Dr Robert Northcott
I began at Birkbeck in the summer of 2011. Before that, I was an assistant professor at the University of Missouri-St Louis, starting in autumn 2005. (I was granted tenure and was due to start as Associate Professor there in October 2011.) I received my PhD from the London School of Economics. I was also an exchange student and then visiting scholar for successive years at the University of California-San Diego. Before switching to philosophy I did graduate work in economics, receiving an MSc. Before even that, I began my student days at King's College, Cambridge, studying mathematics and then history.
Away from philosophy, I have won money at tournaments in both pool and poker, although these days that record might be in some jeopardy if put to the test again - unless the opposition were other philosophers, of course. At foosball/table football, I should still be able to beat normal people too. In my LSE days, I was captain of the University Challenge TV quiz team, reaching the grand final. Recently, I have been developing a slightly less embarrassing golf swing, and a love of late Beethoven string quartets and piano sonatas.
My research has mainly been in philosophy of science and metaphysics, focusing in particular on causation and causal explanation and their use in science. About causation itself, I have defended a contrastive-counterfactual view, in part motivated by the role of causation in scientific practice. I have also developed a related account of degree of causation and explanation, and applied that to analyse critically various statistical techniques. Another application, indirectly, has been to the general issue of scientific progress: I support, roughly speaking, a localised, non-theory-based view of this. These various strands also connect with my work in the philosophy of the special sciences, such as about the place of causal explanation in evolutionary theory, or the role played by formal theory in explanations and progress in social science.
Here is my CV.
Areas of Research Supervision
Philosophy of Science, Causation, Philosophy of Biology, Philosophy of Social Science
It’s just a feeling: why economic models do not explain, Journal of Economic Methodology (forthcoming) - co-authored with Anna Alexandrova
Degree of explanation, Synthese (forthcoming, published online May 2012)
Partial explanations in social science, in Harold Kincaid (ed) Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science (Oxford 2012), pp130-153.
Genetic traits and causal explanation, in Kathryn Plaisance and Thomas Reydon (eds) Philosophy of Behavioral Biology (Springer: Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science 282, 2012), pp65-82.
How necessary are randomized controlled trials?, in Ronald Munson, Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics (9th edition, Thomson Wadsworth 2012), pp187-191. (This is the most used medical ethics textbook in the USA.)
Verisimilitude: a causal approach, Synthese (forthcoming, published online February 2011)
Natural-born determinists: a new defense of causation as probability-raising, Philosophical Studies 150.1, August 2010, pp1-20.
Walsh on causes and evolution, Philosophy of Science 77.3, July 2010, pp457-467.
On Lewis, Schaffer and the non-reductive evaluation of counterfactuals, Theoria 75.4, December 2009, pp336-343.
Is actual difference making actually different?, Journal of Philosophy 106.11, November 2009, pp629-634.
Progress in economics, in Don Ross and Harold Kincaid (eds) Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Economics (Oxford 2009), pp306-337 - co-authored with Anna Alexandrova.
Causation and contrast classes, Philosophical Studies 139.1, May 2008, pp111-123.
Weighted explanations in history, Philosophy of the Social Sciences 38.1, March 2008, pp76-96.
Can ANOVA measure causal strength?, Quarterly Review of Biology 83.1, March 2008, pp47-55.
Causal efficacy and the analysis of variance, Biology and Philosophy 21.2, March 2006, pp253-276.
Pearson’s wrong turning: against statistical measures of causal efficacy, Philosophy of Science 72.5, December 2005, pp900-912.
Comparing apples with oranges, Analysis 65.1, January 2005, pp12-18.
(If done well, I think popular articles can be admirable ways of engaging a wider public with philosophy, in much the same way as good teaching can be. Alas, they are not always done well. But I hope in mine to use familiar contexts to introduce several metaphysical issues without distortion, and without tediously claiming more for philosophy than it actually delivers.)
Bad luck or the ref’s fault?, in Ted Richards (ed), Soccer and Philosophy (Open Court, 2010), pp319-326.
The Irrational Game: why there’s no perfect system, in Eric Bronson (ed), Poker and Philosophy (Open Court, 2006), pp105-115. (N.B. The document I link to here is slightly longer than the abbreviated version that appears in the book.)
Review of ‘The Scientific Study of Society’ by Max Steuer, Economics and Philosophy 20.2, October 2004, pp375-381 - co-authored with Anna Alexandrova.