The Philosophy of Safety Engineering PhD will provide funding for a student to look at a variety of philosophical questions on the issue of the safety of aeronautics, including space travel, and how do we establish that a complex system is safe.

The project is co-supervised by University of Glasgow philosophers Dr Neil McDonnell and Dr Adam Carter, along with NASA researcher C. Michael Holloway.

Dr McDonnell said: “Philosophers study the way that we think about causation and evidence, and how we communicate to each other about it.

“This project will bring that understanding to the high-stakes domain of safety engineering. This is a fantastic opportunity for philosophers and engineers to find common ground, and to advance a worthy cause.”

Safety engineering and philosophy may sound like an odd mixture, but the project reflects the notion that any subject studied to sufficient depth will enter the realm of philosophical questions.

Classic successes of safety engineering include airbags and seatbelts in cars along with airborne collision avoidance systems (ACAS) in aircraft. It is easy to see that these developments improved the safety of the systems in questions as they mitigate known risks but do they establish that the cars or aircraft are now safe enough?

This is what the PhD student research will explore in this project, by looking at accident investigations and ‘safety cases’ – the evidence provided to show that a new system/component is safe.

The work will involve analysing the case history of accident investigations, and a range of such ‘safety cases’, with the aim of identifying, and defending ways to improve upon, the philosophical assumptions about causation and evidence that are being deployed at present.

The end goal is to make complex systems, in any sphere, safer.

 The deadline for applications is Friday December 14, 2018 with the start date for the PhD student is October 1, 2019. Funding subject to final approval.

The successful candidate will primarily be based at the University of Glasgow and will work closely with supervisors (Dr J. Adam Carter and Dr Neil McDonnell).

Subject to budgetary confirmation, it is anticipated that they will also spend a period of between six months, and one year, with NASA at the Langley Research Center, Virginia, USA, working closely with C. Michael Holloway and colleagues.



University of Glsagow


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