[Important! Event date changed] May 6th 2021: Research seminar online - Joby Varghese (Indian Institute of Technology Jammu): Non-epistemic values in shaping the parameters for evaluating the effectiveness of candidate vaccines
We have the pleasure to invite you for a research seminar in the ‘BIOUNCERTAINTY’ research project. The seminar will take place on Thursday, May 6th, at 3pm on MS Teams (link below).Abstract: In this paper, I take the case of Ebola, ça Suffit vaccine trial which was conducted in Guinea during Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in 2015. I demonstrate that various non-epistemic considerations may legitimately influence the criteria for evaluating the efficacy and effectiveness of a candidate vaccine. Such non-epistemic considerations, which are social, ethical, and pragmatic, can be better placed and addressed in scientific research by appealing to non-epistemic values. Ebola, ça Suffit vaccine trial was designed and conducted in such a scenario in which running the trial and following up for a long duration would have led to severe social damages in terms of public health, finance and social well-being. This context necessitated the prioritisation of certain valuable societal and ethical objectives such as controlling and preventing further EVD transmission, mitigation of morbidity and mortality rate and providing a potentially beneficial vaccine to the neediest etc., over certain epistemic concerns.
For defending the thesis, I consider two significant features any newly developed vaccine should possess. Those features are (i) the duration of immunity the vaccine provides; and (ii) safety with regard to the confirmed and possible side effects of the vaccine. Focusing on these features, I argue that social and ethical values are relevant and desirable in setting the parameters for evaluating these two features of vaccines. The parameters that are employed for setting up the criteria for assessing the features might have far-reaching implications on the well-being of society in general and the health conditions of several thousands of people in particular. Moreover, appealing to non-epistemic values, in cases like this, is necessary so that scientific research as a socially relevant enterprise and an activity that aims at human flourishing and society’s well-being may indeed be justified.
A critic of value-laden account science might argue that at most care has to be taken while incorporating non-epistemic values into scientific research so that the values may not upset the epistemic validity of the research. In other words, a critic can raise an objection by highlighting the notion of “lexical priority of evidence” or “epistemic priority”. Epistemic priority emphasizes the point that epistemic standards are always superior or have dominance over non-epistemic values in scientific research. I conclude the paper by defending the thesis that why it is necessary to reject the concept of epistemic priority, at least when scientists engage in policy-oriented research.
Joby Varghese is an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Jammu. He is interested in philosophy of science, including problems of values in science and technology and bioethics, especially ethics in pharmaceutical and clinical trial research.