Making populations: Bounding genes in space and in time

Philosophy of Science 70 (5):989-1001 (2003)
Abstract
At least below the level of species, biological populations are not mind‐independent objects that scientists discover. Rather, biological populations are pragmatically constructed as objects of investigation according to the aims, interests, and values that inform particular research contexts. The relations among organisms that are constitutive of population‐level phenomena (e.g., mating propensity, genealogy, and competition) occur as matters of degree and so give rise to statistically defined open‐ended biological systems. These systems are rendered discrete units to satisfy practical needs and theoretical preferences associated with specific contexts of investigation. While it may be possible to defend a realist position regarding biological relations among organisms, biological populations are “made” when contextual features determine which kinds and degrees of relations to privilege over others, and so how to bound genes in space and time. Consequently, the objectivity of population‐based approaches to species genome diversity cannot rest in the mind‐independence of populations themselves.
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