Center for PFAS Research Faculty Spotlight: Kevin Elliot

Dr. Kevin Elliott, a professor at MSU, is using research on PFAS as a case study to explore how the scientific community can engage in open science practices that are relevant to those outside the scientific community.

Kevin Elliott

Dr. Kevin Elliott is a philosopher of science who studies how decisions made by scientists and science policy makers have social and ethical implications. This can include looking at scientists’ choices about the questions they ask, the models or risk assessment methods they use, the ways they interpret ambiguous evidence, the categories or terminology they use for conceptualizing findings, the standards of evidence they demand before drawing conclusions, and the ways they frame and communicate findings. He is interested in how all these choices can impact values like public health; environmental sustainability; economic development; and environmental justice. Dr. Elliott has explored these questions by examining research projects on topics like endocrine disruption, geoengineering, hormesis, nanotoxicology, Lyme disease, and biological effects of radiofrequency radiation.

Dr. Elliott is currently turning his attention toward research on PFAS. He is on the National Academy of Sciences committee on Guidance on PFAS Testing and Health Outcomes, which is tasked with examining the guidance that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) provides to clinicians who are seeing patients with concerns about PFAS exposure. Clinicians need advice about when to recommend testing for levels of PFAS in people’s blood or urine and how to use the results to provide advice to patients about potential health concerns and future medical care. One of Dr. Elliott’s roles on the committee is to think about principles for deciding how to make these decisions even when there is substantial scientific uncertainty.

Additionally, Dr. Elliott is using research on PFAS as a case study to explore how the scientific community can engage in open science practices that are as relevant as possible to those outside the scientific community. He has argued that many open science initiatives are geared primarily toward the scientific community. Dr. Elliott has been looking at strategies for pursuing open science initiatives in the context of PFAS research in ways that are more relevant to non-specialists.

Dr. Elliott brings a new perspective to the Center for PFAS Research because much of his work involves scrutinizing and reflecting on what other scientists are doing. The Center is helpful for him as an avenue for learning about the current state of research on PFAS and identifying potential collaborators. He is particularly interested in learning more about research projects that explore agricultural concerns about PFAS and projects that incorporate community engagement.

Dr. Elliott is hopeful that as more people affiliated with the Center learn about his work, they might find that it would be useful to explore how his philosophical perspective could intersect with their research. He’s found that some of his most interesting projects have been interdisciplinary collaborations. These have included projects that explore how to frame and communicate research findings, how to navigate financial conflicts of interest in research, and how to promote a positive climate on interdisciplinary research teams.

Dr. Kevin Elliott is a professor in MSU's Lyman Briggs College, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, & Department of Philosophy.

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