International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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Keynote speakers

Monday 17:30 to 19:00, Marie-Gérin-Lajoie auditorium


Sandra Harding

Social justice movements, such as feminism, anti-racism, decolonialism and postcolonialism, have produced a standpoint methodology more competent to maximize objectivity than the conventional requirement that natural and social science research be value-free.  The need for “strong objectivity,” as a complement to the usual standards for value-free objectivity, arises when research communities lack diversity, and are isolated from relevant democratic social tendencies.  Research that starts off questioning nature and social relations from the daily lives of economically and politically vulnerable groups can increase its own reliability and predictive power.  Such research insists on the conventional goals of fairness to the data and to its severest criticisms.  It retains central commitments of the conventional notion of objectivity while escaping its limitations.  It also produces new conceptions of the “proper scientific self,” which are, of course, morally challenging.  In the natural sciences, biologists have earliest and most extensively developed such methodology.  This presentation will highlight these issues.


SandraHardingSandra Harding is Distinguished Research Professor in Education and Gender Studies at UCLA.  She received her undergraduate degree from Douglass College and her doctorate in philosophy from New York University. She taught for two decades in the Departments of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Delaware, where she also directed the Women’s Studies Program for 8 years. She then taught for 19 years at UCLA, where she directed the UCLA Center for the Study of Women.  She has written or edited 16 books and special journal issues on topics in feminist and postcolonial epistemology, philosophy of science and research methodology.  Most recently she authored Sciences From Below: Feminism, Postcolonialities and Modernities (2008) and edited The Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader (2011).  Objectivity and Diversity: Another Logic of Scientific Research (University of Chicago Press, 2015) is her most recently completed book.

Harding has been a visiting professor at the University of Amsterdam, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and The University of Costa Rica.  She was a Distinguished Affiliate Professor of Philosophy at Michigan State University 2010-2014.  She co-edited Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2000-2005.  She was awarded the 2013 John Desmond Bernal Prize of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S); previous recipients include Thomas S. Kuhn, Robert Merton, Mary Douglas, and Joseph Needham.  She has consulted to a number of international agencies, including the Pan American Health Organization, UNIFEM, the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development, and UNESCO. She has lectured on over 300 campuses on six continents.


 Wednesday 17:30 to 19:00, Marie-Gérin-Lajoie auditorium


W. Ford Doolittle

For 30 years, gene sequences were used to construct phylogenetic trees without serious concern that different genes might actually have different evolutionary histories because of transfer “across species lines” (Lateral Gene Transfer, or LGT). But now comparative genomic data show LGT to be so frequent on an evolutionary time scale that a maximum of 5%, and possibly 0%, of the genes in any bacterial genome are likely to have the same history back to any last common bacterial ancestor. LGT is also not an insignificant force in the evolution of microbial eukaryotes. The effort to construct a universal Tree of Life (TOL) may thus be rendered futile, and we need to rethink what we want the TOL to do for us – underwrite systematics, prove the Theory of Evolution or recreate a history of speciation events and cell divisions back to the beginning of Life. Conflict among evolutionary biologists shows they have conflated these goals. My purpose in this talk will be to disentangle them.


FordDoolittleW. Ford Doolittle was born in Urbana Illinois, the son of an art professor. He earned a BA in Biochemical Science from Harvard College in 1963 and a PhD in Biological Science from Stanford University in 1969, the focus of his studies being bacterial genetics. He joined the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Dalhousie in 1971 and has been there ever since: he is now Professor Emeritus, but working full time. For 20 years he was the Director of the Program in Evolutionary Biology of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), and for seven, a CRC Chair. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and is a member of American Academy of Microbiology, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, an Institute Fellow of CIFAR and a Foreign Member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2013 and in 2014 he was awarded the Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, the top award given by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. 

Work of his laboratory spanned four decades and involved testing the endosymbiont hypothesis for the origin of chloroplasts, cyanobacterial and archaeal molecular genetics, the origin and early evolution of eukaryotes, lateral gene transfer in prokaryotes and its impact on phylogeny, and metagenomics. In parallel he has advanced theories about the origin of introns, “selfish DNA”, evolutionary ratchets, the Tree of Life, the nature of bacterial species and the misuse of function concepts in genomics. He currently concentrates almost entirely on conceptual issues at the intersections of genomics, microbiology, phylogenetics, and philosophy of biology.