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

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-M320
Individual papers
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Nature

Social studies of science meet development: DOHaD and medicalization

Fabrizzio Guerrero Mc Manus (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico)

Within the myriad of topics discussed in the philosophy, history and sociology of medicine, certainly the concepts of "health" and "disease" are the most controversial. On the one hand, realists have attempted to defend robust, transcultural and objective notions of "health" and "disease" while constructivists have claimed that by necessity these notions are always inscribed in regimes of Power and Surveillance. Nevertheless, a new developmental approach to these notions -the so called Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD)- seems to offer a different framework in which plasticity and cultural embeddedness can be fully recognized without relinquishing the goal of seeking an objective definition of these concepts. Be this as it may, the aim of this talk is to show that even if we accept that DOHaD admits a less dualistic view on human nature, it is still prone to serve as a tool for medicalizing human beings and, thus, it shows that the central arguments of sociologists do not requiere a commitment to an antirealist position of the structuredness of the body but only a recognition of how bodies can be inscribed by social practices.

Traditions of research on the definition of contagious disease

Ruy Jose Henriquez Garrido (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain)

The conception of contagious disease that Girolamo Fracastoro provides in his work De contagione et contagiosis morbis (1546), marks the origin of modern epidemiology and microbiology. This conception puts into play the Galenic and Aristotelian traditions of research, faced with its own conceptual limitations of the growing mechanistic thought of the time. According to Fracastoro, epidemic diseases spread by invisible living germs called seminaria (seedbed), begotten by corrupted humours. Fracastoro resorted to the old notions of "sympathy" and "antipathy" to respond to questions about how seminaria is transmitted from one body to another, and what is the specificity that limits its transmission to certain species and organs. Like Galileo and Descartes, Fracastoro tries to establish a dialogue in the field of medicine between the Aristotelian vitalism and the modern mechanistic perspective. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the ideological, theoretical and conceptual assumptions, both philosophical and scientific, assumed by Fracastoro with regard to the problem of contagion.

Phenotypic regenesis and the inheritance of acquired characteristics: Obesity and type II diabetes mellitus as exemplars

Edward Archer (University of Alabama at Birmigham, United States)

While inheritance and evolution affect both physiologic and social outcomes (e.g., health and wealth), the prevailing biomedical and social scientific paradigms have limited explanatory or predictive power with respect to global epidemiologic trends and phenotypic evolution over the past century (e.g., increases in height, body mass, precocious menarche, and chronic non-communicable diseases). I posit that by defining inheritance and evolution in strictly gene-centric terms or abstract conceptualizations (e.g., wealth, status), these frameworks impede interdisciplinary collaboration and effective research by imposing a limited, speculative dichotomy (nature vs. nurture) on non-dichotomous, complex, non-linear concrete processes. If science is the pursuit of lawful relations, then progress necessitates dissent when current paradigms fail to explain extant evidence. My recent work demonstrates that physiologic vectors of inheritance (e.g., maternal effects) lead to phenotypic evolution and have significant consequences for health and disease. Importantly, this work suggests that the ‘missing heritability’ of the prevailing paradigms will not be found in the genome/epigenome or abstract conceptualizations (e.g., social status). As such, scientific progress necessitates a framework of inheritance and evolution that integrates: 1) the socio-environmental influences on ancestral behavioral and physiologic phenotypes, and 2) the inheritance of acquired characteristics and subsequent phenotypic evolution. This paper presents conceptual and empirical support for a heterodox framework that defines inheritance and evolution as the regenesis of ancestral phenotypes and social histories in present and future offspring. This conceptualization subsumes and overcomes the significant limitations of the hyper-reductionist DNA-centric paradigm and delineates mechanistic pathways that bridge sociologic conceptualizations (e.g., wealth) with biologic realities and relevant outcomes (e.g., health).