•  457
    Model Organisms are Not (Theoretical) Models
    with Arnon Levy
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 66 (2): 327-348. 2015.
    Many biological investigations are organized around a small group of species, often referred to as ‘model organisms’, such as the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. The terms ‘model’ and ‘modelling’ also occur in biology in association with mathematical and mechanistic theorizing, as in the Lotka–Volterra model of predator-prey dynamics. What is the relation between theoretical models and model organisms? Are these models in the same sense? We offer an account on which the two practices are show…Read more
  •  66
    Convergence as Evidence
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (4): 763-786. 2013.
    The comparative method grants epistemic access to the biological past. Comparing lineages provides empirical traction on both hypotheses about particular lineages and models of trait evolution. Understanding this evidential role is important. Although philosophers have recently turned their attention to relations of descent, little work exists exploring the status of evidence from convergences. I argue that, where they exist, convergences play a central role in the confirmation of adaptive hypot…Read more
  •  62
    Can we be realists about a general category but pluralists about concepts relating to that category? I argue that paleobiological methods of delineating species are not affected by differing species concepts, and that this underwrites an argument that species concept pluralists should be species category realists. First, the criteria by which paleobiologists delineate species are ‘indifferent’ to the species category. That is, their method for identifying species applies equally to any species c…Read more
  •  60
  •  58
    Geologists, Paleontologists and other historical scientists are frequently concerned with narrative explanations targeting single cases. I show that two distinct explanatory strategies are employed in narratives, simple and complex. A simple narrative has minimal causal detail and is embedded in a regularity, whereas a complex narrative is more detailed and not embedded. The distinction is illustrated through two case studies: the ‘snowball earth’ explanation of Neoproterozoic glaciation and rec…Read more
  •  52
    George McGhee’s book “Convergent Evolution: limited forms most beautiful” provides an extensive survey of biological convergence. This paper has two main aims. First, it examines the theoretical claims McGhee makes about convergent evolution—specifically criticizing his use of a total morphospace to understand contingency and his assumption that functional constraints are non-contingent. Second, it sketches a group of important conceptual challenges facing researchers interested in convergence.
  •  47
    Hot-Blooded Gluttons: Dependency, Coherence, and Method in the Historical Sciences
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (4): 929-952. 2017.
    Our epistemic access to the past is infamously patchy: historical information degrades and disappears and bygone eras are often beyond the reach of repeatable experiments. However, historical scientists have been remarkably successful at uncovering and explaining the past. I argue that part of this success is explained by the exploitation of dependencies between historical events, entities, and processes. For instance, if sauropod dinosaurs were hot blooded, they must have been gluttons; the hig…Read more
  •  45
    Musical pluralism and the science of music
    European Journal for Philosophy of Science 6 (1): 9-30. 2016.
    The scientific investigation of music requires contributions from a diverse array of disciplines. Given the diverse methodologies, interests and research targets of the disciplines involved, we argue that there is a plurality of legitimate research questions about music, necessitating a focus on integration. In light of this we recommend a pluralistic conception of music—that there is no unitary definition divorced from some discipline, research question or context. This has important implicatio…Read more
  •  45
    Angela Potochnik’s Idealization and the Aims of Science defends an ambitious and systematic account of scientific knowledge: ultimately science pursues human understanding rather than truth. Potochnik argues that idealization is rampant and unchecked in science. Further, given that idealizations involve departures from truth, this suggests science is not primarily about truth. I explore the relationship between truths about causal patterns and scientific understanding in light of this, and sugge…Read more
  •  45
    Ethnographic analogy, the comparative method, and archaeological special pleading
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 55 84-94. 2016.
    Ethnographic analogy, the use of comparative data from anthropology to inform reconstructions of past human societies, has a troubled history. Archaeologists often express concern about, or outright reject, the practice—and sometimes do so in problematically general terms. This is odd, as the use of comparative data in archaeology is the same pattern of reasoning as the ‘comparative method’ in biology, which is a well-developed and robust set of inferences which play a central role in discoverin…Read more
  •  43
    Frameworks for Historians & Philosophers
    Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 9 1-34. 2018.
    The past can be a stubborn subject: it is complex, heterogeneous and opaque. To understand it, one must decide which aspects of the past to emphasise and which to minimise. Enter frameworks. Frameworks foreground certain aspects of the historical record while backgrounding others. As such, they are both necessary for, and conducive to, good history as well as good philosophy. We examine the role of frameworks in the history and philosophy of science and argue that they are necessary for both for…Read more
  •  43
    Caricatures, Myths, and White Lies
    Metaphilosophy 46 (3): 414-435. 2015.
    Pedagogical situations require white lies: in teaching philosophy we make decisions about what to omit, what to emphasise, and what to distort. This article considers when it is permissible to distort the historical record, arguing for a tempered respect for the historical facts. It focuses on the rationalist/empiricist distinction, which still frames most undergraduate early modern courses despite failing to capture the intellectual history of that period. It draws an analogy with Michael Strev…Read more
  •  41
    Historical scientists frequently face incomplete data, and lack direct experimental access to their targets. This has led some philosophers and scientists to be pessimistic about the epistemic potential of the historical sciences. And yet, historical science often produces plausible, sophisticated hypotheses. I explain this capacity to generate knowledge in the face of apparent evidential scarcity by examining recent work on Thylacoleo carnifex, the ‘marsupial lion’. Here, we see two important m…Read more
  •  37
    Paleobiology and philosophy
    Biology and Philosophy 34 (2): 31. 2019.
    I offer four ways of distinguishing paleobiology from neontology, and from this develop a sketch of the philosophy of paleobiology. I then situate and describe the papers in the special issue Paleobiology and Philosophy, and reflect on the value and prospects of paleontology-focused philosophy.
  •  35
    I develop an account of homology and homoplasy drawing on their use in biological inference and explanation. Biologists call on homology and homoplasy to infer character states, support adaptationist explanations, identify evolutionary novelties and hypothesize phylogenetic relationships. In these contexts, the concepts must be understood phylogenetically and kept separate: as they play divergent roles, overlap between the two ought to be avoided. I use these considerations to criticize an other…Read more
  •  35
    Mass extinctions as major transitions
    Biology and Philosophy 34 (2): 29. 2019.
    Both paleobiology and investigations of ‘major evolutionary transitions’ are intimately concerned with the macroevolutionary shape of life. It is surprising, then, how little studies of major transitions are informed by paleontological perspectives and. I argue that this disconnect is partially justified because paleobiological investigation is typically ‘phenomena-led’, while investigations of major transitions are ‘theory-led’. The distinction turns on evidential relevance: in the former case,…Read more
  •  35
    Signals: Evolution, Learning, and Information
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (1). 2012.
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Volume 90, Issue 1, Page 204, March 2012
  •  32
    Why Experiments Matter
    with Arnon Levy
    Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (9-10): 1-25. 2018.
    Traditionally, experimentation is considered a privileged means of confirmation. However, how experiments are a better confirmatory source than other strategies is unclear, and recent discussions have identified experiments with various modeling strategies on the one hand, and with ‘natural’ experiments on the other hand. We argue that experiments aiming to test theories are best understood as controlled investigations of specimens. ‘Control’ involves repeated, fine-grained causal manipulation o…Read more
  •  31
    Simplicity, one-shot hypotheses and paleobiological explanation
    History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 41 (1): 10. 2019.
    Paleobiologists often provide simple narratives to explain complex, contingent episodes. These narratives are sometimes ‘one-shot hypotheses’ which are treated as being mutually exclusive with other possible explanations of the target episode, and are thus extended to accommodate as much about the episode as possible. I argue that a provisional preference for such hypotheses provides two kinds of productive scaffolding. First, they generate ‘hypothetical difference-makers’: one-shot hypotheses h…Read more
  •  31
    Method Pluralism, Method Mismatch, & Method Bias
    with Shahar Avin
    Philosophers' Imprint 19. 2019.
    Pluralism about scientific method is more-or-less accepted, but the consequences have yet to be drawn out. Scientists adopt different methods in response to different epistemic situations: depending on the system they are interested in, the resources at their disposal, and so forth. If it is right that different methods are appropriate in different situations, then mismatches between methods and situations are possible. This is most likely to occur due to method bias: when we prefer a particular…Read more
  •  28
    In defence of story-telling
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 62 14-21. 2017.
    We argue that narratives are central to the success of historical reconstruction. Narrative explanation involves tracing causal trajectories across time. The construction of narrative, then, often involves postulating relatively speculative causal connections between comparatively well-established events. But speculation is not always idle or harmful: it also aids in overcoming local underdetermination by forming scaffolds from which new evidence becomes relevant. Moreover, as our understanding …Read more
  •  28
    David Sepkoski and Michael Ruse’s edited collection The Peolobiological Revolution covers the changes in paleontological science in the last half-century. The collection should be of interest to philosophers of science (particularly those interested in non-reductive unity) as well as historians. I give an overview of the content and major themes of the volume and draw some lessons for the philosophy of science along the way. In particular, I argue that the history of paleontology demands a new a…Read more
  •  27
    Gouldian arguments and the sources of contingency
    Biology and Philosophy 32 (2): 243-261. 2017.
    ‘Gouldian arguments’ appeal to the contingency of a scientific domain to establish that domain’s autonomy from some body of theory. For instance, pointing to evolutionary contingency, Stephen Jay Gould suggested that natural selection alone is insufficient to explain life on the macroevolutionary scale. In analysing contingency, philosophers have provided source-independent accounts, understanding how events and processes structure history without attending to the nature of those events and proc…Read more
  •  25
    Newton on Islandworld: Ontic-Driven Explanations of Scientific Method
    Perspectives on Science 26 (1): 119-156. 2018.
    As philosophers, we are often in the business of explaining scientific method. That is, we ask why such-and-such investigation was carried out as it was, what worked and what didn't, and why. Here, we introduce a framework for understanding "ontic-driven" responses to these kinds of questions. Explanations of method are ontic-driven when they appeal to properties of the systems under investigation. We shall use our framework to develop a fruitful and plausible hypothesis: that several methodolog…Read more
  •  24
    The argument from surprise
    Canadian Journal of Philosophy 48 (5): 639-661. 2018.
    I develop an account of productive surprise as an epistemic virtue of scientific investigations which does not turn on psychology alone. On my account, a scientific investigation is potentially productively surprising when results can conflict with epistemic expectations, those expectations pertain to a wide set of subjects. I argue that there are two sources of such surprise in science. One source, often identified with experiments, involves bringing our theoretical ideas in contact with new em…Read more
  •  22
    In Denis Walsh’s Organisms, Agency, and Evolution, he argues that new developments in the science of biology motivate a radical change to our metaphysical picture of life: what he calls ‘Situated Darwinism’. The central claim is that we should take the biological world to be at base about organisms, and organisms in a fundamentally teleological sense. We critically examine Walsh’s arguments and suggest further developments.
  •  20
    Bottled Understanding: The Role of Lab Work in Ecology
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. forthcoming.
    It is often thought that the vindication of experimental work lies in its capacity to be revelatory of natural systems. I challenge this idea by examining laboratory experiments in ecology. A central task of community ecology involves combining mathematical models and observational data to identify trophic interactions in natural systems. But many ecologists are also lab scientists: constructing microcosm or ‘bottle’ experiments, physically realizing the idealized circumstances described in math…Read more
  •  20
    From Models-as-Fictions to Models-as-Tools
    Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 4. 2017.
    Many accounts of scientific modeling conceive of models as fictions: scientists interact with models in ways analogous to various aesthetic objects. Fictionalists follow most other accounts of modeling by taking them to be revelatory of the actual world in virtue of bearing some resemblance relation to a target system. While such fictionalist accounts capture crucial aspects of modelling practice, they are ill-suited to some design and engineering contexts. Here, models sometimes serve to underw…Read more