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History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

Nils Roll-Hansen
Louis Pasteur's defeat of belief in spontaneous generation has been a classical rationalist example of how the experimental approach of modern science can reveal superstition. Farley and Geison (Bull Hist Med 48:161-198, 1974) told a counter-story of how Pasteur's success was due to political and ideological support rather than superior experimental science. They claimed that Pasteur violated proper norms of scientific method, and that the French Academy of Science did not see this, or did not want to. Farley and Geison argued that Pouchet's experiments were as valid as those of Pasteur...
November 1, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Sara Green, Michael R Dietrich, Sabina Leonelli, Rachel A Ankeny
Many biologists appeal to the so-called Krogh principle when justifying their choice of experimental organisms. The principle states that "for a large number of problems there will be some animal of choice, or a few such animals, on which it can be most conveniently studied". Despite its popularity, the principle is often critiqued for implying unwarranted generalizations from optimal models. We argue that the Krogh principle should be interpreted in relation to the historical and scientific contexts in which it has been developed and used...
October 31, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Antonine Nicoglou, Charles T Wolfe
This is an introduction to a collection of articles on the conceptual history of epigenesis, from Aristotle to Harvey, Cavendish, Kant and Erasmus Darwin, moving into nineteenth-century biology with Wolff, Blumenbach and His, and onto the twentieth century and current issues, with Waddington and epigenetics. The purpose of the topical collection is to emphasize how epigenesis marks the point of intersection of a theory of biological development and a (philosophical) theory of active matter. We also wish to show that the concept of epigenesis existed prior to biological theorization and that it continues to permeate thinking about development in recent biological debates...
October 23, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Christopher H Pearson
Roffe et al. (Hist Philos Life Sci, 2108. ) develop a rather creative line of response to Pearson's (Hist Philos Life Sci 32(4):475-492, 2010) critique of pattern cladisma response centering on a structuralist approach to the homology concept. In this brief reply I attempt to demonstrate, however, that Roffe, and Ginnobili, and Blanco subtly mis-characterize the target of Pearson's critique. The consequence of this mischaracterization is that even though the structuralist framework may help make sense of pattern cladism, it does not undermine Pearson's critique of it...
October 18, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Emilie J Raymer
Prior to August Weismann's 1889 germ-plasm theory, social reformers believed that humans could inherit the effects of a salubrious environment and, by passing environmentally-induced modifications to their offspring, achieve continuous progress. Weismann's theory disrupted this logic and caused many to fear that they had little control over human development. As numerous historians have observed, this contributed to the birth of the eugenics movement. However, through an examination of the work of social scientists Lester Frank Ward, Richard T...
October 18, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Antonine Nicoglou
In 1956, in his Principles of Embryology, Conrad Hal Waddington explained that the word "epigenetics" should be used to translate and update Wilhelm Roux' German notion of "Entwicklungsmechanik" (1890) to qualify the studies focusing on the mechanisms of development. When Waddington mentioned it in 1956, the notion of epigenetics was not yet popular, as it would become from the 1980s. However, Waddington referred first to the notion in the late 1930s. While his late allusion clearly reveals that Waddington readily associated the notion of epigenetics with the developmental process, in the contemporary uses of the notion this developmental connotation seems to have disappeared...
September 27, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Janina Wellmann
Morphogenesis is one of the fundamental processes of developing life. Gastrulation, especially, marks a period of major translocations and bustling rearrangements of cells that give rise to the three germ layers. It was also one of the earliest fields in biology where cell movement and behaviour in living specimens were investigated. This article examines scientific attempts to understand gastrulation from the point of view of cells in motion. It argues that the study of morphogenesis in the twentieth century faced a major dilemma, both epistemological and pictorial: representing form and understanding movement are mutually exclusive, as are understanding form and representing movement...
September 11, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Francesca Michelini, Matthias Wunsch, Dirk Stederoth
Following the revival in the last decades of the concept of "organism", scholarly literature in philosophy of science has shown growing historical interest in the theory of Immanuel Kant, one of the "fathers" of the concept of self-organisation. Yet some recent theoretical developments suggest that self-organisation alone cannot fully account for the all-important dimension of autonomy of the living. Autonomy appears to also have a genuine "interactive" dimension, which concerns the organism's functional interactions with the environment and does not simply derive from its internal organisation...
August 30, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Stefan Washausen, Thomas Scheffel, Guido Brunnett, Wolfgang Knabe
The now classical idea that programmed cell death (apoptosis) contributes to a plethora of developmental processes still has lost nothing of its impact. It is, therefore, important to establish effective three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction as well as simulation techniques to decipher the exact patterns and functions of such apoptotic events. The present study focuses on the question whether and how apoptosis promotes neurulation-associated processes in the spinal cord of Tupaia belangeri (Tupaiidae, Scandentia, Mammalia)...
August 29, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Bohang Chen
In biology the term "vitalism" is usually associated with Hans Driesch's doctrine of the entelechy: entelechies were nonmaterial, bio-specific agents responsible for governing a few peculiar biological phenomena. Since vitalism defined as such violates metaphysical materialism (or physicalism), the received view refutes the doctrine of the entelechy as a metaphysical heresy. But in the early twentieth century, a different, non-metaphysical evaluation of vitalism was endorsed by some biologists and philosophers, which finally led to a logical refutation of the doctrine of the entelechy...
August 22, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Susan D Jones, Anna A Amramina
During the mid-twentieth century, Soviet scientists developed the "natural focus" theory-practice framework to explain outbreaks of diseases (such as bubonic plague) endemic to wild animals and transmitted to humans. Focusing on parasitologist-physician Evgeny N. Pavlovsky and other field scientists' work in the Soviet borderlands, this article explores how the natural focus framework's concepts and practices were entangled in political as well as material ecologies of knowledge and practice. We argue that the very definition of endemic plague incorporated both hands-on materialist experience (including the identification of microbes/pathogens, insects/vectors, and mammals/reservoirs) and ideological concepts that supported Soviet colonization ("improving" hinterlands, "controlling natural focuses of disease," and "sanitizing" landscapes)...
August 21, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
John Lidwell-Durnin
'Adam's laburnum' (or Cytisus adami), produced by accident in 1825 by Jean-Louis Adam, a nurseryman in Vitry, became a commercial success within the plant trade for its striking mix of yellow and purple flowers. After it came to the attention of members of La Société d'Horticulture de Paris, the tree gained enormous fame as a potential instance of the much sought-after 'graft hybrid', a hypothetical idea that by grafting one plant onto another, a mixture of the two could be produced. As I show in this paper, many eminent botanists and gardeners, including Charles Darwin, both experimented with Adam's laburnum and argued over how it might have been produced and what light, if any, it shed on the laws of heredity...
August 21, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Jean-Baptiste Grodwohl, Franco Porto, Charbel N El-Hani
In many experimental sciences, like particle physics or molecular biology, the proper place for establishing facts is the laboratory. In the sciences of population biology, however, the laboratory is often seen as a poor approximation of what occurs in nature. Results obtained in the field are usually more convincing. This raises special problems: it is much more difficult to obtain stable, repeatable results in the field, where environmental conditions vary out of the experimenter's control, than in the laboratory...
July 31, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Martin Böhnert, Christopher Hilbert
C. Lloyd Morgan is mostly known for Morgan's canon (An introduction to comparative psychology, Walter Scott, Limited, London, 1894), still a popular and frequently quoted principle in comparative psychology and ethology. There has been a fair amount of debate on the canon's interpretation, function, and value regarding the research on animal minds, usually referring to it as an isolated principle. In this paper we rather shed light on Morgan's overall scientific program and his vision for comparative psychology...
July 27, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Ariel Jonathan Roffé, Santiago Ginnobili, Daniel Blanco
Due to an unfortunate turn of events, the family name of the first author was erroneously published as 'RoffÕ' in the original publication (PDF). The correct representation of the first author's family name is listed above and below.
July 24, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Ariel Jonathan Roffé, Santiago Ginnobili, Daniel Blanco
An interesting metatheoretical controversy took place during the 1980's and 1990's between pattern and phylogenetic cladists. What was always at stake in the discussion was not how work in systematics should be carried out, but rather how this practice should be metatheoretically interpreted. In this article, we criticize Pearson's account of the metatheoretical factors at play in this discussion. Following him, we focus on the issue of circularity, and on the role that phylogenetic hypotheses play in the determination of "primary homologies"...
July 17, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Neeraja Sankaran
This paper considers the foundational role of the contagium vivum fluidum-first proposed by the Dutch microbiologist Martinus Beijerinck in 1898-in the history of virology, particularly in shaping the modern virus concept, defined in the 1950s. Investigating the cause of mosaic disease of tobacco, previously shown to be an invisible and filterable entity, Beijerinck concluded that it was neither particulate like the bacteria implicated in certain infectious diseases, nor soluble like the toxins and enzymes responsible for symptoms in others...
July 12, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Alessio Plebe
This paper addresses a fundamental line of research in neuroscience: the identification of a putative neural processing core of the cerebral cortex, often claimed to be "canonical". This "canonical" core would be shared by the entire cortex, and would explain why it is so powerful and diversified in tasks and functions, yet so uniform in architecture. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the search for canonical explanations over the past 40 years, discussing the theoretical frameworks informing this research...
June 15, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Andrea Gambarotto
The author has retracted this article (Gambarotto 2017) as it contains sections that substantially overlap with the following publications (Roe 1981; Dupont 2007; Witt 2008).
May 16, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
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