PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Modeling Biologist-Philosopher Collaborations, 1950-2000

Over the past 70 years, collaboration between philosophers and biologists helped shape the field today known as “philosophy of biology” (Callebaut 1993, Hull 2010). Using authorship data, conference participation records, archival research, and interviews, this project identifies and models these biologist-philosopher collaborations in new detail. This study contributes to recent philosophical and sociological literatures on interdisciplinary collaborations (e.g. Anderson 2016, Maienschein 1993, Jacobs and Frickel 2009) and seeks to more precisely understand the history of philosophy of biology in the late twentieth century.

In this project, we seek to analyze the extent to which the philosophy of biology has been an interdisciplinary field. What were the motives for collaborations between biologists and philosophers, when these occurred? What have been the interactions between philosophers and biologists in cases where they worked together to publish papers, organize conferences, or establish institutions? How were epistemic roles and responsibilities distributed or negotiated between actors? What ideas about “science” and “philosophy” were operative among them? How have the research products of these collaborations fared on various value metrics (e.g. citations)?

Our poster will report on several results from ongoing research on this topic, including:

(1) detailed representations of cross-disciplinary relationships between biology and philosophy during this period, based on thousands of data points drawn from representative academic journals and professional societies. For instance: a survey of publications in just a single journal, Biology and Philosophy, between 1986 and 2005, revealed more than thirty distinct teams of co-authors with at least one biologist and one philosopher on the team. It also revealed roughly 20 individuals claiming dual affiliations in both a biology department or research center, on the one hand, and a philosophy department or research center, on the other.

(2) a network model of relations between hundreds of actors in this period, selected as inclusively as possible from professional society membership, publication records, and personal research. This model represents three different relationships: formal mentorship and training (as measured by dissertation advising), collaboration (as measured by co-publication), and co-location (as measured by research stays of longer than 1 month or overlapping institutional participation). The network thus constitutes an unusually fine-grained map of select intra- and inter-disciplinary relations within twentieth-century philosophy of biology. The network is temporally ordered in order to capture historical relationships.


Anderson, H. (2016) “Collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and the epistemology of contemporary science.” Stud. Hist. Phil. Bio. and Biomed. Sci. 56: 1-10.

Callebaut, W. (1993) Taking the Naturalistic Turn, or, How Real Philosophy of Science is Done. U. of Chicago Press.

Hull, D. (2010) “The History of the Philosophy of Biology.” Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology, ed. M. Ruse. Oxford U.P.

Jacobs, J.A. and Frickel, S. (2009) “Interdisciplinarity: A Critical Assessment.” Annual Review of Sociology 35: 43-65.

Maienschein, J. (1993) “Why Collaborate?” Journal of the History of Biology 26 (2): 167-183.

Author Information:

Phillip Honenberger    
Department of Biological Sciences
Dartmouth College

Michael Dietrich    
Department of Biological Sciences
Dartmouth College


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