Wayward Modeling: Population Genetics and Natural Selection

Philosophy of Science 73 (4):369-389 (2006)
Since the introduction of mathematical population genetics, its machinery has shaped our fundamental understanding of natural selection. Selection is taken to occur when differential fitnesses produce differential rates of reproductive success, where fitnesses are understood as parameters in a population genetics model. To understand selection is to understand what these parameter values measure and how differences in them lead to frequency changes. I argue that this traditional view is mistaken. The descriptions of natural selection rendered by population genetics models are in general neither predictive nor explanatory and introduce avoidable conceptual confusions. I conclude that a correct understanding of natural selection requires explicitly causal models of reproductive success. *Received May 2006; revised December 2006. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, Kansas State University, 201 Dickens Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506; e‐mail: glymour@ksu.edu .
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DOI 10.1086/516805
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