Re-Thinking Organisms: The Epistemic Impact of Databases on Model Organism Biology
Ankeny, Rachel A.
Studies in the History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Community databases have become crucial to the collection, ordering and retrieval of data gathered on model organisms, as well as to the ways in which these data are interpreted and used across a range of research contexts. This paper analyses the impact of community databases on research practices in model organism biology by focusing on the history and current use of four community databases: FlyBase, Mouse Genome Informatics, WormBase and The Arabidopsis Information Resource. We discuss the standards used by the curators of these databases for what counts as reliable evidence, acceptable terminology, appropriate experimental set-ups and adequate materials (e.g., specimens). On the one hand, these choices are informed by the collaborative research ethos characterising most model organism communities. On the other hand, the deployment of these standards in databases reinforces this ethos and gives it concrete and precise instantiations by shaping the skills, practices, values and background knowledge required of the database users. We conclude that the increasing reliance on community databases as vehicles to circulate data is having a major impact on how researchers conduct and communicate their research, which affects how they understand the biology of model organisms and its relation to the biology of other species.
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
The British Academy
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Adelaide
Author's version of a paper subsequently published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. Please cite the published version by following the DOI link.
This article belongs to a special issue: Data-Driven Research in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences On Nature and Normativity: Normativity, Teleology, and Mechanism in Biological Explanation. Edited By Sabina Leonelli, Lenny Moss and Daniel J. Nicholson.
Vol. 43, pp. 29 - 36