This post bounces off a current in philosophy of biology that wants to make claims about specific causal contributions of different factors, especially with respect to genes and heritability.
Abstract of a manuscript (updated 3 Dec 18). Comments welcome—email me for the full draft.
Participants in debates about developments in science and technology point to issues overlooked or downplayed by scientists—or, if the debate is among scientists themselves, by other scientists. Sometimes included among participants in debates are interpreters of science—sociologists, historians, philosophers, and scholars from other fields of Science and Technology Studies. Taking these scholars as the audience, this article asks what should we do if we identify a significant issue not yet subject to debate?
Levins’ career was a series of explorations of complexity in many and diverse settings. One aspect of complexity, heterogeneity, is explored through two vignettes (about heritability and differences among means), a taxonomy of eleven kinds of heterogeneity, and a contention connecting heterogeneity, control of populations, and possibilities for participation.
“Changing Science in Heterogeneous Environments,” pp. 87-101 in T. Awerbuch, M. Clark, P. Taylor (eds.), The Truth is the Whole: Essays in Honor of Richard Levins, Arlington MA: The Pumping Station, 2018.
This podcast examines several kinds of conceptual problems that have not been addressed by scientists and other commentators who claim, as happens every few years, that science now shows race has a biological basis (mp3 22 mins)
Practice run of a talk to philosophers of biology & biologists, March 2016 Continue reading
PKU (Phenylketonuria) is a condition that is often invoked to demonstrate that genetic does not mean unchangeable. It is also often cited as a trait with 100% heritability in normal environments that can, nevertheless, be changed and in the right environment have zero heritability. This post explains why these two sentences are not synonymous and how the second is flawed and reinforces an incorrect idea of heritability. I also examine PKU in terms of measured genetic and environmental factors, arriving at the counter-intuitive idea that no gene x environment interaction is involved. Continue reading
The first installment ended on the following note: Suppose you have many sets of same-sex non-identical twins raised together and many sets of same-sex identical twins raised together and find that the identical twins are on average more similar. It seems reasonable to conclude that is because they share all their genes whereas the non-identical twins share fewer of their genes. Reasonable, but not certain, at least not certain that it is only about genes. After all, the treatment of identical twins could be more similar than the treatment of non-identical twins, even same-sex non-identical twins. In any case, that conclusion doesn’t say that it’s the same nature—the same genes—or the same nurture that brings about the resemblance from one pair of twins to the next. Given this possibility of underlying heterogeneity where are you? What can you do? Continue reading
The different ways that researchers and others invoke hereditary versus environmental influences are often subsumed under the label nature versus nurture. Let me, in contrast, distinguish several disjunct areas of nature-nurture science:
A previous post considered the connection between two different Nature-Nurture issues: the matter of fixity versus flexibility in the development of traits in individuals over their life course and the relative degrees of hereditary versus environmental influences on the variation of the trait between versus within groups? (“Groups” here refers to males or females, but the question might be extended to socially defined racial or socio-economic groups.) Continue reading
The previous post asked about the connection between two different Nature-Nurture issues: the matter of fixity versus flexibility in the development of traits in individuals over their life course and the relative degrees of hereditary versus environmental influences on the variation of the trait between versus within groups? (“Groups” here refers to males or females, but the question might be extended to socially defined racial or socio-economic groups.) Continue reading