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Life Out of Sequence: A Data-Driven History of Bioinformatics Hardcover – November 4, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 022608017X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226080178
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,376,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“[A] sharp and lucid work of history and anthropology of science. . . . [Stevens’s] clear and refined prose should extend the book’s readership beyond its disciplinary audiences in the social studies of science, to welcome scientists into this reading of their field’s past and present. . . . Stevens provides a highly readable telling of how bioinformatics took shape, how it works within technological and conceptual limits that change over time, and how individual, and mostly unsung, scientists made it happen. . . . An effective and enjoyable remolding of oversimplified ‘data-to-truth’ histories of science, Life Out of Sequence draws out the reciprocal impressions made by data systems and living systems on each other—and on the sense scientists make of life.”
(Michael Fortun, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Science)

“A rich and fascinating ethnographic and historical account of the transformations wrought by integrating statistical and computational methods and materials into the biological sciences. . . . The histories of biology, computing, database technology, and bioinformatic imaging all play a role in this wonderfully transdisciplinary story.”
(Carla Nappi New Books in Science, Technology, and Society)

“Stevens presents engaging ethnographic fieldwork throughout the book. . . . An interesting read for life and computational scientists seeking a deeper understanding of the interdisciplinary connections of their domains.”
(D. Papamichail, College of New Jersey Choice)

"Readers benefit from the book's extensive source material, as well as from dozens of interviews with scientists who have widely divergent views on bioinformatics."

“What happens to biology with computerization? Hallam Stevens’s compelling ethnographic and historical narrative shows how the nature of the biological experiment has changed with the increasing use of the tools of information technology in life science and biomedicine. Life Out of Sequence traces rearrangements in the relationship between the virtual and the material as scientists work increasingly on databases rather than cells or bodies. As the book takes on the mirrored questions of the work of life and the life of work in front of the computer in the lab, the reader is brought into the world of bioinformatics, and comes to understand that this is not just a subfield of scientific activity, but a space in which the nature of knowledge production in life science is undergoing fundamental and rapid change.”
(Hannah Landecker, University of California, Los Angeles)

“What is it like to do biology when the indispensable scientific instrument has become the computer, when biological objects are transformed into computer-compatible data, and when the manipulation of data replaces the manipulation of organisms and their parts? Life Out of Sequence is a vivid account of how the flow of massive amounts of data has fundamentally changed both the questions biologists ask and the answers they recognize. It is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the world that biologists have made for themselves and that they are making for the rest of us.”
(Steven Shapin, author of The Scientific Life)

About the Author

Hallam Stevens is assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, where he teaches classes on the history of the life sciences and the history of information technology.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Hallam Stevens’ book is a great read for anybody interested in the future of biology.

The central thesis of Stevens’ book can be summarized by a famous quote often (incorrectly) attributed to Marshall McLuhan: “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” Computational methods of data storage and analysis had been shaped in physics and were then adapted in biological research, in particular the Human Genome Process. Stevens argues that computers did not change to become useful to biology, in the contrary: "Biology adapted itself to the computer, not the computer to biology." (p41)

Computers do not just scale up the old biology, they bring with them completely new tools and questions, like statistics, simulation, and data management, that completely re-shaped the way biological research is being done. Bioinformatics is at the center of major discussions about the self-image of biology, which started when biologists confronted with high-dimensional statistics, scale-free networks and other tools of systems biology fought back by stating the importance of focussed hypotheses and small-scale experimental validations.

Stevens clearly describes how these discussion are not only scientific — they are about power. The power to define biology.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Tech Historian on March 17, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
How did bioinformatics get to be the engine that drives genomics?
A great overview of the intersection of computing and biology for the non-biology major.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Trent Waddington on May 20, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This enjoyable glimpse into the world of biological research is over too soon, failing to capture more than the author's memoirs.
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