Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 32, Issue 5, pp 749–758 | Cite as

Was regression to the mean really the solution to Darwin’s problem with heredity?

Essay Review of Stigler, Stephen M. 2016. The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
  • Adam Krashniak
  • Ehud LammEmail author
Review Essay


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.


Francis 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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and IdeasTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

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