Representing Genes:
Testing Competing Philosophical Analyses of the Gene Concept in Contemporary Molecular Biology


Representing Genes Survey(data collection inactivated)






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Project Description

Philosophers and historians have made competing claims about the conceptual structures that underlie the many different usages in of the term 'gene' in different fields of contemporary biology. Phase one of this project builds on previous work by the investigators to test some of these claims using a web-based survey of working biologists. The project took place at the University of Pittsburgh under Principal Investigators Karola Stotz (now Cognitive Science Program, Indiana University, Bloomington) and Paul Griffiths (now ARC Federation Fellow in Biohumanities at the University of Queensland), with a large group of collaborators in the US and overseas.

The first of three workshops planned as part of the Representing Genes Project took place in Pittsburgh on January 17-19, 2003. The first workshop was a meeting of major contributors to the literature on the concept of the gene, including philosophers of biology, historians of biology and biologists. The workshop arrived at the research questions and operationalizations, along with plans for subject recruitment, data collection and data analysis. A series of papers derived from this workshop was presented at the July 2003 conference of the International Society for the History and Philosophy of Science (ISHPSSB) in Vienna, Austria and will appear as a special issue of the journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences. A second workshop held on February 20-24, 2004 brought researchers involved in the project together to consider the initial data from the questionnaire and plan further analysis and publication.

Phase 2 of the project is a study of the interaction between conceptualizations of genetic elements and the process by which the results of genomics are disseminated to wider audiences. This part of the project is being conducted by Drs Stotz and Griffiths in collaboration with the ESRC Center for Genomics in Society (Egenis) at the University of Exeter. It is expected that representations of the same findings based on different conceptualizations of genetic elements and their action will result in significantly different understandings on the part of those wider audiences. It is further expected that the process of dissemination will have systematic effects on which conceptualizations of genetic elements and their activities are used to communicate findings to wider audiences. A third workshop took place at the University of Exeter in May 2005, involving both some of the researchers involved in Phase 1 of the project and a group of professional science communicators (see Turney, Jon (2005), "The Sociable Gene", EMBO Reports 6(9): 809-810 for some reflections occasioned by this meeting).

The potential impacts of this project include facilitating research on the concept of the gene by providing a large body of empirical data as a freely availableresource. The project will lead to progress in understanding how various gene concepts contribute to the forms of biological research in which they figure. It may reveal deficiencies in current conceptualizations of the gene. It will have implications for work on the public understanding of genetics. Finally, the project will have methodological benefits, developing a style of investigation that may be of value for other scientific concepts. A session to discuss this issue was organised by Dr Stotz at the 2006 conference of the Philosophy of Science Association.

Phase 1 of the project was supported by a grant from the Science and Technology Studies Program of the National Science Foundation with cost sharing from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and additional support from a GAP Grant from the University Center for International Studies (UCIS) and from the Faculty Research and Scholarship Program. Administrative and logistical support has been provided by University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR), Center for Philosophy of Science and Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

Phase 2 was supported by a grant jointly from the Science and Technology Studies program and Societal Dimensions of Engineering, Science, and Technology program of NSF and by Egenis. Administrative and logistical support was provided by University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR), Center for Philosophy of Science and Department of History and Philosophy of Science

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Project Members

Principal Investigators: Dr. Karola Stotz (University of Pittsburgh) and Dr. Paul Griffiths (University of Pittsburgh)

External Participants

  • Richard Burian, Philosophy, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • Raphael Falk, Genetics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
  • Thomas Fogle, Biology, Saint Mary's College, IN
  • Scott Gilbert, Biology, Swarthmore College, PA
  • Jim Griesemer, Philosophy, University of California, Davis, CA
  • Jonathan Kaplan, Philosophy, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, TN
  • Rob Knight, Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
  • Lenny Moss, Philosophy, Notre Dame, IN
  • Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany
  • Jason Scott Robert, Philosophy, Dalhousie University, Halifax N.S., Canada
  • Sahotra Sarkar, Biology and Philosophy, University of Austin, TX
  • Kenneth Schaffner, Medical Humanities, George Washington University,
  • Ken Waters, Philosophy, University of Minnesota, MN
Pittsburgh Participants:
  • Ingo Brigandt, HPS, University of Pittsburgh
  • Megan Delahanty, HPS, University of Pittsburgh
  • Jim Lennox, Director of the Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh
  • Alan Love, HPS, University of Pittsburgh
  • Sandy Mitchell, HPS, University of Pittsburgh
  • Sean O'Connor, Bioethics & Health Law, University of Pittsburgh
  • Robert Olby, HPS, University of Pittsburgh
  • Lisa Parker, Bioethics & Health Law, University of Pittsburgh
  • Jeff Schwartz, Anthropology and HPS, University of Pittsburgh
  • Jim Tabery, HPS, University of Pittsburgh

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This page is maintained by Paul Griffiths and Karola Stotz.
Website created by Polly Ambermoon
Last updated 31st October, 2006