Context, Causality and Consequences : from robust evidence to timely action in biology, ecology, law and public policy
Symposium organized by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), the AAGT-AI and others
The COVID crisis, endocrine disrupting substances, genetically engineered organisms, climate change, etc.: all major challenges of today demand our understanding. Science does its best to oblige – yet is often criticised about its attempts. The understanding of ’causes’ is at the core of scientific investigations and of public policy. It underlies all current efforts to face the big ecosystemic challenges. But upon closer inspection, it exposes widely different views of what causes what.
Eight scientists will share their views with the audience in the two-day public conference “Context, Causality and Consequences”. One of the speakers is Denis Noble, author of “Dance to the tune of life: Biological relativity” and other books revolutionising our view of organisms and genomes. Much time is allotted to questions and discussion with the audience.
Fierce discussion regularly arises around different evaluations of the ‘same’ evidence. What underlies these different evaluations? One may ask what the biological influencers of causality are. Is it about material entities (e.g. genes), or also about interactions, relationships, and context (from sub-cellular to ecological)? What causes habituation and learning, and in which way do these influence the appearance of causality (in gene expression, disease and other phenomena)? What do we mean when we call something a cause: is it a ‘difference-maker’, a mechanism, a disposition? What other factors does it need to achieve its ‘effect’?
Physics has framed and justified causality in robust and unifying ‘conservation principles’ (energy, momentum etc.). In biology and ecology, it is much more problematic to understand and verify supposed causal relations. Sources of disagreement and confusion – not just in science, but also in policy – are implicit paradigms and assumptions, different types of argumentation, value based choices, outright dogmas and disciplinary conventions of toxicologists, endocrinologists, epidemiologists, biologists, ecologists and lawyers.
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