Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why I joined the ISCB (a call for unity among biosemioticians)

The ISCB, the International Society for Code Biology, was constituted/incorporated in Ferrara, Italy, on November 28th 2012, with the following Governing Board/founding members: 
  • Marcello Barbieri (president)
  • Jan-Hendrik Hofmeyr (vice-president)
  • Almo Farina (secretary)
  • Peter Wills (treasurer)
  • Stefan Artmann
  • Joachim De Beule
  • Peter Dittrich
  • Dennis Görlich
  • Stefan Kühn
  • Chris Ottolenghi
  • Liz Stillwaggon Swan
  • Morten Tønnessen [me]
In an email November 30th announcing the establishment of the society, Marcello Barbieri wrote:
Code Biology is the study of all codes of life with the standard methods of science, and this makes of it the sole discipline that can prove the existence of semiosis in all living systems. Its purpose is nothing less than the rewriting of biology in order to include in it the countless codes that appeared after the genetic code and before the codes of culture, together with their theoretical implications. This is the challenge that lies ahead and this letter is announcing the beginning of that momentous enterprise. 
Applications for membership of the Code Biology Society are welcome from scholars of all relevant disciplines, including biology, philosophy, semiotics, cognitive science, information theory, linguistics, anthropology and ecology.
Marcello asked me whether I would be willing to be a founding member of the ISCB in an email October 16th. I replied that my long-time collaborators in Tartu "remain important colleagues and contacts for me, and that is how I would like it to go on as well." Furthermore:
In principle I am indeed interested in being a founding member of the ISCB. But there are conditions. First, before putting my name on any list I would like to see the statutes, or a draft of them, to get a sense of what the society is about and how it will work. Second, you should be aware that I am a person who speaks his mind even when in minority, and in situations such as the one in the ISBS this last year I might feel responsible to speak out (particularly if noone else does), no matter who is in charge and no matter who does things I find worthy of criticism. What I treasure is particularly organisational democrazy, scholarly pluralism, and constructive theoretical synthesis. 
Now, one reason to decline your invitation would be that it is likely that some biosemiotic scholars will misunderstand what me being part of the ISCB implies. Noteworthy, it could be perceived as sidetaking – siding with you personally (against Jesper) or preferring code biology to other kinds of biosemiotics. Therefore, let me make it absolutely clear: I treasure being undogmatic and open-minded, and I do not side with specific persons (only with ideas and principles). I want to contribute to holding all biosemioticians to certain standards, in terms both scientific and organisational. I think that several code biologists, including you, do a lot of valuable biosemiotic work (and I would like to take advantage of that in my own work, and when natural by way of direct cooperation). That is why I am interested in being a founding member of the ISCB. To avoid misunderstandings, however, I would without doubt feel the need to write in public (perhaps in a forum or on a discussion list, or at the very least in my academic blog Utopian Realism) what it implies, and what it does not imply, that I have become a member of the ISCB. My aim would be to not close any doors, and to maintain and further develop contact with interesting biosemioticians of all kinds.
I added, amongst other things, that "[t]ruly constructive synthesis is always desirable, but "compromises" motivated by reaching agreement only is more likely to be contraproductive. The key point at this stage is to aim systematically for constructive synthesis and not to block any ideas simply because they derive from the "wrong" persons".

In reply to my email, Marcello wrote that all that I had written was "perfectly acceptable".