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Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2016 Apr;56:48-61. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2015.10.009. Epub 2015 Dec 11.

Is it possible to give scientific solutions to Grand Challenges? On the idea of grand challenges for life science research.

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Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, NTNU Dragvoll, 7491 Trondheim, Norway. Electronic address:


This paper argues that challenges that are grand in scope such as "lifelong health and wellbeing", "climate action", or "food security" cannot be addressed through scientific research only. Indeed scientific research could inhibit addressing such challenges if scientific analysis constrains the multiple possible understandings of these challenges into already available scientific categories and concepts without translating between these and everyday concerns. This argument builds on work in philosophy of science and race to postulate a process through which non-scientific notions become part of science. My aim is to make this process available to scrutiny: what I call founding everyday ideas in science is both culturally and epistemologically conditioned. Founding transforms a common idea into one or more scientifically relevant ones, which can be articulated into descriptively thicker and evaluatively deflated terms and enable operationalisation and measurement. The risk of founding however is that it can invisibilise or exclude from realms of scientific scrutiny interpretations that are deemed irrelevant, uninteresting or nonsensical in the domain in question-but which may remain salient for addressing grand-in-scope challenges. The paper considers concepts of "wellbeing" in development economics versus in gerontology to illustrate this process.


Founding concepts; Grand challenges; Scientific concepts; Thick concepts; Transdisciplinarity; Wellbeing

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