What to do if we think that researchers have overlooked a significant issue?

Abstract of a manuscript (updated 3 Dec 18). Comments welcome—email me for the full draft.

Participants in debates about developments in science and technology point to issues overlooked or downplayed by scientists—or, if the debate is among scientists themselves, by other scientists. Sometimes included among participants in debates are interpreters of science—sociologists, historians, philosophers, and scholars from other fields of Science and Technology Studies. Taking these scholars as the audience, this article asks what should we do if we identify a significant issue not yet subject to debate?

In particular, what should we do when the overlooked issue is conceptual—a matter of how inquiry is framed—more than it is a matter of analyzing the evidence or applying the results? I address the title question in-principle, describe a specific case, and review a range of ways I have been working to influence research related to that case. I do not argue for particular actions or provide a how-to guide; my goal rather is to promote more systematic attention to the mostly implicit models that scholars interpreting science have regarding their aspirations and strategies for influencing science. The crux of the specific case is that throughout its almost 100-year history quantitative genetics seems to have overlooked the implications of underlying heterogeneity—although relatives may be similar for a given trait because they share more genes or environmental conditions than unrelated individuals, the genes and environmental conditions underlying the development of the trait need not be the same from one set of relatives to another. I see the possibility of underlying heterogeneity as significant given its implications for the analysis and interpretation of classical and modern quantitative genetics.

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