Lauren Ross

Lauren Ross, logic & philosophy of science associate professor, has been awarded a three-year $269,528 John Templeton Foundation grant to address challenges associated with causal complexity in the biological sciences.

When scientists explain biological and medical outcomes, they manage enormous amounts of detail to determine which “main causes” produce the outcome.  While identifying these main causes is challenged by the presence of numerous causal factors, various solutions have been proposed including forms of dimensionality reduction and causal section - essentially reducing a large set of factors down to those that matter the most.

Ross’ work examines principled scientific methods for causal selection and different types of causal systems that are selected in biology and medicine.  Examples of these distinct causal systems include linear causal chains, feedback loops, mechanisms, and causes that differ in terms of stability, specificity, and speed. Her project provides a taxonomy of distinct types of causes, causal relationships, and causal systems that help capture importantly different types of causes in biology.

“This project is exciting because it captures a more diverse and accurate picture of ‘causality’ than is often presented in discussions of the field,” she says. “Having such a picture helps in supporting progress in the field and communicating its findings to various audiences.” 

This grant supports Ross’ completion of two books (Explanation in Biology and Types of Causation: More than Mechanisms) and collaborative work with scientists in biology, neuroscience, and biomedicine.

Funding for this work began in September and runs through 2026.

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