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

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TUESDAY, JULY 7  /  17:30 - 19:00  /  DS-M240
Individual papers
Modeling, Race and Conception: Biological and Medical Perspectives

Concrete biological models and distributed modeling

Pierre-Luc Germain (Istituto Europeo di Oncologia, Italy)

This contribution examines the nature and functioning of concrete biological models, by which I mean, roughly put, biological systems such as a mouse or tissue culture used to learn about another system. Using examples both from fundamental research and applied biomedical research, I highlight the difficulties in distinguishing modeling from experimentation, and show that, against a dyadic view of modeling, concrete biological models generally do not relate to their target in autonomous ways, but that links between models most often reinforce the models' relationships to their respective targets. This interdependency of models suggests a distributed understanding of modeling spread through a network of concrete systems and practices. I argue that distributed modeling differs in important respects from multiple-model idealization or classical triangulation. Such a form of modeling prompts some questions regarding the nature of models, and more specifically raises to the fore the problem of model individuation, i.e. identifying the boundaries of a model, what is part of it and what is not. I explore two positions on this issue, each related to different research agenda.

The risks of using, or not using, race concepts in medicine

Sean Valles (Michigan State University, United States)

This presentation analyzes the debates over the proper role of race concepts in medicine, placing them into the context of the growing literature on science and values, including inductive risk. There has been a two-pronged debate over the appropriate roles of race and ethnicity concepts in medicine: 1) scholars dispute whether the risks of using race concepts in medicine (e.g. promoting prejudice) disqualify it from use in medical research or practice (Cho, 2006; Graves, 2005). Simultaneously, there is a related debate over whether medical research and practice share an obligation to apply race categories, in spite of their weaknesses, as part of a commitment to equitably attending to the needs of minority populations (Geller, 2011; Cohn, 2006). The debate is thus complicated by the fact that substantial risks and benefits are attached to both using and not using race concepts in medicine. This paper illuminates those debates using the literature on inductive risk (Douglas, 2000) and later expansions of the concept beyond the risks of errors in hypothesis acceptance/rejection to “epistemic risks” due to other aspects of scientific practice (Kukla, 2014; Biddle, forthcoming). This literature, a branch of the philosophy of science literature on values in science, provides a more precise language and structure to the debates over the risks of using race in medicine, illustrating the various roles played by value judgments. Conversely, the race in medicine case illuminates this theoretical framework by exploring how well the framework can account for methodological epistemic risks that take the particular form of choosing which scientific categories to apply in research.

Between natural conception and reproductive medicine

Maya Fisher (Tel Aviv University, Israel)

This paper examines, using observations and interviews, the meaning of ‘natural' as perceived by physicians within their daily work at In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) clinics. IVF physicians perceive the concept natural as a non-intervening process similar perhaps to the way J.S Mill sees it: “all the powers existing in either the outer or the inner world… without the voluntary and intentional agency, of man.” (1904). Yet, I found that their relation to nature varies: some see their medical duty to fix/assist nature, some to fight it and others state that IVF tries to imitate nature. One physician said that inquiring about nature is out of place at an IVF clinic. Furthermore, physicians do not see nature as a moral guide, as one stated: “you know, to make nature noble, to make it good, for man is not always right. I mean, nature can be very cruel to humans.” I will show that these relations towards nature and the ‘natural’ affect their decision making at the IVF units; still Nature is not their main concern rather the success of the treatment is. In their opinion medicine always intervenes and interferes with nature – from treating the sick to getting a woman pregnant. As far as they are concerned once a woman enters the clinic, she is out of the natural setting. I show that physicians perceive ‘natural’ in physiological terms, and they regard their work as avoiding doing harm to the patient, and either assisting or "fixing" nature.