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Abstracts for Departmental Seminars

Seminars are held on Thursdays from 3.30 to 5pm in Seminar Room 2. There is tea and coffee before the seminar at 3pm in Seminar Room 1, and there are refreshments afterwards at 5pm in Seminar Room 1.

Organised by Agnes Bolinska.

Easter Term 2018

Show overview

26 April Remco Heesen (Philosophy, Cambridge)
Statistical biases in peer review
Various biases are known to affect the peer review system, which is used to judge journal articles for their suitability for publication and grant proposals for their suitability for funding. These biases are generally attributed to cognitive biases held by individual peer reviewers. For example, gender bias in peer review is explained by the (explicit or implicit) gender bias of individual peer reviewers, as evidenced by the generally lower scores given to submissions authored by women. Here I introduce the notion of 'purely statistical biases': biases in peer review that arise even when individual peer reviewers are unbiased. This notion suggests that certain social groups or research programs may be disadvantaged by the peer review system even in the absence of cognitive biases. I use formal models to identify three possible mechanisms for purely statistical biases. The first mechanism relies on differences in information about authors available to decision makers. The second mechanism relies on differences in the underlying distributions of the 'quality' of submissions. Finally, the third mechanism comes into play when reviewers judge submissions on multiple criteria: aggregating these judgments into a final decision leads to a third possible source of bias.
3 May Wendy S. Parker (Durham University)
Explaining the recent 'hiatus' in global warming: models, measurement and media
In both scientific journals and the blogosphere, there has been much discussion of a recent 'hiatus' or 'pause' in global warming. Climate skeptics have characterized the hiatus as a major problem for climate change science. In response, climate scientists have invested significant time and energy investigating the hiatus and have developed explanations of it that require no revision to existing theory or models. This talk will provide an overview of these efforts, in order to illustrate some striking features of explanatory practice in climate science. It will focus in particular on the important contributions of computer simulation models, as well as some of the challenges and limitations associated with their use. The analysis will suggest that quantitative 'how-plausibly' explanations are the best that can be hoped for in the case of the recent hiatus.
10 May Erika Milam (Princeton University)
Creatures of Cain: the hunt for human nature in Cold War America
After the Second World War, the question of how to define a universal human nature took on new urgency. This talk charts the rise and precipitous fall of a theory that attributed man's evolutionary success to his unique capacity for murder amid the tense social climate of Cold War America. The scientists who advanced this 'killer ape' vision of humanity capitalized on an expanding postwar market in intellectual paperbacks and widespread faith in the power of science to solve humanity's problems, even answer fundamental questions of human identity. The killer ape theory spread quickly from colloquial science publications to late-night television, classrooms, political debates, and Hollywood films. Behind the scenes, however, scientists were sharply divided. Then, in the 1970s, the theory unravelled altogether when primatologists discovered that chimpanzees also kill members of their own species. This discovery brought an end to definitions of human exceptionalism marked by violence. Some evolutionists reacted by arguing for a shared chimpanzee-human history of aggression even as other scientists discredited all such theories as sloppy popularizations. The legacy of the killer ape persists today in Americans' conviction that fundamental questions of human nature are resolvable through science.
Wed 16 May Cancelled
17 May Twenty-Third Annual Hans Rausing Lecture
Andreas Malm (Lund University)
Steamroll all the brutes: coal, steam and British Imperialism in mid-nineteenth century Levant and West Africa
McCrum Lecture Theatre, Bene't Street, at 4.30pm