Title

Approximations, idealizations and 'experiments' at the physics-biology interface

Document Type

Journal article

Source Publication

Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Publication Date

6-1-2011

Volume

42

Issue

2

First Page

145

Last Page

154

Keywords

Models, Simulations, Complexity, Systems biology, Condensed matter physics, Molecular biology, Physics-biology interface

Abstract

This paper, which is based on recent empirical research at the University of Leeds, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Bristol, presents two difficulties which arise when condensed matter physicists interact with molecular biologists: (1) the former use models which appear to be too coarse-grained, approximate and/or idealized to serve a useful scientific purpose to the latter; and (2) the latter have a rather narrower view of what counts as an experiment, particularly when it comes to computer simulations, than the former. It argues that these findings are related; that computer simulations are considered to be undeserving of experimental status, by molecular biologists, precisely because of the idealizations and approximations that they involve. The complexity of biological systems is a key factor. The paper concludes by critically examining whether the new research programme of ‘systems biology’ offers a genuine alternative to the modelling strategies used by physicists. It argues that it does not.

DOI

10.1016/j.shpsc.2010.11.021

Print ISSN

13698486

E-ISSN

18792499

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ltd

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Recommended Citation

Rowbottom, D. P. (2011). Approximations, idealizations and 'experiments' at the physics-biology interface. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 42(2), 145-154. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2010.11.021