Who can act? Critical assumptions at the foundations of statistical analysis

An incomplete July 2010 working paper
Thinking about a simple teaching example on the t-test for comparing the average (mean) for some measurement in a group versus the average in another led me to articulate a sequence of thoughts and questions about the foundations of statistical analysis. In particular, my inquiry explores contrasts between: the statistical emphasis on averages or types around which there is variation or noise; variation as a mixture of types; the dynamics (or heterogeneous mix of dynamics) that generated the data analyzed; and participatory restructuring of these dynamics in the future. Two key issues are: Who is assumed to be able to take action—who are the “agents”—and who are the subjects that follow directions given by others? What can it mean to explain differences among averages? Questions are noted to be addressed in a future supplement.

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On a scale from 0 to 10, how much better could your pain be managed? (revisited)

In this audio (11 mins) I consider not only better monitoring of the effect of drugs administered, but also: a) the preparation needed for discharged patients to appreciate what might happen and to avoid setbacks; b) the social support, especially for distraction from an understandable tendency to “catastrophize,” and c) sources that have intrigued and informed me.

Depicting simultaneously similarity, diversity, ancestry, and admixture?

Can any depiction of genetic relationships among humans allow simultaneously for similarity, diversity, ancestry, and admixture (i.e., groups that had split mixing again)? I asked this question while puzzling over the messages conveyed by diagrams from the work of Tishkoff and collaborators on genetic variation among humans in and out of Africa. In this talk I present explorations of alternative depictions of human genetic variation keeping my initial question in mind. By the end I will have prepared the ground for an assertion that the very methodology of generating and depicting human ancestry privileges a racialized view of human diversity.
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Two islands, three themes, parts 1 & 2, then four themes

This 10-minute video is the first of three that use the science of population growth to introduce themes that apply to all of science (audio only).
The second part is audio only.
The third part is video or audio.

Decentered approach to infrastructure building in Science & Technology Studies

Nomination statement (unsuccessful)for 2019 Infrastructure award of Society for Social Studies of Science

“Consistently working on [a] decentered approach to infrastructure development follows from and feeds into STS analyses of the ecological-like complexity of influences shaping science as agents combine a diversity or heterogeneity of components or resources as they establish knowledge and technologies…” Continue reading

Museum of Evolving Nature: A proposed PBL unit

The PBL unit sketched below is a possible replacement for a field trip in which I asked students to visit a natural history museum to see “in what ways you can interpret representations or images of nature (=the organisms, the processes of life, and the order in those organisms and processes) in terms of favored ideas about social arrangements” (i.e., adopting the interpretive themes of Raymond Williams from “Ideas of nature” in his book Problems in Materialism and Culture. London, Verso: 67-85). Museums are, however, very difficult to interpret because there are typically many displays from many periods of time and minimal information about when they were built and what the designers were thinking. The PBL to follow revolves around how much more needs to be known.
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Bouncing off a current in philosophy of biology that wants to make claims about causal contributions

This post bounces off a current in philosophy of biology that wants to make claims about specific causal contributions of different factors, especially with respect to genes and heritability.
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What to do if a significant issue warrants more attention?

What is that issue?, you might ask. I’m not going to name one because that invites you not to explore the in-principle question of the title, but instead decide whether you think the issue needs more attention.

What makes the issue significant then? Several answers may emerge in due course, but let’s start with the issue being a scientific idea or theory that fits the observations. From this starting point let me run through a number of options that I have pursued. You may well identify additions, prefer some over others, or suggest revisions in the formulations–that’s all to the good because the title questions is genuine, not rhetorical. Continue reading

The Social Construction of Life: Critical Thinking about Biology in Society

This book aims to expand the boundaries of the influences that readers consider when interpreting the practices and products of the life sciences (“biology”) and their impact on society. The chapter topics include: Interpreting Ideas of Nature; The structure of origin stories; Multiple layers in influencing an audience: The case of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species; Metaphors of coordination and development; What causes a disease?—the consequences of hereditarianism in the case of pellagra; How changeable are IQ test scores?; Social negotiations around genetic screening; Intersecting processes involving genes and environment. Continue reading

50 whys to look for genes: Pros and complications

Working paper from 2015: Taylor, Peter J., “50 whys to look for genes: Pros and complications” (2015). Working Papers on Science in a Changing World. 12.

“Treating the audience as capable of thinking about the complexities that surround the application of genetic knowledge” was the tagline of a series of daily blog posts made over seven weeks in the fall of 2014, posts that included extended quotes from the recently published Nature-Nurture? No (Taylor 2014). This working paper is a compilation of those posts.