Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 1-23

First online:

Genetic Variance–covariance Matrices: A Critique of the Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics Research Program

  • Massimo PigliucciAffiliated withDepartments of Ecology & Evolution and of Philosophy, SUNY-Stony Brook Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This paper outlines a critique of the use of the genetic variance–covariance matrix (G), one of the central concepts in the modern study of natural selection and evolution. Specifically, I argue that for both conceptual and empirical reasons, studies of G cannot be used to elucidate so-called constraints on natural selection, nor can they be employed to detect or to measure past selection in natural populations – contrary to what assumed by most practicing biologists. I suggest that the search for a general solution to the difficult problem of identifying causal structures given observed correlation’s has led evolutionary quantitative geneticists to substitute statistical modeling for the more difficult, but much more valuable, job of teasing apart the many possible causes underlying the action of natural selection. Hence, the entire evolutionary quantitative genetics research program may be in need of a fundamental reconsideration of its goals and how they correspond to the array of mathematical and experimental techniques normally employed by its practitioners.


Evolutionary theory Genetic covariances Heritability Pattern vs. process Quantitative genetics