Difficulties identifying causally relevant genetic variants underlying patterns of human variation have been given competing interpretations. The debate is illuminated in this article by drawing attention to the issue of underlying heterogeneity—the possibility that genetic and environmental factors or entities underlying a trait are heterogeneous—as well as four other fundamental gaps in the methods and interpretation of classical quantitative genetics:
Social epidemiologist Davey Smith (2011) argues that epidemiologists should accept a gloomy prospect: considerable randomness at the individual level means that they should keep their focus on modifiable causes of disease at the population level. The difficulty epidemiology has had in moving from significant population-level risk factors to improved prediction of cases at an individual level is analogous to the lack of success in the search for systematic aspects of the non-shared environmental influences that human quantitative genetics claims overshadow common environmental influences (e.g., the family’s socioeconomic status which siblings have in common). This article responds to the argument and analogy, aiming to draw three audiences—social epidemiologists, human quantitative geneticists, and philosophers of science—into a shared discussion that centers not on randomness, but on heterogeneity in various forms.
Although stable systems may be extremely rare as a fraction of the complex ecological systems being sampled (as shown in the 1970s theoretical work of Robert May), they can be readily constructed over time by the addition of populations from a pool of populations or by elimination of populations from systems not at a steady state. The implications of such a constructionist perspective could challenge not only ecologists, but also theorists in all fields that make use of models without a process of construction over time of the complexity of the situation studied.
A paper to appear in the journal Ecological Complexity centers not so much on advancing this perspective, but on two consequent puzzles:
A revised entry on the genotype-phenotype distinction has been published by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. A major difficulty we had preparing this revision followed once it was noted that philosophers write on the genotype-phenotype relationship, not on the genotype-phenotype distinction. Continue reading
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
7pm “Genomic citizens and misfits in a digital age”
(Discuss the promises, fears, and claims being made about genetics in this evolving digital era. What and who is to believed?)
8pm “Science and literature exploring life on the near-future earth”
I’ve been thinking about how the anti-science label tends to get assigned to anyone who tries to move the GMO debate to the level of political economy. (That is, away from whether GMO food is safe and towards who controls production and prices.) Continue reading
I have drafted a quick activity to get input that extends this multi-party conversation from 2000 about “How do we know there is a population-environment problem?” to bring in the following additional 3 discussants:
Novelo–Novelist concerned that climate change has been omitted from most literature
Futuro–Sci Fi writer concerned with gender and race as well as the usual fantasizing about scientific and technological developments
Litero–Interpreter of literature who is prepared to branch out from fictional literature to all discourses about knowledge.
I welcome comments on this blog post so as to a) glean ideas to weave into a Part 2 of this multi-party exchange and b) begin to address the issue Activo points to at the end: what are the “conditions make interactions among people from different fields as open as our were today”? (This activity relates to Project 2 in a course on gender, race, science, and literature.) Continue reading