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

twitter 2015
     facebook 2015


WEDNESDAY, JULY 8  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-M460
Individual papers
Practice and Assessment in environment and evolution

The fallacy of accident and the case of adaptationism

Catherine Hundleby (University of Windsor, Canada)

The fallacies approach to argument evaluation helps to explain and explore the significance of adaptationist tendencies in evolutionary biology identified by Elisabeth Lloyd (2006): the unjustified assumption that all characteristics result from a distinct evolutionary adaptation. I argue this presumption qualifies the error as an example of the fallacy of accident. Mistaking an accidental feature for an essential one can account for the mistaking of a non-adaptive trait for an adaptive one. Fallacy diagnosis reveals how this confusion is not unique to evolutionary thinking, and at the same time that it may be reasonable to assume that a trait is adaptive. The most advanced account of fallacies, Douglas Walton’s (1995; Tindale 1997) pragmatic approach, does not dismiss any type of argument associated with a fallacy but demands that it be systematically open to question. Likewise, appeals to popularity and authority may be reasonable, but only insofar as the particular employments withstand critical questions associated with those presumptions. Lloyd identifies a list of considerations necessary for accepting a trait as an adaptation. Treating adaptationism specifically as a case of accident has advantages over other possibilities, such as fallacies of generalization or causal fallacies. Accident relates adaptationism to a metaphysics of essences and natural kinds, a diagnosis that accounts for the complicating political resonances of adaptationism. The fallacies approach allows that sometimes such assumptions may be reasonable, yet in raising the possibility of accident does not assume the correctness of such a metaphysics. It merely helps reasoners to address how that ontology and hierarchies of traits might be justified, and support the demand that without such justification the assumption must be abandoned. Accident tends to be left out of contemporary lists of fallacies specifically because of its metaphysical baggage, but the engagement of metaphysics also indicates it singular potential to address adaptationism.

Sticky matters of fact: On the production of "material" knowledge

Julia Heunemann (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany)

In 1857 a sticky substance was hauled up from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. In its first examination it apparently did not prove particularly exciting for Thomas Henry Huxley as he afterwards shelved the specimen for ten years. Upon re-examination a decade later, the British biologist realized tiny objects had developed within the sample and concluded that the substance had the potential to produce life. (Huxley 1868) He considered it an organismic matter embodying biological vitality in its most simple form. Recognizing that it exhibited attributes of Monera, a taxonomic group Ernst Haeckel just recently had claimed to exist (1866), Huxley named the new species Bathybius haeckelii. However, seven years later, the organism was proven not to be alive at all, but a product of its conservation in spirits (Rehbock 1975). It was not even ‘natural’. During the years of its ‘biological existence’, Bathybius literally served as substantial proof to theories on evolution, the origin of life, and lines of demarcation between organic and inorganic material. My paper investigates the conditions of possibility that made the slimy matter become a matter of fact. It traces transformations the substance went through between the sea bottom and its becoming biological evidence. Considering that the technical prerequisites of its finding (sounding apparatuses, microscopes, conservation) intermingled with epistemological conditions of its employment for materializing theory (‘material’ empiricism), historical knowledge production in biology is at stake. How did investigation techniques and epistemologies produce Bathybius in the first place? And, in this particular case: how did biology participate in producing bios as it's very own study subject? For answers to these questions, the history of Bathybius is particularly suitable: it initiates in the depths of the ocean, a medial space par excellence, the knowledge about which necessarily is a technically produced one.

What physics needs to learn from biology

Martin Bremer (Florida State University, United States)

This paper looks at the historical and cultural development of Biology and Physics. Specifically, it focuses on the continually segregated nature of Physics - a discipline fraught with gender and ethnic disparity - and Biology, a discipline which has been able to develop to become much more inclusive. Included with the historical/cultural analysis of the disciplines, this paper includes data collected from interviews of current physics majors. The interviews shed light on the current cultural status of Physics as seen through those attempting to become part of the physics community. These interviews lead to insights on the issues surrounding the lack of cultural development within physics which leads to lack of diversity within the community.