Talk by Laura Nuño de la Rosa: “Computing evo-devo. Mapping the dynamics and conceptual structure of the evolvability research front”

Date and time: July 2, Thursday,11.30 am.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speaker: Laura Nuño de la Rosa

Title: Computing evo-devo. Mapping the dynamics and conceptual structure of the evolvability research front

Abstract: Although evolutionary developmental biology is widely seen as a well established discipline, there is still no agreement on the impact of the introduction of development into the general structure of evolutionary theory. It has recently been argued that philosophy of biology should shift the emphasis from theories to epistemic goals in evolutionary biology, and particularly in evo-devo (Brigandt 2010; Love 2010). In this view, the identity of evo-devo as a discipline does not lay in being a theory, but derives from the pursuit of specific epistemic goals, such as the explanation of evolvability, evolutionary novelty or homology. On the other hand, the development of big data–based approaches and computational analytical methods is revolutionizing the field of the history  of science (Laubichler, Maienschein, and Renn 2013).  In this paper, I will apply these two new approaches to the history and philosophy of science to the study of evolvability, a research topic which is usually taken to be a cornerstone of evo-devo and, more generally, of an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (Pigliucci 2008).

The plan of the paper is as follows. First, I introduce the methods used to map the research front of evolvability. I have used CiteSpace, an application for visualizing and analyzing trends and patterns in scientific literature which applies co-citation analysis to identify scientific specialities (Chen 2006). Second, I depict the general dynamics and conceptual structure of the evolvability research front and analyse each of the clusters the network is divided in with the aim of answering to the following questions: What is the conceptual structure of the research front of evolvability? Which are the interdisciplinary relationships structuring this research front? How did the research front on evolvability get started? What are the main intellectual turning points along its evolution, and what are the most active areas of research? Finally, I examine the main conceptual tensions among the existing definitions of evolvability. I argue that evolvability sets up ‘trading zones’ (Galison 1999) in scientific research that make possible interdisciplinary exchanges.


Brigandt, I. 2010. “Beyond Reduction and Pluralism: Toward an Epistemology of Explanatory Integration in Biology.” Erkenntnis 73 (3): 295–311.

Chen, C. 2006. “CiteSpace II: Detecting and Visualizing Emerging Trends and Transient Patterns in Scientific Literature.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 57 (3): 359–77.

Galison, P. 1999. “Trading Zone: Coordinating Action and Belief.” The Science Studies Reader, 137–60.

Laubichler, M. D., J. Maienschein, and J. Renn. 2013. “Computational Perspectives in the History of Science: To the Memory of Peter Damerow.” Isis 104 (1): 119–30.

Love, A. C. 2010. “Rethinking the Structure of Evolutionary Theory for an Extended Synthesis.” In Evolution – the Extended Synthesis, edited by M. Pigliucci and G. B. Müller, 403–41. The MIT Press.

Pigliucci, M. 2008. “Opinion – Is Evolvability Evolvable?” NATURE REVIEWS GENETICS 9 (1): 75–82.