodological issues in neuroscience to issues of social significance such as the moral status of nonhuman animals. Thus, it also has the potential for broader impact on the public understanding of science as well as its implications for the future of our culture.