What is Proof of Concept Research and how does it Generate Epistemic and Ethical Categories for Future Scientific Practice?
- 752 Downloads
“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.
KeywordsEpistemic categories Extended agency Normative ethics Re-engineering Proof of principle Synthetic biology
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.
- Amyris Biotechnologies (2013). Company website at: http://www.amyrisbiotech.com/Innovation/155/BreakthroughScience. Accessed 15 March 2013.
- 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
- 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.
- Chang, H. (2009). Philosophy as complementary science. The Philosophers’ Magazine 40. http://www.philosophypress.co.uk/?p=375. Accessed 31 Oct 2010.
- Clark, A. (1995). I am John’s brain. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2(2), 144–148.Google Scholar
- Clark, A. (1998). Being there: Putting brain, body, and world together again. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Clark, A. (2010). Supersizing the mind: Embodiment, action, and cognitive extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Colvin, V. (2004). Regulation? Wait for standardization, commercialization. The Environmental Forum. Google Scholar
- Dupré, J. (2006). Humans and other animals. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
- 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.
- Endy, D. (2005). Foundations for engineering biology. Nature, 438(24), 449–453.Google Scholar
- Genome Consortium for Active Teaching (GCAT) (2013). GGAJET: Golden gate assembly junction evaluation tool. http://gcat.davidson.edu/SynBio13/GGAJET/ Accessed 6 Aug 2014.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Hume, D. (1740/1938). An abstract of a treatise of human nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Hylton, W. (2012). Craig Venter’s bugs might save the world. The New York Times, 06-03-12.Google Scholar
- Keller, E. F. (2009). Knowledge as making, making as knowing: The many lives of synthetic biology. Biological Theory, 4(4), 333–339.Google Scholar
- 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
- Kendig, C. (2014b). Towards a multidimensional metaconception of species. Ratio, 27(2), 155–172.Google Scholar
- Kendig, C. (Ed.) (forthcoming). Natural kinds and classification in scientific practice. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Knight, T. (2003). Idempotent vector design for standard assembly of biobricks. MIT synthetic biology working group. Google Scholar
- 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
- 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.
- Oxford English Dictionary (2014). Proof of concept. http://www.oed.com/. Accessed 19 Sept 2014.
- 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.
- Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (2014). Website homepage: http://www.philosophy-science-practice.org/. Accessed 25 Sept 2014.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Wimsatt, W. (2007). Re-engineering philosophy for limited beings: Piecewise approximations to reality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar