- General Introduction
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine is pleased to publish in this issue many of the papers that were presented at the Seventh International Workshop at the Jacques Loeb Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. This is the third time that Perspectives has published parts of these annual discussions of the life sciences, which have been held since the inauguration of the Centre in 2008.
As has been noted in the introductions to those previous publications in Perspectives, the Jacques Loeb Centre is one of the few remaining venues in the world for discussions of the recent and continued evolution of the basic and applied life sciences, including what is now frequently referred to as the biomedical sciences. Many departments and centers that were previously devoted to these considerations have in recent years changed their focus to social or cultural aspects of these disciplines, and away from more formal scholarship or even the collection and exhibition of material related to the life sciences, especially medicine. The major recent changes at the Wellcome Trust in London, including to its famous historical library and its Wellcome History magazine, are emblematic of these transitions.
As a result there are far fewer places—other than detailed monographs—for studies of the recent evolution of the biomedical sciences. Even advanced textbooks focus almost entirely on current concepts and paradigms, so students of many specialized areas of research, such as genomics or immunology, are often not even [End Page 139] aware of concepts that were generally accepted one or two decades ago. Thus the transient nature of many fashionable paradigms is not evident, perhaps contributing to the concern of many that much published research appears to be “details” in support of the “conventional wisdom.” This criticism is especially noted in critiques of grant review panels and of the refereeing process for most journals.
We are pleased that most of the papers in this issue emphasize changes in important paradigms over the last several decades—whether in chromatin, epigenetics, pseudoalleles, cellular differentiation, cellular immunity, or systems analysis. Indeed it is of interest that the Workshop—originally titled “Genes to Genomes”—itself has evolved into the broader discourse that we have designated “Genes, Genomes, Cells, and Systems in 21st-Century Life Sciences.” Our speakers found it relevant in their presentations to revisit some of the assumptions that had heretofore underlain their own research and publications. We appreciate that they have taken the time and effort to present their own perspectives on the evolution of their important yet specialized fields. However, as most readers will be aware, their topics are the basis of much of the most exciting work current in the life sciences. We hope that readers will find these papers of interest not only for their summaries of current concepts, but also for their emphasis on the transient nature of most of the constructs we use to try to explain the complex biological mechanisms that evolution has brought to this planet. [End Page 140]