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Report on the ISHPSSB Kobe off-year workshop: Biology Studies in East Asia
The ISHPSSB off-year Workshop, "Biology Studies in East Asia" ( was held at Kobe University, Japan, 5-7 November 2008. This was the first ISHPSSB event held in Asia, co-sponsored by the Biological Unit of the History of Science Society of Japan and the Philosophy of Science Society, Japan. There were about 50 participants, 1 from Taiwan, 2 from Korea, 2 from China, 4 from the United States, 2 from Canada, 1 from France, and around 40 from Japan.
The past three off-year workshops (San Francisco 2004, Indiana 2006, St. Louis 2008) were aimed at helping graduate students explore their research careers.  In contrast, since this was the first ISHPSSB workshop in Asia, we organized it in a different way as described below, while taking over some parts of the ethos of past workshops at the same time.

We set the following objectives:  (1) to build a network of scholars researching biology in East Asia and (2) to foster interactions between these scholars and the current ISHPSSB members. In East Asia, there are many historians and sociologists of biology, and philosophers of biology are now increasing in number. However, East Asian participants in ISHPSSB biannual meetings is low. The hope is that smaller gatherings like this workshop will lead to increased interactions between East Asian scholars and the rest of the international community.

The workshop started with opening remarks by former ISHPSSB president Michael Dietrich, who read a letter of welcome from current president, James Griesemer. Togo Tsukahara, chair of the organizing committee, extended a welcome from the host institution, Kobe University. The following sessions ensued: Emerging Philosophy of Biology in East Asia, Systematic Biology and the Species Problem, Neuroethics: East and West, History of Eugenics in East Asia,  and Japanese Biology in Colonial Imperial Universities.  Each session had three to four speakers, most of whom were invited from East Asian countries, with some from the United States and Canada. Most sessions had younger speakers, according to the concept of former workshops. There were 22 speakers, including 5 graduate students and 3 post docs.

In the 'Emerging Philosophy of Biology in East Asia' session, reflecting burgeoning interests in this field, such variety of topics as biology and ethics, intelligent design hypothesis, cultural evolution, evolutionary theory seen as an informational theory, Kimura's neutral theory, Richard Owen's views on heredity, massive modular theory, and evolutionary psychology were discussed.  In the 'Species Problem' session, traditional problems of continuities and discontinuities between species, that is homology and species discretization, were viewed from the perspectives of evo-devo or theoretical ecology. The 'Neuroethics' session included new topics that have not been present in the past ISHPSSB programs: an emerging concern about the enhancement of brain functions, brain-machine interface, the influence of computer games on our brain (in a typically Japanese game-addict cultural context), or whether the brand-new 'neuroethics' can really add something new to traditional applied ethics. In the 'History of Eugenics' session, detailed case studies of eugenic policies in China, Hong Kong, and Japan, as well as a study of the connection between the prevalent antenatal testing and eugenic intentions were provided. Finally, in the 'Japanese Biology in Colonial Imperial Universities' session, there were presentations on taxonomy in colonial Korea, rice breeding in Korea and Taiwan, and sericulture in Thailand. This reflects the current situation that East Asian historians are beginning to share interests on science under Japanese Empire, as colonial science has been an important topic in western history of science. You can see more information on presentations and abstracts at our webpage:

Besides invited speeches, there was an informal session for graduate students working on the history of eugenics. In addition, an excursion was held at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB), one of the most distinguished institutions for embryology, stem cell research, and regenerative medicine. We were first given a briefing on the research activities of the CDB and then had a tour through the many labs. Continuing the tradition started by the 2004 FDISH off-year workshop, "happy office hours" were held, but with a Japanese twist - at an izakaya, a Japanese pub.

The workshop was quite successful in building a network of scholars across East Asia. It was the first ISHPSSB activity for most of the East Asian participants, and many were excited to meet historians and philosophers of biology from different countries. It was the first talk given in English for many of the graduate students and some are excited to further this experience with talks at the Brisbane meeting next July. Some of the sessions of this workshop are now planning to have a panel session at the next Brisbane meeting.
The workshop was funded by several governmental and private funds: JSPS Grant in Aid for Scientific Research, JSPS Global COE Program for Ars Vivendi : Forms of Human Life and Survival, University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy, Kao Foundation for Arts and Sciences, and the CASIO Science Promotion Foundation. Funding was provided with support from members of the organizing committee: Togo Tsukahara (Kobe University), Yoko Matsubara (Ritsumeikan University), Shunkichi Matsumoto (Tokai University), Nobuhiro Minaka (NIAES, University of Tokyo), Osamu Sakura (University of Tokyo), and Akihisa Setoguchi (Osaka City University). We also appreciate Grant Yamashita (Arizona State University) and Lisa Onaga (Cornell University) for their support.

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