Biologists rely heavily on the language of information, coding, and transmission that is commonplace in the field of information theory developed by Claude Shannon, but there is open debate about whether such language is anything more than facile metaphor. Philosophers of biology have argued that when biologists talk about information in genes and in evolution, they are not talking about the sort of information that Shannon’s theory addresses. First, philosophers have suggested that Shannon’s theory is only useful for developing a (...) shallow notion of correlation, the so-called causal sense of information. Second, they typically argue that in genetics and evolutionary biology, information language is used in a semantic sense, whereas semantics are deliberately omitted from Shannon’s theory. Neither critique is well-founded. Here we propose an alternative to the causal and semantic senses of information: a transmission sense of information, in which an object X conveys information if the function of X is to reduce, by virtue of its sequence properties, uncertainty on the part of an agent who observes X. The transmission sense not only captures much of what biologists intend when they talk about information in genes, but also brings Shannon’s theory back to the fore. By taking the viewpoint of a communications engineer and focusing on the decision problem of how information is to be packaged for transport, this approach resolves several problems that have plagued the information concept in biology, and highlights a number of important features of the way that information is encoded, stored, and transmitted as genetic sequence. (shrink)
Costly signalling theory has become a common explanation for honest communication when interests conflict. In this paper, we provide an alternative explanation for partially honest communication that does not require significant signal costs. We show that this alternative is at least as plausible as traditional costly signalling, and we suggest a number of experiments that might be used to distinguish the two theories.
Using the corpus of JSTOR articles, we investigate the role of gender in collaboration patterns across the scholarly landscape by analyzing gender-based homophily--the tendency for researchers to co-author with individuals of the same gender. For a nuanced analysis of gender homophily, we develop methodology necessitated by the fact that the data comprises heterogeneous sub-disciplines and that not all authorships are exchangeable. In particular, we distinguish three components of gender homophily in collaborations: a structural component that is due to demographics and (...) non-gendered authorship norms of a scholarly community, a compositional component which is driven by varying gender representation across sub-disciplines, and a behavioral component which we define as the remainder of observed homophily after its structural and compositional components have been taken into account. Using minimal modeling assumptions, we measure and test for behavioral homophily. We find that significant behavioral homophily can be detected across the JSTOR corpus and show that this finding is robust to missing gender indicators in our data. In a secondary analysis, we show that the proportion of female representation in a field is positively associated with significant behavioral homophily. (shrink)
A wide range of ecological and evolutionary models predict variety in phenotype or behavior when a population is at equilibrium. This heterogeneity can be realized in different ways. For example, it can be realized through a complex population of individuals exhibiting different simple behaviors, or through a simple population of individuals exhibiting complex, varying behaviors. In some theoretical frameworks these different realizations are treated as equivalent, but natural selection distinguishes between these two alternatives in subtle ways. By investigating an increasingly (...) complex series of models, from a simple fluctuating selection model up to a finite population hawk/dove game, we explore the selective pressures which discriminate between pure strategists, mixed at the population level, and individual mixed strategists. Our analysis reveals some important limitations to the ESS framework often employed to investigate the evolution of complex behavior. (shrink)
Response to commentaries on “The Transmission Sense of Information” Content Type Journal Article Pages 195-200 DOI 10.1007/s10539-011-9257-3 Authors Carl T. Bergstrom, Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-1800, USA Martin Rosvall, Integrated Science Lab, Department of Physics, Umeå University, 901 87 Umeå, Sweden Journal Biology and Philosophy Online ISSN 1572-8404 Print ISSN 0169-3867 Journal Volume Volume 26 Journal Issue Volume 26, Number 2.
The world is awash in bullshit, and we're drowning in it. Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. These days, calling bullshit is a noble act. Based on Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West's popular course at the University of Washington, Calling Bullshit is a modern handbook to the art of skepticism. Bergstrom, a computational biologist, and West, an information scientist, catalogue bullshit in its many forms, explaining and offering readers (...) the tools to see through the obfuscations, deliberate and careless, that dominate every realm of our lives. They instruct readers to ask: Who is saying it? How do they know? What do they have to gain by persuading me? Are the numbers or results too good or too dramatic to be true? Is the claim comparing like with like or apples and oranges? Is it confirming your personal bias? In this lively guide to everything from misleading statistics to "fake news," Bergstrom and West help you recognize bullshit whenever and wherever you encounter it--in data, in conversation, even within yourself--and explain it to your crystal-loving aunt or casually racist uncle. Now more than ever, calling bullshit is crucial to a properly functioning community, whether it be a circle of friends, a network of academics, or the citizenry of a nation. (shrink)