, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 38-47
Date: 13 Nov 2012

Selection, Drift, and Independent Contrasts: Defending the Methodological Foundations of the FIC

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Abstract

Felsenstein’s method of independent contrasts (FIC) is one of the most widely used approaches to the study of correlated evolution. However, it is also quite controversial: numerous researchers have called various aspects of the method into question. Among these objections, there is one that, for two reasons, stands out from the rest: first, it is rather philosophical in nature; and second, it has received very little attention in the literature thus far. This objection concerns Sober’s charge that the FIC is methodologically flawed due to its (seemingly) resting on the assumption that the traits it studies evolved by drift—and thus ruling out selective hypotheses from the start. In this article, I try to rebut this charge. To do this, I first consider a preliminary conceptual worry—the question of how it is even possible for two drift-driven traits to be evolutionarily correlated—and show that it can be answered by noting that the FIC can be seen as being concerned with the investigation of the modularity of the relevant traits. Given this, I then show that Sober’s methodological charge can at least be mitigated by noting that the assumptions behind the FIC do not in fact preclude it from investigating selective hypotheses. I end by pointing out that making this clearer is not just relevant for defending the cogency of the FIC, but also for developing a deeper understanding of correlated evolution in general.