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::: center home >> people >> visiting fellows, 2013-14 >>fagan

Melinda Fagan
Rice University, USA
Fall Term 2013
Collaborative Explanation: Causal Unification without Laws 

Melinda Bonnie Fagan is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rice University in Houston, Texas.  Her research focuses on experiment, explanation and modeling in life sciences, with particular emphasis on social aspects of scientific practice.  She is the author of Philosophy of Stem Cell Biology: Knowledge in Flesh and Blood (2013, Palgrave Macmillan) and articles on social epistemology, philosophy of science, and history and philosophy of biology.  Before joining the Rice philosophy faculty in 2007, she obtained degrees in History and Philosophy of Science (Ph.D. 2007, Indiana University), Philosophy (M.A. 2002, University of Texas at Austin) and Biology (B.A. 1992, Williams College; Ph.D. 1998, Stanford University).  Her research in biology focused on colonial organisms (plants and protochordates) and the evolution of histocompatibility. Relations between science and philosophy, and philosophy and other humanistic disciplines, are the starting point for most of her research, and she is involved in a number of interdisciplinary initiatives, including Rice’s new Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences, where she serves on the Steering Committee.  While at Pittsburgh, she will pursue a new research project on connections between collaboration and explanation.  She also hopes to run, hike and rockclimb in the surrounding area, and to reflect on the works of Michael Chabon.

As of 2014: Assoc. Professor & Sterling McMurrin Chair at the University of Utah

2014 Update

I published several articles, with one more in press. Listed here.

"Philosophy of stem cell biology: an introduction." Philosophy Compass
1147-1158, 2013.

"The stem cell uncertainty principle." Philosophy of Science 80: 945-957, 2013.

"Do groups have scientific knowledge?", In: Sara Chant, Frank Hindriks,
and Gerhard Preyer (eds.) From Individual to Collective Intentionality: New Essays,
Oxford University Press, 163-186, 2014.

"Cell and body: individuals in stem cell biology" To appear in:
Individuals Across the Sciences. (eds, T. Pradeu and A. Guay, Oxford
University Press).

I also co-wrote an article on Evolutionary Systems Biology with philosopher Sara Green and biologist Johannes Jaeger (submitted to Biological Theory), and am currently preparing a paper for a Special Section on explanation and scientific practice in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science.

I gave invited talks at the Konrad Lorenz Institute (Altenberg, Austria, 9/8/2013), Wesleyan University (Middletown CT, 11/20/2013), and the Eastern APA (Baltimore, MD, 12/29/2013) on Evolutionary Systems Biology, experimental evidence in stem cell research, and collaborative explanation, respectively. I also gave a short invited talk for Rice’s Scientia Institute ‘Power of Ideas’ Speaker Series (2/11/2014), on ‘Collaboration.’

My 2013 book, Philosophy of Stem Cell Biology (Palgrave Macmillan) received a Choice award and was nominated for the Lakatos Prize. I discuss the book (with Carrie Figdor) in a recent New Books in Philosophy podcast.

2015 Update

I took up my new position at the University of Utah (Associate Professor, Sterling McMurrin Chair), and am delighted with both my new colleagues and living in the mountains!

I received a Scholar’s Award from the National Science Foundation, to further develop the project on ‘Collaborative Explanation’ that I began as a Center Fellow in 2013.  This research will be the basis for a second book, to be written over the next couple of years. 

I published several articles and book chapters, with three more in press.  One of these is my paper for the 2013 Eastern APA (Collaborative explanation and biological mechanisms), part of an invited symposium on Explanation in Scientific Practice organized by Joseph Rouse.  Symposium papers by myself and Andrea Woody, and commentary by Alan Love, have been published together as a Special Section of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (online May 2015).

Another is the paper I gave at PSX4, held at the Center last spring: "Crucial stem cell experiments? Stem cells, uncertainty, and single-cell experiments." Theoria 30: 183-205, 2015. (Special Issue: Philosophy of Experiment)

Other publications (some in press):
"Explanatory interdependence: the case of stem cell reprogramming."  In: Pierre-Alain Braillard and Christophe Malaterre (eds.) Explanation in Biology. An Enquiry into the Diversity of Explanatory Patterns in the Life Sciences. Dordrecht, Springer (in press).

"Explanatory integration challenges in evolutionary systems biology." With Sara Green, Johannes Jaeger. Biological Theory 10: 18-35, 2015 (Thematic issue: Evolutionary Systems Biology).

"Stem cell lacunae: review of Biological Relatives (Franklin, 2013) and Good Science (Thompson, 2013)." Metascience 24: 147-153, 2015.
"Interdisciplinarity, philosophy, and systems biology." In Green, Sara (ed.) Philosophy of Systems Biology: 5 Questions.  Copenhagen: Automatic Press (in press).

Two other papers, ‘Generative models: human embryonic stem cells and multiplicity of modeling relations’ and  ‘Stem cells and systems models: clashing views of explanation,’ have been accepted at Studies in History and Philosophy of Science and Synthese, respectively.  I am currently writing papers on the limits of interventionist explanation, on unification and mechanistic explanation in biology, and on models of cell differentiation.

I gave invited talks at University of California, San Diego (1/17/2014), University of Colorado, Boulder (2/23/2015), and University of Utah (3/26/2015), and presented conference papers at PSX4 (University of Pittsburgh, 4/11/2014), MS6 (University of Notre Dame, 5/10/2014), PSA (Chicago, IL, 11/8/2015), and Cheng Chung University, (Chiayi, Taiwan, 12/9/2015).  Papers from the last, which was organized by Ruey-Lin Chen, are to appear in a collection on individuality and individuation co-edited by Chen, Otávio Bueno, and myself.

I also helped organize and chaired a second Diversity in Philosophy Workshop at Rice, which was supported by the Department of Philosophy and Humanities Research Center (3/21/ 2014).  Carrie Figdor, another Fellow from AY2013-2014, was one of the invited speakers.
My 2013 book, Philosophy of Stem Cell Biology (Palgrave Macmillan) was nominated for the Lakatos Prize, and was reviewed in Studies and BJPS
O’Malley, M. (2014) Exemplary philosophy of science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 45: 149-152
Currie, A. (2014) British Journal of Philosophy of Science doi: 10.1093/bjps/axu032 (published online: November 10, 2014)


Revised 06/16/2015 - Copyright 2012