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The Practical Value of Biological Information for Research

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


Many philosophers are skeptical about the scientific value of the concept of biological information. However, several have recently proposed a more positive view of ascribing information as an exercise in scientific modeling. I argue for an alternative role: guiding empirical data collection for the sake of theorizing about the evolution of semantics. I clarify and expand on Bergstrom and Rosvall’s suggestion of taking a “diagnostic” approach that defines biological information operationally as a procedure for collecting empirical cases. The more recent modeling-based accounts still perpetuate a theory-centric view of scientific concepts, which motivated philosophers’ misplaced skepticism in the first place.

Research Article
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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Chris DiTeresi provided pivotal feedback on a late draft of this article. My thanks to Bill Wimsatt, Bob Richards, Ken Waters, Alan Love, Scott Lidgard, and Rosa Cao for their comments and suggestions and to everyone in the philosophy of biology and history and philosophy of science groups at the University of Chicago over the years. Also, thanks to Erin Barringer-Sterner for her lovely help with the design of fig. 2. This research was supported in part by an NSF graduate research fellowship and postdoctoral grant SES-1153114.


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