Professor Smith is interested in examining the ways in which paleoanthropologists attempt to explain the origin of unique human traits, particularly the origin of bipedalism. From 2008-14, he served as dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
Physical anthropology as a discipline seeks to place itself firmly within the boundaries of science, but in being concerned with “why” questions about unique historical events (such as why bipedalism arose in the human lineage), researchers move into areas not clearly subject to testing or to falsification, which therefore might be interpreted more as history than as science.
For over 150 years, a continuing series of explanations have been offered for the origin of bipedalism. This historical record is Smith's raw data. He is working to bring together insights from a number of disciplines, including but not limited to literature in the philosophy of science on explanation, evidence, contingency, theory replacement, and the problem of demarcating science from pseudoscience, from historians on the nature of explanation in their discipline, from the philosophy of biology on adaptation, from debates about “just-so stories” in evolutionary psychology, and from cognitive neuroscience and the sociology of science on how individual scientists and the scientific community come to accept narrative arguments and reach consensus. These issues are being used to interpret the history of changing explanations for the origin of human bipedalism.