New article alert! "W. F. R. Changes His Mind," now out in European Journal for Philosophy of Science. What am I on about now? Read on to find out. You can find the paper here: or feel very free to e-mail me or check my website for a PDF. 1/

This is all about WFR Weldon (1860–1906), British invertebrate zoologist and one of the pioneer theorists of mathematical biology, developing with Francis Galton and Karl Pearson the first mathematical approaches to natural selection. (also: Western movie stock character) 2/

In this paper, I get about as close as I'm comfortable doing to Whiggish history. In short: Weldon is grappling with something *very* similar to a contemporary debate over causation in natural selection between 1893 and 1906. It's all about these crabs, Carcinus mænas. 3/

These little guys are all over Plymouth Sound. And in the early-mid '90s, Weldon and Pearson are convinced that just collecting a lot of statistical data about them is enough to demonstrate the action of natural selection. 4/


But by the late '90s, Weldon realizes that – as the sound is silting up – one feature of them is changing *very* rapidly. What's weird about this is his response. A guy who just argued that this is only a statistical problem should just go get more stats, right? 5/

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But he doesn't! He goes out and builds a massive physiology experiment to try to test his hypothesis that the silt is clogging up their filtering apparatus. Here's a bunch of crabs living in jars, with different degrees of silt, etc... (Imagine daily feeding time!) 6/

My tendentious claim here is that this shift mirrors a recent philosophical debate over causation in natural selection. How should we understand the relationship between physiological details and population-level statistical parameters?

Weldon starts out convinced that those physiological details don't matter (everything is a question of arithmetic, remember!), but when confronted with a real evolutionary situation, he realizes he has to support that with causal, physiological detail. 7/

This is the first "side project" paper to come out of my history of the period that's almost entirely submitted to the publisher – for more details, check out this paper, a hopeful two further articles to come, and the book! 8/8

(I know there's not a huge community interested in HPS/philosophy/history of biology on the fedi yet, but hey, if you build it, they will come, right?)

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