Robert Northcott, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, has received a one-year, $49,330 research grant from the National Science Foundation’s Science, Technology and Society Program for his project, “Causation and Evolution.”
Northcott, who lives in Brentwood, Mo., says he’s delighted to receive the award. “This award is a great opportunity for me and also very heartening as it represents the enthusiasm of my peers for my work,” he said.
As a philosopher of science, Northcott asks if evolutionary processes such as genetic drift and natural selection are best seen as causes themselves or merely as statistical summaries of other causes, and why it matters. Through his research, he asks how this impacts how we should test evolutionary explanations. He works both on the traditional philosophical issue of causation – what it is, how to test for it, why it’s useful to have knowledge of it – and on how that is relevant to science.
“This intimate connection to ever-changing science is one of the things that makes philosophy of science an exciting area to work in,” Northcott said.
The award also is another piece of good news for UMSL’s excellent philosophy department. In the past year, assistant professors of philosophy Gualtiero Piccinini received a $120,000 NSF award, and Anna Alexandrova won a prestigious essay prize from the Philosophy of Science Association.
Northcott joined UMSL in 2005. He received his doctorate in philosophy and a master’s in economics from the London School of Economics in England and bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and history from King’s College at Cambridge University in England.