The March 2008 Washington Watch column from the journal BioScience reports on a recent National Academies report that could change the way biology is conducted in the coming decades. The article, “Theory and Funding for 21st Century Biology - Maybe” also considers the challenges facing the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) at the National Science Foundation as it strives to advance the findings of this recent report at a time when BIO funding is flat, at best.

An excerpt of this article follows:

Compared with other scientific disciplines, some leaders in the science community have said, biology is too heavily centered on facts, with too little emphasis on underlying theory. The propagation of this misperception in recent years has very likely contributed to a drive to allocate larger portions of the federal research budget to nonbiological disciplines, a move that some assume will have a “transformative” impact on the nation’s research enterprise.

To stimulate thinking about the role of theory in biology, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) commissioned the National Acad­emies of Science to study the explicit role that theory plays in shaping basic biological research. According to James Collins, the NSF’s assistant director for BIO, the report-The Role of Theory in Advancing 21st Century Biology: Catalyzing Transformative Research-“shines a bright light on the fact that there are lots of theories in biology; it is a theory-rich discipline that goes beyond the theory of evolution.”

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