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Large-scale Biology: Philosophical, Historical, and Computational Perspectives

Ratti, Emanuele and Stoeger, Thomas (2021) Large-scale Biology: Philosophical, Historical, and Computational Perspectives. [Preprint]

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Abstract

The relation between the ethos of large-scale projects in the life sciences and the epistemic culture of molecular biology has been the subject of heated discussions for the past 30 years. Molecular biology is typically a ‘small science’, organized around a laboratory leader who decides what to pursue, placing ‘bets’ on different research strategies. ‘Large-scale’ biology has taken several forms, from centralized computational infrastructures, to big consortia distributed throughout a country and distributing efforts among many ‘small’ units. While several scholars have analyzed how large-scale biology has impacted the sociological, epistemic, and the governance structure of molecular biology, works investigating how its discovery strategies have been shaped by large-scale projects have been elusive. In this paper, we identify two ways in which large-scale biology could possibly influence the discovery strategies of traditional molecular biology. First, large-scale projects can be facilitators: while small labs continue to pursue their own interests, the way their hypotheses are developed is facilitated by the resources provided by large-scale projects. Second, large-scale projects can be epistemically centralizing: they set the research agenda of molecular biology labs by constraining the choices of hypotheses to pursue in the first place. As an example of the former, we discuss the Human Genome Project from a historical and epistemic angle. As an example of the latter, we discuss The Cancer Genome Atlas. In order to explore the effects of this project on discovery strategies, we perform a thorough computational analysis of the literature on cancer gene from the 1980s to 2018.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Ratti, Emanuelemnl.ratti@gmail.com0000-0003-1409-8240
Stoeger, Thomas
Keywords: large-scale biology; big science; molecular biology; discovery strategies; Human Genome Project; cancer genomics
Subjects: General Issues > Data
Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
General Issues > Experimentation
Depositing User: Dr Emanuele Ratti
Date Deposited: 21 May 2021 02:58
Last Modified: 21 May 2021 02:58
Item ID: 19074
Subjects: General Issues > Data
Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
General Issues > Experimentation
Date: 2021
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/19074

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