Documenting the emergence of bio-ontologies: or, why researching bioinformatics requires HPSSB.
History of Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn
This paper reflects on the analytic challenges emerging from the study of bioinformatic tools recently created to store and disseminate biological data, such as databases, repositories, and bio-ontologies. I focus my discussion on the Gene Ontology, a term that defines three entities at once: a classification system facilitating the distribution and use of genomic data as evidence towards new insights; an expert community specialised in the curation of those data; and a scientific institution promoting the use of this tool among experimental biologists. These three dimensions of the Gene Ontology can be clearly distinguished analytically, but are tightly intertwined in practice. I suggest that this is true of all bioinformatic tools: they need to be understood simultaneously as epistemic, social, and institutional entities, since they shape the knowledge extracted from data and at the same time regulate the organisation, development, and communication of research. This viewpoint has one important implication for the methodologies used to study these tools; that is, the need to integrate historical, philosophical, and sociological approaches. I illustrate this claim through examples of misunderstandings that may result from a narrowly disciplinary study of the Gene Ontology, as I experienced them in my own research.
Vol. 32, Issue 1, pp. 105 - 125
Place of publication