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Beckett Sterner
Arizona State University
  1. The Epistemology of Causal Selection: Insights From Systems Biology.Beckett Sterner - forthcoming - In C. Kenneth Waters (ed.), Causal Reasoning in Biology. University of Minnesota Press.
    Among the many causes of an event, how do we distinguish the important ones? Are there ways to distinguish among causes on principled grounds that integrate both practical aims and objective knowledge? Psychologist Tania Lombrozo has suggested that causal explanations “identify factors that are ‘exportable’ in the sense that they are likely to subserve future prediction and intervention” (Lombrozo 2010, 327). Hence portable causes are more important precisely because they provide objective information to prediction and intervention as practical aims. However, (...)
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    Pathways to Pluralism About Biological Individuality.Beckett Sterner - 2015 - Biology and Philosophy 30 (5):609-628.
    What are the prospects for a monistic view of biological individuality given the multiple epistemic roles the concept must satisfy? In this paper, I examine the epistemic adequacy of two recent accounts based on the capacity to undergo natural selection. One is from Ellen Clarke, and the other is by Peter Godfrey-Smith. Clarke’s position reflects a strong monism, in that she aims to characterize individuality in purely functional terms and refrains from privileging any specific material properties as important in their (...)
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    Individuating Population Lineages: A New Genealogical Criterion.Beckett Sterner - 2017 - Biology and Philosophy 32 (5):683-703.
    Contemporary biology has inherited two key assumptions from the Modern Synthesis about the nature of population lineages: sexual reproduction is the exemplar for how individuals in population lineages inherit traits from their parents, and random mating is the exemplar for reproductive interaction. While these assumptions have been extremely fruitful for a number of fields, such as population genetics and phylogenetics, they are increasingly unviable for studying the full diversity and evolution of life. I introduce the “mixture” account of population lineages (...)
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  4. Well-Structured Biology: Numerical Taxonomy's Epistemic Vision for Systematics.Beckett Sterner - 2014 - In Andrew Hamilton (ed.), The Evolution of Phylogenetic Systematics. University of California Press. pp. 213-244.
    What does it look like when a group of scientists set out to re-envision an entire field of biology in symbolic and formal terms? I analyze the founding and articulation of Numerical Taxonomy between 1950 and 1970, the period when it set out a radical new approach to classification and founded a tradition of mathematics in systematic biology. I argue that introducing mathematics in a comprehensive way also requires re-organizing the daily work of scientists in the field. Numerical taxonomists sought (...)
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  5.  38
    The Normative Structure of Mathematization in Systematic Biology.Beckett Sterner & Scott Lidgard - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 46 (1):44-54.
    We argue that the mathematization of science should be understood as a normative activity of advocating for a particular methodology with its own criteria for evaluating good research. As a case study, we examine the mathematization of taxonomic classification in systematic biology. We show how mathematization is a normative activity by contrasting its distinctive features in numerical taxonomy in the 1960s with an earlier reform advocated by Ernst Mayr starting in the 1940s. Both Mayr and the numerical taxonomists sought to (...)
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    Review of Sabina Leonelli’s Data-Centric Biology: A Philosophical Study. [REVIEW]Beckett Sterner - 2018 - Philosophy of Science 85 (3):540-550.
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    Moving Past the Systematics Wars.Beckett Sterner & Scott Lidgard - 2018 - Journal of the History of Biology 51 (1):31-67.
    It is time to escape the constraints of the Systematics Wars narrative and pursue new questions that are better positioned to establish the relevance of the field in this time period to broader issues in the history of biology and history of science. To date, the underlying assumptions of the Systematics Wars narrative have led historians to prioritize theory over practice and the conflicts of a few leading theorists over the less-polarized interactions of systematists at large. We show how shifting (...)
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    Taxonomy for Humans or Computers? Cognitive Pragmatics for Big Data.Beckett Sterner & Nico M. Franz - 2017 - Biological Theory 12 (2):99-111.
    Criticism of big data has focused on showing that more is not necessarily better, in the sense that data may lose their value when taken out of context and aggregated together. The next step is to incorporate an awareness of pitfalls for aggregation into the design of data infrastructure and institutions. A common strategy minimizes aggregation errors by increasing the precision of our conventions for identifying and classifying data. As a counterpoint, we argue that there are pragmatic trade-offs between precision (...)
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    Object Spaces: An Organizing Strategy for Biological Theorizing.Beckett Sterner - 2009 - Biological Theory 4 (3):280-286.
    A classic analytic approach to biological phenomena seeks to refine definitions until classes are sufficiently homogenous to support prediction and explanation, but this approach founders on cases where a single process produces objects with similar forms but heterogeneous behaviors. I introduce object spaces as a tool to tackle this challenging diversity of biological objects in terms of causal processes with well-defined formal properties. Object spaces have three primary components: (1) a combinatorial biological process such as protein synthesis that generates objects (...)
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    Agent-Based Computer Simulation and Ethics. [REVIEW]Beckett Sterner - 2012 - Metascience 21 (2):403-407.
    Agent-based computer simulation and ethics Content Type Journal Article Category Book Review Pages 1-5 DOI 10.1007/s11016-012-9660-7 Authors Beckett Sterner, Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, The University of Chicago, Social Sciences Building 205, 1126 E 59th St, Chicago, IL 60637, USA Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
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    The Practical Value of Biological Information for Research.Beckett Sterner - 2014 - Philosophy of Science 81 (2):175-194,.
    Many philosophers are skeptical about the scientific value of the concept of biological information. However, several have recently proposed a more positive view of ascribing information as an exercise in scientific modeling. I argue for an alternative role: guiding empirical data collection for the sake of theorizing about the evolution of semantics. I clarify and expand on Bergstrom and Rosvall’s suggestion of taking a “diagnostic” approach that defines biological information operationally as a procedure for collecting empirical cases. The more recent (...)
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