Philosophers of experiment have acknowledged that experiments are often more than mere hypothesis-tests, once thought to be an experiment's exclusive calling. Drawing on examples from contemporary biology, I make an additional amendment to our understanding of experiment by examining the way that `wide' instrumentation can, for reasons of efficiency, lead scientists away from traditional hypothesis-directed methods of experimentation and towards exploratory methods.
Philosophical discussions of species have focused on multicellular, sexual animals and have often neglected to consider unicellular organisms like bacteria. This article begins to fill this gap by considering what species concepts, if any, apply neatly to the bacterial world. First, I argue that the biological species concept cannot be applied to bacteria because of the variable rates of genetic transfer between populations, depending in part on which gene type is prioritized. Second, I present a critique of phylogenetic bacterial species, (...) arguing that phylogenetic bacterial classification requires a questionable metaphysical commitment to the existence of essential genes. I conclude by considering how microbiologists have dealt with these biological complexities by using more pragmatic and not exclusively evolutionary accounts of species. I argue that this pragmatism is not borne of laziness but rather of the substantial conceptual problems in classifying bacteria based on any evolutionary standard. (shrink)
This paper argues that the increasingly dominant new mechanistic approach to scientific explanation, as developed to date, does not shed new light on explanatory practice. First, I systematize the explanatory account, one according to which explanations are mechanistic models that satisfy three desiderata: 1) they must represent causal relations, 2) describe the proper parts, and 3) depict the system at the right ‘level.’ Then I argue that even the most promising attempts to flesh out these constraints have fallen far short. (...) Finally, I offer a diagnosis of the mechanistic project, locating a common source of both its virtues and shortcomings. (shrink)
The Tree of Life has traditionally been understood to represent the history of species lineages. However, recently researchers have suggested that it might be better interpreted as representing the history of cellular lineages, sometimes called the Tree of Cells. This paper examines and evaluates reasons offered against this cellular interpretation of the Tree of Life. It argues that some such reasons are bad reasons, based either on a false attribution of essentialism, on a misunderstanding of the problem of lineage identity, (...) or on a limited view of scientific representation. I suggest that debate about the Tree of Cells and other successors to the traditional Tree of Life should be formulated in terms of the purposes these representations may serve. In pursuing this strategy, we see that the Tree of Cells cannot serve one purpose suggested for it: as an explanation for the hierarchical nature of taxonomy. We then explore whether, instead, the tree may play an important role in the dynamic modeling of evolution. As highly-integrated complex systems, cells may influence which lineage components can successfully transfer into them and how they change once integrated. Only if they do in fact have a substantial role to play in this process might the Tree of Cells have some claim to be the Tree of Life. (shrink)
The interventionist account of causal explanation, in the version presented by Jim Woodward (2003), has been recently claimed capable of buttressing the widely felt—though poorly understood—hunch that high-level, relatively abstract explanations, of the sort provided by sciences like biology, psychology and economics, are in some cases explanatorily optimal. It is the aim of this paper to show that this is mistaken. Due to a lack of effective constraints on the causal variables at the heart of the interventionist causal-explanatory scheme, as (...) presently formulated it is either unable to prefer high-level explanations to low, or systematically overshoots, recommending explanations at so high of a level as to be virtually vacuous. (shrink)
Emily Largent, Steven Joffe, and Franklin Miller offer a stimulating contribution to the literature on integrating medical research and practice. We agree on both the need to move toward what the Institute of Medicine has called a learning health care system and the need for new conceptions for integrating research and practice within it. We also agree with the authors’ view, first advanced by Robert Truog and colleagues in 1999, that it can be ethically acceptable to randomize patients without (...) express consent in trials comparing widely used, approved interventions that pose no additional risk. With appropriate oversight, learning health care systems ought to conduct such trials on a regular basis. Our .. (shrink)