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History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

Brian Garvey
According to most Evolutionary Psychologists, human moral attitudes are rooted in cognitive modules that evolved in the Stone Age to solve problems of social interaction. A crucial component of their view is that such cognitive modules remain unchanged since the Stone Age, and I question that here. I appeal to evolutionary rollback, the phenomenon where an organ becomes non-functional and eventually atrophies or disappears-e.g. cave-dwelling fish losing their eyes. I argue that even if cognitive modules evolved in the Stone Age to solve problems of social interaction, conditions since then have favoured rollback of those modules...
March 21, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Michael Fry
Scientific hypotheses may either predict particular unknown facts or accommodate previously-known data. Although affirmed predictions are intuitively more rewarding than accommodations of established facts, opinions divide whether predictive hypotheses are also epistemically superior to accommodation hypotheses. This paper examines the contribution of predictive hypotheses to discoveries of several bio-molecular systems. Having all the necessary elements of the system known beforehand, an abstract predictive hypothesis of semiconservative mode of DNA replication was successfully affirmed...
March 20, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Robert G W Kirk, Edmund Ramsden
Seeking a scientific basis for understanding and treating mental illness, and inspired by the work of Ivan Pavlov, American physiologists, psychiatrists and psychologists in the 1920s turned to nonhuman animals. This paper examines how new constructs such as "experimental neurosis" emerged as tools to enable psychiatric comparison across species. From 1923 to 1962, the Cornell "Behavior Farm" was a leading interdisciplinary research center pioneering novel techniques to experimentally study nonhuman psychopathology...
February 7, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Gabriele Gramelsberger
Continuous culture techniques were developed in the early twentieth century to replace cumbersome studies of cell growth in batch cultures. In contrast to batch cultures, they constituted an open concept, as cells are forced to proliferate by adding new medium while cell suspension is constantly removed. During the 1940s and 1950s new devices have been designed-called "automatic syringe mechanism," "turbidostat," "chemostat," "bactogen," and "microbial auxanometer"-which allowed increasingly accurate quantitative measurements of bacterial growth...
January 30, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Chris Manias
Palaeontology developed as a field dependent upon comparison. Not only did reconstructing the fragmentary records of fossil organisms and placing them within taxonomic systems and evolutionary lineages require detailed anatomical comparisons with living and fossil animals, but the field also required thinking in terms of behavioural, biological and ecological analogies with modern organisms to understand how prehistoric animals lived and behaved. Yet palaeontological material often worked against making easy linkages, bringing a sense of mystery and doubt...
January 23, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Mie S Dam, Per T Sangild, Mette N Svendsen
This paper explores the laborious and intimate work of turning bodies of research animals into models of human patients. Based on ethnographic research in the interdisciplinary Danish research centre NEOMUNE, we investigate collaboration across species and disciplines, in research aiming at improving survival for preterm infants. NEOMUNE experimental studies on piglets evolved as a platform on which both basic and clinical scientists exercised professional authority. Guided by the field of multi-species research, we explore the social and material agency of research animals in the production of human health...
January 22, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Richard W Burkhardt
When the Muséum d'histoire naturelle in Paris learned in 1836 that it had the chance to buy a live, young orangutan, it was excited by the prospect. Specimens were the focus of the Museum's activities, and this particular specimen seemed especially promising, not only because the Museum had very few orangutan specimens in its collection, but also because of what was perceived to be the orangutan's unique place in the natural order of things, namely, at the very boundary between the animal kingdom and humans...
January 22, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Joel B Hagen
Beginning in the mid-1930s the comparative physiologists Laurence Irving and Per Fredrik (Pete) Scholander pioneered the study of diving mammals, particularly harbor seals. Although resting on earlier work dating back to the late nineteenth century, their research was distinctive in several ways. In contrast to medically oriented physiology, the approaches of Irving and Scholander were strongly influenced by natural history, zoology, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Diving mammals, they argued, shared the cardiopulmonary physiology of terrestrial mammals, but evolution had modified these basic adaptive processes in extreme ways...
January 18, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Robert Meunier, Kärin Nickelsen
The history of twentieth-century life sciences is not exactly a new topic. However, in view of the increasingly rapid development of the life sciences themselves over the past decades, some of the well-established narratives are worth revisiting. Taking stock of where we stand on these issues was the aim of a conference in 2015, entitled "Perspectives for the History of Life Sciences" (Munich, Oct 30-Nov 1, 2015). The papers in this topical collection are based on work presented and discussed at and around this meeting...
January 18, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Miles MacLeod, Nancy J Nersessian
Modern integrative systems biology defines itself by the complexity of the problems it takes on through computational modeling and simulation. However in integrative systems biology computers do not solve problems alone. Problem solving depends as ever on human cognitive resources. Current philosophical accounts hint at their importance, but it remains to be understood what roles human cognition plays in computational modeling. In this paper we focus on practices through which modelers in systems biology use computational simulation and other tools to handle the cognitive complexity of their modeling problems so as to be able to make significant contributions to understanding, intervening in, and controlling complex biological systems...
January 8, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Christopher M Kelty
This paper explores the case of using robots to simulate evolution, in particular the case of Hamilton's Law. The uses of robots raises several questions that this paper seeks to address. The first concerns the role of the robots in biological research: do they simulate something (life, evolution, sociality) or do they participate in something? The second question concerns the physicality of the robots: what difference does embodiment make to the role of the robot in these experiments. Thirdly, how do life, embodiment and social behavior relate in contemporary biology and why is it possible for robots to illuminate this relation? These questions are provoked by a strange similarity that has not been noted before: between the problem of simulation in philosophy of science, and Deleuze's reading of Plato on the relationship of ideas, copies and simulacra...
January 3, 2018: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Amanda Jo Goldstein
Reconstructions of Romantic-era life science in general, and epigenesis in particular, frequently take the Kantian logic of autotelic "self-organization" as their primary reference point. I argue in this essay that the Kantian conceptual rubric hinders our historical and theoretical understanding of epigenesis, Romantic and otherwise. Neither a neutral gloss on epigenesis, nor separable from the epistemological deflation of biological knowledge that has received intensive scrutiny in the history and philosophy of science, Kant's heuristics of autonomous "self-organization" in the third Critique amount to the strategic capture of epigenesis from nature, for thought, in thought's critical transcendence of nature...
December 13, 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Etienne Vignola-Gagné, Peter Keating, Alberto Cambrosio
The original version of this article unfortunately contained a mistake. Three entries are incorrect in the reference list. The corrected references are given below.
December 4, 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Mathias Grote
Microbial diversity has become a leitmotiv of contemporary microbiology, as epitomized in the concept of the microbiome, with significant consequences for the classification of microbes. In this paper, I contrast microbiology's current diversity ideal with its influential predecessor in the twentieth century, that of purity, as epitomized in Robert Koch's bacteriological culture methods. Purity and diversity, the two polar opposites with regard to making sense of the microbial world, have been operationalized in microbiological practice by tools such as the "clean" Petri dish versus the "dirty" Winogradsky column, the latter a container that mimics, in the laboratory, the natural environment that teems with diverse microbial life...
November 29, 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Sylvain Billiard, Alexandra Alvergne
Over the last 40 years or so, there has been an explosion of cultural evolution research in anthropology and archaeology. In each discipline, cultural evolutionists investigate how interactions between individuals translate into group level patterns, with the aim of explaining the diachronic dynamics and diversity of cultural traits. However, while much attention has been given to deterministic processes (e.g. cultural transmission biases), we contend that current evolutionary accounts of cultural change are limited because they do not adopt a systematic stochastic approach (i...
November 27, 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Lara Keuck
This paper examines medical scientists' accounts of their rediscoveries and reassessments of old materials. It looks at how historical patient files and brain samples of the first cases of Alzheimer's disease became reused as scientific objects of inquiry in the 1990s, when a genetic neuropathologist from Munich and a psychiatrist from Frankfurt lead searches for left-overs of Alzheimer's 'founder cases' from the 1900s. How and why did these researchers use historical methods, materials and narratives, and why did the biomedical community cherish their findings as valuable scientific facts about Alzheimer's disease? The paper approaches these questions by analysing how researchers conceptualised 'history' while backtracking and reassessing clinical and histological materials from the past...
November 27, 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Christoph Gradmann
Upon entering clinical medicine in the 1940s, antibiotic therapy seemed to complete a transformation of hospitals that originated in the late nineteenth century. Former death sinks had become harbingers of therapeutic progress. Yet this triumph was short-lived. The arrival of pathologies caused by resistant bacteria, and of nosocomial infections whose spread was helped by antibiotic therapies, seemed to be intimately related to modern anti-infective therapy. The place where such problems culminated were hospitals, which increasingly appeared as dangerous environments where attempts to combat infectious diseases had instead created hothouses of disease evolution...
November 27, 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Mathilde Lequin
Bipedalism is one of the criteria that paleoanthropologists use in order to interpret the fossil record and to determine if a specimen belongs to the human lineage. In the context of such interpretations, bipedalism is considered to be a unique characteristic of this lineage that also marks its origin. This conception has largely remained unchallenged over the last decades, in spite of fossil discoveries that led to the emergence of bipedalism in the human lineage being shifted back by several millions of years...
November 22, 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
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