New chairs in Scientific and Technological Literacy

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Professors Carla Fehr and Heather Douglas join Dept of Philosophy

news release from the Department of Philosophy

The Department of Philosophy is delighted to announce the appointment of two Chairs in Scientific and Technological Literacy at the University of Waterloo.

Professor Carla Fehr joined the University in July as the Wolfe Chair in Science and Technology Studies, while Professor Heather Douglas will arrive in January 2012 as the Waterloo Chair in Science and Society.

The Chairs share a mandate of research, teaching, and public outreach bearing on topics that include the nature of science, public understanding of scientific practices, and the interrelations between scientific innovation, society, and policy-making. As one part of this mandate, Professors Douglas ands Fehr will design and help implement new undergraduate courses aimed at enriching and contextualizing Waterloo students' knowledge of science and technology, and the role of science in contemporary policy debates.

Professor Fehr comes to Waterloo from Iowa State University, and has a research background in both Biology and the Philosophy of Science. She researches and publishes on a range of issues, especially bearing on (i) the social structure of scientific communities that promote excellence in research, (ii) evolutionary explanations of gender-linked traits and behaviour, and (iii) the question of how scientific ignorance can be a constructed property – not merely a lack of knowledge or lack of learning opportunity, but something that serves a functional social or psychological role. She moreover has a track record of program-building, having worked extensively with faculty and administrators in scientific and professional fields to implement hiring and retention strategies that create diversity in the research community. Professor Fehr is already making contacts at the University with researchers interested in similar topics, and in scientific outreach more generally; she invites anyone interest to get in touch with her.

Professor Douglas is currently on a visiting appointment at the University of Pittsburgh, but comes to  Waterloo from her appointment at the University of Tennessee. Her research focuses on the interplay between science, values, and public policy, drawing implications for both our understanding of scientific reasoning and the role of science within society. She works with examples from the fields of risk analysis, climate science, and the history of nuclear technology, while consulting widely with practicing scientists in diverse fields. Her 2009 book Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal (University of Pittsburgh Press) is already influential among researchers working in the public understanding of science. Professor Douglas looks forward to bringing her research interests at the interface of science and policy to a position with both a research and a public outreach mandate.

The Department will host a one-day symposium to inaugurate the two Chair positions on March 23, 2012; further details will be announced in the new year.

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