•  12
    Conceptual Roles of Evolvability across Evolutionary Biology: Between Diversity and Unification
    In Thomas Hansen, David Houle, Mihaela Pavličev & Christophe Pélabon (eds.), Evolvability, Mit Press. forthcoming.
    A number of biologists and philosophers have noted the diversity of interpretations of evolvability in contemporary evolutionary research. Different clusters of research defined by co-citation patterns or shared methodological orientation sometimes concentrate on distinct conceptions of evolvability. We examine five different activities where the notion of evolvability plays conceptual roles in evolutionary biological investigation: setting a research agenda, characterization, explanation, predi…Read more
  •  7
    Evolvability as a Disposition: Philosophical Distinctions, Scientific Implications
    In Thomas Hansen, David Houle, Mihaela Pavličev & Christophe Pélabon (eds.), Evolvability, Mit Press. forthcoming.
    A disposition or dispositional property is a capacity, ability, or potential to display or exhibit some outcome. Evolvability refers to a disposition to evolve. This chapter discusses why the dispositional nature of evolvability matters—why philosophical distinctions about dispositions can have scientific implications. To that end, we build a conceptual toolkit with vocabulary from prior philosophical analyses using a different disposition: protein foldability. We then apply this toolkit to addr…Read more
  •  7
    The living fossil concept: reply to Turner
    with Scott Lidgard
    Biology and Philosophy 36 (2): 1-16. 2021.
    Despite the iconic roles of coelacanths, cycads, tadpole shrimps, and tuataras as taxa that demonstrate a pattern of morphological stability over geological time, their status as living fossils is contested. We responded to these controversies with a recommendation to rethink the function of the living fossil concept. Concepts in science do useful work beyond categorizing particular items and we argued that the diverse and sometimes conflicting criteria associated with categorizing items as livi…Read more
  •  2
    The questions raised for the study of marine invertebrate larvae have implications for the evolution of development, the life histories of animals, and life in the sea more generally. These questions began to coalesce in the 19th century around two main factors. The first was the discovery of marine larvae. Through careful observation, investigators detected and confirmed that the development of animals exhibited stages surprisingly different from the previously known adults and adult-like juven…Read more
  •  7
    Reductionism in biology
    Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy. 2018.
    Reductionism concerns a set of ontological and epistemological claims, and methodological strictures based on them, about the relationship between two different scientific domains. The critical assumption is that one of these domains is privileged over the other in the sense that the concepts, rules, laws, and other elements of the privileged domain can be used to specify, constitute, or account for those of the other “reduced” domain. This specification often consists of explanation, such that …Read more
  •  3
    Positional Information and the Measurement of Specificity
    Philosophy of Science 87 (5): 1061-1072. 2020.
    Philosophical discussions of information and specificity in biology are now commonplace, but no consensus exists about whether the privileging of genetic causation in investigation and explanation...
  •  9
    Character identity mechanisms: a conceptual model for comparative-mechanistic biology
    with James DiFrisco and Günter P. Wagner
    Biology and Philosophy 35 (4): 1-32. 2020.
    There have been repeated attempts in the history of comparative biology to provide a mechanistic account of morphological homology. However, it is well-established that homologues can develop from diverse sets of developmental causes, appearing not to share any core causal architecture that underwrites character identity. We address this challenge with a new conceptual model of Character Identity Mechanisms. ChIMs are cohesive mechanisms with a recognizable causal profile that allows them to be …Read more
  •  9
    Erratum to Using the context of controversies surrounding evolutionary developmental biology (EvoDevo) and the possibility of an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, I provide an account of theory structure as idealized theory presentations that are always incomplete (partial) and shaped by their conceptual content (material rather than formal organization). These two characteristics are salient because the goals that organize and regulate scientific practice, including the activity of using a the…Read more
  •  114
    In Paul Humphreys (ed.), The Oxford Handbook in Philosophy of Science, Oxford University Press. pp. 460-484. 2016.
    Reduction and reductionism have been central philosophical topics in analytic philosophy of science for more than six decades. Together they encompass a diversity of issues from metaphysics and epistemology. This article provides an introduction to the topic that illuminates how contemporary epistemological discussions took their shape historically and limns the contours of concrete cases of reduction in specific natural sciences. The unity of science and the impulse to accomplish compositional …Read more
  •  31
    Stress‐Induced Evolutionary Innovation: A Mechanism for the Origin of Cell Types
    with Günter P. Wagner and Eric M. Erkenbrack
    Bioessays 41 (4): 1800188. 2019.
    Understanding the evolutionary role of environmentally induced phenotypic variation (i.e., plasticity) is an important issue in developmental evolution. A major physiological response to environmental change is cellular stress, which is counteracted by generic stress reactions detoxifying the cell. A model, stress‐induced evolutionary innovation (SIEI), whereby ancestral stress reactions and their corresponding pathways can be transformed into novel structural components of body plans, such as n…Read more
  •  135
    Philosophy in the Trenches: Reflections on The Eugenic Mind Project
    Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 10. 2018.
    Robert Wilson’s The Eugenic Mind Project is a major achievement of engaged scholarship and socially relevant philosophy and history of science. It exemplifies the virtues of interdisciplinarity. As principal investigator of the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada project, while employed in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Alberta, Wilson encountered a proverbial big ball of mud with questions and issues that involved local individuals living through a painful set of me…Read more
  •  44
    New Perspectives on Reductionism in Biology
    Philosophy of Science 85 (3): 523-529. 2018.
    Reductive explanations are psychologically seductive; when given two explanations, people prefer the one that refers to lower-level components or processes to account for the phenomena under consideration even when information about these lower levels is irrelevant. Maybe individuals assume that a reductive explanation is what a scientific explanation should look like (e.g., neuroscience should explain psychology) or presume that information about lower-level components or processes is more expl…Read more
  •  27
    Darwin and Cirripedia Prior to 1846: Exploring the Origins of the Barnacle Research (review)
    Journal of the History of Biology 35 (2): 251-289. 2002.
    Phillip Sloan has thoroughly documented the importance of Darwin's general invertebrate research program in the period from 1826 to 1836 and demonstrated how it had an impact on his conversion to transformism. Although Darwin later spent eight years of his life investigating barnacles, this period has received less treatment in studies of Darwin and the development of his thought. The most prominent question for the barnacle period that has been attended to is why Darwin "delayed" in publishing …Read more
  •  27
    Opinion: Reproducibility failures are essential to scientific inquiry
    with A. David Redish, Erich Kummerfeld, and Rebecca Morris
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115 (20): 5042-5046. 2018.
    Current fears of a “reproducibility crisis” have led researchers, sources of scientific funding, and the public to question both the efficacy and trustworthiness of science. Suggested policy changes have been focused on statistical problems, such as p-hacking, and issues of experimental design and execution. However, “reproducibility” is a broad concept that includes a number of issues. Furthermore, reproducibility failures occur even in fields such as mathematics or computer science that do not…Read more
  •  20
    Evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-devo) is a vibrant area of contemporary life science that should be (and is) increasingly incorporated into teaching curricula. Although the inclusion of this content is important for biological pedagogy at multiple levels of instruction, there are also philosophical lessons that can be drawn from the scientific practices found in Evo-devo. One feature of particular significance is the interdisciplinary nature of Evo-devo investigations and their resulting…Read more
  •  53
    If we set aside personal edification, what reasons remain for a philosopher of science to study the intellectual biography of a famous (or infamous) scientist? This question raises familiar and perhaps tired arguments about the relationship between history of science and philosophy of science, but it is also practical: why take the time to digest almost 600 pages devoted to the controversial German zoologist Ernst Haeckel? A preliminary answer is the author. The historical investigations of Robe…Read more
  •  44
    Review of Marie Kaiser's Reductive Explanation in the Biological Sciences (review)
    Philosophy of Science 85 (3): 523-529. 2018.
    Reductive explanations are psychologically seductive; when given two explanations, people prefer the one that refers to lower-level components or processes to account for the phenomena under consideration even when information about these lower levels is irrelevant (Hopkins, Weisberg, and Taylor 2016). Maybe individuals assume that a reductive explanation is what a scientific explanation should look like (e.g., neuroscience should explain psychology) or presume that information about lower-level…Read more
  •  8
    Book review of Lenny Moss, What Genes Can’t Do. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press , 256 pp. Many philosophers of science will have encountered the core distinction between two different gene concepts found in What Genes Can’t Do. Moss argues that contemporary uses of the term ‘gene’ that denote an information bearing entity result from the conflation of two concepts (‘Gene-P’ and ‘Gene-D’).
  •  23
    Evolutionary novelty and the Evo-devo synthesis: field notes
    with I. Brigandt
    Evolutionary Biology 37. 2010.
    Accounting for the evolutionary origins of morphological novelty is one of the core challenges of contemporary evolutionary biology. A successful explanatory framework requires the integration of different biological disciplines, but the relationships between developmental biology and standard evolutionary biology remain contested. There is also disagreement about how to define the concept of evolutionary novelty. These issues were the subjects of a workshop held in November 2009 at the Universi…Read more
  •  79
    Evolvability, dispositions, and intrinsicality
    Philosophy of Science 70 (5): 1015-1027. 2003.
    In this paper I examine a dispositional property that has been receiving increased attention in biology, evolvability. First, I identify three compatible but distinct investigative approaches, distinguish two interpretations of evolvability, and treat the difference between dispositions of individuals versus populations. Second, I explore the relevance of philosophical distinctions about dispositions for evolvability, isolating the assumption that dispositions are intrinsically located. I conclu…Read more
  •  1
    Philosophy of Molecular Medicine: Foundational Issues in Theory and Practice aims at a systematic investigation of a number of foundational issues in the field of molecular medicine. The volume is organized around four broad modules focusing, respectively, on the following key aspects: What are the nature, scope, and limits of molecular medicine? How does it provide explanations? How does it represent and model phenomena of interest? How does it infer new knowledge from data and experiments? The…Read more
  •  2
    This edited collection showcases some of the best recent research in the philosophy of science. It comprises of thematically arranged papers presented at the 5th conference of the European Philosophy of Science Association (EPSA15), covering a broad variety of topics within general philosophy of science, and philosophical issues pertaining to specific sciences. The collection will appeal to researchers with an interest in the philosophical underpinnings of their own discipline, and to philosophe…Read more
  •  8
    Evo-devo and the structure(s) of evolutionary theory: a different kind of challenge
    In Philippe Huneman & Denis M. Walsh (eds.), Challenging the Modern Synthesis, Oxford University Press. pp. 159-187. 2017.
    Represents the most comprehensive and current survey of the various challenges to the Modern Synthesis theory of evolution. Incorporates a variety of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives, from evolutionary biologists, historians and philosophers of science. These essays constitute the state of the art in the current debate on the status of the Modern Synthesis.
  •  10
    Developmental mechanisms
    In S. Glennan & P. Illari (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Mechanisms, Routledge. 2018.
    The Routledge Handbook of Mechanisms and Mechanical Philosophy is an outstanding reference source to the key topics, problems, and debates in this exciting subject and is the first collection of its kind. Comprising over thirty chapters by a team of international contributors, the Handbook is divided into four Parts: Historical perspectives on mechanisms The nature of mechanisms Mechanisms and the philosophy of science Disciplinary perspectives on mechanisms. Within these Pa…Read more
  •  28
    Perspectives on integrating genetic and physical explanations of evolution and development
    with Thomas Stewart, Gunter Wagner, and Stuart Newman
    Integrative and Comparative Biology. 2017.
    In the 20th century, genetic explanatory approaches became dominant in both developmental and evolutionary biological research. By contrast, physical approaches, which appeal to properties such as mechanical forces, were largely relegated to the margins, despite important advances in modeling. Recently, there have been renewed attempts to find balanced viewpoints that integrate both biological physics and molecular genetics into explanations of developmental and evolutionary phenomena. Here we i…Read more
  •  8
    This paper focuses on abstraction as a mode of reasoning that facilitates a productive relationship between philosophy and science. Using examples from evolutionary developmental biology, I argue that there are two areas where abstraction can be relevant to science: reasoning explication and problem clarification. The value of abstraction is characterized in terms of methodology (modeling or data gathering) and epistemology (explanatory evaluation or data interpretation).
  •  75
    It is a common complaint that antireductionist arguments are primarily negative. Here I describe an alternative nonreductionist epistemology based on considerations taken from multidisciplinary research in biology. The core of this framework consists in seeing investigation as coordinated around sets of problems (problem agendas) that have associated criteria of explanatory adequacy. These ideas are developed in a case study, the explanation of evolutionary innovations and novelties, which demon…Read more
  •  2
    The origination of novel structures has long been an intriguing topic for biologists. Over the past few decades it has served as a central theme in evolutionary developmental biology. Yet, definitions of evolutionary innovation and novelty are frequently debated and there remains disagreement about what kinds of causal factors best explain the origin of qualitatively new variation in the history of life. Here we examine aspects of these debates, survey three empirical case studies, and reflect o…Read more