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

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THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-M280
Individual papers
Experimentation and Practice in the Field, The Lab and The Clinic

Data creation and research environments: Implications for the re-use of open data

Louise Bezuidenhout (University of Exeter, United Kingdom)

How life science data can be shared to maximize the benefits to humanity is a topic that is receiving increasing attention. In response to calls for increased openness within scientific research, the Open Data (OD) movement has been highly influential in championing unrestricted access to research data. This drive towards openness is underpinned by certain key assumptions – not only that benefits will be accrued from data re-use, but also that all online data could – can and would – be re-used. An uncritical approach regarding the feasibility and likelihood of data re-use, however, overlooks the social, historical and political issues that may influence what data are used - and what data are ignored. This talk critically engages with this assumption, asking the question: what issues about data selection (that precedes re-use) are absent from current data discussions? It becomes important to ask how scientists judge which data to re-use, and why some data are selected preferentially. These questions stems from recent fieldwork in laboratories in low/middle-income countries (LMICs). Scientists interviewed were concerned that issues such as their use of older equipment and methodologies, the low visibility of their research institutions and the limitations associated with lack of funding would cause their data to be overlooked when placed online. These concerns influenced their engagement in data sharing initiatives, their discussions on data sharing and openness, and – ultimately – their involvement with the international scientific community. The concerns of LMIC scientists thus strike to the heart of the OD movement and force us to re-examine how far the likelihood of re-use can - and should - be assumed. Assuming both that scientists believe in data reuse and that online data are indeed reused are two topics urgently requiring further investigation.

Disseminating behavioral genetics research to the public: Evidence-based recommendations

Alexandre Morin-Chassé (Columbia University, United States); James Fowler (University of California, San Diego, United States)

The media regularly cover scientific studies suggesting that genes are partially responsible for a particular behavior or social orientation. However, recent research shows that this practice unintendedly leads people to infer genetic causation to other traits that are not even mentioned in the news report. The purpose of the current study is to verify whether the emergence of this side-effect depends on the type of scientific evidence presented. Results from our survey experiment reveal stronger generalization effects when the news content presents high heritability estimates derived from twin studies or insights from population genetics. Based on this finding, we suggest directions of future research, and offer empirically-driven recommendations for how science journalists should—or should not—cover behavioral genetics research.

Singularization in the cancer clinic: Genomics, targeted therapies and emerging diagnostic entities and configurations

Pascale Bourret** (Aix-Marseille Université, France); Alberto Cambrosio (McGill University, Canada); Peter Keating (Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada); Etienne Vignola-Gagné (McGill University, Canada)

Recent developments in oncology are grounded in the massive deployment of genomic technologies and of a novel category of drugs collectively known as targeted therapies, insofar as they target, at least in principle, specific pathways and molecular abnormalities of patients’ tumors. Touted as the harbingers of an era of individualized, personalized, or precision medicine, these new therapeutic strategies have already become part of routine practices, and are presently the object of major clinical research initiatives both in Europe and North America. Their development is associated with a new understanding of the etiology of cancer, the attempt to replace traditional, histology-based classifications with a molecular nosology, the development of new diagnostic approaches, and the emergence of new clinical trial designs (umbrella trials, basket trials, etc.). Our paper examines these transformations by analyzing them as practices of “singularization”, embedded in a regime of “intense problematization” (Callon, 2012), whereby the relevant entities – i.e., molecularly defined types of cancer, targeted drugs, targeted therapeutic regimens – are mutually (re)defined on an ongoing basis, while opening up new spaces of inter-comparability. Our approach aims at capturing the novelty of these recent developments by contrasting them with more traditional understandings of “personalization” that refer to the adaptation of existing treatments to the predefined, stable, and independent characteristics of a given patient.