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History and Philosophy of Science: Informing Current Law

History and Philosophy of Science might sound like a specialized subject that only a professor could love. But, no! In a project in collaboration with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, University Professor Jane Maienschein is “putting history and philosophy of science to work with the life sciences.” With ASU PhD graduate Kate MacCord, Maienschein is exploring ways that bringing these fields together raises new questions and new approaches. They are examining the nature of science (through philosophy), science of nature (through the life sciences), and change over time (through history). With support of over $1 ¼ million, they are focusing especially on research on regeneration across levels of life. What is regeneration in an individual organism? An ecosystem? Microbial Communities? What can we learn by taking knowledge at one level to other levels? These inquiries will carry out over the next three years through a series of workshops and working group.

In addition, Maienschein took her study of the history and philosophy of developmental biology into the expert witness box in a federal court case in Texas this summer. The law in question requires that any “embryonic and fetal remains” have to be either created or buried, and cannot be treated as medical waste as is currently the standard practice. A challenge to the law drew on historical evidence about how people have understood what embryos and fetuses are, and the range of different ways in which people have valued them. Maienschein established the case that Americans hold a wide diversity of views and values, that these have been held for a long time, and that any law that requires treating embryos and fetuses as if they were “human remains” like deceased people imposes a burden on the women involved. Judge David Ezra ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, against the law, on several grounds including that the law fails to respect the range of existing views. For more on the ruling

These topics were dicussed further in conversation with Carolina Abboud and the larger Center for Biology and Society community during a recent Conversation Series event.

More Information: Jane Maienschein (