Projects @ Rotman
Research at the Rotman Institute takes an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together philosophers and scientists to focus on theoretical issues and their practical and ethical implications in areas of science from cosmology to conservation ecology, evolutionary biology, and medicine. We are currently collaborating on projects with a number of partner organizations, such as the Western University’s Centre for Human Immunology, which studies the immune system and how it mediates our health in the context of infections, inflammation and chronic diseases. Our members are also working with the leading experts in clinical trials at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute to discuss the obstacles to obtaining ethics approval for cluster randomized trials.
Near the McIntosh Gallery, Western University
Ethical and Policy Issues in Cluster Randomized Trials
The gap between medical evidence and medical practice is one of the most important challenges for the health of Canadians. The cluster randomized trial (CRT) is the major methodological tool in use in the development of new interventions to bridge the gap between evidence and practice. This project brings together clinical trialists, biostatisticians, and philosophers to address ethical and policy obstacles to the conduct of CRTs. The project uses an innovative “mixed methods” approach to document current practice and analyze ethical issues. A major outcome is the development of international ethics guidelines for CRTs.
Organisms regulate their own behavior and internal states by means of numerous sensitive and interconnected control systems. These systems make organisms vulnerable to manipulation, but also give them the capacity for cooperative interaction. This project examines the crucial role played by mechanisms of regulation in the evolutionary processes leading to complex organization both within organisms and in ecological and social relationships among them. It will draw on the expertise of philosophers, biologists, and behavioural scientists.
Conscientious Refusals in Reproductive Health
Many bioethicists and health-policy makers are currently struggling with what to do about conscientious refusals by health care professionals to provide health care services such as abortions. Our research addresses this complex moral and legal issue. The goal is to conduct rigorous analyses of when conscientious refusals—in particular those that occur in reproductive health care—are morally and legally permissible, and of which policies and educational initiatives we need in Canada with respect to these refusals. Our practical aim is to encourage delivery of reproductive health care services that is appropriately respectful of conscience and that safeguards women’s reproductive health.
Philosophy of Cosmology
Cosmology has been transformed from a speculative backwater into a central testing ground for new ideas in fundamental physics. Cosmological theories describe the large scale structure of the universe and its evolution, and cosmologists can now lay claim to a well-supported standard model. These exciting developments present philosophers with a unique opportunity. The rapid progress in cosmology does not derive from a consensus regarding aims and method; instead, progress has occurred despite disagreements on fundamentals. Cosmologists directly confront a number of philosophical questions: the nature and limits of scientific explanation, underdetermination of theory by evidence, applicability of probabilities, and the nature of physical laws. These questions have led to lively debates among cosmologists. These debates tend to tackle the questions piecemeal, but they are interesting and challenging in part because they are so tightly intertwined. Philosophers can contribute by approaching these problems systematically, drawing on broader intellectual resources such as existing work in philosophy of science and comparisons with other scientific fields.
Ecological Theory & Ecological Management: Beyond Equilibrium
For decades agricultural and ecological systems have been managed in order to achieve efficiency and maximize productivity. This approach to ecological management was supported by the view that ecological systems have an inherent tendency to balance themselves and reach their natural equilibrium. The belief that undisturbed ecological systems tend to remain in their natural state is a very pervasive and influential driver of ecological management. However, ecologists have accumulated evidence that this representation of ecological systems is inaccurate. This project investigates new developments in ecological theory and empirical research, and their implications for conservation and restoration ecology, and sustainability planning.
The Mechanization of Philosophy Between 1300-1700
Standard histories of the development of modern science and philosophy have it that mechanical philosophy was driven by changes in physics that then required a re-conceptualization of the metaphysics of substance. We contest that this view is backwards. The revisions of the metaphysics of substance, including new ideas about activity, power, and natural law, occurred in the 14th century and paved the way for the well-known changes in physics in the 15th and 16th centuries. These in turn gave rise to mechanical philosophy in the 17th century. The project will involve close investigation of the relatively unexplored natural philosophy and metaphysics of the 15th and 16th centuries.