Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 697–713

Parsimony and the Fisher–Wright debate

Article

Abstract

In the past five years, there have been a series of papers in the journal Evolution debating the relative significance of two theories of evolution, a neo-Fisherian and a neo-Wrightian theory, where the neo-Fisherians make explicit appeal to parsimony. My aim in this paper is to determine how we can make sense of such an appeal. One interpretation of parsimony takes it that a theory that contains fewer entities or processes, (however we demarcate these) is more parsimonious. On the account that I defend here, parsimony is a ‘local’ virtue. Scientists’ appeals to parsimony are not necessarily an appeal to a theory’s simplicity in the sense of it’s positing fewer mechanisms. Rather, parsimony may be proxy for greater probability or likelihood. I argue that the neo-Fisherians appeal is best understood on this interpretation. And indeed, if we interpret parsimony as either prior probability or likelihood, then we can make better sense of Coyne et al. argument that Wright’s three phase process operates relatively infrequently.

Keywords

Bayes’ theorem Density dependence Epistasis Genetic drift Likelihood Parsimony Probability Ronald Fisher Shifting balance Sewall Wright 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Carlson E. 1966. The Gene: A Critical History.Google Scholar
  2. Coyne , J., Barton, N., Turelli, M. 1997Perspective: a critique of Wright’s shifting balance theory of evolutionEvolution51643671Google Scholar
  3. Dobzhansky, T. 1951Genetics and the Origin of Species3Columbia University PressNew Yorkof Dobzharsky, 1937Google Scholar
  4. Gavrilets, S. 1996On phase three of the shifting balance theoryEvolution5010341041Google Scholar
  5. Gavrilets, S. 1997Evolution and speciation on holey adaptive landscapesTrend. Ecol. Evol.12307312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gould, S.J., Lewontin, R.C. 1979The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist ProgrammeProc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B Biol. Sci. Evol. Adapt. Nat. Sel.205581598Google Scholar
  7. Jacob, F. 1977Evolution and tinkeringScience19611611166Google Scholar
  8. Kellogg, V.L. 1903Darwinism To-day: a Discussion of Present-Day Scientific selection TheoriesBellLondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Lewontin, R.C. 1999

    What do population geneticists know and how do they know it?

    Creath, Maienschein,  eds. Biology and EpistemologyCambridge University PressCambridge
    Google Scholar
  10. Ockham, W. 1957Philosophical Writings; A SelectionNelsonEdinburgh New Yorkedited and translated by Philotheus Boehner.Google Scholar
  11. Newton I. 1729. The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. trans. Andrew Mottevol. 2 (London: Printed for B. Motte), pp.202–205.Google Scholar
  12. Ruse M. 1993. Are Pictures Really Necessary? The Case of Sewell Wright’s ‘Adaptive Landscapes’ (in Biology: The Non-Propositional Side). PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association. 1990, Volume Two: Symposia and Invited Papers. 1990: 63–77.Google Scholar
  13. Sober E. 1990. Let’s Razor Ockham’s Razor. Philosophy: J. Roy. Inst. Phil. 1990(Supp): 73–93.Google Scholar
  14. Sober, E. 1988Reconstructing the Past: Parsimony, Evolution, and InferenceMIT PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  15. Sober, E., Wilson, D.S. 1998Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish BehaviorHarvard University PressCambridge MAGoogle Scholar
  16. Skipper, R. 2002The Persistence of the RA. Fisher-Sewall Wright ControversyBiol. Phil.17341367Je 02Google Scholar
  17. Wade, M., Goodnight, C.J. Dec. 1998Perspective: theories of Fisher and Wright in the context of metapopulations: when nature does many small experimentsEvolution5215371553Google Scholar
  18. Williams G.C. 1966. Adaptation and Natural Selection. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Google Scholar
  19. Wright S. 1923b. “Mendelain Analysis of Pure Breeds of Livestock II: The Duchess Family of Shorthorns as Bread by Thomas Bates.” Journal of Heredity 14: 405–422. In Provineed. 1986. Evolution: Selected Papers by Sewall WrightUniversity of Chicago Press: Chicago. Google Scholar
  20. Wright, S. 1932“The roles of mutation, inbreeding, crossbreeding, and selection in evolution.”Proceedings of the National Academy of Science1356366Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of UtahOSH, Salt Lake CityUSA

Personalised recommendations