Criticism of big data has focused on showing that more is not necessarily better, in the sense that data may lose their value when taken out of context and aggregated together. The next step is to incorporate an awareness of pitfalls for aggregation into the design of data infrastructure and institutions. A common strategy minimizes aggregation errors by increasing the precision of our conventions for identifying and classifying data. As a counterpoint, we argue that there are pragmatic trade-offs between precision (...) and ambiguity that are key to designing effective solutions for generating big data about biodiversity. We focus on the importance of theory-dependence as a source of ambiguity in taxonomic nomenclature and hence a persistent challenge for implementing a single, long-term solution to storing and accessing meaningful sets of biological specimens. We argue that ambiguity does have a positive role to play in scientific progress as a tool for efficiently symbolizing multiple aspects of taxa and mediating between conflicting hypotheses about their nature. Pursuing a deeper understanding of the trade-offs and synthesis of precision and ambiguity as virtues of scientific language and communication systems then offers a productive next step for realizing sound, big biodiversity data services. (shrink)
Big data is opening new angles on old questions about scientific progress. Is scientific knowledge cumulative? If yes, how does it make progress? In the life sciences, what we call the Consensus Principle has dominated the design of data discovery and integration tools: the design of a formal classificatory system for expressing a body of data should be grounded in consensus. Based on current approaches in biomedicine and systematic biology, we formulate and compare three types of the Consensus Principle: realist, (...) contextual-best, and coordinative. Contrasted with the realist program of the Open Biomedical Ontologies Foundry, we argue that historical practices in systematic biology provide an important and overlooked alternative based on coordinative consensus. Systematists have developed a robust system for referring to taxonomic entities that can deliver high quality data discovery and integration without invoking consensus about reality or “settled” science. (shrink)
A naturalistic account of the strengths and limitations of cladistic practice is offered. The success of cladistics is claimed to be largely rooted in the parsimony-implementing congruence test. Cladists may use the congruence test to iteratively refine assessments of homology, and thereby increase the odds of reliable phylogenetic inference under parsimony. This explanation challenges alternative views which tend to ignore the effects of parsimony on the process of character individuation in systematics. In a related theme, the concept of homeostatic property (...) cluster natural kinds is used to explain why cladistics is well suited to provide a traditional, verbal reference system for the evolutionary properties of species and clades. The advantages of more explicitly probabilistic approaches to phylogenetic inference appear to manifest themselves in situations where evolutionary homeostasis has for the most part broken down, and predictive classifications are no longer possible. (shrink)
The move to patient-centered medical practice is important for providing relevant and sustainable health care. Narrative medicine, for example, suggests that patients should be involved significantly in diagnosis and treatment. In order to understand the meaning of symptoms and interventions, therefore, physicians must enter the life worlds of patients. But physicians face high patient loads and limited time for extended consultations. In current medical practice, then, is narrative medicine possible? We argue that engaging patient perspectives in the medical visit does (...) not necessarily require a lengthy interview. Instead, a new orientation to this process that emphasizes dialogue between practitioners and patients should be considered. In this new model, the purpose of the visit is to communicate successfully and develop a mutual understanding of illness and care. (shrink)
The collection and classification of data into meaningful categories is a key step in the process of knowledge making. In the life sciences, the design of data discovery and integration tools has relied on the premise that a formal classificatory system for expressing a body of data should be grounded in consensus definitions for classifications. On this approach, exemplified by the realist program of the Open Biomedical Ontologies Foundry, progress is maximized by grounding the representation and aggregation of data on (...) settled knowledge. We argue that historical practices in systematic biology provide an important and overlooked alternative approach to classifying and disseminating data, based on a principle of coordinative rather than definitional consensus. Systematists have developed a robust system for referring to taxonomic entities that can deliver high quality data discovery and integration without invoking consensus about reality or “settled” science. (shrink)
What is the relationship between degrees of belief and all-or-nothing beliefs? Can the latter be expressed as a function of the former, without running into paradoxes? We reassess this “belief-binarization” problem from the perspective of judgment-aggregation theory. Although some similarities between belief binarization and judgment aggregation have been noted before, the literature contains no general study of the implications of aggregation-theoretic impossibility and possibility results for belief binarization. We seek to fill this gap. This paper is organized around a “baseline” (...) impossibility theorem, which we use to map out the space of possible solutions to the belief-binarization problem. The theorem shows that, except in simple cases, there exists no belief-binarization rule satisfying four initially plausible desiderata. A surprising finding is that this result is a direct corollary of the judgment-aggregation variant of Arrow's classic impossibility theorem. (shrink)
The Politics of the Soul: Eric Voegelin on Religious Experience includes eight essays examining one of the most profound studies of religious experience to appear in the last century: that of the political philosopher Eric Voegelin. Voegelin is increasingly recognized as a political theorist of exceptional scope and erudition and the most important philosopher of his time since Toynbee, and his treatment of religious experience is a crucial part of his overall analysis of existence and history. This collection of essays (...) by prominenet Voegelin scholars is the first book to explore the relevance of that analysis to the contemporary understanding of political theory, theology, history, and philosophy of consciousness, and as such it constitutes a significant contribution not only to Voegelin scholarship but to the current quest for theoretical foundations. (shrink)
Despite an expansive literature on communication in medicine, the role of language is dealt with mostly indirectly. Recently, narrative medicine has emerged as a strategy to improve doctor-patient communication and integrate patient perspectives. However, even in this field which is predicated on language use, scholars have not specifically reflected on how language functions in medicine. In this theoretical paper, the authors consider how different models of language use, which have been proposed in the philosophical literature, might be applied to communication (...) in medicine. In particular, the authors contrast the traditional, indexical thesis of language with new models that focus on interpretation instead of standardization. The authors demonstrate how paying close attention to the role of language in medicine provides a philosophical foundation for supporting recent changes in doctor-patient communication. In particular, interpretive models are at the foundation of new approaches such as narrative medicine, that emphasize listening to patient stories, rather than merely collecting information. Ultimately, debates regarding the role of language which have largely resided in non-medical literatures, have important implications for describing communication in medicine. In particular, interpretive models of language use provide an important rationale for facilitating a more robust dialogue between doctors and patients. (shrink)
Social planners have begun to recognize that communities are an important resource for solving many problems. Understanding local norms and values is thought to provide insight into how issues are defined and what interventions might be considered practical. Communities in this framework are not just the physical locations at which programs are targeted, but are actively constructed spaces that must be properly understood. In many ways, the field of public health has been sensitive to this understanding and has elevated the (...) community in importance, thus emphasizing that significant features are variable and locally defined. Even in the new public health, however, empirical indicators are still often relied on, thereby leading to the increasing standardization of communities, rather than to openness to neighborhood particularities. For this reason, a community-based focus should guide future public health endeavors. Most important, this strategy underscores the importance of getting to know the communities in which symptoms, illness and care are defined, and allows for full participation by community members that make interventions both relevant and sustainable. (shrink)
Support for the proposed dorsal-ventral distinction for the somatosensory system is not yet convincing, nor is the anatomical segregation of its pathways as clearly defined as the visual pathways. Consideration of alternative organizational principles might reveal critical differences across sensory processing systems. The role of attention and manipulations that modulate functional systems might also be worth considering.
Glover's planning–control model is based on his finding that visual illusions exert a larger effect in early phases than in late phases of a movement. But evidence for this dynamic illusion effect is weak, because: (a) it appears difficult to replicate; (b) Glover overestimates the accuracy of his results; and (c) he seems to underestimate the illusion effect at late phases.