Advertisement

Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 735–753 | Cite as

What is Proof of Concept Research and how does it Generate Epistemic and Ethical Categories for Future Scientific Practice?

  • Catherine Elizabeth KendigEmail author
Original Paper

Abstract

“Proof of concept” is a phrase frequently used in descriptions of research sought in program announcements, in experimental studies, and in the marketing of new technologies. It is often coupled with either a short definition or none at all, its meaning assumed to be fully understood. This is problematic. As a phrase with potential implications for research and technology, its assumed meaning requires some analysis to avoid it becoming a descriptive category that refers to all things scientifically exciting. I provide a short analysis of proof of concept research and offer an example of it within synthetic biology. I suggest that not only are there activities that circumscribe new epistemological categories but there are also associated normative ethical categories or principles linked to the research. I examine these and provide an outline for an alternative ethical account to describe these activities that I refer to as “extended agency ethics”. This view is used to explain how the type of research described as proof of concept also provides an attendant proof of principle that is the result of decision-making that extends across practitioners, their tools, techniques, and the problem solving activities of other research groups.

Keywords

Epistemic categories Extended agency Normative ethics Re-engineering Proof of principle Synthetic biology 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Research for this project was funded by the National Science Foundation Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), BIOMAPS: Modular Programmed Evolution of Bacteria for Optimization of Metabolic Pathways, Grant No. MCB-1329350, Research Opportunity Award: "How synthetic biology reconfigures biological and bioethical categories", Amendment No. 001, Proposal No. MCB-1417799.

References

  1. Amyris Biotechnologies (2013). Company website at: http://www.amyrisbiotech.com/Innovation/155/BreakthroughScience. Accessed 15 March 2013.
  2. Association for molecular pathology, V. Myriad genetics, Inc., et al. (2013). Certiorari to the United States court of appeals for the federal circuit. No. 12–398. Argued 15 April 2013—decided 13 June 2013.Google Scholar
  3. Barnes, B., & Dupré, J. (2008). Genomes and what to make of them. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brent, R. (2004). A partnership between biology and engineering. Nature Biotechnology, 22, 1211–1214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chang, H. (2004). Inventing temperature: measurement and scientific progress. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chang, H. (2007). The myth of the boiling point. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/sts/staff/chang/boiling/index.htm. Accessed Sept 2010 and http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/people/chang/boiling/. Accessed 23 April 2011.
  7. Chang, H. (2009). Philosophy as complementary science. The Philosophers’ Magazine 40. http://www.philosophypress.co.uk/?p=375. Accessed 31 Oct 2010.
  8. Chang, H. (2011). How historical experiments can improve scientific knowledge and science education: The cases of boiling water and electrochemistry. Science & Education, 20, 317–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clark, A. (1995). I am John’s brain. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2(2), 144–148.Google Scholar
  10. Clark, A. (1998). Being there: Putting brain, body, and world together again. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  11. Clark, A. (2010). Supersizing the mind: Embodiment, action, and cognitive extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis, 58, 7–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Colvin, V. (2004). Regulation? Wait for standardization, commercialization. The Environmental Forum. Google Scholar
  14. Doorn, N. (2012). Responsibility ascriptions in technology development and engineering: Three perspectives. Science and Engineering Ethics, 18(1), 69–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dupré, J. (2006). Humans and other animals. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  16. Eckdahl, T. T., Campbell, A. M., Heyer, L. J., Poet, J. L., Blauch, D. N., Snyder, N. L., et al. (2015). Programmed evolution for optimization of orthogonal metabolic output in bacteria. PLoS ONE, 10(2), e0118322. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118322.
  17. Endy, D. (2005). Foundations for engineering biology. Nature, 438(24), 449–453.Google Scholar
  18. Erwin, D., & Davidson, E. (2009). The evolution of hierarchical gene regulatory networks. Nature Reviews Genetics, 10, 141–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Genome Consortium for Active Teaching (GCAT) (2013). GGAJET: Golden gate assembly junction evaluation tool. http://gcat.davidson.edu/SynBio13/GGAJET/ Accessed 6 Aug 2014.
  20. Gibson, D., Glass, J., Lartigue, C., Noskov, V., Chuang, R.-Y., Algire, M., et al. (2010). Creation of a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically synthesized genome. Science, 2/329(5987), 52–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hacking, I. (1982). Experimentation and scientific realism. Philosophical Topics, 13(1), 71–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Haraway, D. (1985/2006). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late 20th century. In J. Weiss et al. (Eds.), The international handbook of virtual learning environments (pp. 117–158). Netherlands: Springer.Google Scholar
  23. Haynes, K., Broderick, M., Brown, A., Butner, T., Dickson, J., Harden, W., et al. (2008). Engineering bacteria to solve the burnt pancake problem. Journal of Biological Engineering, 2(8), 1–12.Google Scholar
  24. Hirshfeld, A. (2014). Guidance for determining subject matter eligibility of claims reciting or involving laws of nature, natural phenomena and natural products. Alexandria, VA: U.S. Patent and trademark office (March 4, 2014) http://www.uspto.gov/patents/law/exam/myriad-mayo_guidance.pdf. Accessed 5/3/2015.
  25. Hume, D. (1740/1938). An abstract of a treatise of human nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Hylton, W. (2012). Craig Venter’s bugs might save the world. The New York Times, 06-03-12.Google Scholar
  27. Keller, E. F. (2009). Knowledge as making, making as knowing: The many lives of synthetic biology. Biological Theory, 4(4), 333–339.Google Scholar
  28. Kendig, C. (2014a). Synthetic biology and biofuels. In P. B. Thompson & D. M. Kaplan (Eds.), Encyclopedia of food and agricultural ethics (pp. 1695–1703). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  29. Kendig, C. (2014b). Towards a multidimensional metaconception of species. Ratio, 27(2), 155–172.Google Scholar
  30. Kendig, C. (Ed.) (forthcoming). Natural kinds and classification in scientific practice. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Knight, T. (2003). Idempotent vector design for standard assembly of biobricks. MIT synthetic biology working group. Google Scholar
  32. Marchant, G., Meyer, A., & Scanlon, M. (2010). Integrating social and ethical concerns into regulatory decision-making for emerging technologies. Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology, 11(1), 345–363.Google Scholar
  33. Morange, M. (2009). Synthetic biology: A bridge between functional and evolutionary biology. Biological Theory, 4(4), 368–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. National Science Foundation (2014). Program solicitation: Accelerating innovation research-technology translation. Directorate for engineering, industrial innovation and partnerships. NSF 14-569. http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2014/nsf14569/nsf14569.htm. Accessed 3 Dec 2014.
  35. Nordmann, A. (2007). If and then: A critique of speculative nanoethics. Nanoethics, 1, 31–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. O’Malley, M. (2009). Making knowledge in synthetic biology: Design meets kludge. Biological Theory, 4(4), 378–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. O’Malley, M. (2010). Exploration, iterativity, and kludging in synthetic biology. Comptes Rendus Chimie, 14, 406–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. O’Malley, M., Powell, A., Davies, J., & Calvert, J. (2008). Knowledge-making distinctions in synthetic biology. BioEssays, 30, 57–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Oxford English Dictionary (2014). Proof of concept. http://www.oed.com/. Accessed 19 Sept 2014.
  40. Parens, E., Johnston, J., & Moses, J. (2008). Do we need “synthetic bioethics?”. Science, 321, 1449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Parens, E., Johnston, J. & Moses, J. (2009). Ethical issues in synthetic biology. SYNBIO 3. New York: Hastings Center. http://www.synbioproject.org/process/assets/files/6334/synbio3.pdf. Accessed 10 Sept 2014.
  42. Preston, C. (2008). Synthetic biology: Drawing a line in Darwin’s sand. Environmental Values, 17, 23–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (2014). Website homepage: http://www.philosophy-science-practice.org/. Accessed 25 Sept 2014.
  44. Soler, L. (Ed.) (2012). Characterizing the robustness of science: After the practice turn in philosophy of science. Volume 292 Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, New York: Springer Verlag Science Business Media.Google Scholar
  45. Soler, L., Zwart, S., Lynch, M., & Israel-Jost, V. (Eds.). (2014). Science after the practice turn in the philosophy, history, and social studies of science. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  46. Stich, S. (2006). Is morality an elegant machine or a kludge? Journal of Cognition and Culture, 6, 181–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Swanton, C. (2003). Virtue ethics: A pluralistic view. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wang, W., Liu, X., & Lu, X. (2013). Engineering cyanobacteria to improve photosynthetic production of alka(e)nes. Biotechnology for Biofuels, 6, 69. http://www.biotechnologyforbiofuels.com/content/6/1/69. Accessed 1/11/2013.
  49. Wilson, R. (2004). Boundaries of the mind: the individual in the fragile sciences: Cognition. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wilson, R. (2005). Collective memory, group minds, and the extended mind thesis. Cognitive Processing, 6(4), 227–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wimsatt, W. (2007). Re-engineering philosophy for limited beings: Piecewise approximations to reality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and ReligionMissouri Western State UniversitySaint JosephUSA

Personalised recommendations