Barak Cohen, Washington University School of Medicine

Barak Cohen, Washington University School of Medicine

Friday, 9 November 2018 at 14:00 in the Large Operon, EMBL Heidelberg

Barak Cohen, Washington University School of Medicine

How should we value "novelty" in science?


Scientists are under increasing pressure to do "novel" research. Journals and funding agencies often specifically list novelty as a key criterion for judging the impact of research. In this lecture, Barak Cohen will examine whether novelty is an important component of good science and will introduce concepts from philosophy and sociology to argue that we currently over emphasise novelty in science. Furthermore, Cohen will discuss the negative effects of this emphasis and will suggest alternatives measures of good science.


Barak Cohen runs an interdisciplinary laboratory focused on how cells interpret regulatory information in the non-coding portions of the genome. His research focuses on how genes get turned on at the right times and locations and at the correct levels. Cohen’s team uses a variety of computational and experimental approaches to build models that can accurately predict the expression of a gene given the information encoded in its surrounding regulatory DNA. Sometimes this involves assaying the activity of large numbers of genomic cis-regulatory sequences. Other times the researchers attempt to construct synthetic cis-regulatory elements using the "rules" they think they may have learned from genomic elements. The ultimate goal of Cohen’s research is to understand the complex patterns of gene expression in terms of concrete biophysical phenomena such as cooperativity, competition, diffusion, and saturation of DNA.

Barak Cohen has a deep interest in the Philosophy of Science because of the fundamental question it attempts to address, one of which being why science has been so successful. Is it the scientific method, or the peer review system, or something else less tangible, such as the way the community organizes itself? It is important to wrestle with the question of why science is successful so that scientists and the society can prevent making changes to the community that unintentionally damage the ability to make scientific progress.