Models of data and theoretical hypotheses: a case-study in classical genetics
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Linkage (or genetic) maps are graphs, which are intended to represent the linear ordering of genes on the chromosomes. They are constructed on the basis of statistical data concerning the transmission of genes. The invention of this technique in 1913 was driven by Morgan’s group’s adoption of a set of hypotheses concerning the physical mechanism of heredity. These hypotheses were themselves grounded in Morgan’s defense of the chromosome theory of heredity, according to which chromosomes are the physical basis of genes. In this paper, I analyze the 1919 debate between William Castle and Morgan’s group, about the construction of genetic maps. The official issue of the debate concerns the arrangement of genes on chromosomes. However, the disputants tend to carry out the discussions about how one should model the data in order to draw predictions concerning the transmission of genes; the debate does not bear on the data themselves, nor does it focus on the hypotheses explaining these data. The main criteria that are appealed to by the protagonists are simplicity and predictive efficacy. However, I show that both parties’ assessments of the simplicity and predictive efficacy of different ways of modeling the data themselves depend on background theoretical positions. I aim at clarifying how preference for a given model and theoretical commitments articulate.
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