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Final report
Grant Proposal

Normative Inferences and Interferences in Scientific Research


"Normative Inferences and Interferences in Scientific Research" is a research project funded with 27.000 EUR by the Spanish Ministry of Science (FFI2014-57258-P). The members of the research team are Jesús Zamora Bonilla (UNED), David Teira (UNED), Cristian Saborido (UNED), María Jiménez Buedo (UNED) and Javier González de Prado (UAM). Susana Monsó Gil (UNED) and Marco Antonio Joven-Romero (UNED) are our graduate research fellows. 

Research statement

Our general goal in this project is to study the interferences of moral and social norms with scientific research, articulating a pragmatic inferentialist account of norms within a contractarian framework. Examples of such interferences are: the so-called experimenter effects in the social sciences (the experimental subjects deviate from the assigned task, following implicit social norms, such as courtesy); natives misleading anthropologists during their fieldwork; or the strategic manipulation of a clinical trial protocol by the patients in order to serve their own private interests.

First, we want to map the normative interferences as such; in particular, the methodological distortions generated by the interaction between the norms of scientists and the norms of their research subjects. We will appraise such interferences at two levels:

  • We want to produce a systematic map of the interferences generally acknowledged among the concerned scientists and discuss the methodological strategies to block them, using a contractarian approach.

  • We want to investigate in depth three cases of normative interference in three disciplines where they are not generally conceived as such. Adopting a different account of norms, by drawing on an inferentialist perspective, will reveal the interference. The cases are: embodied cognition in experiments in psychology, the investigation of the moral capacities of animals, and the definition of disease in medicine.

Second, capitalizing on the interferences explored, we want to articulate a pragmatist-inferentialist concept of normativity within a contractarian framework. As a general working hypothesis our approach assumes that inferential practices (normatively, perspectivally and socially articulated) are more primitive than representational ones, and are more apt to fit with the essential elements of a normative understanding of the cases we plan to study.