Galton's Blinding Glasses. Modern Statistics Hiding Causal Structure in Early Theories of Inheritance

In Federica Russo & Jon Williamson (eds.), Causality and Probability in the Sciences. 243--262 (2007)
ABSTRACT. Probability and statistics play an important role in contemporary -philosophy of causality. They are viewed as glasses through which we can see or detect causal relations. However, they may sometimes act as blinding glasses, as I will argue in this paper. In the 19th century, Francis Galton tried to statistically analyze hereditary phenomena. Although he was a far better statistician than Gregor Mendel, his biological theory turned out to be less fruitful. This was no sheer accident. His knowledge of statistics generated two explananda (unknown to Mendel) which in turn generated constraints for any theory of heredity. These constraints misguided Galtons search for the causal mechanism of inheritance. This is not just. an interesting case for philosophers and historians of ·science. Notwithstanding the progress made by statitics, Galtons problem is still relevant today. In the final section, I briefly explore the implications for statistical techniques such as structural equation modelling.
Keywords causality  explanation  statistics  history of genetics
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