Approximations, Idealizations and 'Experiments' at the Physics-Biology Interface

This paper, which is based on recent empirical research at the University of Leeds, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Bristol, presents two difficulties which arise when condensed matter physicists interact with molecular biologists: (1) the former use models which appear to be too coarse-grained, approximate and/or idealized to serve a useful scientific purpose to the latter; and (2) the latter have a rather narrower view of what counts as an experiment, particularly when it comes to computer simulations, than the former. It argues that these findings are related; that computer simulations are considered to be undeserving of experimental status, by molecular biologists, precisely because of the idealizations and approximations that they involve. The complexity of biological systems is a key factor. The paper concludes by critically examining whether the new research programme of ‘systems biology’ offers a genuine alternative to the modelling strategies used by physicists. It argues that it does not.
Keywords Models  Simulations  Complexity  Systems biology  Condensed matter physics  Molecular biology
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2010.11.021
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References found in this work BETA
E. Keller (2013). The Century Beyond the Gene. Avant: Trends in Interdisciplinary Studies 4 (1):217-234.

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Otávio Bueno (2011). When Physics and Biology Meet: The Nanoscale Case. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 42 (2):180-189.

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