, Volume 190, Issue 11, pp 1955–1973 | Cite as

Embedding philosophers in the practices of science: bringing humanities to the sciences

  • Nancy Tuana


The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States, like many other funding agencies all over the globe, has made large investments in interdisciplinary research in the sciences and engineering, arguing that interdisciplinary research is an essential resource for addressing emerging problems, resulting in important social benefits. Using NSF as a case study for problem that might be relevant in other contexts as well, I argue that the NSF itself poses a significant barrier to such research in not sufficiently appreciating the value of the humanities as significant interdisciplinary partners. This essay focuses on the practices of philosophy as a highly valuable but currently under-appreciated partner in achieving the goals of interdisciplinary research. This essay advances a proposal for developing deeper and wider interdisciplinary research in the sciences through coupled ethical-epistemological research. I argue that this more robust model of interdisciplinary practice will lead to better science by providing resources for understanding the types of value decisions that are entrenched in research models and methods, offering resources for identifying the ethical implications of research decisions, and providing a lens for identifying the questions that are ignored, under-examined, and rendered invisible through scientific habit or lack of interest. In this way, we will have better science both in the traditional sense of advancing knowledge by building on and adding to our current knowledge as well as in the broader sense of science for the good of, namely, scientific research that better benefits society.


Philosophy Interdisciplinarity Coupled ethical-epistemic analyses Climate science NSF Broader-impacts criterion 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Beier J. M., Arnold S. L. (2005) Becoming undisciplined: Toward the supradisciplinary study of security. International Studies Review 7: 41–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Collins, J. (2010). HPL-Based ethics education for life science and bioengineering students. NSF Grant 0933812 Award Abstract.Google Scholar
  3. Crutzen P. J. (2006) Albedo ehancement by stratospheric sulfur injections: A contribution to resolve a policy dilemma?. Climatic Change 77(3–4): 211–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Frodeman R., Mitcham C., Sacks A. B. (2001) Questioning interdisciplinarity. Science, Technology, and Society Newsletter 126–127: 1–5Google Scholar
  5. Graybill J. K., Dooling S., Shandas V., Withey J., Greve A., Simon G. L. (2006) A rough guide to interdisciplinarity: Graduate student perspectives. Professional Biologist 56(9): 757–763Google Scholar
  6. Harding S. (2002) Rethinking standpoint epistemology: What is “Strong Objectivity”?. In: Wray K. B. (eds) Knowledge and inquiry: Readings in epistemology. Broadview Press, New York, pp 352–384Google Scholar
  7. Irvine P. J., Ridgwell A., Lunt D. J. (2010) Assessing the regional disparities in geoengineering impacts. Geophysical Research Letters 37: 18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Keith D. (2000) Geoengineering the climate: History and prospect. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 25: 245–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Keith D., Parson E., Morgan M. G. (2010) Research on global sun block needed now. Nature 463(7280): 426–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Keller K., McInerney D. (2008) The dynamics of learning about a climate threshold. Climate Dynamics 30: 321–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kiehl J. (2006) Geoengineering climate change: Treating the symptom over the cause?. Climatic Change 77(3): 227–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Klein J. T. (1990) Interdisciplinarity: History, theory and practice. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MIGoogle Scholar
  13. Klein J. T. (1996) Crossing boundaries: Knowledge, disciplinarities, and interdisciplinarities. The University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, VAGoogle Scholar
  14. Klein J. T. (2000) Transdisciplinarity: Joint problem solving among science, technology and society: An effective way for managing complexity. Birkhauser, BaselGoogle Scholar
  15. MacCracken M. C. (2006) Geoengineering: Worthy of cautious evaluation?. Climatic Change 77(3–4): 235ndash;243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mann M. E., Kump L. R. (2008) Dire predictions: Understanding global warming. DK Publishing, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Matthews H. D., Caldeira K. (2007) Transient climate-carbon simulations of planetary geoengineering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104(24): 9949–9954CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Meehl, G. A. (2007). Global climate projections. In S. Solomon, D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K. B. Averyt, M. Tignor, & H. L. Miller (Eds.), Climate Change 2007: The physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Morgan M. G., Ricke K. (2011) Cooling the earth through solar radiation management: The need for research and an approach to its governance. International Risk Governance Council, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  20. National Institutes of Health. (2011). Research teams of the future. Retrieved from
  21. National Science Foundation. (2010). Decadal and regional climate prediction using earth systems models (EaSM). Retrieved from
  22. National Science Foundation. (2011a). Fostering interdisciplinary research in education. Program Solicitation NSF 11-526. Retrieved from
  23. National Science Foundation. (2011b). Interdisciplinary research. Retrieved from
  24. Proctor R., Schiebinger L. (2008) Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CAGoogle Scholar
  25. Ricke, K. L., Morgan, M. G., & Allen, M. R. (2010). Regional climate response to solar-radiation management. Nature Geoscience. doi: 10.1038/ngeo915.
  26. Rignot E., Velicogna I., van den Broeke M. R., Monaghan A., Lenaerts J. (2011) Acceleration of the contribution of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to sea level rise. Geophysical Research Letters 38: L05503. doi: 10.1029/2011GL046583 Google Scholar
  27. Robinson J. (2008) Being undisciplined: Transgressions and intersections in academia and beyond. Futures 40: 70–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Robock A. (2008) 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 64(2): 14–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Robock, A., Oman, L., & Stenchikov, G. L. (2008). Regional climate responses to geoengineering with tropical SO2 injections. Journal of Geophysical Research–Atmospheres, 113(D16), 15.Google Scholar
  30. Schienke E., Tuana N., Brown D., Davis K., Keller K., Shortle J. et al (2009) The role of the NSF broader impacts criteria on research ethics pedagogy. Social Epistemology: A Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy 23(3–4): 317–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Shepherd J., Caldeira K., Cox P., Haigh J. et al (2009) Geoengineering the climate: Science, governance and uncertainty. The Royal Society, LondonGoogle Scholar
  32. Svoboda T., Keller K., Goes M., Tuana N. (2011) Sulfate aerosol geoengineering: The question of justice. Public Affairs Quarterly 25(3): 157–180Google Scholar
  33. Tuana N. (2010) Leading with ethics, aiming for policy: New opportunities for philosophy of science. Synthese: An International Journal for Epistemology, Methodology and Philosophy of Science 177: 471–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tuana N., Sriver R., Svoboda T., Olson R., Irvine P., Haqq-Misra J. et al (2012) Towards integrated ethical and scientific analysis of geoengineering: A research agenda. Ethics, Policy & Environment 15(2): 1–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Urban N. M., Keller K. (2010) Probabilistic hindcasts and projections of the coupled climate, carbon cycle and Atlantic meridional overturning circulation system: A Bayesian fusion of century-scale observations with a simple model. Tellus Series A: Dynamic Meteorology and Oceanography 62(5): 737–750Google Scholar
  36. United States Congress. (2007). American creating opportunities to meaningfully promote excellence in technology, education, and science act. America COMPETES Act.Google Scholar
  37. van Hartesveldt, C., & Giordan, J. (2008). Impact on academic institutions of transformative interdisciplinary research and graduate education. National Science Foundation.
  38. Wilson G. (2009) The world has problems while universities have disciplines: Universities meeting the challenge of environment through interdisciplinary partnerships. Journal of the World Universities Forum 2(2): 57–62Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyPenn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations