Searching for the soul of science

Emily Leighton // Special to Western News

Danae Campos-Melo and Cristian Droppelmann, research associates in the Strong Lab at Robarts Research Institute, helped organize a summer event series called the Philosophy of Science Café, which shared their passion for philosophy with the wider Robarts community.

For Danae Campos-Melo and Cristian Droppelmann, philosophy is an integral part of working in a science lab.

“I consider the philosophy of science to be the soul of science,” Droppelmann said. “It gives us the intellectual deepness that we need as scientists.”

Campos-Melo and Droppelmann are research associates in the Strong Lab at Robarts Research Institute. In an effort to share their passion for philosophy with the wider Robarts community, the husband-and-wife team, in consultation with Marlys Koschinsky, Scientific and Executive Director of Robarts, organized a summer event series called the Philosophy of Science Café.

In partnership with the Department of Philosophy and Rotman Institute of Philosophy at Western, the series brought together philosophers, scientists and graduate trainees to discuss broad philosophical themes related to their work. Topics included pseudoscience, the nature of scientific progress, the replication crisis and the scientific method.

The inaugural series launched this summer with four afternoon sessions, each beginning with a formal lecture presentation from a philosopher, followed by open discussion and debate.

For Koschinsky, it’s been an opportunity to explore science through new perspectives.

“Our degrees are Doctor of Philosophy, which we scientists don’t stop to think about that often,” she said. “We don’t stop and consider the significance of that title.”

Added Campos-Melo, “It’s from the Greek ‘love of wisdom.’ And that’s exactly what this is about. Our idea is to stimulate the training of analytical and critical thinking.”

This is particularly significant for the institute’s role in teaching and education – the café series was designed with trainees in mind.

“Our goal is to enrich their training as young scientists,” Koschinsky said. “And I think the trainees are very interested in learning that goes beyond the walls and bounds of their own laboratory and their own projects.”

With lively discussions extending into the early evening hours, the café certainly generated plenty of interest from trainees and scientists.

Koschinsky understands the enthusiasm on a personal level. “In the sessions, I often find myself thinking ‘this is what I became an academic for,’” she explained. “It’s hitting that note in me. Because we get so busy with grants, deadlines and experiments, it’s wonderful to have this time to think.”

Added Campos-Melo, “The café is like a breath of fresh air for us.”

Rotman Director Christopher Smeenk also sees these types of discussions as an opportunity to establish connections across campus. “Challenging problems don’t fall neatly into different disciplines,” he said. “We need to benefit from the expertise of different disciplines by talking to each other and taking advantage of the specialized knowledge each area has developed.”

“I’m proud the Robarts community can recognize there is a whole world of other disciplines out there we can learn from,” Koschinsky said. “We’re embracing other schools of thought and other disciplines, and welcoming them to our community to share.”