By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director
What Associate Professor of Philosophy Janet D. Stemwedel began as a way to extend conversations that “just would not fit into the confines of two 75-minute lectures a week” has hit the big time.
Why philosophy and science? Stemwedel holds doctoral degrees in philosophy and physical chemistry. Her blog “will focus on what’s involved with doing good science, and what ethics has to do with it.”
An experienced blogger, she’s found her online work enriches her academic life. Faculty members “sometimes have boundary issues,” she said.
“Our interests often lead us to explore disciplines other than the ones we’re trained in, our research spills over into our teaching, and both spill into our interactions with the world beyond the campus. Blogging is just another place where the boundaries keep moving for me.”
Here’s more on her life in the blogosphere.
Q. How does it feel to be selected?
A. I’m very excited to be one of the bloggers selected to blog for the new Scientific American Blog network, especially given the other talented writers there and the multitude of engaging perspectives they take in exploring science and places science intersects with our everyday lives. The network seems like a perfect embodiment of what we often describe as “life-long learning,” capturing especially the element of curiosity that propels us to keep learning and making connections.
Q. How did you get started?
A. My academic life at San José State is directly responsible for my entry into the blogosphere: In February 2005, when discussions in my “Ethics in Science” course (Phil 133) just would not fit into the confines of two 75-minute lectures a week, I created a blog to let those conversations continue. The blog was also a place to link and analyze news stories about scientists behaving badly, and soon, quite unexpectedly, I had readers (and commenters) who weren’t enrolled in my classes — readers who included scientists, philosophers, and all manner of interested non-experts from all over the world. I maintained that blog (“Adventures in Ethics and Science”) at ScienceBlogs.com from January 2006 to August 2010. Currently, “Adventures in Ethics and Science” is part of the Scientopia blog community.
Q. Tell us about “Doing Good Science.”
A. At Scientific American, I’ve launched a brand new blog called “Doing Good Science” which will focus on what’s involved with doing good science, and what ethics has to do with it. This means there will be posts exploring the strategies for scientific knowledge-building, the ways a scientific community whose members can play well with each other is essential to such knowledge-building, and the obligations scientific communities have to the larger society (and vice versa). The idea here will be to tease out how being ethical is not an extra something added to the scientist’s plate, but rather an integral part of the job of doing science in the first place.
Q. Why is a philosopher blogging on science?
A. I come at these questions the way I do in part due to my peculiar academic trajectory (I earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry before I realized that I really wanted to be a philosopher of science when I grew up, then going back to get a Ph.D in philosophy). As a philosopher, I’m at home exploring different accounts of what’s required to build knowledge about the world, or what’s involved in being ethical. As a non-practicing chemist, I still have vivid memories of what it was like to be a junior member of the tribe of science trying to learn what I needed to in order to be a grown-up scientist. Having a feel for how scientific communities function, and for what kinds of pressures their members encounter in different pieces of their careers, helps me keep my philosophical focus on understanding how actual scientists (not some abstract idealization of science) get the job done — and, when they run into problems, what kind of philosophical insights could help them deal with those problems.
Q. Do you receive much feedback?
A. Having readers who are living in the scientific world I’m describing keeps me honest; if my analysis seems wrong or my advice seems useless, they won’t hesitate to tell me! Meanwhile, having readers who are neither scientists nor philosophers pushes me to be really clear in my writing, to explain things in everyday language rather than discipline-bound jargon. SJSU faculty sometimes have boundary issues — our interests often lead us to explore disciplines other than the ones we’re trained in, our research spills over into our teaching, and both spill into our interactions with the world beyond the campus. Blogging is just another place where the boundaries keep moving for me.