International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-1525
Individual papers
Ideas of Heredity and Ancestry in Discipline Formation

Against the grain: An investigative model for the ancestral health movement

Rick Morris (University of California, Davis, United States)

The ancestral health movement (AHM) is an attempt to integrate concepts from evolutionary biology into the human and health sciences, in e.g. evolutionary medicine or the “Paleo diet”. The AHM looks to evolutionary biology not only to develop hypotheses about the causes of human health outcomes, but also to develop recommendations for health interventions. Needless to say, the AHM has been extremely controversial. Critics have characterized the AHM as making vague and inaccurate claims about human behavior and health outcomes. I discuss six questions which the AHM must answer to achieve its explanatory and interventionist goals in relation to one of its central claims: many negative human health outcomes are the consequence of a “mismatch” (Gluckman 2009, Nesse 2012) between contemporary human environments and “the” evolved physiology of the human organism. I call the first question the mapping question: the AHM advocate, in suggesting that human populations are better-suited to some environments than others, must identify on principled grounds which populations she will examine. Second, the epidemiological question, which requires the advocate to delineate the differing health outcomes between populations. Third, the evolutionary question, which requires the advocate to show the relevant genetic similarities between the populations. Fourth, the causal question, which requires the advocate to provide causal mechanisms for the outcomes seen. Fifth, the intervention question, wherein the advocates propose their interventions. Finally, the evidential question, which requires that the advocate demonstrate empirical support for her claims. My intent here is not to make a positive claim about how well (or poorly) different branches of the AHM make their case. Instead, I propose a model for investigating their claims which will simplify the discussion for the advocate and the skeptic alike by clarifying the disputed claims and providing a rubric by which each can evaluate the AHM.

Social heredity: The germ-plasm theory and the development of the American social sciences

Emilie Raymer (Johns Hopkins University, United States)

Prior to August Weismann’s 1889 germ-plasm theory, which denied that the inheritance of acquired characters played a role in evolution, social reformers believed that humans could inherit the effects of a salubrious environment and, by passing environmentally-induced modifications to their offspring, achieve continuous progress. But Weismann’s theory disrupted this logic, and caused many to fear that they had little control over human development. As numerous historians have observed, this contributed to the birth of the eugenics movement. However, I argue that Weismann’s theory also led to the creation of a theory of human evolution in which the social environment had a central role and biological heredity had a diminished one. The origins of this theory are found in the work of nineteenth-century social scientists Lester F. Ward, Richard T. Ely, and Amos Warner. It was further developed by biologist Herbert Conn and sociologists Walter Smith and L.L. Bernard in the 1910s and early 1920s. These thinkers used Weismann’s theory to differentiate between organic and social evolution, and argued that although Lamarckian inheritance did not occur in biological evolution it was at work in social evolution, through a process called “social heredity,” which entailed the external transmission of civilization’s accumulated traits. Relatedly, they asserted that because organic and social evolution were governed by different laws, the social environment played a crucial role in advancing humanity despite Weismann’s contention that the environment played a limited role in organic evolution. Furthermore, these thinkers used Weismann’s theory to demonstrate the limitations of biological evolution. They asserted that when compared to the social environment, organic heredity played a small role in human development. They also rejected biological theories of progress, and contended that humans were responsible for their own advancement, which was achieved by strengthening the social environment.

History of biology as a curricular component in teacher education in Brazil

Tatiana Tavares da Silva (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil); Maria Elice Brzezinski Prestes (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil); Nelio Bizzo (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil)

This presentation will discuss a research promoted in Brazil about the History of Biology as a curricular component in teacher education. In curriculum oficial documents for Biology’s under graduation, in Brazil, is expected philosophical and social fundamentals and basic knowledge of History of science. To investigate how is the interpretation of this document and the implementation of History of Biology in teacher education will be research in site of the MEC (Ministry of Education) of Biology’s under graduation (teacher education) and research of the curriculum subject of History of Biology, Philosophy of Biology or similar words. It is expected that data can contribute to the development of strategies for teacher education and for “add-on approach” of History of Biology in Science education.