This paper outlines a critique of the use of the genetic variance–covariance matrix (G), one of the central concepts in the modern study of natural selection and evolution. Specifically, I argue that for both conceptual and empirical reasons, studies of G cannot be used to elucidate so-called constraints on natural selection, nor can they be employed to detect or to measure past selection in natural populations – contrary to what assumed by most practicing biologists. I suggest that the search for (...) a general solution to the difficult problem of identifying causal structures given observed correlation’s has led evolutionary quantitative geneticists to substitute statistical modeling for the more difficult, but much more valuable, job of teasing apart the many possible causes underlying the action of natural selection. Hence, the entire evolutionary quantitative genetics research program may be in need of a fundamental reconsideration of its goals and how they correspond to the array of mathematical and experimental techniques normally employed by its practitioners. (shrink)
Given that natural selection is so powerful at optimizing complex adaptations, why does it seem unable to eliminate genes (susceptibility alleles) that predispose to common, harmful, heritable mental disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder? We assess three leading explanations for this apparent paradox from evolutionary genetic theory: (1) ancestral neutrality (susceptibility alleles were not harmful among ancestors), (2) balancing selection (susceptibility alleles sometimes increased fitness), and (3) polygenic mutation-selection balance (mental disorders reflect the inevitable mutational load on the (...) thousands of genes underlying human behavior). The first two explanations are commonly assumed in psychiatric genetics and Darwinian psychiatry, while mutation-selection has often been discounted. All three models can explain persistent genetic variance in some traits under some conditions, but the first two have serious problems in explaining human mental disorders. Ancestral neutrality fails to explain low mental disorder frequencies and requires implausibly small selection coefficients against mental disorders given the data on the reproductive costs and impairment of mental disorders. Balancing selection (including spatio-temporal variation in selection, heterozygote advantage, antagonistic pleiotropy, and frequency-dependent selection) tends to favor environmentally contingent adaptations (which would show no heritability) or high-frequency alleles (which psychiatric genetics would have already found). Only polygenic mutation-selection balance seems consistent with the data on mental disorder prevalence rates, fitness costs, the likely rarity of susceptibility alleles, and the increased risks of mental disorders with brain trauma, inbreeding, and paternal age. This evolutionary genetic framework for mental disorders has wide-ranging implications for psychology, psychiatry, behavior genetics, molecular genetics, and evolutionary approaches to studying human behavior. (Published Online November 9 2006) Key Words: adaptation; behavior genetics; Darwinian psychiatry; evolution; evolutionarygenetics; evolutionary psychology; mental disorders; mutation-selection balance; psychiatric genetics; quantitative trait loci (QTL). (shrink)
Evolutionary biology is a field currently animated by much discussion concerning its conceptual foundations. On the one hand, we have supporters of a classical view of evolutionary theory, whose backbone is provided by population genetics and the so-called Modern Synthesis (MS). On the other hand, a number of researchers are calling for an Extended Synthe- sis (ES) that takes seriously both the limitations of the MS (such as its inability to incorporate developmental biology) and recent empirical and (...) theoretical research on issues such as evolvability, modularity, and self-organization. In this article, I engage in an in-depth commentary of an influential paper by population geneticist Michael Lynch, which I take to be the best defense of the MS-population genetics position published so far. I show why I think that Lynch’s arguments are wanting and propose a modification of evolutionary theory that retains but greatly expands on population genetics. (shrink)
A general case about the insights and oversights of molecular genetics is argued for by considering two specific cases: the first concerns the bearing of molecular genetics on Mendelian genetics, and the second concerns the bearing of molecular genetics on the replicability of the genetic material. As in the first case, it is argued that Mendel's law of segregation cannot be explained wholly in terms of molecular genetics--the law demands evolutionary scrutiny as well. In (...) the second case, it is argued that an account of the replicability of the genetic material in terms of molecular genetics is not entirely independent of evolutionary considerations, in the sense that it raises further evolutionary questions. The limitations of the molecular-genetic approach in these cases point to the limitations of that approach in general. (shrink)
The Committee on Common Problems of Genetics, Paleontology, and Systematics (United States National Research Council) marks part of a critical transition in American evolutionary studies. Launched in 1942 to facilitate cross-training between genetics and paleontology, the Committee was also designed to amplify paleontologist voices in modern studies of evolutionary processes. During coincidental absences of founders George Gaylord Simpson and Theodosius Dobzhansky, an opportunistic Ernst Mayr moved into the project's leadership. Mayr used the opportunity for programmatic reforms (...) he had been pursuing elsewhere for more than a decade. These are evident in the Bulletins he distributed under Committee auspices. In his brief tenure as Committee leader, Mayr gained his first substantial foothold within the coalescing community infrastructure of evolutionary studies. Carrying this momentum forward led Mayr directly into the project to launch the journal Evolution. The sociology of interdisciplinary activity provides useful tools for understanding the Committee's value in the broad sweep of change in evolutionary studies during the synthesis period. (shrink)
The mutation-selection hypothesis may extend to understanding normal personality variation. Traits such as emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness figure strongly in mate selection and show evidence of non-additive genetic variance. They are linked with reproductively relevant outcomes, including longevity, resource acquisition, and mating success. Evolved difference-detection adaptations may function to spurn individuals whose high mutation load signals a burdensome relationship load. (Published Online November 9 2006).
I investigate how theoretical assumptions, pertinent to different perspectives and operative during the modeling process, are central in determining how nature is actually taken to be. I explore two different models by Michael Turelli and Steve Frank of the evolution of parasite-mediated cytoplasmic incompatility, guided, respectively, by Fisherian and Wrightian perspectives. Since the two models can be shown to be commensurable both with respect to mathematics and data, I argue that the differences between them in the (1) mathematical presentation of (...) the models, (2) explanations, and (3) objectified ontologies stem neither from differences in mathematical method nor the employed data, but from differences in the theoretical assumptions, especially regarding ontology, already present in the respective perspectives. I use my "set up, mathematically manipulate, explain, and objectify" (SMEO) account of the modeling process to track the model-mediated imposition of theoretical assumptions. I conclude with a discussion of the general implications of my analysis of these models for the controversy between Fisherian and Wrightian perspectives. (shrink)
During the last two decades the role of quantitative genetics in evolutionary theory has expanded considerably. Quantitative genetic-based models addressing long term phenotypic evolution, evolution in multiple environments (phenotypic plasticity) and evolution of ontogenies (developmental trajectories) have been proposed. Yet, the mathematical foundations of quantitative genetics were laid with a very different set of problems in mind (mostly the prediction of short term responses to artificial selection), and at a time in which any details of the genetic (...) machinery were virtually unknown. In this paper we discuss what a model is in population biology, and what kind of model we need in order to address the complexities of phenotypic evolution. We review the assumptions of quantitative genetics and its most recent accomplishments, together with the limitations that such assumptions impose on the modelling of some aspects of phenotypic evolution. We also discuss three alternative appr oaches to the theoretical description of evolutionary trajectories (nonlinear dynamics, complexity theory and optimization theory), and their respective advantages and limitations. We conclude by calling for a new theoretical synthesis, including quantitative genetics and not necessarily limited to the other approaches here discussed. (shrink)
One foundational question in contemporarybiology is how to `rejoin evolution anddevelopment. The emerging research program(evolutionary developmental biology or`evo-devo) requires a meshing of disciplines,concepts, and explanations that have beendeveloped largely in independence over the pastcentury. In the attempt to comprehend thepresent separation between evolution anddevelopment much attention has been paid to thesplit between genetics and embryology in theearly part of the 20th century with itscodification in the exclusion of embryologyfrom the Modern Synthesis. This encourages acharacterization of evolutionary developmentalbiology (...) as the marriage of evolutionary theoryand embryology via developmental genetics. Butthere remains a largely untold story about thesignificance of morphology and comparativeanatomy (also minimized in the ModernSynthesis). Functional and evolutionarymorphology are critical for understanding thedevelopment of a concept central toevolutionary developmental biology,evolutionary innovation. Highlighting thediscipline of morphology and the concepts ofinnovation and novelty provides an alternativeway of conceptualizing the `evo and the `devoto be synthesized. (shrink)
The science of genetics is undergoing a paradigm shift. Recent discoveries, including the activity of retrotransposons, the extent of copy number variations, somatic and chromosomal mosaicism, and the nature of the epigenome as a regulator of DNA expressivity, are challenging a series of dogmas concerning the nature of the genome and the relationship between genotype and phenotype. According to three widely held dogmas, DNA is the unchanging template of heredity, is identical in all the cells and tissues of the (...) body, and is the sole agent of inheritance. Rather than being an unchanging template, DNA appears subject to a good deal of environmentally induced change. Instead of identical DNA in all the cells of the body, somatic mosaicism appears to be the normal human condition. And DNA can no longer be considered the sole agent of inheritance. We now know that the epigenome, which regulates gene expressivity, can be inherited via the germline. These developments are particularly significant for behavior genetics for at least three reasons: First, epigenetic regulation, DNA variability, and somatic mosaicism appear to be particularly prevalent in the human brain and probably are involved in much of human behavior; second, they have important implications for the validity of heritability and gene association studies, the methodologies that largely define the discipline of behavior genetics; and third, they appear to play a critical role in development during the perinatal period and, in particular, in enabling phenotypic plasticity in offspring. I examine one of the central claims to emerge from the use of heritability studies in the behavioral sciences, the principle of minimal shared maternal effects, in light of the growing awareness that the maternal perinatal environment is a critical venue for the exercise of adaptive phenotypic plasticity. This consideration has important implications for both developmental and evolutionary biology. (shrink)
Starting from the early decades of the twentieth century, evolutionary biology began to acquire mathematical overtones. This took place via the development of a set of models in which the Darwinian picture of evolution was shown to be consistent with the laws of heredity discovered by Mendel. The models, which came to be elaborated over the years, define a field of study known as population genetics. Population genetics is generally looked upon as an essential component of modern (...)evolutionary theory. This article deals with a famous dispute between J. B. S. Haldane, one of the founders of population genetics, and Ernst Mayr, a major contributor to the way we understand evolution. The philosophical undercurrents of the dispute remain relevant today. Mayr and Haldane agreed that genetics provided a broad explanatory framework for explaining how evolution took place but differed over the relevance of the mathematical models that sought to underpin that framework. The dispute began with a fundamental issue raised by Mayr in 1959: in terms of understanding evolution, did population genetics contribute anything beyond the obvious? Haldane's response came just before his death in 1964. It contained a spirited defense, not just of population genetics, but also of the motivations that lie behind mathematical modelling in biology. While the difference of opinion persisted and was not glossed over, the two continued to maintain cordial personal relations. (shrink)
This paper clarifies the chronology surrounding the population geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky's 1937 book, "Genetics and the Origin of Species." Most historians assume (a) Dobzhansky's book began as a series of 'Jesup lectures,' sponsored by the Department of Zoology at Columbia University in 1936, and (b) before these lectures were given, Dobzhansky knew he would produce a volume for the Columbia Biological Series (CBS). Archival evidence forces a rejection of both assumptions. Dobzhansky's 1936 Columbia lectures were not Jesup lectures. The (...) book he intended to write from his lectures began as a stand-alone text in evolutionarygenetics; the CBS had been defunct since 1910. In May 1937 -- seven months after Dobzhansky's Columbia lectures -- Leslie Dunn lobbied Columbia University to revive the CBS and the Jesup lecture series. He then quietly back dated, naming Dobzhansky a Jesup lecturer and co-opting his book manuscript as the first volume in the revived CBS. A detailed chronology of this 1936-1937 period is provided. This relocates the CBS and Jesup revivals within the narrow context of zoology at Columbia University. These helped Dunn and colleagues define cutting edges and define themselves as managers and promoters of those edges. (shrink)
The idea of genetic assimilation, that environmentally induced phenotypes may become genetically fixed and no longer require the original environmental stimulus, has had varied success through time in evolutionary biology research. Proposed by Waddington in the 1940s, it became an area of active empirical research mostly thanks to the efforts of its inventor and his collaborators. It was then attacked as of minor importance during the ‘‘hardening’’ of the neo-Darwinian synthesis and was relegated to a secondary role for decades. (...) Recently, several papers have appeared, mostly independently of each other, to explore the likelihood of genetic assimilation as a biological phenomenon and its potential importance to our understanding of evolution. In this article we briefly trace the history of the concept and then discuss theoretical models that have newly employed genetic assimilation in a variety of contexts. We propose a typical scenario of evolution of genetic assimilation via an intermediate stage of phenotypic plasticity and present potential examples of the same. We also discuss a conceptual map of current and future lines of research aimed at exploring the actual relevance of genetic assimilation for evolutionary biology. (shrink)
We propose a conceptual model that maps the causal pathways relating biological evolution to cultural change. It builds on conventional evolutionary theory by placing emphasis on the capacity of organisms to modify sources of natural selection in their environment (niche construction) and by broadening the evolutionary dynamic to incorporate ontogenetic and cultural processes. In this model, phenotypes have a much more active role in evolution than generally conceived. This sheds light on hominid evolution, on the evolution of culture, (...) and on altruism and cooperation. Culture amplifies the capacity of human beings to modify sources of natural selection in their environments to the point where that capacity raises some new questions about the processes of human adaptation. Key Words: adaptation; altruism; cooperation; evolutionary psychology; gene-culture coevolution; human evolution; human genetics; niche construction; sociobiology. (shrink)
It is argued that fundamental to Piaget''s life works is a biologically based naturalism in which the living world is a nested complex of self-regulating, self-organising (constructing) adaptive systems. A structuralist-rationalist overlay on this core position is distinguished and it is shown how it may be excised without significant loss of content or insight. A new and richer conception of the nature of Piaget''s genetic epistemology emerges, one which enjoys rich interrelationships with evolutionary epistemology. These are explored and it (...) is shown how a regulatory systems evolutionary epistemology may be embedded within genetic epistemology. (shrink)
In what follows, I argue that the semantic approach to scientific theories fails as a means to present the Wright—Fisher formalism (WFF) of population genetics. I offer an account of what population geneticist understand insofar as they understand the WFF, a variation on Lloyd's view that population genetics can be understood as a family of models of mid-level generality.
In a recent article, “Wayward Modeling: Population Genetics and Natural Selection,” Bruce Glymour claims that population genetics is burdened by serious predictive and explanatory inadequacies and that the theory itself is to blame. Because Glymour overlooks a variety of formal modeling techniques in population genetics, his arguments do not quite undermine a major scientific theory. However, his arguments are extremely valuable as they provide definitive proof that those who would deploy classical population genetics over natural systems (...) must do so with careful attention to interactions between individual population members and environmental causes. Glymour’s arguments have deep implications for causation in classical population genetics. (shrink)
In this paper I trace Michael Ruse's Booknotes from the first volumeof Biology and Philosophy in 1986 to the present. I deal withboth the style and the content of these booknotes. Ruse paid specialattention to authors outside of the traditional English axis as wellas to feminist writers. He complained that too much attention wasbeing paid to certain topics (e.g., evolutionary ethics, evolutionaryepistemology, the species problem and reduction) while other, moreimportant topics were all but ignored (e.g., natural selection,population genetics, (...) levels of selection and extraterrestrial life).He also dealt with the Darwin Industry. Creationism, his love-haterelationships with several authors and his undiluted love of CharlesDickens. (shrink)
I argue that Darwinian evolutionary theory has a rhetorical dimension and that rhetorical criticism plays a role in how evolutionary science acquires knowledge. I define what I mean by rhetoric by considering Darwin’s Origin. I use the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis to show how rhetoric conceived as situated and addressed argumentation enters into evolutionary theorizing. Finally, I argue that rhetorical criticism helps judge the success, limits, and failures of these theories.
In the advertising discourse of human genetic database projects, of genetic ancestry tracing companies, and in popular books on anthropological genetics, what I refer to as the anthropological gene and genome appear as documents of human history, by far surpassing the written record and oral history in scope and accuracy as archives of our past. How did macromolecules become "documents of human evolutionary history"? Historically, molecular anthropology, a term introduced by Emile Zuckerkandl in 1962 to characterize the study (...) of primate phylogeny and human evolution on the molecular level, asserted its claim to the privilege of interpretation regarding hominoid, hominid, and human phylogeny and evolution vis-à-vis other historical sciences such as evolutionary biology, physical anthropology, and paleoanthropology. This process will be discussed on the basis of three key conferences on primate classification and evolution that brought together exponents of the respective fields and that were held in approximately ten-years intervals between the early 1960s and the 1980s. I show how the anthropological gene and genome gained their status as the most fundamental, clean, and direct records of historical information, and how the prioritizing of these epistemic objects was part of a complex involving the objectivity of numbers, logic, and mathematics, the objectivity of machines and instruments, and the objectivity seen to reside in the epistemic objects themselves. (shrink)
What role does non-genetic inheritance play in evolution? In recent work we have independently and collectively argued that the existence and scope of non-genetic inheritance systems, including epigenetic inheritance, niche construction/ecological inheritance, and cultural inheritance—alongside certain other theory revisions—necessitates an extension to the neo-Darwinian Modern Synthesis (MS) in the form of an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES). However, this argument has been challenged on the grounds that non-genetic inheritance systems are exclusively proximate mechanisms that serve the ultimate function of calibrating (...) organisms to stochastic environments. In this paper we defend our claims, pointing out that critics of the EES (1) conflate non-genetic inheritance with early 20th-century notions of soft inheritance; (2) misunderstand the nature of the EES in relation to the MS; (3) confuse individual phenotypic plasticity with trans-generational non-genetic inheritance; (4) fail to address the extensive theoretical and empirical literature which shows that non-genetic inheritance can generate novel targets for selection, create new genetic equilibria that would not exist in the absence of non-genetic inheritance, and generate phenotypic variation that is independent of genetic variation; (5) artificially limit ultimate explanations for traits to gene-based selection, which is unsatisfactory for phenotypic traits that originate and spread via non-genetic inheritance systems; and (6) fail to provide an explanation for biological organization. We conclude by noting ways in which we feel that an overly gene-centric theory of evolution is hindering progress in biology and other sciences. (shrink)
Advances in molecular biological research in the last forty years have made the story of the gene vastly complicated: the more we learn about genes, the less sure we are of what a gene really is. Knowledge about the structure and functioning of genes abounds, but the gene has also become curiously intangible. This collection of essays renews the question: what are genes? Philosophers, historians, and working scientists re-evaluate the question in this volume, treating the gene as a focal point (...) of interdisciplinary and international research. This book is unique in that it is the first interdisciplinary volume solely devoted to the quest for the gene. It will be of interest to professionals and students in the philosophy and history of science, genetics, and molecular biology. (shrink)
This paper evaluates the claim that it is possible to use nature’s variation in conjunction with retention and selection on the one hand, and the absence of ultimate groundedness of hypotheses generated by the human mind as it knows on the other hand, to discard the ascription of ultimate certainty to the rationality of human conjectures in the cognitive realm. This leads to an evaluation of the further assumption that successful hypotheses with specific applications, in other words heuristics, seem to (...) have a firm footing because they were useful in another context. I argue that usefulness evaluated through adaptation misconstrues the search for truth, and that it is possible to generate talk of randomness by neglecting aspects of a system’s insertion into a larger situation. The framing of the problem in terms of the elimination of unfit hypotheses is found to be unsatisfying. It is suggested that theories exist in a dimension where they can be kept alive rather than dying as phenotypes do. The proposal that the subconscious could suggest random variations is found to be a category mistake. A final appeal to phenomenology shows that this proposal is orphan in the history of epistemology, not in virtue of its being a remarkable find, but rather because it is ill-conceived. (shrink)
In his book The Biotech Century Jeremy Rifkin makes arguments about the dangers of market-driven genetic biotechnology in medical and agricultural contexts. Believing that Darwinism is too compromised by a competitive ethic to resist capitalist depredations of the genetic commons, and perhaps hoping to pick up anti-Darwinian allies, he turns for support to unorthodox non-Darwinian views of evolution. The Darwinian tradition, more closely examined, contains resources that might better serve his argument. The robust tradition associated with Theodosius Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, (...) and others provides an alternative, scientifically sound basis for challenging the rhetoric of genetic reductionism. (shrink)
Levins and Lewontin have contributed significantly to our philosophical understanding of the structures, processes, and purposes of biological mathematical theorizing and modeling. Here I explore their separate and joint pleas to avoid making abstract and ideal scientific models ontologically independent by confusing or conflating our scientific models and the world. I differentiate two views of theorizing and modeling, orthodox and dialectical, in order to examine Levins and Lewontin’s, among others, advocacy of the latter view. I compare the positions of these (...) two views with respect to four points regarding ontological assumptions: (1) the origin of ontological assumptions, (2) the relation of such assumptions to the formal models of the same theory, (3) their use in integrating and negotiating different formal models of distinct theories, and (4) their employment in explanatory activity. Dialectical is here used in both its Hegelian–Marxist sense of opposition and tension between alternative positions and in its Platonic sense of dialogue between advocates of distinct theories. I investigate three case studies, from Levins and Lewontin as well as from a recent paper of mine, that show the relevance and power of the dialectical understanding of theorizing and modeling. (shrink)
In the past five years, there have been a series of papers in the journal Evolution debating the relative significance of two theories of evolution, a neo-Fisherian and a neo-Wrightian theory, where the neo-Fisherians make explicit appeal to parsimony. My aim in this paper is to determine how we can make sense of such an appeal. One interpretation of parsimony takes it that a theory that contains fewer entities or processes, (however we demarcate these) is more parsimonious. On the account (...) that I defend here, parsimony is a ‘local’ virtue. Scientists’ appeals to parsimony are not necessarily an appeal to a theory’s simplicity in the sense of it’s positing fewer mechanisms. Rather, parsimony may be proxy for greater probability or likelihood. I argue that the neo-Fisherians appeal is best understood on this interpretation. And indeed, if we interpret parsimony as either prior probability or likelihood, then we can make better sense of Coyne et al. argument that Wright’s three phase process operates relatively infrequently. (shrink)
In 1966, Richard Levins argued that there are different strategies in model building in population biology. In this paper, I reply to Orzack and Sober’s (1993) critiques of Levins, and argue that his views on modeling strategies apply also in the context of evolutionarygenetics. In particular, I argue that there are different ways in which models are used to ask and answer questions about the dynamics of evolutionary change, prospectively and retrospectively, in classical versus molecular (...) class='Hi'>evolutionarygenetics. Further, I argue that robustness analysis is a tool for, if not confirmation, then something near enough, in this discipline. (shrink)
Throughout the twentieth century calls to modernize natural history motivated a range of responses. It was unclear how research in natural history museums would participate in the significant technological and conceptual changes that were occurring in the life sciences. By the 1960s, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, was among the few university-based natural history museums that were able to maintain their specimen collections and support active research. The MVZ therefore provides a window to the (...) modernization of natural history. This paper concentrates on the directorial transitions that occurred at the MVZ between 1965 and 1971. During this period, the MVZ had four directors: Alden H. Miller (Director 1940–1965), an ornithologist; Aldo Starker Leopold (Acting Director 1965–1966), a conservationist and wildlife biologist; Oliver P. Pearson (Director 1966–1971), a physiologist and mammalogist; and David B. Wake (Director 1971–1998), a morphologist, developmental biologist, and herpetologist. The paper explores how a diversity of overlapping modernization strategies, including hiring new faculty, building infrastructure to study live animals, establishing new kinds of collections, and building modern laboratories combined to maintain collections at the MVZ’s core. The paper examines the tensions between the different modernization strategies to inform an analysis of how and why some changes were institutionalized while others were short-lived. By exploring the modernization of collections-based research, this paper emphasizes the importance of collections in the transformation of the life sciences. (shrink)
This response (a) integrates non-equilibrium evolutionary genetic models, such as coevolutionary arms-races and recent selective sweeps, into a framework for understanding common, harmful, heritable mental disorders; (b) discusses the forms of ancestral neutrality or balancing selection that may explain some portion of mental disorder risk; and (c) emphasizes that normally functioning psychological adaptations work against a backdrop of mutational and environmental noise. (Published Online November 9 2006).
Advances in genetic technology in general and medical genetics in particular will enable us to intervene in the process of human biological development which extends from zygotes and embryos to people. This will allow us to control to a great extent the identities and the length and quality of the lives of people who already exist, as well as those we bring into existence in the near and distant future. Genes and Future People explores two general philosophical questions, one (...) metaphysical, the other moral: (1) How do genes, and different forms of genetic intervention (gene therapy, genetic enhancement, presymptomatic genetic testing of adults, genetic testing of preimplantation embryos), affect the identities of the people who already exist and those we bring into existence? and (2) How do these interventions benefit or harm the people we cause to exist in the near future and those who will exist in the distant future by satisfying or defeating their interest in having reasonably long and disease-free lives? Genes and Future People begins by explaining the connection between genes and disease, placing genetic within a framework of evolutionary biology. It then discusses such topics as how genes and genetic intervention influence personal identity, what genetic testing of individuals and the knowledge resulting from it entails about responsibility to others who may be at risk, as well as how gene therapy and genetic enhancement can affect the identities of people and benefit or harm them. Furthermore, it discusses various moral aspects of cloning human beings and body parts. Finally, it explores the metaphysical and moral implications of genetic manipulation of the mechanisms of aging to extend the human life span.The aim Genes and Future People is to move philosophers, bioethicists, and readers in general to reflect on the extent to which genes determine whether we are healthy or diseased, our identities as persons, the quality of our lives, and our moral obligations to future generations of people. (shrink)
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" (a twist on Dobzhansky's famous slogan that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution"). Missing from this discussion is the use of population genetics to shed light on ecology and vice versa, beginning in the 1940s and continuing until the present day. I highlight some of that history through an overview of traditions such as ecological genetics and population biology, followed by a slightly more in-depth look at a contemporary study of the endangered California Tiger Salamander. I argue that population genetics is a powerful and useful tool that continues to be used and modified, even if it isn't required for all evolutionary explanations or doesn't incorporate all the causal factors of evolution. (shrink)
I examine the branch of evolutionary epistemology which tries to account for the character of cognitive mechanisms in animals and humans by extending the biological theory of evolution to the neurophysiological substrates of cognition. Like Plotkin, I construe this branch as a struggling science, and attempt to characterize the sort of theory one might expect to find this truly interdisciplinary endeavor, an endeavor which encompasses not only evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology, and developmental neuroscience, but also and especially, the (...) computational modeling of artificial life programming; I suggest that extending Schaffner''s notion of interlevel theories to include both horizontal and vertical levels of abstraction best fits the theories currently being developed in cognitive science. Finally, I support this claim with examples drawn from computational modeling data using the genetic algorithm. (shrink)
The beanbag genetics controversy can be traced from the dispute between Fisher and Wright, through Mayr''s influential promotion of the issue, to the contemporary units of selection debate. It centers on the claim that genic models of natural selection break down in the face of epistatic interactions among genes during phenotypic development. This claim is explored from both a conceptual and a quantitative point of view, and is shown to be defective on both counts.Firstly, an analysis of the controversy''s (...) theoretical origins demonstrates that this claim derives from a misinterpretation of the conceptual foundations of Fisher''s genetical theory of natural selection, and confounds his fundamentally different concepts of the average excess and average effect of a gene. Secondly, an extension of the genic approach is proposed which models the dynamics of selection among epistatically interacting complexes of many genes. Paradoxically, this preliminary, but fundamentally genic model provides quantitative support for some controversial qualitative claims regarding the evolutionary consequences of strong gene interactions made by opponents of genic selectionism, including Mayr''s theory of peripartric speciation. These findings foster hope that the proposed approach may eventually nudge the beanbag controversy out of its conceptual trenches into a more empirically oriented dialogue. (shrink)
This paper analyzes the interaction between science, philosophy and politics (including ideology) in the early work of J. B. S. Haldane (from 1922 to 1937). This period is particularly important, not only because it is the period of Haldane's most significant biological work (both in biochemistry and genetics), but also because it is during this period that his philosophical and political views underwent their most significant transformation. His philosophical stance first changed from a radical organicism to a position far (...) more compatible with mechanical materialism. The primary intellectual influence that was responsible for this shift was that of F. G. Hopkins. Later, Haldane came to accept Marxism and its official metaphysics, dialectical materialism, a move that let him accept the materialist conception of the world while still maintaining a resolute distance from mechanism. Throughout all these changes, what is most obvious is the influence of science on Haldane's philosophical views. An influence in the opposite direction is far less apparent. (shrink)
Particularly, but not exclusively, in Germany, concerns are uttered as to the consequences of modern biotechnological advances and their range of applications in the field of human genetics. Whereas the proponents of this research are mainly focussing on the possible knowledge that could be gained by understanding the causes of developmental processes and of disease on the molecular level, the critics fear the beginnings of a new eugenics movement. Without claiming a logical relationship between genetic sciences and eugenics movements, (...) it is nevertheless suggested in this article that a connection between both can become established when the distinction between scientifically validated statements on one hand and guiding hypotheses and assumptions on the other hand is blurred, as is observed particularly when scientists report their results to the public. This claim is demonstrated in comparisons between the current state of scientific knowledge on the role of genes in development and causation of diseases, and the way this is presented to the public. It is required that a debate on biotechnology should include reflections on the validity of claims made by scientists. (shrink)
Kerr and Godfrey-Smith argue that two mathematically equivalent, alternative formal representations drawn from population genetics, the contextualist and collectivist formalisms, may be equally good for quantifying the dynamics of some natural systems, despite important differences between the formalisms. I draw on constraints on causal representation from Woodward (Making things happen, Oxford University Press, New York, 2003) and Eberhardt and Scheines (Philos Sci 74(5):981–995, 2006) to argue that one or the other formalism will be superior for arbitrary natural systems in (...) which individuals form different types of groups. (shrink)
Tracing the contributions of Edgar Anderson (1897-1969) of the Missouri Botanical Garden to the important discussions in evolutionary biology in the 1940s, this paper argues that Anderson turned to corn research rather than play a more prominent role in what is now known as the Evolutionary Synthesis. His biosystematic studies of Iris and Tradescantia in the 1930s reflected such Synthesis concerns as the species question and population thinking. He shared the 1941 Jesup Lectures with Ernst Mayr. But rather (...) than preparing his lectures as a potentially key text in the Synthesis, Anderson began researching Zea mays -- its taxonomy, its origin, and its agronomic role. In this study, Anderson drew on the disciplines of taxonomy, morphology, genetics, geography, anthropology, archaeology, and agronomy among others in his own creative synthesis. Though his maize research in the 1940s represented the most sustained work of his career, Anderson was also drawn in many directions during his professional life. For example, he enjoyed teaching, working with amateurs, and popular writing. (shrink)
The essays in this collection examine developments in three fundamental biological disciplines--embryology, evolutionary biology, and genetics--in conflict with each other for much of the twentieth century. They consider key methodological problems and the difficulty of overcoming them. Richard Burian interweaves historical appreciation of the settings within which scientists work, substantial knowledge of the biological problems at stake and the methodological and philosophical issues faced in integrating biological knowledge drawn from disparate sources.