Was regression to the mean really the solution to Darwin’s problem with heredity?
Statistical reasoning is an integral part of modern scientific practice. In The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom Stephen Stigler presents seven core ideas, or pillars, of statistical thinking and the historical developments of each of these pillars, many of which were concurrent with developments in biology. Here we focus on Stigler’s fifth pillar, regression, and his discussion of how regression to the mean came to be thought of as a solution to a challenge for the theory of natural selection. Stigler argues that the purely mathematical phenomenon of regression to the mean provides a resolution to a problem for Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Thus, he argues that the resolution to the problem for Darwin’s theory is purely mathematical, rather than causal. We show why this argument is problematic.
KeywordsFrancis Galton Regression to the mean Mathematical explanations Biology and statistics Evolution and inheritance
Adam Krashniak’s work was kindly supported by The Interuniversitry Ph.D. Program in the History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, supported by the Humanities Fund of the Israeli Council of Higher Education. The work of Ehud Lamm is supported by Israeli Science Foundation Grant 1128/15.
- Andersen H (forthcoming) Complements, not competitors: causal and mathematical explanations. Br J Philos SciGoogle Scholar
- Hacking I (2016) Logic of statistical inference. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Keller EF (2003) Making sense of life: explaining biological development with models, metaphors, and machines. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
- Lamm E (2013) Theoreticians as Professional Outsiders: The Modeling Strategies of John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener. In: Harman Oren, Dietrich MichaelR (eds) Outsider scientists: routes to innovation in biology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 291–312Google Scholar
- Shapiro L, Sober E (2007) Epiphenomenalism–the Do’s and the Don’ts. In: Machamer PK, Wolters G (eds) Thinking about causes: from greek philosophy to modern physics. University of Pittsburgh Press, PittsburghGoogle Scholar