Arlin Stoltzfus University of Maryland (system-wide page)
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  • Faculty, University of Maryland (system-wide page)

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About me
I am an evolutionary biologist with a background in molecular evolution & evolutionary genetics. I believe that evolutionary theory cannot be understood (or improved) without addressing issues that most of my colleagues ignore as belonging to "history" or "philosophy" rather than science. But scientific thinking is a philosophical exercise, and scientific discourse (e.g., on theories) nearly always requires historical interpretation. Philosophers who are interested in evolutionary mechanisms and causal explanations may be interested in my publications on the role of biases in the introduction of variation, which I view as a fundamental concept that (interestingly) is not part of neo-Darwinian thinking. This work includes theory (simulations and mathematics), empirical analysis (sequence divergence), and conceptual analysis. Some of the conceptual analysis shows that evolutionary biologists have been misled by the "forces" view of causation into reasoning incorrectly about the potential for mutation-biased evolution.
My works
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  1. Arlin Stoltzfus (2012). Constructive Neutral Evolution: Exploring Evolutionary Theory's Curious Disconnect. Biology Direct 7:35.
    Constructive neutral evolution (CNE) suggests that neutral evolution may follow a stepwise path to extravagance. Whether or not CNE is common, the mere possibility raises provocative questions about causation: in classical neo-Darwinian thinking, selection is the sole source of creativity and direction, the only force that can cause trends or build complex features. However, much of contemporary evolutionary genetics departs from the conception of evolution underlying neo-Darwinism, resulting in a widening gap between what formal models allow, and what the prevailing (...)
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  2. Arlin Stoltzfus & Lev Yampolsky (2009). Climbing Mount Probable: Mutation as a Cause of Non-Randomness in Evolution. Journal of Heredity 100 (5):637-647.
    The classic view of evolution as "shifting gene frequencies" in the Modern Synthesis literally means that evolution is the modulation of existing variation ("standing variation"), as opposed to a "new mutations" view of evolution as a 2-step process of mutational origin followed by acceptance-or-rejection (via selection and drift). The latter view has received renewed attention, yet its implications for evolutionary causation still are not widely understood. We review theoretical results showing that this conception of evolution allows for a role of (...)
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  3. Arlin Stoltzfus (2006). Mutationism and the Dual Causation of Evolutionary Change. Evolution and Development 8 (3):304-317.
    The rediscovery of Mendel's laws a century ago launched the science that William Bateson called "genetics," and led to a new view of evolution combining selection, particulate inheritance, and the newly characterized phenomenon of "mutation." This "mutationist" view clashed with the earlier view of Darwin, and the later "Modern Synthesis," by allowing discontinuity, and by recognizing mutation (or more properly, mutation-and-altered-development) as a source of creativity, direction, and initiative. By the mid-20th century, the opposing Modern Synthesis view was a prevailing (...)
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  4. Lev Yampolsky & Arlin Stoltzfus (2001). Bias in the Introduction of Variation as an Orienting Factor in Evolution. Evolution and Development 3 (2):73-83.
    According to New Synthesis doctrine, the direction of evolution is determined by selection and not by "internal causes" that act by way of propensities of variation. This doctrine rests on the theoretical claim that because mutation rates are small in comparison to selection coefficients, mutation is powerless to overcome opposing selection. Using a simple population-genetic model, this claim is shown to depend on assuming the prior availability of variation, so that mutation may act only as a "pressure" on the frequencies (...)
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  5. Arlin Stoltzfus (1999). On the Possibility of Constructive Neutral Evolution. Journal of Molecular Evolution 49 (2):169-181.
    The neutral theory often is presented as a theory of "noise" or silent changes at an isolated "molecular level", relevant to marking the steady pace of divergence, but not to the origin of biological structure, function, or complexity. Nevertheless, precisely these issues can be addressed in neutral models, such as those elaborated here in regard to scrambled ciliate genes, gRNA-mediated RNA editing, the transition from self-splicing to spliceosomal splicing, and the retention of duplicate genes. All of these are instances of (...)
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