Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 577–592 | Cite as

Selection never dominates drift (nor vice versa)

  • Hayley ClatterbuckEmail author
  • Elliott Sober
  • Richard Lewontin


The probability that the fitter of two alleles will increase in frequency in a population goes up as the product of N (the effective population size) and s (the selection coefficient) increases. Discovering the distribution of values for this product across different alleles in different populations is a very important biological task. However, biologists often use the product Ns to define a different concept; they say that drift “dominates” selection or that drift is “stronger than” selection when Ns is much smaller than some threshold quantity (e.g., ½) and that the reverse is true when Ns is much larger than that threshold. We argue that the question of whether drift dominates selection for a single allele in a single population makes no sense. Selection and drift are causes of evolution, but there is no fact of the matter as to which cause is stronger in the evolution of any given allele.


Causal strength Drift Evolution Neutrality Selection 



We are grateful to Martin Barrett, David Baum, Michael Goldsby, Daniel Hausman, Trevor Pearce, Reuben Stern, Elena Spitzer, Mike Steel, Naftali Weinberger, and to the anonymous referees of this journal for useful comments on an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hayley Clatterbuck
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elliott Sober
    • 1
  • Richard Lewontin
    • 2
  1. 1.University of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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