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Unsimple Truths: Science, Complexity, and Policy 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226532622
ISBN-10: 0226532623
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Editorial Reviews


“Very stimulating. . . . [Unsimple Truths] is clean and spare and fun to read. And to argue with. What more could one ask of a philosophical treatise?”

(Michael Ruse Quarterly Review of Biology)

“Drawing on nicely handled examples from psychiatry (e.g., major depressive disorder), biology (e.g., recent genetics and genomics, drug discovery, the study of insect societies), and the policy world (e.g., climate change and economic problems), Mitchell develops and illustrates a philosophy of science suited to the complexities scientists face. The result is a compact and elegant presentation of a philosophy of science she calls “integrative pluralism,” challenging many orthodox positions in the philosophy of science.”
(Richard M. Burian, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University BioScience)

About the Author

Sandra Mitchell is professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh and is the author of Biological Complexity and Integrative Pluralism.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226532623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226532622
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,366,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Irfan A. Alvi VINE VOICE on January 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I've been thinking about complexity for years, so it was a joy to discover this outstanding book. I agree with everything Sandra Mitchell says, and I felt like she was reading my mind. As a consequence, I may not have gained any major new ideas from the book, but it certainly helped in crystallizing my understanding in many areas.

Below, I've attempted a summary of the key points from the book, along with providing my own fairly detailed thoughts (not in the book) on how these ideas can be applied to the problem of cancer. My hope is that these thoughts will be both illustrative and useful in themselves.

Prevalence and Behavior of Complex Systems:

(1) Complex systems are ubiquitous, especially in biological and social domains. As described below, cancer exemplifies complexity.

(2) The behavior of complex systems tends to be multilevel and full of "messy" causal interactions. The biological complexity of cancer involves molecular, organelle, cellular, tissue, organ, and organismic levels, with lateral, upward, and downward causation within and across all of these levels. In addition, beyond biological complexity, the cancer problem also involves psychological complexity related to individual knowledge and decision making, as well as social complexity related to paradigms in cancer research and clinical oncology, institutional structures and practices, funding mechanisms, peer review processes, methods for disseminating information, drug approval processes, legal considerations, etc. Further, there are abundant upward and downward causal interactions across the biological, psychological, and social levels, thus making the complexity of the cancer problem truly intertangled, multifaceted, and encompassing.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is aimed at professors in Philosophy of Science and students with college level exposure to that field. It is a succinct presentation of the author's view -integrative pluralism- and its lessons for public policy.

As an articulate, thorough, and brief (119 pages of text) presentation of that position, the book is very helpful to anyone in the field. It will be particularly useful reading for graduate students and advanced undergraduates coming to grips with the major currents of thought there.

The book makes a case for integrative pluralism and then looks at the ways in which adopting the position would affect our views of scientific laws, the methods of natural science, public policy reasoning, and the range of scientific explanations.

A broad vision of science that sees its explanations and methods as being of a single kind, found paradigmatically in the most unifying theories and methods of physics, is inculcated into many of us. Integrative pluralism rejects this broad vision, and in particular rejects the view that a microscopic, physics-level, scale is in any way more privileged or illuminating than the explanations and methods of other sciences. Rather, science presents a motley of many different forms of interaction among different entities at higher and lower levels in both its methods, theories, and explanations. Sometimes the behavior of an organic molecule is explained by a history of selection of multicellular organisms.

Mitchell gives a variety of reasons why the complexity of phenomena that we study in natural science should lead us to adopt integrative pluralism. Any representation of the physical world is partial, idealized, and abstract (13, 23, 33).
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The starting point of the book is still ongoing criticism XIX scientific method of reductionism having its roots in the physical sciences. The aim of professor Sandra D. Mitchell was the introduction of a broader methodological approach - appropriate to the real complexity of nature. Her philosophical view author calls "integrative pluralism." So rather than rely on one method of reductionism, which simplifies complex systems, depriving them of important contexts, Mitchell proposes the adoption of many meotd allowing a variety of solutions. Is Mitchell will defend her thesis, I think that every reader should convince herself/himself of it.
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