Contact: Mary Ann Meyers, Ph.D., Senior Fellow

The purpose of this symposium is to engage in an intensive conversation that will help finalize the selection of sub-topics for a possible research initiative dealing with quantification and measurement in the biological sciences. A primary objective is to assure that the focus of the proposed project is on areas that have two characteristics. The first is that they are non-trivial, which is to say that they are important but that no generally accepted method of measurement exists in the area and fashioning one will likely require some heavy lifting conceptually as well as technically. The second is that the areas have recognized importance in biology and are, in principle, within the reach of currently accessible data. This combination makes it likely that the work of creative people will have an impact on mainstream science.

The possible but not exhaustive list of foci or sub-topics being explored by six scientists and two philosophers include:

• The measurement of phenotype dimensionality: for instance, on the basis of mathematical models of phenotypic mutation-selection balance and other properties of Fisher’s Geometric Model of adaptation;

• The related problem of measuring pleiotropy, that is, measuring the dimensionality of the part of the phenotype affected by a mutation;

• The development of a measurement theory of fitness;

• The measurement of causality;

• The development of novel conceptual approaches where evidence can be measured as if it is a quantity (in the same way as mass and energy); and

• The measurement of quantitative concepts like “robustness” and “evolvability.”

The value of these six measurement issues is that all are intellectually deep as well as experimentally accessible and relevant to contemporary research in the biological sciences.