Calculating life? Duelling discourses in interdisciplinary systems biology

Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Jane Calvert, Joan H Fujimura

Abstract

A high profile context in which physics and biology meet today is in the new field of systems biology. Systems biology is a fascinating subject for sociological investigation because the demands of interdisciplinary collaboration have brought epistemological issues and debates front and centre in discussions amongst systems biologists in conference settings, in publications, and in laboratory coffee rooms. One could argue that systems biologists are conducting their own philosophy of science. This paper explores the epistemic aspirations of the field by drawing on interviews with scientists working in systems biology, attendance at systems biology conferences and workshops, and visits to systems biology laboratories. It examines the discourses of systems biologists, looking at how they position their work in relation to previous types of biological inquiry, particularly molecular biology. For example, they raise the issue of reductionism to distinguish systems biology from molecular biology. This comparison with molecular biology leads to discussions about the goals and aspirations of systems biology, including epistemic commitments to quantification, rigor and predictability. Some systems biologists aspire to make biology more...Continue Reading

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