Rethinking Biology

Rethinking Biology

Public Understandings

Michael J Reiss, Fraser Watts;Harris Wiseman


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Biologists always need to grapple with integrating two explanatory approaches. On the one hand, there is necessarily an effort to drill down to the lowest possible level to explain what is happening in whatever is being studied. That involves looking at how higher-level processes arise from lower level ones. On the other hand, there is a need to consider how the broader context influences bottom-up processes; that involves looking at how the whole influences the parts. Neither approach is satisfactory on its own. There is always a need to integrate the consideration of how parts influence wholes with how wholes influence parts.

This book arises from a concern that in the public dissemination of biology the need to integrate these different perspectives is not coming across well. In popularisations, simplistic micro explanations always seem to arouse most interest and to capture the headlines. That risks distorting and simplifying the complexity of biological processes, and can mislead people. In this book we are urging a concerted attempt to come to grips with the interactive complexity of biology, and to find ways of conveying it to the public accessibly and effectively.

We are particularly concerned with how biology is communicated to the public. Too often, what comes over to the public is a crude, out-of-date, simplistic, mono-causal, reductionist biology. Why so? Why is biology so misrepresented? Who is responsible? It is partly the media, of course, but we suggest that biologists themselves are often partly responsible. When it comes to communication with the public, they tend to over-simplify in a way that distorts.

  • Introducing the Ideas:
    • Introduction: Rethinking Biology (Fraser Watts)
    • Integrative Biology: Parts, Wholes, Levels and Systems (Ottoline Leyser and Harris Wiseman)
    • Modelling versus Realisation: Rival Philosophies of Computational Theory in Systems Biology (Derek Gatherer)
  • Rethinking Biological Concepts:
    • Homo faber, Will, Determinism, and Heredity: From Genetics to Epigenetics (Ilya Gadjev)
    • Organisms, Development, and Evolution: Invitation to a New Understanding (David J Depew)
    • Human Evolution: From Fossils to Molecules, Reductionism to Holism (Elizabeth Jones and Michael Ruse)
    • 'Am I My Brain?' Neuro-Centrism and the Law (Harris Wiseman)
    • Moving Beyond Mechanism in Medicine (Will Beharrell)
    • The Reintegration of Biology, or 'Nothing in Evolution Makes Sense Except in the Light of Ecology' (Richard Gunton and Francis Gilbert)
    • Food and Nutrition (Michael J Reiss)
  • The Social Context:
    • Religious Implications of Multilevel Systems Biology (Niels Henrik Gregersen)
    • The Nature of Public Understandings of Biology: Between Comprehension and Dialogue (Steven Yearley)
    • How Children Understand Biology (Michael J Reiss)
    • Brain-talk and Public Engagement with Neuroscience (Harris Wiseman)
    • The Public Understanding of Biology: A Journalist's Perspective (Mark Vernon)
    • Afterword (Celia Deane-Drummond)

Readership: The book is aimed primarily at biology educators in secondary and tertiary education, working biologists, and philosophers of biology. Public Understanding of Biology;Public Understanding of Science;Biology Education;Science Studies0Key Features:
  • Outcome of a three-year research project
  • International experts
  • Scholarly but readable