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Life Sciences for Philosophers and Philosophy for Life Scientists: What Should We Teach?

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Abstract

Following recent debate on the relations between philosophy of science and the sciences, we wish to draw attention to some actual ways of training both young philosophers of science and young life scientists and clinicians. First, we recall a successful case of training philosophers of the life sciences in a strictly scientific environment. Second, after a brief review of the reasons why life scientists and clinicians are currently asking for more ethics, more methodology of science, and more philosophy of science in the training of life scientists and clinicians, we present two training models that could spur the discussion on how to meet the requests coming from the scientific community. We argue that in order to reflect on mutual relations between philosophy of science and the sciences and to foster proper interactions, issues regarding (1) the topics considered, (2) the features of educational curricula, and (3) the institutional organizations should be addressed jointly.

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Notes

  1. There is a long and classical tradition (Poincaré, Duhem, Campbell, Mach, Boltzmann, Hertz, Enriques, Bernard, Popper, some post-Popperians, etc.) according to which philosophy of science is mainly concerned with methodological/epistemological issues, while the ontological, aesthetic, ethical, and political issues are sometimes tackled (see Poincaré on ethics, Popper on politics, etc.) but considered self-contained intersecting disciplines. We do not want to enter into this debate here, which surely would deserve an ampler space.

  2. See, e.g., Quintero (2014) and Rehg and SmithBattler (2015).

  3. From a review of PubMed, it appears that occurrences of “philosophy of science” have constantly increased in the last few years as follows: 2015: 102; 2016: 109; 2017: 117; 2018: 139; 2019 (half year): 82. Joint occurrences of “philosophy of science” and “education” have also shown a slight increase: 2015: 9; 2016: 6; 2017: 12; 2018: 12; 2019 (half year): 7.

  4. According to PubMed, “ethics” has been directly addressed by many works in the last few years, with a basically constant trend (apart from a decline in 2018). Occurrences in works: 2015: 937; 2016: 943; 2017: 947; 2018: 102; 2019 (half year): 472.

  5. See, e.g., Spike (1991).

  6. See, e.g., Andreoletti and Maugeri (2019).

  7. G. Testa was appointed as deputy director.

  8. A remarkably large number of papers having among their authors former students of this program have appeared in high-impact journals. We cannot list them all. Let us just recall, e.g., Maugeri and Blasimme (2011), Nardini and Sprenger (2013), Germain et al. (2014), Boem et al. (2016), and Sanchini et al. (2016). Various other publications appeared in such journals as: AJOB Neuroscience; Bioethics; Biological Theory; Biotechnology Journal; Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics; European Journal of Cancer; Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics; Journal of Medical Ethics; Lancet Oncology; Medicine, Healthcare, and Philosophy; Minds and Machines; Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine; PLOS Biology; Public Health Ethics; Studies in History and Philosophy of Biology & Biomedical Sciences; The American Journal of Bioethics; Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics; and so on, as well as in a number of collected volumes.

  9. Actually, not all of these works were read in their entirety. Chapters and excerpts were appropriately chosen.

  10. There has also been a FOLSATEC marriage and now there is a FOLSATEC child!

  11. See the paper in PNAS written by a group of scientists and philosophers (L. Laplane, P. Mantovani, R. Adolphs, H. Chang, A. Mantovani, M. McFall-Ngai, C. Rovelli, and E. Sober): Laplane et al. (2019).

  12. It is also worth recalling Grüne-Yanoff (2014), who provided a detailed analysis of the limits of the standard teaching of the science curriculum, and suggested a few directions in which it should be revised.

  13. There is a huge literature on scientific frauds and misconduct. See, for example, Corbyn (2012), Edwards and Siddhartha (2017), Yong et al. (2013), Hartgerink (2015), Horbach and Halffman (2016), and Ioannidis (2011).

  14. See, e.g., Fang and Casadevall (2011), Steen et al. (2013), Resnik et al. (2015), and Wager and Williams (2011). See also: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/44895/title/The-Top-10-Retractions-of-2015/ and http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/47813/title/Top-10-Retractions-of-2016/.

  15. Here there is an enormous literature. As an example of contemporary debate, see what is said about He Jiankui's announcement and the first germline-edited babies through CRISPR technique: Cyranoski and Ledford (2018) and Cyranoski (2018), and the editorial on “How to respond to CRISPR babies” (Nature 564, 5 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-07634-0); Cohen (2018); Normile D (2018).

  16. See, for example, McCoy and Emanuel (2017), Fontanarosa and Bauchner (2017), Thornton (2017), Fineberg (2017), and Ginsburg and Levinson (2017).

  17. As is known, replicability concerns the possibility to reobtain the same results with the same experimental set up and procedure by the same researcher in the same lab; reproducibility regards the possibility to reobtain the same results with a different experimental set up and procedure by a different researcher in a different lab.

  18. It is so pervasive that there is also a Wikipedia entry on this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Replication_crisis.

  19. Boniolo and Vaccari (2012), Andreoletti (2016), Begley and Ioannidis (2015), Casadevall and Fang (2010), Jarvis and Williams (2016), and Freedman and Inglese (2014). See also the special issue of Nature (2017) on “Challenges in irreproducible research”; and the manifesto for reproducible results, Munafò et al. (2017) and Freedman et al. (2015).

  20. The irreproducibility of scientific results is such a clearly perceived issue that we are seeing the birth of new funding agencies exactly devoted to replication of scientific results. See, for example, Baker (2016).

  21. See, for example, concerns about drugs (e.g., Andreoletti and Teira 2019).

  22. Of course, here we cannot avoid quoting Ioannidis (2005), whose impact on public opinion has also been enormous, as an article in The Economist of Oct 19, 2013, shows (“How science goes wrong. Scientific research has changed the world. Now it needs to change itself”). For the perception of the problem, see also Nuzzo (2014).

  23. To recall just a few, for research groups see, e.g., the “Theory and Method in Biosciences” research group (University of Sydney); “ImmunoConcEpT” group (University of Bordeaux); and the PhiInBioMed network. With respect to teaching, examples are provided both by wide initiatives—such as the R3 Graduate Science Initiative “Critically ‘Thinking Science’” at Johns Hopkins University (Maryland, USA) led by Gundula Bosch—or by the insertion of specific courses into curricula – as, e.g., the course on “The science and its philosophy,” delivered by the Department of Biology at the University of Lund (Sweden), and mandatory for all PhD students in biology. See also what is done in the medical schools of the University of Redlands (California) by James Krueger and of the University of Alabama (USA) by Ted Poston. Another important educational example, where biological and biomedical aspects are considered together with humanistic aspects, is given by the European Advanced Seminar in the Philosophy of the Life Sciences (EASPLS), which has been held every two years (the last two times at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research in Austria) since 2008.

  24. On some features of conventional curricula, see Grüne-Yanoff (2014), § 2.

  25. See, e.g., the major/minor university system.

  26. While strongly supporting the transfer of some scientific knowledge to philosophers and philosophical, conceptual, and methodological tools to scientists, we cannot forget that the enterprise requires strong commitment. Building, for example, a common language and theoretical framework is far from trivial, and often requires selecting the proper degree of simplification—such that, while keeping the core message totally intact, sometimes there is no need to be familiar with all the subtleties that only major experts in the field command.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Thomas Pradeu for his useful comments on a previous version of the paper and three anonymous reviewers whose suggestions have helped to improve this article.

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Correspondence to Giovanni Boniolo.

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This is the first of a series of field reports and other informal accounts of educational and other initiatives bridging philosophy of biology and the broader society that we plan to publish in Biological Theory.

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Boniolo, G., Campaner, R. Life Sciences for Philosophers and Philosophy for Life Scientists: What Should We Teach?. Biol Theory 15, 1–11 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13752-019-00333-7

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