Causal isolation robustness analysis: the combinatorial strategy of circadian clock research

Abstract

This paper distinguishes between causal isolation robustness analysis and independent determination robustness analysis and suggests that the triangulation of the results of different epistemic means or activities serves different functions in them. Circadian clock research is presented as a case of causal isolation robustness analysis: in this field researchers made use of the notion of robustness to isolate the assumed mechanism behind the circadian rhythm. However, in contrast to the earlier philosophical case studies on causal isolation robustness analysis (Weisberg and Reisman in Philos Sci 75:106–131, 2008; Kuorikoski et al. in Br J Philos Sci 61:541–567, 2010), robustness analysis in the circadian clock research did not remain in the level of mathematical modeling, but it combined it with experimentation on model organisms and a new type of model, a synthetic model.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This strategy usually presumes that the phenomenon under study is robust itself, which creates a link between the epistemic uses of the notion of robustness and the causal robustness of the real phenomena (for this distinction, see Woodward 2006).

  2. 2.

    Woodward in fact also criticizes this view, see also Stegenga (2009).

  3. 3.

    So far, there has not been much overlap between the philosophical literatures on experimentation and robustness analysis.

  4. 4.

    Circadian clock research has been used recently by Bechtel and Abrahamsen (2010, 2011) as an exemplary case of mechanistic research that has successfully combined the decompositional approach of finding the basic components of mechanisms to the study of their interactions by modeling. On our account this “recomposition” taking place between experimental results and modeling was far from seamless and synthetic models were partly designed to fill the gap between these two activities (cf. Loettgers 2007).

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the Academy of Finland and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the support of this research.

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Correspondence to Tarja Knuuttila.

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Knuuttila, T., Loettgers, A. Causal isolation robustness analysis: the combinatorial strategy of circadian clock research. Biol Philos 26, 773–791 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-011-9279-x

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Keywords

  • Modeling
  • Robustness analysis
  • Causal isolation
  • Synthetic biology
  • Circadian clock