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Inside Science: Revolution in Biology and Its Impact

Subject Area(s):  Biology in SocietyGenomicsMolecular BiologyGeneral Interest TitlesHistory of Science

By Benjamin Lewin

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© 2023 • 325 pages, illustrated (53 B&W), index
Hardcover • $29.50 25.07
ISBN  978-1-621825-01-2
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Looking behind widely held beliefs about the myth of the scientific enterprise, Inside Science is a rare examination of how science really functions.

Drawing on his 25 years of experience as the founding editor of Cell, the world’s leading journal in biology, Benjamin Lewin questions the dogma that scientific papers describe how research was actually done, describes the distortions caused by pressure to publish, and considers the effects of changes in the way science is communicated as we move ever further into the digital era. The view that science protects itself by identifying and excluding work that is not reproducible is rigorously examined, as is the prevalence of fraud in science. Lewin argues that the move from research done in small teams to the much larger scale of “big science” has the potential to change the nature of science itself. He asks if science can continue in its present form or if new methods of evaluation will be needed for science to function in the future.

Lewin brings these general principles to life by considering the history of the genetics revolution, from the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA to the sequencing of the human genome and the possibilities of gene editing today. History shows us that each period of progress in science relied on dogmas that often advanced but sometimes retarded progress, and that views of reality often changed suddenly and dramatically. One example is the current critical reassessment of epigenetics that is raising the possibility that there may be factors in inheritance extraneous to DNA. The book concludes by asking if the reductionist manifesto that has dominated biology for the past half century can continue to hold, and revisits the much-debated question: What is science?


Benjamin Lewin obtained his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Cambridge, England. He became the first Editor of Nature New Biology in 1971, and then worked at the National Cancer Institute from 1972 to 1973. He founded Cell journal in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1974 and remained Editor of Cell until 1999. Cell became the top-ranked journal in the life sciences. Dr. Lewin is also the author of the best-selling Genes textbook and a series of books on wine.


“In this book, I want to explain how science works. This is not an idealized view; it is science, warts and all. I try to show not only how science should, and often does, work, but also how failings in the system can misdirect it.

This sounds as though I want to dispel the mystique of science. Well, yes and no. I believe fervently in the distinctive, in fact the unique, value system of science. But it does have its flaws. Some are imposed by the institutional framework within which it functions... . Some are due to failings on the part of its practitioners... . I believe in any case that science benefits from being seen clear-eyed.

When I came into science, it was very much an individual affair… . The need to work in larger groups, to have expertise in a variety of techniques, has accentuated decade by decade. The history and philosophy of science take what you might call a “classical” view: that science is practiced by individuals who obtain data to test hypotheses. The main questions I want to ask are how far this description was true, and how has the basis of the scientific endeavor changed in this century.”


What Is Science?
1 Science in Flux
2 Data Mining
3 Patents versus Science
4 Biotech
5 The Myth of the Scientific Paper
6 Reproducibility
7 Publish or Perish
8 E-Science
9 Funding
10 Fraud
11 Politics and Ethics
12 Mendel’s Garden
13 The Double Helix
14 Dogma
15 Doctrines
16 Mapping
17 Genomes
18 Editing
19 Epigenetics
20 Stem Cells
Epilogue: Reductionism
Notes and References
Illustration Sources


review:  “Lewin, a molecular biologist, takes a historical approach to helping readers understand the value and epistemological power of science as a practice.... Lewin also argues that science, as with all human endeavors, has limitations....Lewin's arguments will broadly appeal to anyone interested in topics related to the societal and sociological aspects of science as a profession. This volume is replete with references.”