Alpha Chi Research Spotlight: Jessica Taghvaiee

All around the country, Alpha Chi members are producing extraordinary scholarship across disciplines. We’ll be spotlighting some of their most compelling research projects in the coming months. Let their work be your inspiration.


Name: Jessica Taghvaiee

Institution: Westminster College of Salt Lake City, Utah

Major: Political Science-Prelaw & Spanish-Latin American Studies, Honors Degree

Class Year: Junior

Q: What is the title of your project?

Bacon’s Missing Idol: How Empirical Science Has Privileged the Sense of Sight

Q: What was your research question?

  1. Does empirical science promote ableism by excluding individuals who are visually impaired or who experience the world through their senses differently from the established “norm”?
  2. Does Francis Bacon’s empirical science fail to recognize an “idol of the senses”?
  3. Are there other ways to perform “observation” necessary for empirical science that move beyond the established norm of “seeing” through the sense of sight?

Q: What did you learn?

Founded by Francis Bacon during the enlightenment era, empirical science promotes the use of induction and observation through the senses to study the natural world. A multitude of scholars have criticized the ability for empirical science (and science in general) to be truly “objective” in its approach, as human bias cannot be completely controlled and, instead, must be recognized. Yet many of these scholars have failed to question whether our privileging “observation” perpetuates a prejudice.

I critique Bacon’s empirical science because it fails to recognize the “idol of the senses,” and I argue that we must work to make science include other ways of “seeing” and obtaining empirical scientific knowledge. Rather than attempting to include scientists and students who are visually impaired to work within the limitations of our current scientific paradigm, I contend that we must challenge the ableist limitations of empiricism within modern science and explore how to transition towards a new empirical science which incorporates the sensory experiences of humans who are differently abled.

Q: Why does it matter?

Scientific knowledge shapes the ideas reflected in public discourse and influences much of our daily lives. Yet because of our ableist paradigm within empirical science, there are undoubtedly questions we’ve not yet even thought to ask. We have marginalized the visually disabled from contributing scientific knowledge and cut off the possibility of new discoveries that would result from exploring new ways not just of seeing but also hearing, and feeling, and even tasting our world.

Instead, I argue we should embrace our differences, and move towards a new type of empirical science that relies more on other senses because there is so much sensory knowledge that has been left unexplored.

Imagine a science where molecules are not just seen but felt, where stars are not just distinguished by brightness but by vibrations and sounds. A sensory-rich science can be taken in endless directions, but such a science can only be realized if we’re willing to deconstruct our ableist assumptions.

Q: What’s next?

I’m hoping to continue my research and get it published, as I believe that such discussions on how our current scientific paradigm continues to privilege the sense of sight are necessary in order to challenge our current scientific paradigm and build the pathway towards a scientific paradigm that is based on multiple forms of observation and sensory experiences.

I am currently a McNair Scholar working towards applying to graduate schools to obtain a Ph.D. in Political Science. I am interested in continuing to do research that serves to critically analyze and dismantle hegemonic systems of power.