Fashioning descriptive models in biology: Of Worms and wiring diagrams

Philosophy of Science 67 (3):272 (2000)
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The biological sciences have become increasingly reliant on so-called 'model organisms'. I argue that in this domain, the concept of a descriptive model is essential for understanding scientific practice. Using a case study, I show how such a model was formulated in a preexplanatory context for subsequent use as a prototype from which explanations ultimately may be generated both within the immediate domain of the original model and in additional, related domains. To develop this concept of a descriptive model, I focus on use of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans and the wiring diagrams that were developed as models of its neural structure. In addition, implications of the concept of a descriptive model, particularly its relevance for the data-phenomena distinction as well as its relation to long-standing debates on realism, are briefly examined



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Rachel Allyson Ankeny
University of Adelaide

Citations of this work

What’s so special about model organisms?Rachel A. Ankeny & Sabina Leonelli - 2011 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 42 (2):313-323.
From genetic to genomic regulation: iterativity in microRNA research.Maureen A. O’Malley, Kevin C. Elliott & Richard M. Burian - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41 (4):407-417.

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References found in this work

Saving the phenomena.James Bogen & James Woodward - 1988 - Philosophical Review 97 (3):303-352.
Models and Analogies in Science.Mary B. Hesse - 1966 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 3 (3):190-191.
Discovery and Explanation in Biology and Medicine.Kenneth F. Schaffner - 1995 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 46 (4):621-623.

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