„Validation and Regulation in the Sciences of Health“ Globales Webinar & Workshop

Dr. Lara Keuck, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
Prof. Angela N. H. Creager, Princeton University

In the health and human sciences, decision-making is often guided by standardized tests, whether diagnostic, cognitive, or visual. Validation is the process through which a given test or measurement is judged to be a suitable, reliable, and informative guide to an aspect of human health (or ability) or the development of disease. This webinar will focus on the history of validation practices, and how they became tied to formal and informal regimes of regulation. Whether it is for the determination of a genetic predisposition to a condition or disease, a psychological assessment for a learning disability, or a mutagenicity test to screen for carcinogenic chemicals, validation of a test can involve high stakes for patients, health care providers, educators, family members, government regulators, and many sectors of industry. In addition, assumptions about human difference, including along axes of race, sex, gender, age, and class, can become subtly implicated in the design of tests and diagnostics or in their interpretation. For all of these reasons, the methodological arena of testing requirements, standardization, and validation can become a political battleground involving a broad range of actors, including regulators, activists, industry representatives, scientific experts, lawyers, laypersons, as well as many other professionals. We aim to understand how globally applied evaluative categories, such as the validity of a test, its specificity and sensitivity, have been put to use in national and international contexts. We invite papers that approach the interplay of practices of validation and regulation in the sciences of health (broadly construed) from a variety of angles, and situated in different times and places.

This webinar seeks to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars working on chemical and medical regulation, educational testing, public health, environmental protection, and other allied fields of human and health science. We will explore what work the notion of validity and specific practices of validation do in the regulation of potential health hazards, the prevention of disease, or the management of human development. Our seminars will consider how methodological, medical, legal and political debates were aligned or opposed in struggles to determine validity in the health and human sciences, in various national and international contexts. We are interested in papers from historical, philosophical, anthropological and sociological studies of science as well as legal and political sciences, to investigate (to mentions just a few research directions):

  • the interplay between regulatory practices, technological practices, and validation practices in the health and human sciences; 
  • the legal and institutional processes to police scientific validation standards for certain purposes (e.g. toxicological testing, drug administration); 
  • the historical conditions that made test validity an issue of concern to the public, to research communities, to international organizations, companies, and other groups of actors; 
  • the contested role(s) of animals in validated regulatory tests, such as for drugs or consumer products or in ecotoxicology
  • the effects of regulation and validation on naturalizing assumptions of human difference, abilities and disability.  

The webinar will take place once a month during the academic year 2021–2022 from October 2021 to June 2022 (9 meetings). An invitation to join the group entails an expectation to attend all sessions, which will be held virtually. In each seminar, participants (including a commentator) will discuss one or two pre-circulated papers from within the group. At the end of the academic year—if the covid-19 pandemic allows us—there will be an in-person meeting of participants in Berlin for a workshop with an eye towards publication of a collective volume. Travel funding will be available for invited participants.

The webinar is part of the Max Planck Research Group “Practices of Validation in the Biomedical Sciences” led by Dr. Lara Keuck at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. This group examines the history and philosophy of methods and concepts used to determine the credibility of tests and studies that are intended to inform us about human health and disease. Key questions are: How has validity been practiced? And how has uncertainty been assessed, regulated, and argued about? The group addresses these questions to study the development of the modern biomedical sciences, and to situate contemporary challenges of translating and evaluating knowledge that aspires to be relevant for public health and health care. 

Application procedure: Please send us a brief description of your research project (up to 1500 words) and a short cv. Applications should be sent to Birgitta von Mallinckrodt at officekeuck@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de

Deadline: 5 September 2021