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

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WEDNESDAY, JULY 8  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-M320
Individual papers
Strategies and Limits of Models and Theories in Biology

Evolutionary models in a post-theory-centric philosophy of cancer biology

Matthew Slayton (University of Chicago, United States)

This paper explores evolution as a model in cancer biology. Cancer evolution, which has received increasing attention in the field, considers tumors to be a population of rapidly mutating cells that compete for space and resources. Lineages that acquire increasingly malignant mutations are successful in the environment of the human body. This process gives rise to tumor growth and progression. Evolution is an unusually theoretical approach in a molecularly-oriented science, and has begun to see attention in the philosophical literature. I will address Germain's 2013 argument that cancer is, at best, a trivially evolutionary phenomenon that is better explained by cellular mechanisms. Following Fagan, I take issue with the idea that a theory or model can be isolated from its use in experimental science and be manipulated by philosophical methods alone. Germain evaluates cancer evolution in terms of its explanatory capacity. I will argue that his criteria are too narrow to capture how models operate within an interdisciplinary, experimental, and applied field like cancer biology. I will offer an alternative view of models in the biomedical sciences by examining evolution's multiple functions in cancer biology (whether applied explicitly in quantitative modeling or in unifying conceptual statements, or implicitly when used as a metaphor.) A biomedical science may use a model that is not uniformly and consistently applied, and this does not affect the value of this model in producing knowledge for that discipline. I close with an argument for why we should not dismiss the role of evolution in cancer biology simply because it fails to satisfy one set of standards elaborated by philosophers: there is good reason to expect that cancer evolution will grow in scope and sophistication, and become a theoretical and investigative foundation for the field.

Affective management strategies: Emotion, care and control in the construction of beagles as biological models

Eva Giraud (Keele University, United Kingdom); Gregory Hollin (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom)

Through an analysis of the consolidation of beagles as the standard experimental dog, this paper contributes to broader debates about the role of affective labour within the biosciences. Focusing on the first experimental beagle colony (at University of California, Davis, 1951-1986), the paper explores the role of affective human-dog relations in standardizing beagles as biological models. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century dogs were increasingly used in laboratory work due to their amenable temperament (Lederer, 1992) and the ease with which their body language could be ‘read’ (Degeling, 2008). Beagles, more specifically, became the breed of choice due to their ‘merry disposition’ and ‘gay personality’ (Anderson, 1970). In addition to breed-personality being part of the rationale for selecting beagles, the management of canine emotion – via care-taking practices and living arrangements – was seen to be not just of ethical but also epistemic importance. Stress-free animals were perceived as vital in ensuring consistency within both physiological (Dror, 1999) and psychological (Kirk, 2004) research. This paper explores the processes through which affect was regulated during the consolidation of beagles as standard laboratory dogs and, in so doing, complicates two specific strands of theoretical work. Beagles, firstly, problematize work that has valorised the epistemic and ethical role of emotion within the biosciences, illustrating the vulnerability of affect to instrumentalization. Beagle research also contributes to ethical debates about tensions between the push to standardize animals, and the need to foster affective relations with individual animals in order to manage their emotions effectively. These strands of argument are then synthesised within the broader claim that a historical examination of laboratory animals is important in contextualising contemporary ethical debates about affective human-animal relations within the biosciences.

Population-level and organism-level causal processes in natural selection

Steve Esser (University of Pennsylvania, United States)

Roberta Millstein has argued that natural selection should be understood as a population-level causal process. In a recent article, she sought to support this thesis by applying Wesley Salmon’s causal process framework to the case of selection. I show that using this framework does not in fact support the conclusion that natural selection is best seen as a population-level causal phenomenon. The key problem is that when the persisting population is defined as a causal process (per Salmon’s definition), it cannot produce all the necessary internal changes required for selection. Change can only result from interactions with external processes, but selection requires further reference to organism-level interactions within the population. This is revealed when natural selection is examined in terms of its stages. I conclude that natural selection is driven by causally productive interactions taking place at both the population and the organism levels. This conclusion helps shed light on the debate in the literature between the dynamical and statistical interpretations of natural selection.