On August 16th and 17th 2012, Arizona State University and the Institute for Systems Biology will host a workshop in conjunction with ISHPSSB hosted by the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington, to examine the historical and philosophical issues surrounding the contemporary field of Systems Biology.
Systems Biology has been described as a revolutionary approach to understanding living systems.The practice of Systems Biology which has emerged in the post-genomic era of the last decade exemplifies the integration and translation of large databases and scientific practice, methods, and explanations, between different disciplines, and between science, technology, and society. While Systems Biology may have deep historical roots, and embrace many themes at the heart of current philosophy of science, e.g. integration, reductionism, the unity/disunity of science, these issues remain largely neglected or unsatisfactorily addressed in the prevailing mythos of the field.
This workshop proposes to explore the historical and philosophical foundations of Systems Biology by opening a dialogue between practitioners of Systems Biology and historians and philosophers of science. Over the course of two days, four sessions and social activities will give HPS scholars and Systems Biologists the chance to interact and investigate together the historical roots and epistemic commitments of the field so that we can begin to articulate and reflect upon these problems in ways that transcend our own disciplinary assumptions and begin to address the ‘revolutionary’ aspects of Systems Biology.
The 2012 ISHPSSB Off-Year Workshop now invites proposals for presentations. The deadline for submission of abstracts is July 10th, 2012. Travel funding is available for graduate students. Travel grants provided by ISHPSSB are given on the basis of need, and priority is given to students whose papers have been accepted and who are unable to receive funding from their home institution. Travel grants are given as reimbursements after the workshop, once original receipts and boarding passes have been submitted to and processed by ISHPSSB. Please indicate your desire for funding in your submission, and email Kate MacCord (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions.
We ask that any person interested in participating in this workshop submit an abstract (300 word maximum) for their presentation, along with a 1-2 paragraph biography that includes why they are interested in participating. Please also indicate if you have a session preference. E-mail all submission materials to Kate MacCord (email@example.com) by July 10th, 2012.
Session 1: What’s new about Systems Biology?
Although many regard Systems Biology as a unique scientific enterprise in contemporary biology, definitions of the field often fail to capture the diversity of approaches which it embraces. In order to understand the extent ofheterogeneity within Systems Biology, this session invites practicing systems biologists to discuss their scientific programs in different research areas. For each case, we hope to learn the following:
What specific research problems and challenges are being addressed? What exactly are the systems approaches being employed? And, what kinds of problem-solving power does this particular systems approach bring about?
After reflecting on specific research programs in individual talks, discussions will be oriented toward finding the scientific, technological, or philosophical common ground between the cases, if there is any. Furthermore, the discussants will be asked to reflect collectively on the nature of the diversity of systems biology .
Session 2: What are the Methodological and Conceptual Foundations of Systems Biology?
Some consider Systems Biology to be predicated on the insufficiency of conventional molecular biological methodologies to uncover and explain emergent functional properties and behaviors of living systems, and claim that it represents a genuinely anti-reductionist epistemology. Others claim that Systems Biology is nothing but old science in a new dress, simply deploying conventional epistemic strategies on a large scale. In order to evaluate these positions, and to understand the role that Systems Biology plays in the life sciences, we need to understand both the methodological and conceptual frameworks of Systems Biology. Thus, with respect to methodology and conceptual frameworks, we invite abstracts that address the following questions:
How are methodologies from disparate fields of research aligned and related within Systems Biology, and what are the implications of those relationships for the epistemology of Systems Biology?What kind of evidentiary practices characterize Systems Biology, andhow do they differ from practices other biological practices? What does it mean to provide explanations in Systems Biology? What roles do mechanistic explanations play in Systems Biology? What inferences about living systems can be drawn from the mathematical and mechanistic models (both in silico and in vitro) of Systems Biology?
Session 3: Investigating the Historical Foundations of an Emerging Field
Some historians and scientists have suggested that Systems Biology is a new way of approaching biological complexity, integrating a wide range of disciplines and new technologies. Others have contested that Systems Biology is merely a relabeling of long-standing patterns of investigation that can be easily traced back to the rise of molecular biology in the 1950s, or even earlier within the modern evolutionary synthesis. We invite scholars from history, philosophy, and the social studies of science to submit abstracts that shed light on the uniqueness of Systems Biology, by addressing the following questions:
How should we conceive of the beginnings of Systems Biology as a field? What disciplines, people, and/or institutions influenced the emergence of Systems Biology? How and when did systems thinking originate in the life sciences?
Session 4: What are the Implications of Systems Biology for investigating complex systems?
The final session of the workshop will focus on the implications of Systems Biology for the way we think about complex systems, both within and beyond the life sciences. We want to consider what new opportunities and challenges the use of conceptual and methodological strategies characteristic of Systems Biology might present for tackling problems in many different fields, from evolutionary biology to ecology and socioeconomic research. We invite abstracts that address the following:
How might new technologies and computational strategies, such as high-throughput biochemical assays, influence the questions that we ask in other research contexts? How might techniques for large-scale data integration developed within Systems Biology affect efforts toward integration in other fields? In what ways might the methods and tools of Systems Biology impact other efforts to analyze complex hierarchical systems at multiple levels of organization?
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