Dr. phil. Lara Huber


Relevance, Significance, Confidence? Epistemic Value and Epistemic Power of Scientific Research (Relevanz, Signifikanz, Konfidenz? Über Erkenntniswert und Erkenntnisleistung wissenschaftlicher Forschung)

In Against Method Paul Feyerabend addresses two questions that might inform an inquiry into scientific practices from a philosopher’s stance. The first one aims at a mere descriptive account about science, about its methods, its progress, its outcomes. The second one introduces an additional, normative perspective by asking about the value of today’s science—in contrast to earlier accounts but also to other human practices, such as religion or art. The first question invites us to reflect on the given epistemic power of scientific research and its methods and the justification of scientific outcomes (›Erkenntnisleistung‹), whereas the second one paves the way for assessing its epistemic value (›Erkenntniswert‹).
›Evidence‹ and ›significance‹ are key concepts in addressing the epistemic power of methods in empirical research. In epistemology, evidence is often said to allow for immediate or unconditional understanding due to clarity, distinctiveness, and certainty, for example, in reference to Immanuel Kant (»anschauende Gewißheit«, KrV, B 762). Current accounts—of research into scientific practices in general and of philosophy of science in particular—provide us with a broader picture of evidence-based practices in different fields of research, their merits as much as their challenges. Similar could be said about the concept of significance and the rise of statistical analysis of scientific outcomes.
As regards the second topic into the epistemic value of scientific research, additional queries arise. We might infer these by revisiting methods of defining ›relevance‹ in detail, and acknowledging differences of scientific designs in basic research and applied research respectively.

The project aims at providing a detailed account of key criteria that inform the assessment of research from an epistemological point of view. In taking medicine and climate research as case studies, it focuses on three approaches of how scientific research and its outcomes are evaluated, namely as regards a) its conception (e.g., defining relevant topics of research), b) its implementation or realisation (e.g., study design and choice of resources), and c) its application (e.g., evidence-based decision making). Also, the project is concerned with the question, how criteria that inform accounts of ›epistemic value‹ (relevance) relate to those of ›epistemic power‹ (evidence, significance). Quite notably, evidence-based practices highlight ›confidence‹ as an additional criterium for assessing scientific research. The latter might be regarded as a mere pragmatic tool of evaluating outcomes of study design or simulation practices. Then again, it explicitly offers a social perspective on epistemic practices in scientific research.

Recent publications

L. Huber (forthcoming). Confidence: Calibrating Trust in Science. In: Michael M. Resch & Andreas Kaminski (Eds): Trust in Science (SAS Series), Springer (book chapter invited)

L. Huber (2020). Relevanz. Über den Erkenntniswert wissenschaftlicher Forschung. (Blaue Reihe) Hamburg: Felix Meiner.

Presentation of research results (latest conference presentations)

15.08.2022: "Epistemic Significance: Broadening the Perspective", The Fourth International Conference of the German Society for Philosophy of Science (GWP), 15-17th August 2022, Technische Universität Berlin
27.10.2021: "Confidence: Calibrating Trust in Science", Conference Series: Science and Art of Simulation (SAS 2021): 27-29th October 2021, High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HRLS), Department for the Philosophy of Computational Sciences, University Stuttgart (online conference)
10.03.2020: "Zum ›Problem der Relevanz‹ in Wissenschaft und Forschung – im Anschluss an Alfred Schütz", Kiel meets Kobe, German-Japanese-Workshop,09.-10.03.2020, Philosophisches Seminar, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Germany (to be rescheduled)
19.11.2018: Relevanz: Über den Erkenntniswert wissenschaftlicher Forschung und seine kritische Erörterung, Antrittsvorlesung im Rahmen des Philosophischen Colloquiums, Philosophisches Seminar, Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Germany

08.12.2015: "Relevanz: Zur Schwierigkeit der Bewertung wissenschaftlicher Ergebnisse aus Sicht der Wissenschaftsphilosophie", Kolloquium „Philosophie und Wissenschaftsreflexion“, Institut für Philosophie, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany

Standards and Knowledge: A Systematic Study on Epistemic Practices in the Laboratory Sciences (Standards und Wissen: Zur Praxis wissenschaftlicher Erkenntnis in der laborbasierten Forschung. Eine philosophisch-systematische Untersuchung) Habilitation thesis, Bergische Universität Wuppertal 2017; slightly revised version published at Velbrück Wissenschaft 2020

Standards are ubiquitous in our life in general. Just consider plugs and power adapters. Standards are also common tools in the scientific laboratory in particular: think about gauges and reference samples. Standards are either objects, for example measuring devices that have been standardized, or they are employed to describe a formal practice (e.g., protocol). The former often serve as tools that allow for standardisation (e.g., prototype, gauge). The latter formalises and guides experimental practices. For instance, they inform about technical preconditions and, wherever required, about inclusion and exclusion parameters regarding research subjects. Against this background, standards are said to provide trust in scientific methodology in general and measuring devices in particular. To standardise means to formalise and regulate scientific practices, to prioritise instrumental and methodological prerequisites of research: Standardisation impacts on the design of experiments, concerns the reporting of outcomes and the assessment of research (e.g., peer review process).

Studies in the history of science and technology have shown that standards contribute significantly to the evolution and validation of scientific practices. The philosophy of science is as yet only beginning to analyse systematic challenges posed by standardisation, for example, as regards the assessment of valid claims of knowledge in science (›Erkenntnissicherung‹): What are key criteria that inform current accounts of scientific knowledge (e.g., objectivity, systematicity)? Do epistemic practices in science that rely on standardisation affect these criteria?

The overall interest of this project is to elaborate on the question how standards relate to ends that facilitate or allow for knowledge claims in experimental sciences in general and in bioscientific research in particular. Therefore, the analysis focuses on case studies in the laboratory biosciences, from molecular biology to biomedicine. Its special concern is to explore general assumptions about standardisation from the perspective of epistemology and the philosophy of science. More explicitly, the project’s aim is to enquire into the reality of standards as being very specific tools with defined uses, but also sharing general suppositions about which ends they serve within the realm of science (e.g., transparency, stability, validity).

Recent publications

L. Huber (2020). Standards und Wissen. Zur Praxis wissenschaftlicher Erkenntnis. Eine philosophisch-systematische Untersuchung. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft.

L. Huber (2018). From stability to validity: How standards serve epistemic ends. In: Alexander Christian, David Hommen, Nina Retzlaff & Gerhard Schurz (Eds): Philosophy of Science – Between the Natural Sciences, the Social Sciences, and the Humanities (p. 187-201). (EPSA-Series) Heidelberg u.a.: Springer

O. Schlaudt & L. Huber (Eds) (2015). Standardization in Measurement: Philosophical, Historical and Sociological Issues. (Series: History and Philosophy of Technoscience, Vol. 7) London: Pickering and Chatto Publishers.

Presentation of research results (latest conference presentations)
10.03.2016: "From stability to validity: How standards serve epistemic ends", GWP.2016 Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftsphilosophie, Second International Conference, 08.-11.03.2016 Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf, Germany
23.-24.07.2015: "How constant are values of measurement? The case of baseline values", The Making of Measurement (Workshop), 23.-24.07.2015 Center for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge, UK
02.10.2014: „Wissen und Macht: Zur Autorität wissenschaftlicher Normen für die Erkenntnissicherung“, Sektion Wissenschaftsphilosophie, XXIII. Deutscher Kongress für Philosophie, 28.09.-02.10.2014 Universität Münster, Germany.
15.03.2013: "Measuring by which standard? Plurality challenges epistemic singularity", Dimensions of Measurement (International Conference), 14.-16.03.2013 in Bielefeld (ZiF), Germany.

"Rise of the mice": Animal modelling in research into Alzheimer’s Disease – from a history of science perspective (Zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte von Mausmodellen in der Alzheimer- Forschung), in cooperation with Lara K. Keuck (Berlin)

Abstract (German)

Tiermodelle sind in den Lebenswissenschaften und insbesondere in der biomedizinischen Forschung gegenwärtig ein alternativloser Standard. Mit ihrer Hilfe werden Krankheitsbilder simuliert und Interventionsmöglichkeiten in pathogene Prozesse erforscht. Das Ziel des Projekts ist es, die Erklärungsreichweite tierbasierter Modellierungen im Bezug auf humane Krankheitsbilder einer systematischen und wissenschaftshistorischen Analyse zu unterziehen. Dies geschieht am Beispiel der Etablierung von Mausmodellen in der Alzheimer- Forschung (z.B. Hsiao et al 1996). Im Fokus des Projekts stehen die spezifischen Herausforderungen translationaler Forschung in diesem Bereich. Das Projekt wurde von 2011 bis einschließlich 2012 durch MAIFOR (Nachwuchsforschung Universitätsmedizin der Universität Mainz) gefördert, und wird seit 2013 ohne Finanzierung weitergeführt.

Current paper
L. HUBER & L.K. Keuck (born: Kutschenko). Mutant Mice: Experimental organisms as materialised models in biomedicine. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 2013 44,3: 385-391 (online first):

Animal models have received particular attention as key examples of material models. In this paper, we argue that the specificities of establishing animal models—acknowledging their status as living beings and as epistemological tools—necessitate a more complex account of animal models as materialised models. This becomes particularly evident in animal-based models of diseases that only occur in humans: in these cases, the representational relation between animal model and human patient needs to be generated and validated. The first part of this paper presents an account of how disease-specific animal models are established by drawing on the example of transgenic mice models for Alzheimer’s disease. We will introduce an account of validation that involves a three-fold process including (1) from human being to experimental organism; (2) from experimental organism to animal model; and (3) from animal model to human patient. This process draws upon clinical relevance as much as scientific practices and results in disease-specific, yet incomplete, animal models. The second part of this paper argues that the incompleteness of models can be described in terms of multi-level abstractions. We qualify this notion by pointing to different experimental techniques and targets of modelling, which give rise to a pluralism of models for a specific disease.

Presentation of research results (latest conference presentation)
24.06.2014. "From mice to men: Homogeneity, similarity and relevance in model-based reasoning", Panel: Similarities reconsidered: How achievements of similarity license inferential and constructive moves in research practice (gem. mit Anamaria Carusi, Kopenhagen/DK; Alfred Nordmann, Darmstadt; Mieke Boon, Twente, NL; Sabine Ammon, Darmstadt), Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP), Fifth Biennial Conference, 24.-26.06.2015, University of Aarhus, DK 16.11.2012: "Humanising animals: The search for an ideal transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease in the 1990s", in cooperation with Lara K. Keuck (Mainz) within the realm of the Symposium Animal Models Beyond Genetics, Organisers: Rachel Ankeny, Sabina Leonelli, Annual Meeting of the History of Science Society (HSS: 15.-18.11.2012) and Biennal Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association (PSA: 15.-17.11.2012), San Diego, USA

About the use of colour in Neuroimaging: Colour coding in functional imaging – perspectives of image theory and psychology of perception
(Farbeinsatz im Neuroimaging: Bildtheoretische und wahrnehmungspsychologische Aspekte der Farbkodierung in der funktionellen Bildgebung), in cooperation with Markus Christen (Zürich; CH/Notre Dame; USA), Julie Harboe (Luzern), Peter Brugger (Zürich), Deborah A. Vitacco (Zürich)

Abstract (German)
Ziel des Projekts ist es neben der Ermittlung von Standards der Farbgebung in unterschiedlichen Forschungs- und Praxisfeldern, auszuloten, ob der Einsatz von Fehlfarben beim Neuroimaging einen epistemischen Mehrwert konstituiert, der über andere Modalitäten der Nachbearbeitung wissenschaftlicher Daten nicht erzielt werden kann. Der Forschungsschwerpunkt vereint Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler aus dem Bereich der klinischen Forschung und Praxis (Neuropsychologie), der Methodenkritik und Wissenschaftstheorie der Neurowissenschaft sowie aus der Kunstwissenschaft. Das Projekt wurde 2009 bis einschließlich 2012 durch die Cogito Foundation (Wollerau, CH) gefördert, und wird seither ohne Finanzierung im Rahmen einer offenen Arbeitsgruppe zur Visualisierung von Daten – Ästhetische, erkenntnistheoretische und wahrnehmungspsychologische Gesichtspunkte unter Beteiligung von Markus Christen (Ethik-Zentrum, Univ. Zürich), Peter Brugger (Neurologie/Neuropsychologie, UniversitätsSpital Zürich), Julie Harboe (Kunstforschung, Luzern), Sara Fabrikant (Geographie, Univ. Zürich), Martin Fischer (Psychologie, Univ. Potsdam) weitergeführt.

Current paper
M. Christen, D.A. Vitacco, L. HUBER, J. Harboe, S.I. Fabrikant & P. Brugger. The colors of the brain. Investigating 14 years of display practice in functional imaging. Neuroimage 2013 73: 30-39 (online first):
Neuroimaging results are typically graphically rendered and color-coded, which influences the process of knowledge generation within neuroscience as well as the public perception of brain research. Analyzing these issues requires empirical information on the display practice in neuroimaging. In our study we evaluated more than 9,000 functional images (fMRI and PET) published between 1996 and 2009 with respect to the use of color, image structure, image production software and other factors that may determine the display practice. We demonstrate a variety of display styles despite a remarkable dominance of few image production sites and software systems, outline some tendencies of standardization, and identify shortcomings with respect to color scale explication in neuroimages. We discuss the importance of the finding for knowledge production in neuroimaging, and we make suggestions to improve the display practice in neuroimaging, especially on regimes of color coding.

Presentation of research results (latest conference presentations)
17.-21.02.2015: „Farbe als Episteme: Zur Ästhetik als Kategorie des Technischen“ (Einzelvortrag L. Huber), IX. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Ästhetik, Universität Hamburg, Germany.
13.-14.10.2012: M. Christen, D.A. Vitacco, L. Huber, P. Brugger, J. Harboe, Analyzing 14 years of neuroimaging display practice reveals patterns of standardization, differentiation among imaging communities and some lack of care in activation presentation, (Theme H Paper, Session Number: 030 Ethical and Policy Issues) Society for Neuroscience Meeting 2012, New Orleans, USA.

Tel. +49 (0)431-880-3539
huber@philsem.uni-kiel.de Impressum