Big Picture, Small Things: 4S Annual Meeting Open Session

Please submit to the following open session for the 2013 4S Annual Meeting:

Big Picture, Small Things

The “big picture” is becoming an important framework for how scientists look at microbiological processes. Increasingly, in turn, social scientists are studying the growing significance of this perspective. Epigenetics, metagenomics, microbial ecology, systems biology, reproductive toxicology, metabolomics and astrobiology are recent examples of this big picture thinking. This panel will explore how, even while increasingly concerned with the big – potential impact of systems, networks, and connections beyond individual parts – scientific practice continues to rely upon small objects. The so called “non-reductionist” sciences locate big stories in the tiniest parts of cells, genes, and bodily matter. Scientific viewpoints are expanding to considering the circumstances of the big picture, yet are doing so by the very act of reducing diverse social, economic and environmental contexts into very small things. How might we then think about the temporal and spatial scales of science? For instance, what might a single sperm cell tell us about the past, present and future of China’s industrial development? What might the RNA of a single intestinal microbe say about the effect of public health programs in Bangladesh? How can small substances, momentary reductions and fleshy instantiations reveal worlds that cut across time and space? While new science is looking out at the big picture, how does it continue to look in, at the small things?