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Data-Centric BiologyA Philosophical Study$
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Sabina Leonelli

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226416335

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226416502.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 27 February 2021

What Counts as Theory?

What Counts as Theory?

(p.114) 5 What Counts as Theory?
Data-Centric Biology

Sabina Leonelli

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 5 shifts the focus of analysis from embodied to propositional knowledge, by investigating the conceptual scaffolding developed by curators to order and systematize data, so as to facilitate their travel and future re-use. In particular, I describe on the classificatory systems and practices involved in data organisation and dissemination within model organisms databases, with particular emphasis on bio-ontologies such as the Gene Ontology. I argue that the activities through which bio-ontologies are created and maintained should be viewed as theory-making rather than simply theory-laden, insofar as they involve the formalization and expression of the scientific significance attributed to the data being classified. This brings me to highlight the role of theories in data-centric biology and point out that, far from being theory-free or signalling the “end of theory”, this approach is imbued with theoretical commitments. In the second part of the chapter, I propose that at least some of the classificatory activities involved in research, including the ones used by database curators in model organism biology, can be usefully regarded as generating their own specific form of scientific theory. I call this classificatory theory, and discuss its features and role both within and beyond data-centric research.

Keywords:   theory, ontologies, Gene Ontology, classification, bio-ontologies, scientific knowledge

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