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Philosophy and Theory in Biology, ISSN: 1949-0739, Vol: 8, Issue: 20170609
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Kärin Nickelsen’s Explaining Photosynthesis makes an important contribution to the history of the plant sciences by offering an in-depth historical and philosophical exploration of photosynthesis research from its beginnings in the 1840s on into its mid-twentieth-century “golden age.” This trajectory traces how early diverse and open research programs gradually developed into more stable consensuses around methods and results through various heuristic and interdisciplinary strategies. Early photosynthesis research, like that of Justus Liebig and Adolf von Baeyer, was marked by “research opportunism” and “building-block” strategies. These early multidisciplinary approaches, while maintained to some degree, gradually developed into more fully engaged interdisciplinary strategies over subsequent research generations. These later approaches were exemplified in the mid-twentieth century by the Berkeley Group’s work on dark reactions and the international efforts researching light reactions. While Nickelsen's focus on philosophical and sociological aspects differs from other histories of photosynthesis that focus on discovery, they share a common narrative form which develops towards a particular end. Rather than the accumulation of facts characteristic of discovery narratives, Nickelsen’s narrative is characterized by the increasing sophistication of methods and models used to reflect photosynthetic phenomena.