Past Conference Information - Evidence: An Interdisciplinary Conversation about Knowing and Certainty

April 21 - 22, 2017
Jerome Greene Hall, 435 West 116th Street, Columbia Law School

Available Resources:

Evidence event poster

The conference brought together academic scholars and scientists, public policy makers, non-governmental advocates, and media experts to discuss the state of “evidence” today. Our goal was to examine the use of evidence – from massive data sets to individual case studies – within and across the disciplines. What counts as evidence in different fields? Why do some disciplines have explicit and broadly-shared norms of evidence gathering and use, while other disciplines are guided by more implicit evidentiary customs? Why do evidentiary norms change over time in a given discipline, and are these changes better explained by internal, theoretical developments or external, social factors? What happens when new theories outpace a discipline’s current evidentiary practices? For instance, the recognition that many accurate descriptions of the universe are not deterministic but rather probabilistic has altered natural scientists’ basic conception about what counts as evidence – and about the sheer quantity of evidence needed to prove or disprove hypotheses.

Yet even the most advanced tools for evidence-gathering (statistical, computational, and experimental) have not kept pace with this turn to probabilistic models in the natural sciences. Meanwhile, scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and law are adopting – or transforming – these same tools in an effort to expand the evidence base, rigor of proof, and public appeal of their disciplines (e.g., “big” history, “distant reading,” digital humanities, quantitative sociology, experimental philosophy, law and cognition).

Organized by: Pamela Smith (History, Columbia), Stuart Firestein (Biology, Columbia), Jeremy Kessler (Law, Columbia).

This conference was sponsored by the Center for Science and Society (CSS) and the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) at Columbia University.