Image of the cover of Synthese magazine.Broadening the Scope of Our Understanding of Mechanisms: Lessons from the History of the Morning-After Pill (2019)

Synthese (full text here)

This paper examines how knowledge about how a drug (like the morning-after pill) works can involve ethics, morals, and politics, such as abortion, population control, and women's agency and access.


Philosophers of science and medicine now aspire to provide useful, socially relevant accounts of mechanism. Yet, their primary focus has been on more proximate issues related to therapeutic effectiveness. To take the next step toward social relevance, we must investigate the challenges facing researchers, clinicians, and policy makers involving values and social context.

This paper uses debates over the controversial morning-after pill (emergency contraception) to gain insight into the deeper reasons for the production and use of mechanistic knowledge throughout biomedical research, clinical practice, and governmental regulation. To practice socially relevant philosophy of science, I argue that we need to account for mechanistic knowledge beyond immediate effectiveness, such as how it can also provide moral guidance, aid ethical categorization in the clinic, and function as a political instrument.

Cover Image of The Philosophy of Science publication.The Error Is in the Gap: Synthesizing Accounts for Societal Values in Science (2018)

Philosophy of Science (full text here)

This paper examines the role of ethical value judgments and value-freedom in science.


Kevin Elliott and others separate two common arguments for the legitimacy of societal values in scientific reasoning as the gap and the error arguments (respectively, the arguments from underdetermination and from inductive risk). This article poses two questions: How are these two arguments related, and what can we learn from their interrelation?

I contend that we can better understand the error argument as nested within the gap because the error is a limited case of the gap with narrower features. Furthermore, this nestedness provides philosophers with conceptual tools for analyzing more robustly how values pervade science.

Cover Image of the Accountability in Research publication,Pesticides, Neurodevelopmental Disagreement, and Bradford Hill’s Guidelines (2017)

Accountability in Research with Kristin Shrader-Frechette (full text here)

This paper analyzes methodological problems stemming from conflicts of interest in industry-funded research.


Neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism affect one-eighth of all U.S. newborns. Yet scientists, accessing the same data and using Bradford-Hill guidelines, draw different conclusions about the causes of these disorders. They disagree about the pesticide-harm hypothesis, that typical United States prenatal pesticide exposure can cause neurodevelopmental damage.

This article aims to discover whether apparent scientific disagreement about this hypothesis might be partly attributable to questionable interpretations of the Bradford-Hill causal guidelines. Key scientists, who claim to employ Bradford-Hill causal guidelines, yet fail to accept the pesticide-harm hypothesis, fall into errors of trimming the guidelines, requiring statistically-significant data, and ignoring semi-experimental evidence. However, the main scientists who accept the hypothesis appear to commit none of these errors. Although settling disagreement over the pesticide-harm hypothesis requires extensive analysis, this article suggests that at least some conflicts may arise because of questionable interpretations of the guidelines.

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Drug Labels and Reproductive Health:

How Values and Gender Norms Shape Regulatory Science at the FDA

Pill bottle and Pregnant Woman

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is fraught with controversies over the role of values and politics in regulatory science, especially with drugs in the realm of reproductive health. Philosophers and science studies scholars have investigated the ways in which social context shapes medical knowledge through value judgments, and feminist scholars and activists have criticized sexism and injustice in reproductive medicine. Nonetheless, there has been no systematic study of values and gender norms in FDA drug regulation.

I focus on three questions about values in regulatory science. First, how have societal values and gender norms shaped the way that the FDA regulates drugs in the realm of reproductive health, specifically with drug labels? Second, what are the ethical, epistemic, and social consequences of these influences on regulation for women and other marginalized groups? Third, which societal values and gender norms ought to influence drug regulation about reproductive health, and how ought this happen? Integrating philosophical analysis with historical archival research and in-depth interviews, I conduct three case studies of drug labeling about reproductive health: (1) the “drug fact” about the mechanism of the morning-after pill; (2) the package inserts for patients about the health risks of oral contraceptives; and (3) the special physician labels made for prescribing drugs to pregnant women.

I identify three challenges for the FDA and suggest ways to reduce the influence of sexist values and facilitate feminist alternatives. First, across these cases, I have found that there are many ways in which other concerns in reproductive medicine (such as zygotic life, fetal health, and population control) have devalued women’s health. Second, both knowledge and ignorance about their reproductive health have contributed to women’s oppression, especially poor women and women of color. Finally, by avoiding the epistemic dimensions of ethics, powerful, mostly male parties in medicine (such as doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and religious institutions) have misused “informed consent,” “religious freedom,” and “paternalism” for unethical purposes. For improvement, I suggest extracting sexist values and gender norms from regulatory science that cause epistemic injustices, and I point to success stories for reforming sexism with feminism at the FDA.

See full text of the dissertation.