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Towards a Well-Ordered Science in Biomedical Research

Project Leader: Julian Reiss, Durham University and LSE.  

Duration of the Project: Ongoing, since 2004


  • Collaborators in situ:
    • Nancy Cartwright (until August, 2012)
  • Collaborators at a distance:
    • Philip Kitcher (Columbia University)
    • Nancy Cartwright (since August, 2012)


The practice of the sciences is well-ordered (in the sense of Kitcher’s Science, Truth and Democracy) only if inquiries are directed in ways that promote the common good, conceived as aiming at the goals that would be endorsed in a democratic deliberation among well-informed participants committed to engagement with the needs and aspirations of others. Whether or not this particular elaboration of the idea of the common good is adopted, we maintain that a necessary condition for well-ordered science is that research addressed to alleviating the burden of suffering due to disease should accord with the ‘fair-share’ principle: at least insofar as disease problems are seen as comparably tract-able, the proportions of global resources assigned to different diseases should agree with the ratios of human suffering associated with those diseases.

It would be difficult to maintain that contemporary biomedical research is well-ordered in this sense. Of the 57.5 million people who died in 2002, a third succumbed to communicable diseases (infections or parasitic infestations), perinatal and maternal conditions, or nutritional deficiencies. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if those who suffered had had access to existing technology, available elsewhere but typically not readily exportable to the places and circumstances in which they lived and died. If the priorities of BMR in the affluent world were different, existing technology might have been adapted to the local needs, or, where that was not possible, alternative ways of responding to disease might have been sought.

This project aims to address the philosophical and practical problems with making biomedical research resemble more closely the ideal of well-ordered science. In particular, it addresses the funding strategies by governments, intellectual property legislation, philanthropic activities and epistemic strategies related to biomedical research.



  1. Reiss, Julian and Philip Kitcher (2008), 'Neglected Diseases and Well-Ordered Science', Contingency and Dissent Technical Report 06/08, London School of Economics
  2. Reiss, Julian and Philip Kitcher (forthcoming), 'The Global Poor, Neglected Diseases and Well-Ordered Science'.
  3. Reiss, Julian (forthcoming), 'In Favour of a Millian Proposal to Reform Biomedical Research' submitted to Synthese.
  4. Reiss, Julian (forthcoming), 'Empirical Evidence: Its Nature and Sources', Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science (ed. by Ian Jarvie and Jesús Zamora Bonilla), SAGE.
  5. McGoey, Linsey, Julian Reiss and Ayo Wahlberg (eds), The Health Complex: Progress and Pathologies in Global Health Funding and Governance, submitted to be a special issue of BioSocieties.
  6. Reiss, Julian (2009), 'Causation in the Social Sciences: Evidence, Inference, Purpose', Philosophy of the Social Sciences 39(1): 20-40


Events at the Centre

CPNSS Workshop on Philosophy of Science, Genetics and Race, 2 June 2008, Invited guests: Philip Kitcher and John Dupré.

Events elsewhere:

The Science and Politics of Neglected-Disease Research: Philosophical, Bioethical and Sociological Perspectives on International Health Inequalities, 8-9 December 2008, Brocher Centre, Geneva, Switzerland, in co-operation with BIOS and The Fondation Brocher (workshop with c. 40 participants)


Julian Reiss

  1. 'The Contrasts of Causation', Philosophy of Science Conference, Dubrovnik, Crotatia, April (contributed paper)
  2. 'Scientific Causation: Wittgensteinian Pluralism vs Pragmatism', TiLPS workshop, University of Tilburg, February (invited lecture)
  3. 'Heterogeneous Causation', CALCAS (Coordination Action for innovation in Life Cycle Analysis for Sustainability) workshop, Brussels, February (invited lecture)
  4. 'Disunity in science: The case of causation', Nederlandse Vereniging Voor Wetenschapsfilosofie Symposium, Utrecht, November (invited lecture)
  5. 'Causation in the Sciences: Evidence, Inference, Purpose', New York University, US, November (invited lecture)
  6. 'The Philosophy of Causation: Lectures I, II and III', Causality Fortnight, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK, September (invited lectures)
  7. 'Pluralism(s) in the Philosophy of Causation', ' Some Comments on Recent work on the PCC' and 'Counterfactuals, Thought Experiments and Singular Causal Inference in History', Summer School on Probabilistic Causality, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, July (invited lectures)