Building bridges

I am just back from a workshop in Almagro Spain that made a serious effort to open discussion among mathematicians, evolutionary ecologists, and cancer biologists. Although we are willing to use the language of ecology to talk about cancer – metaphor as theory – we tend to study cancer and to treat cancer as though it were NOT a complex, adaptive system evolving in response to selective environmental pressures. CHanging experimental paradigms is not easy — too much is already invested in the models, tools, theories, and approaches. We know what we can do and how to be ‘sucessful’ inside the methods we already have. As you can well imagine – individuals from each of the three disciplinary communities have their own languages and norms – nevermind an extensive knowledge base. It is not easy to step outside the normal frame in which you work and from which you view the world. The key is realizing that a change of frame does not mean throwing everything that has been done within a particular line of research away. The rich sets of genetic and molecular data can be very useful within an evolutionary ecological frame. But… if we do accept conceptual change then we have to willing to embrace experimental changes. And we also have to be willing to scrutinize the new concepts – are they exciting because they pose new questions or are they exciting because they will lead us to new endpoints. It is not worth changing the fram to arrive at the same destination. Private funders can help those willing to take the risks. And we should.