Outsider Scientists: Routes to Innovation in Biology describes the transformative role played by "outsiders" in the growth of the modern life sciences. Biology, which occupies a special place between the exact and human sciences, has historically attracted many thinkers whose primary training was in other fields: mathematics, physics, chemistry, linguistics, philosophy, history, anthropology, engineering, and even literature. These outsiders brought with them ideas and tools that were foreign to biology, but which, when applied to biological problems, helped to bring about dramatic, and often surprising, breakthroughs.
Outsider Scientists: Routes to Innovation in Biology brings together eighteen thought-provoking biographical essays of some of the most remarkable outsiders of the modern era, each written by an authority in the respective field. From Noam Chomsky using linguistics to answer questions about brain architecture, to Erwin Schrodinger contemplating DNA as a physicist would, to Drew Endy tinkering with Biobricks to create new forms of synthetic life, the outsiders featured here make clear just how much there is to gain from disrespecting conventional boundaries. Innovation, it turns out, often relies on importing new ideas from other fields. Without its outsiders, modern biology would hardly be recognizable.
Introduction: Outsiders as Innovators in the Life Sciences / Oren Harman and Michael R. Dietrich
I Outsiders Before the Inside
1 The Many Sides of Gregor Mendel / Sander Gliboff
2 Louis Pasteur: The Chemist in the Clinic / Jonathan Simon
3 Félix d’Herelle: Uncompromising Autodidact / William C. Summers
4 The Paradox of Samuel Butler: Insider or Outsider? / Michael Ruse
II Outsiders from the Physical Sciences
5 Erwin Schrödinger’s Excursus on Genetics / Sahotra Sarkar
6 Linus Pauling: Leading Exporter of Chemical Insights into Biology / Gregory J. Morgan
7 From Bomb to Bank: Walter Goad and the Introduction of Computers into Biology / Hallam Stevens
III Outsiders from Mathematics
8 R. A. Fisher and the Foundations of Statistical Biology / Michael R. Dietrich and Robert A. Skipper, Jr.
9 Nicolas Rashevsky’s Pencil- and- Paper Biology / Maya M. Shmailov
10 Searching for Patterns, Hunting for Causes: Robert MacArthur, the Mathematical Naturalist / Jay Odenbaugh
IV Outsiders from the Human Sciences
11 Noam Chomsky and the Biology of Language / W. Tecumseh Fitch
12 Dunking the Tarzanists: Elaine Morgan and the Aquatic Ape Theory / Erika Lorraine Milam
13 David Hull’s Philosophical Contribution to Biology / T. J. Horder
14 Ilya Metchnikoff: From Evolutionist to Immunologist, and Back Again / Alfred I. Tauber
15 François Jacob: Tinkering with Organisms and Models / Michel Morange
VI Outsiders from Informatics
16 Theoreticians as Professional Outsiders: The Modeling Strategies of John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener / Ehud Lamm
17 On the Importance of the Parvenu: The Amazing Case of George Price in Evolutionary Biology / Oren Harman
18 Outsiders and In-Laws: Drew Endy and the Case of Synthetic Biology / Luis Campos
Epilogue: The Problem with Boxes / Richard C. Lewontin
List of Contributors
Oren Harman is the chair of the Graduate Program in Science, Technology, and Society at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel, and the author of The Man Who Invented the Chromosome and The Price of Altruism.
Michael R. Dietrich is professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College and coeditor of The Educated Eye. Together Harman and Dietrich are the editors of Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology.
"Illustrate[s] a variety of ways of coping with the clash of perspectives that is often encountered in attempts to bridge community and disciplinary barriers. Learning to turn this friction into constructive means of devising and testing assumptions – learning to overcome impasses – should be of considerable value to workaday scientists."
"Offers a very instructive account of the work and ideas of several important figures of the history of the life sciences from the second half of the 19th century to the present [...] It shows that individual people, at least on some occasions, are able to perform work and develop ideas that are of great significance. Such a demonstration is invaluable to transmit and to help reinforce the taste for research."
– Laurent Loison, University of Strasbourg, Centaurus
"Outsider Scientists is a pleasure to read and would be an excellent companion volume for an interdisciplinary class in history or philosophy of biology, science studies, or, indeed, an introductory course in the biological sciences. The contributors are outstanding, and the quality of the historical scholarship, as well as the writing, is consistently high. This volume is a great boon to teachers of science, as well as history and philosophy of science. I highly recommend to all students of biology and its history."
– Science and Education
"Biology is a constantly shifting chimera – so we learn from this remarkable set of essays curated by Oren Harman and Michael R. Dietrich. But unlike the Greek mythic creature (lion, goat, snake), biology, these authors show, has been even more polymorphic, and in ever new ways: biology is put together from linguistic, philosophical, and literary practices, and involves skills borrowed from physics, computation, and chemistry, among other fields. Anyone interested in biology should read this book – and so should all of us who want to understand outside thinking as a crucial driver of innovation."
– Peter Galison, Harvard University