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Centres and institutes_

Research projects

Investigating the foundations of science from every angle
The Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science's diverse projects reflect the scope of our interests and expertise. Much of our work is funded by the Australian Research Council.

Fat in the 1950s: America's first obesity epidemic

Professor Nicolas Rasmussen, funded by Harvard Countway Medical Library

In 1950 the US Public Health Service and American Medical Association declared obesity to be the leading national health problem. This project considers the political, cultural, and scientific roots of this epidemic, and how it vanished in the 1960s despite the ever-increasing American waistline.

Baroque science

Professor Ofer Gal, Australian Research Council project DP0664046

A new interpretation of the evolution of science in its formative era, the so-called scientific revolution of 17th century Europe. An account of the tensions and compromises that shaped the New Science and enabled its success, arguing New Science is a Baroque phenomenon.

Biological laws: Analogies and allometries

Professor Mark Colyvan, The University of Sydney; Lev Ginzburg, Stony Brook University, United States; John Damuth, University of California Santa Barbara, US; funded by the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study

Looking at the question of whether there are laws in ecology – and metabolic allometries as candidates for these laws. Defending analogical reasoning as legitimate in science, and a basis for a good case that the various allometries are indeed ecological laws.

Biotech genesis: Biology and enterprise in the early neo-liberal age

Professor Nicolas Rasmussen, Australian Research Council project DP0984694

The turn of many molecular biologists to commercial projects in the 1970s and 1980s, giving rise to the biotech sector, is still controversial. This project documents the extraordinary private science of the day, its medical impact, and the changes wrought on the biologists doing it.

Causal foundations of biological information

Professor Paul Griffiths, The University of Sydney; Dr Karola Stotz, Macquarie University; funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation

The source of order in living systems sits at the boundary of biology and philosophy. This project will develop a measure of biological information and capture information-processing in gene regulatory networks, epigenetic information and self-organising processes. 

Passionate knowledge: the ethics and politics of the scientific revolution

Professor Ofer Gal, The University of Sydney

This project provides a fresh account of the role of science in shaping the modern state. Rather than a basis in reason, New Science presented a complex and unruly universe, and it was anger, fear, desire and wonder that inspired the quest for knowledge, justice and happiness. 

A methodological analysis of the application of evolutionary medicine to non-communicable diseases

Professor Paul Griffiths, The University of Sydney; Australian Research Council project DP130101774

Recent work in the philosophy of science provides resources to better understand the heuristic role of evolutionary ideas for biomedical research. This project will explain how evolutionary thinking has facilitated important new approaches to non-communicable disease.

Group decisions and consensus methods for conservation management

Professor Mark Burgman, The University of Melbourne; Professor Mark Colyvan, The University of Sydney; Professor Helen Regan, University of California Riverside, United States; funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Standard decision theory offers a way of determining the rational course of action for a single agent. Typically, important conservation decisions are made by committees. We survey and evaluate methods for reaching a rational group decision, with a focus on consensus methods.

Developmental niche construction: an integrative conceptual framework for inheritance mechanisms

Dr Karola Stotz, Macquarie University

A diverse but disintegrated field in the life sciences is investigating developmental responses to the environment during an organism’s lifetime and their potential evolutionary significance. The project aims to develop a unified conceptual framework to integrate these diverse findings.

Mathematical explanation

Professor Mark Colyvan, The University of Sydney; Dr Sam Baron, The University of Western Australia; David Ripley, The University of Connecticut, United States; Australian Research Council project FT110100909

This project will advance a new theory of mathematical explanation, for both internal mathematical purposes and extra-mathematical explanations, and develop applications to conservation biology and conservation management.

Mathematical notation: a philosophical account

Professor Mark Colyvan, The University of Sydney; Australian Research Council project DP120102871

This project will provide a philosophical account of mathematical notation and thus make sense of the idea of mathematics as the language of science. It will show how mathematical notation can lead to new discoveries and enable explanations.

New agendas for the study of time

Professor Dean Rickles, The University of Sydney

This project aims to give researchers from a range of disciplines a deeper understanding of what aspects of the study of time belong to their own discipline, and how these relate to other disciplines, bringing a fresh clarity to the study of time in its most global sense.

Philosophy of microbiology

Maureen O'Malley, The University of Sydney

This project aims to understand microbiology philosophically, especially as it adapts to new data, methods and models, and to advance and consolidate philosophy of microbiology which, while a small subfield of the philosophy of biology, deserves greater attention. 

Quantum foundations

Professor Stephen Bartlett, The University of Sydney; Dr Eric Cavalcanti, Griffith University

Pursuing questions of ontological models, generalised probabilistic theories, epistemic models, quantum reference frames, causal networks, Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen steering, quantum nonlocality and contextuality, closed timelike curves, and nonlinear extensions of quantum theory.

Explorations in the foundations of quantum gravity

Professor Dean Rickles

Despite a century of struggle, gravitation (as described by Einstein's general theory of relativity) remains divided from the principles of quantum theory. This project aims to shed new light on why it so stubbornly resists a solution and to assist in its solution.

The real issue: What is the realism debate really about?

Professor Ofer Gal, The University of Sydney

A radical reinterpretation of the metaphysical assumptions grounding the modern scientific realism debate. The project explores historical realist and anti-realist positions both coherent and debatable, and the current true realist position: Bruno Latour's historicist hyper-realism. 

The scientific revolution: Mechanisation of the world picture or the emergence of science as opposed to the world picture?

Associate Professor Alan Chalmers, The University of Sydney

Debates about the relative merits of the Aristotelian versus mechanical world views did not have much to do with the emergence of modern science, but were about the make-up of the material world. Case studies, especially in hydrostatics, chemistry and optics, will be used.

A theory of theory choice

Associate Professor Kristie Miller, The University of Sydney; Professor David Braddon-Mitchell, The University of Sydney; Australian Research Council project DP110100486

Disagreements can arise about the world or about the right way to conceptualise or talk about the world. This project offers a new way to determine categories of dispute, and offers an understanding of the importance of the latter kind of disagreements and how to resolve them.

Transitions and translation in scientific practice

Maureen O'Malley, The University of Sydney

This project investigates how molecular data and methods have transformed many fields of biology. The aim is to develop new philosophical angles on molecular life sciences, particularly systems and synthetic biology, molecular phylogenetics and molecular microbial ecology.