Knowledge Hidden in Nuances: From Molecules to Society

Document Type


Publication Date



The Goal: We have discussed the theme of reintegrating biology several times at the national level over several decades (ex. A New Biology for the 21st Century, National Academy of Sciences, 2009). While these discussions are fruitful and certainly the topic may require an adaptive framework, we suggest a fundamental change in how the scientific community approaches this topic. In particular, we propose that biology can only be integrated when the structural, societal and methodological barriers to participation in biology are alleviated. A focus on the average or most prevalent approach or system - whether it is the structure of a protein, a biological process or pathway, or the average scientist - they all end up excluding observations, people, and ideas. In contrast, we propose a focus on and inclusion of nuances will enable us to examine the boundaries and rarer instances whether of topic or of people, enable us to explore, and learn from diversity that is currently unnoticed and may provide new perspectives, insights about the range of possibilities, and solutions to current challenges. By extending this paradigm to our society, including diverse perspectives and experiences may shed light on how we can learn about new ideas, tools, and resources to enhance our collective toolkits and approach solutions for problems we are addressing.

The paper will compare the benefits of applying a nuanced approach at a molecular, cellular, organismal, and population levels and then extend this thinking to science and society. We think that including individuals and perspectives that are beyond the current majority/mainstream will enhance our understanding and ability to approach/address problems. Adding nuance to our understanding of science can come from better inclusion and integration.

The intended audience for our Vision paper includes the National Science Foundation (NSF), academic and research institutions, and society at large. We hope that NSF has the potential to create and support opportunities for multiscale scientific explorations at the edge of the boundary (outside the averages). Knowledge derived from these observations and analyses can inspire new perspectives and/or solutions that are universally usable. Additionally, other Vision groups in the Reintegrating Biology meetings include topics that could benefit from the vision presented here (space, time, resilience, modelling, communication/signalling, networks, animal learning, biocomplexity). Academic and research institutions may utilize the proposed framework to review their institutional policies that directly or indirectly (via access to resources, opportunities etc.,) restrict collaborations based on interests and expertise. Our hope for society at large is to consider including, sharing, and respecting diverse perspectives and experiences.


This report was originally published for the NSF Reintegrating Biology Jumpstart Meeting in 2020.


Reintegrating Biology