Ryan Francis

Policy Intern at Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge

Ryan Francis

Philosophy of Theoretical Physics PhD Student

Department of Science and Technology Studies, University College London

CSaP - Policy Intern - Michaelmas 2021

Ryan is a final year doctoral student studying at the UCL Department of Science and Technology (STS). He is supervised by Prof Emma Tobin and was awarded full support for his entire PhD through the Windsor Fellowship’s Research Opportunity Scholarship. Ryan is also a resident and affiliated student at Downing College, Cambridge.

Ryan is a physicist turned philosopher, specialising in epistemology. He has a strong academic background in the sciences, having competed the Physics MSci degree at UCL.

Ryan’s interdisciplinary research resides in the sub-field of the philosophy of theoretical physics. It is known that many theories in physics (such as string theory and loop quantum gravity) are currently untestable and in their current form, will remain so forever. There is intense, long standing and polarised debate surrounding the scientific status of untestable theories: many academics consider them to be the true descriptions of the world, whereas others equate them to metaphysical nonsense.

His thesis analyses this debate and has found that it predominantly consists of values, biases an outdated, rigid perception of scientific evidence. He argues that the only way to overcome this deadlock is to pursue a normative and standardised way of appraising untestable theories. Using three simple rules and Bayes’ theorem, Ryan has pioneered a computational algorithm that probabilistically ranks untestable theories from the least to the most probable descriptions of physical reality.

He states that robust systematic testing is synonymous with good scientific practice. He maintains that (albeit not in the a traditional Baconian/empiricist sense) his evaluative standard ought to be viewed as “testing”, even though it apprises a priori. Further, if a theory ranks highly following appraisal, it can then be justifiably be considered a scientific theory.

Ryan took three months out of his research, and relocated to Cambridge to work full-time as a Policy Intern during the Michaelmas term of 2021. Whilst working at CSaP Ryan has written articles for the Cambridge Zero climate change initiative, and CSaP’s weekly seminar series on governments’ use of data, science, and evidence. He also attended the UK Innovation Strategy event and CSaP’s annual conference at the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The highlight of his internship came through his extensive work on curating Dongwoo Lee’s Policy Fellowship. Ryan organised a tailored programme of meetings surrounding the area health policy between Dr Lee and various leading Cambridge academics.

Ryan has an academic interest in the areas of science policy that intersect with epistemology. He has been selected to supervise three undergraduate courses in the philosophy of science, science policy and science in government at UCL STS. He is specifically interested in how governments can make successful policy decisions during times of scientific uncertainty. He is also well versed in the literature surrounding the space between scientific evidence and making policy decisions.

  • In news articles

    The challenges facing the environment and society

    Dr Molly Anderson led the final session of CSaP’s seminar series on government’s use of data, science, and evidence. Using her perspective of working in the Environment Agency’s Chief Scientist’s Group, she discussed the concept of reflexivity and the crucial role it could play in tackling current environmental challenges.

  • In news articles

    The science of mitigating natural disasters

    As part of CSaP’s seminar series on government data, science, and evidence, Dr Amy Donovan from the University of Cambridge led a discussion on how science is used to generate effective warning systems in the face of impending natural disasters or environmental risks.