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Anya Plutynski

Professor of Philosophy
research interests:
  • Philosophy of Biology
  • History and Philosophy of Medicine
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Biomedical Ethics
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1073
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Professor Plutynski is a historian and philosopher of biology and medicine.

    Her most recent book is Explaining Cancer: Finding Order in Disorder (2018, OUP). She has also written on the history and philosophy of evolutionary biology and genetics, the role of modeling in science, and scientific explanation.

    A Companion to the Philosophy of Biology (co-edited with Sahotra Sarkar) (2007, Wiley), is a collection of concise overviews of philosophical issues raised by all areas of biology.

    The Routledge Handbook to Philosophy of Biodiversity (co-edited with Justin Garson and Sahotra Sarkar) (2016, Wiley) is a collection of essays by biologists, philosophers, historians and social scientists on the meaning, measurement, and value of biodiversity, as well as challenges facing conservation in practice.

    Other research interests include biomedical research ethics, particularly issues surrounding precision oncology, cancer genomics, and risk communication.

    Her current research is on the history of the cancer genome atlas project (TCGA) and the development of precision oncology.

    Selected Publications

    Explaining Cancer Finding Order in Disorder

    Explaining Cancer Finding Order in Disorder

    Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the world. Almost everyone’s life is in some way or other affected by cancer. Yet, when faced with a cancer diagnosis, many of us will confront questions we had never before considered: Is cancer one disease, or many? If many, how many exactly? How is cancer classified? What does it mean, exactly, to say that cancer is “genetic,” or “familial”? What exactly are the causes of cancer, and how do scientists come to know about them? When do we have good reason to believe that this or that is a risk factor for cancer? These questions are (in part) empirical ones; however, they are also (in part) philosophical. That is, they are questions about what and how we come to know. They are about how we define and classify disease, what counts as a “natural” classification, what it means to have good evidence, and how we pick out causes as more or less significant. This book takes a close look at these philosophical questions, by examining the conceptual and methodological challenges that arise in cancer research, in disciplines as diverse as cell and molecular biology, epidemiology, clinical medicine, and evolutionary biology.