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Profile: Roberta L. Millstein (University of California, Davis)
  1. Roberta L. Millstein (forthcoming). Probability in Biology: The Case of Fitness. In A. Hájek & C. R. Hitchcock (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Probability and Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
    I argue that the propensity interpretation of fitness, properly understood, not only solves the explanatory circularity problem and the mismatch problem, but can also withstand the Pandora’s box full of problems that have been thrown at it. Fitness is the propensity (i.e., probabilistic ability, based on heritable physical traits) for organisms or types of organisms to survive and reproduce in particular environments and in particular populations for a specified number of generations; if greater than one generation, “reproduction” includes descendants of (...)
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  2. Hsiang-Ke Chao, Szu-Ting Chen & Roberta L. Millstein (2013). Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics. Springer.
    This volume addresses fundamental issues in the philosophy of science in the context of two most intriguing fields: biology and economics. Written by authorities and experts in the philosophy of biology and economics, Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics provides a structured study of the concepts of mechanism and causality in these disciplines and draws careful juxtapositions between philosophical apparatus and scientific practice. By exploring the issues that are most salient to the contemporary philosophies of biology and economics and (...)
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  3. Hsiang-Ke Chao, Szu-Ting Chen & Roberta L. Millstein (2013). Towards the Methodological Turn in the Philosophy of Science. In Hsiang-Ke Chao, Szu-Ting Chen & Roberta L. Millstein (eds.), Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics. Springer.
    This chapter provides an introduction to the study of the philosophical notions of mechanisms and causality in biology and economics. This chapter sets the stage for this volume, Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics, in three ways. First, it gives a broad review of the recent changes and current state of the study of mechanisms and causality in the philosophy of science. Second, consistent with a recent trend in the philosophy of science to focus on scientific practices, it in (...)
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  4. Roberta L. Millstein (2013). Environmental Ethics. In K. Kampourakis (ed.), The Philosophy of Biology: A Companion for Educators. Springer.
    A number of areas of biology raise questions about what is of value in the natural environment and how we ought to behave towards it: conservation biology, environmental science, and ecology, to name a few. Based on my experience teaching students from these and similar majors, I argue that the field of environmental ethics has much to teach these students. They come to me with pent-up questions and a feeling that more is needed to fully engage in their subjects, and (...)
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  5. Roberta L. Millstein (2013). Exploring the Status of Population Genetics: The Role of Ecology. Biological Theory 7 (4):346-357.
    The status of population genetics has become hotly debated among biologists and philosophers of biology. Many seem to view population genetics as relatively unchanged since the Modern Synthesis and have argued that subjects such as development were left out of the Synthesis. Some have called for an extended evolutionary synthesis or for recognizing the insignificance of population genetics. Yet others such as Michael Lynch have defended population genetics, declaring "nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of population genetics" (...)
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  6. Roberta L. Millstein (2013). Natural Selection and Causal Productivity. In Hsiang-Ke Chao, Szu-Ting Chen & Roberta L. Millstein (eds.), Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics,. Springer.
    In the recent philosophical literature, two questions have arisen concerning the status of natural selection: (1) Is it a population-level phenomenon, or is it an organism-level phenomenon? (2) Is it a causal process, or is it a purely statistical summary of lower-level processes? In an earlier work (Millstein, Br J Philos Sci, 57(4):627–653, 2006), I argue that natural selection should be understood as a population-level causal process, rather than a purely statistical population-level summation of lower-level processes or as an organism-level (...)
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  7. Roberta L. Millstein (2012). Darwin's Explanation of Races by Means of Sexual Selection. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (3):627-633.
    In Darwin’s Sacred Cause, Adrian Desmond and James Moore contend that ‘‘Darwin would put his utmost into sexual selection because the subject intrigued him, no doubt, but also for a deeper reason: the theory vindicated his lifelong commitment to human brotherhood’’ (2009: p. 360). Without questioning Des- mond and Moore’s evidence, I will raise some puzzles for their view. I will show that attention to the structure of Darwin’s arguments in the Descent of Man shows that they are far from (...)
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  8. Erika Milam, Roberta L. Millstein, Angela Potochnik & Joan Roughgarden (2011). Sex and Sensibility: The Role of Social Selection. Metascience 20 (2):253-277.
    Sex and sensibility: The role of social selection Content Type Journal Article DOI 10.1007/s11016-010-9464-6 Authors Erika L. Milam, Department of History, University of Maryland, 2115 Francis Scott Key Hall, College Park, MD 20742, USA Roberta L. Millstein, Department of Philosophy, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA Angela Potochnik, Department of Philosophy, University of Cincinnati, P.O. Box 210374, Cincinnati, OH 45221, USA Joan E. Roughgarden, Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020, USA Journal Metascience Online (...)
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  9. Roberta L. Millstein (2011). Chances and Causes in Evolutionary Biology: How Many Chances Become One Chance. In P. M. Illari, F. Russo & J. Williamson (eds.), Causality in the Sciences. Oxford University Press. 2--425.
    As a number of biologists and philosophers have emphasized, ‘chance’ has multiple meanings in evolutionary biology. Seven have been identified. I will argue that there is a unified concept of chance underlying these seven, which I call the UCC (Unified Chance Concept). I will argue that each is characterized by which causes are consid- ered, ignored, or prohibited. Thus, chance in evolutionary biology can only be under- stood through understanding the causes at work. The UCC aids in comparing the different (...)
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  10. Roberta L. Millstein (2010). A Law by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet. [REVIEW] Science 330:1048-1049.
    A review of _Biology’s First Law: The Tendency for Diversity and Complexity to Increase in Evolutionary Systems_, by Daniel W. McShea and Robert N. Brandon. This review argues that the supposed "Zero-Force Evolutionary Law”" (ZFEL) is neither a law nor zero-force.
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  11. Roberta L. Millstein (2010). Should We Be Population Pluralists? A Reply to Stegenga. Biological Theory 5 (3):271-276.
    In “‘Population’ is Not a Natural Kind of Kinds,” Jacob Stegenga argues against the claim that the concept of “population” is a natural kind and in favor of conceptual pluralism, ostensibly in response to two papers of mine (Millstein 2009, 2010). Pluralism is often an attractive position in the philosophy of science. It certainly is a live possibility for the concept of population in ecology and evolutionary biology, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the topic further. However, I argue (...)
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  12. Roberta L. Millstein (2010). Jacob Stegenga-–"“Population"” Is Not a Natural Kind of Kinds. Biological Theory 5 (3):271.
     
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  13. Roberta L. Millstein (2010). Review: Choosing Selection: The Revival of Natural Selection in Anglo-American Evolutionary Biology, 1930-1970. [REVIEW] Reports of the National Center for Science Education 30 (6):32.
    This is a book review of _Choosing Selection: The Revival of Natural Selection in Anglo-American Evolutionary Biology, 1930-1970_ by Stephen G Brush.
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  14. Roberta L. Millstein (2010). The Concepts of Population and Metapopulation in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology. In M. A. Bell, D. J. Futuyma, W. F. Eanes & J. S. Levinton (eds.), Evolution Since Darwin: The First 150 Years. Sinauer.
    This paper aims to illustrate one of the primary goals of the philosophy of biology⎯namely, the examination of central concepts in biological theory and practice⎯through an analysis of the concepts of population and metapopulation in evolutionary biology and ecology. I will first provide a brief background for my analysis, followed by a characterization of my proposed concepts: the causal interactionist concepts of population and metapopulation. I will then illustrate how the concepts apply to six cases that differ in their population (...)
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  15. Roberta L. Millstein (2009). 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.
    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 (...)
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  16. Roberta L. Millstein (2009). Populations as Individuals. Biological Theory 4 (3):267-273.
    Biologists studying ecology and evolution use the term “population” in many different ways. Yet little philosophical analysis of the concept has been done, either by biologists or philosophers, in contrast to the voluminous literature on the concept of “species.” This is in spite of the fact that “population” is arguably a far more central concept in ecological and evolutionary studies than “species” is. The fact that such a central concept has been employed in so many different ways is potentially problematic (...)
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  17. Roberta L. Millstein, Robert A. Skipper Jr & Michael R. Dietrich (2009). (Mis)Interpreting Mathematical Models: Drift as a Physical Process. Philosophy and Theory in Biology 1 (20130604):e002.
    Recently, a number of philosophers of biology (e.g., Matthen and Ariew 2002; Walsh, Lewens, and Ariew 2002; Pigliucci and Kaplan 2006; Walsh 2007) have endorsed views about random drift that, we will argue, rest on an implicit assumption that the meaning of concepts such as drift can be understood through an examination of the mathematical models in which drift appears. They also seem to implicitly assume that ontological questions about the causality (or lack thereof) of terms appearing in the models (...)
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  18. Michael R. Dietrich & Roberta L. Millstein (2008). The Role of Causal Processes in the Neutral and Nearly Neutral Theories. Philosophy of Science 75 (5):548-559.
    The neutral and nearly neutral theories of molecular evolution are sometimes characterized as theories about drift alone, where drift is described solely as an outcome, rather than a process. We argue, however, that both selection and drift, as causal processes, are integral parts of both theories. However, the nearly neutral theory explicitly recognizes alleles and/or molecular substitutions that, while engaging in weakly selected causal processes, exhibit outcomes thought to be characteristic of random drift. A narrow focus on outcomes obscures the (...)
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  19. Roberta L. Millstein (2008). Distinguishing Drift and Selection Empirically: &Quot;the Great Snail Debate" of the 1950s. Journal of the History of Biology 41 (2):339 - 367.
    Biologists and philosophers have been extremely pessimistic about the possibility of demonstrating random drift in nature, particularly when it comes to distinguishing random drift from natural selection. However, examination of a historical case-Maxime Lamotte's study of natural populations of the land snail, Cepaea nemoralis in the 1950s - shows that while some pessimism is warranted, it has been overstated. Indeed, by describing a unique signature for drift and showing that this signature obtained in the populations under study, Lamotte was able (...)
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  20. Ayelet Shavit & Roberta L. Millstein (2008). Group Selection is Dead! Long Live Group Selection? BioScience 58 (7):574-575.
    We live in interesting times. Two well-known biologists — E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins — and some of their well-known colleagues, who used to employ broadly similar selection models, now deeply disagree over the role of group selection in the evolution of eusociality (or so we argue). Yet they describe their models as interchangeable. As philosophers of biology, we wonder whether there is substantial (i.e., empirical) disagreement here at all, and, if there is, what is this disagreement about? We (...)
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  21. Roberta L. Millstein (2007). Hsp90-Induced Evolution: Adaptationist, Neutralist, and Developmentalist Scenarios. Biological Theory: Integrating Development, Evolution and Cognition 2 (4):376-386.
    Recent work on the heat-shock protein Hsp90 by Rutherford and Lindquist (1998) has been included among the pieces of evidence taken to show the essential role of developmental processes in evolution; Hsp90 acts as a buffer against phenotypic variation, allowing genotypic variation to build. When the buffering capacity of Hsp90 is altered (e.g., in nature, by mutation or environmental stress), the genetic variation is "revealed," manifesting itself as phenotypic variation. This phenomenon raises questions about the genetic variation before and after (...)
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  22. Roberta L. Millstein (2007). Review of Lindley Darden, Reasoning in Biological Discoveries: Essays on Mechanisms, Interfield Relations, and Anomaly Resolution. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2007 (7).
  23. Roberta L. Millstein & Robert A. Skipper (2007). Population Genetics. In David L. Hull & Michael Ruse (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge University Press.
    Population genetics attempts to measure the influence of the causes of evolution, viz., mutation, migration, natural selection, and random genetic drift, by understanding the way those causes change the genetics of populations. But how does it accomplish this goal? After a short introduction, we begin in section (2) with a brief historical outline of the origins of population genetics. In section (3), we sketch the model theoretic structure of population genetics, providing the flavor of the ways in which population genetics (...)
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  24. Roberta L. Millstein (2006). Natural Selection as a Population-Level Causal Process. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (4):627-653.
    Recent discussions in the philosophy of biology have brought into question some fundamental assumptions regarding evolutionary processes, natural selection in particular. Some authors argue that natural selection is nothing but a population-level, statistical consequence of lower-level events (Matthen and Ariew [2002]; Walsh et al. [2002]). On this view, natural selection itself does not involve forces. Other authors reject this purely statistical, population-level account for an individual-level, causal account of natural selection (Bouchard and Rosenberg [2004]). I argue that each of these (...)
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  25. Roberta L. Millstein (2006). Discussion of "Four Case Studies on Chance in Evolution&Quot;: Philosophical Themes and Questions. Philosophy of Science 73 (5):678-687.
    The four case studies on chance in evolution provide a rich source for further philosophical analysis. Among the issues raised are the following: Are there different conceptions of chance at work, or is there a common underlying conception? How can a given concept of chance be distinguished from other chance concepts and from nonchance concepts? How can the occurrence of a given chance process be distinguished empirically from nonchance processes or other chance processes? What role does chance play in evolutionary (...)
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  26. Roberta L. Millstein (2005). Selection Vs. Drift: A Response to Brandon's Reply. Biology and Philosophy 20 (1):171-175.
    I respond to Brandon's (2005) criticisms of my earlier (2002) essay. I argue that (1) biologists are inconsistent in their use of the terms 'selection' and 'drift' -- vacillating between 'process' and 'outcome' -- but that the process-oriented definitions I defend make better sense of the neutralist/selectionist debate; (2) Brandon's purported demonstration that there is no qualitative difference between drift and selection as processes begs the question against my account; and (3) biologists (e.g., Kimura) have argued for genuinely neutral variants. (...)
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  27. Robert A. Skipper & Roberta L. Millstein (2005). Thinking About Evolutionary Mechanisms: Natural Selection. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 36 (2):327-347.
    This paper explores whether natural selection, a putative evolutionary mechanism, and a main one at that, can be characterized on either of the two dominant conceptions of mechanism, due to Glennan and the team of Machamer, Darden, and Craver, that constitute the new mechanistic philosophy'. The results of the analysis are that neither of the dominant conceptions of mechanism adequately captures natural selection. Nevertheless, the new mechanistic philosophy possesses the resources for an understanding of natural selection under the rubric.
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  28. Roberta L. Millstein (2003). How Not to Argue for the Indeterminism of Evolution: A Look at Two Recent Attempts to Settle the Issue. In Andreas Hüttemann (ed.), Determinism in Physics and Biology. Mentis.
    I examine recent debates in the philosophy of biology over the determinism or indeterminism of the evolutionary process, focusing on two papers in particular: Glymour 2001 and Stamos 2001. I argue that neither of these papers succeeds in making the case for the indeterminism of the evolutionary process, and suggest that what is needed is a detailed analysis of the causal processes at every level from the quantum mechanical to the evolutionary.
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  29. Roberta L. Millstein (2003). Interpretations of Probability in Evolutionary Theory. Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1317-1328.
    Evolutionary theory (ET) is teeming with probabilities. Probabilities exist at all levels: the level of mutation, the level of microevolution, and the level of macroevolution. This uncontroversial claim raises a number of contentious issues. For example, is the evolutionary process (as opposed to the theory) indeterministic, or is it deterministic? Philosophers of biology have taken different sides on this issue. Millstein (1997) has argued that we are not currently able answer this question, and that even scientific realists ought to remain (...)
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  30. Roberta L. Millstein (2002). Are Random Drift and Natural Selection Conceptually Distinct? Biology and Philosophy 17 (1):33-53.
    The latter half of the twentieth century has been marked by debates in evolutionary biology over the relative significance of natural selection and random drift: the so-called “neutralist/selectionist” debates. Yet John Beatty has argued that it is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish the concept of random drift from the concept of natural selection, a claim that has been accepted by many philosophers of biology. If this claim is correct, then the neutralist/selectionist debates seem at best futile, and at worst, (...)
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  31. Roberta L. Millstein (2002). Evolution. In Peter Machamer Michael Silberstein (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Science. Blackwell.
    This paper is an overview of the philosophy of evolution – past, present, and future. It surveys the following topics: the neutralist/selectionist debate, the adapationist programme and its challenges, sociobiology, contingency, laws of biology, the species category problem, the species taxon problem, the tautology problem, fitness, units of selection.
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  32. Roberta L. Millstein (2002). Review of Steven Hecht Orzack, Elliot Sober (Eds.), Adaptationism and Optimality. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2002 (5).
  33. Roberta L. Millstein (2000). Chance and Macroevolution. Philosophy of Science 67 (4):603-624.
    When philosophers of physics explore the nature of chance, they usually look to quantum mechanics. When philosophers of biology explore the nature of chance, they usually look to microevolutionary phenomena, such as mutation or random drift. What has been largely overlooked is the role of chance in macroevolution. The stochastic models of paleobiology employ conceptions of chance that are similar to those at the microevolutionary level, yet different from the conceptions of chance often associated with quantum mechanics and Laplacean determinism.
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  34. Roberta L. Millstein, History and Philosophy of Biology Resources.
    Links relating to the history and philosophy of biology, assembled by Roberta L. Millstein: reference works, societies, journals, historians and philosophers of biology with papers online, blogs, other resources in the history and philosophy of biology.
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  35. Roberta L. Millstein, Is the Evolutionary Process Deterministic or Indeterministic? An Argument for Agnosticism.
    Recently, philosophers of biology have debated the status of the evolutionary process: is it deterministic or indeterministic? I argue that there is insufficient reason to favor one side of the debate over the other, and that a more philosophically defensible position argues neither for the determinacy nor for the indeterminacy of the evolutionary process. In other words, I maintain that the appropriate stand to take towards the question of the determinism of the evolutionary process is agnosticism. I then suggest that (...)
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  36. Roberta L. Millstein (1996). Random Drift and the Omniscient Viewpoint. Philosophy of Science 63 (3):S10-S18.
    Alexander Rosenberg (1994) claims that the omniscient viewpoint of the evolutionary process would have no need for the concept of random drift. However, his argument fails to take into account all of the processes which are considered to be instances of random drift. A consideration of these processes shows that random drift is not eliminable even given a position of omniscience. Furthermore, Rosenberg must take these processes into account in order to support his claims that evolution is deterministic and that (...)
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