“Reductionism is one of those things, like sin, that is only mentioned by people who are against it.” —Richard Dawkins (14)
Unfortunately, the management of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis in most Western countries has followed a reductionist approach thus far.
Few scientists will voluntarily characterize their work as reductionistic. Yet, reductionism is at the philosophical heart of the molecular biology revolution. Holistic science, the opposite of reductionistic science, has also acquired a bad name, perhaps due to an unfortunate association of the word “holistic” with new age pseudoscience. However, fortunately there is an increasingly popular euphemism that lacks the pejorative connotations of holism for scientists—“systems biology.” Since its debut a decade ago (23, 29), “systems biology” has appeared as a medical subject heading (MeSH) in PubMed more than 3,000 times. A fundamental tenet of systems biology is that cellular and organismal constituents are interconnected, so that their structure and dynamics must be examined in intact cells and organisms rather than as isolated parts. We recall that the late author Douglas Adams created a fictional detective named Dirk Gently who described his methods as “holistic” because he relied on the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things” to solve crimes (1). Gently used this to justify a large expense account, arguing that each of his personal expenses, like a beach holiday in the Bahamas, must be related to an ongoing investigation at some level. Although funding agencies are not likely to accept holistic accounting practices, holistic approaches have become increasingly popular in microbiology, sometimes advocated as superior to reductionistic ones (42). Researchers often adopt holistic or reductionistic approaches to study a problem without justifying their choice or explaining the advantages and limitations of such an approach. In this essay, we consider the dichotomy between holistic and reductionistic approaches to science and their implications for microbiology. First, however, a few definitions are in order.
Here is peer-reviewed, scientific journal to read for absolute proof.