Concepts of drift and selection in “the great snail debate” of the 1950s and early 1960s

In Joe Cain & Michael Ruse (eds.), Descended from Darwin: Insights into the History of Evolutionary Studies, 1900-1970. American Philosophical Society (2009)
Recently, much philosophical discussion has centered on the best way to characterize the concepts of random drift and natural selection, and, in particular, whether selection and drift can be conceptually distinguished (Beatty, 1984; Brandon, 2005; Hodge, 1983, 1987; Millstein, 2002, 2005; Pfeifer, 2005; Shanahan, 1992; Stephens, 2004). These authors all contend, to a greater or lesser degree, that their concepts make sense of biological practice. So it should be instructive to see how the concepts of drift and selection were distinguished by the disputants in a high-profile debate; debates such as these often force biologists to take a more philosophical turn, discussing the concepts at issue in greater detail than usual. Moreover, it is important to consider a debate where the disputants are actually trying to apply the models of population genetics to natural populations; only then can their proper interpretations become fully apparent. (Indeed, I contend that some of the philosophical confusion has arisen because authors have considered only the models themselves, and not the phenomena that the models are attempting to represent). A prime candidate for just such a case study is what Provine (1986) has termed “The Great Snail Debate,” that is, the debates over the highly polymorphic land snails Cepaea nemoralis and C. hortensis in the 1950s and early 1960s. These studies represent one of the best, if not the best, of the early attempts to demonstrate drift in natural populations.
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