Philosophical discussions of information and specificity in biology are now commonplace, but no consensus exists about whether the privileging of genetic causation in investigation and explanation is justified. However, little effort has been expended on understanding practices when scientists experimentally measure information or causal specificity. An example of this type of practice—measuring positional information in gene expression during pattern formation in embryogenesis—shows that biologists are unconcerned with comparing the amount of information in genes with that of other factors. Instead, they focus on whether the measured causal specificity explains the phenomenon under scrutiny.
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I am grateful to Brett Calcott, Kelle Dhein, Max Dresow, Catherine Kendig, Nathan Lackey, Christopher Nagel, Lauren Wilson, Yoshinari Yoshida, and an anonymous reviewer for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, as well as participants in the symposium Neglected Dimensions of Causal and Informational Specificity in Biology at PSA 2018 in Seattle and at SPSP 2018 in Ghent for helpful discussions.