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Peeking Inside the Black Box: A New Kind of Scientific Visualization

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Stuart Michael T., Nersessian Nancy J.,
Project Imagination in Science: What is it, how do we learn from it, and how can we improve it?
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Minds and Machines
Volume (Issue) 29(1)
Page(s) 87 - 107
Title of proceedings Minds and Machines
DOI 10.1007/s11023-018-9484-3


Computational systems biologists create and manipulate computational models of biological systems, but they do not always have straightforward epistemic access to the content and behavioural profile of such models because of their length, coding idiosyncrasies, and formal complexity. This creates difficulties both for modellers in their research groups and for their bioscience collaborators who rely on these models. In this paper we introduce a new kind of visualization (observed in a qualitative study of a systems biology laboratory) that was developed to address just this sort of epistemic opacity. The visualization is unusual in that it depicts the dynamics and structure of a computer model instead of that model’s target system, and because it is generated algorithmically. Using considerations from epistemology and aesthetics, we explore how this new kind of visualization increases scientific understanding of the content and function of computer models in systems biology to reduce epistemic opacity.