André Ariew

Associate Professor


Curriculum vitae



Department of Philosophy

University of Missouri

234 Middlebush Hall
Columbia, MO 65211



The Statistical thinking of Darwin


Journal article


André Ariew
Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 95, 2022, pp. 215-223


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APA   Click to copy
Ariew, A. (2022). The Statistical thinking of Darwin. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, 95, 215–223. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsa.2022.08.005


Chicago/Turabian   Click to copy
Ariew, André. “The Statistical Thinking of Darwin.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 95 (2022): 215–223.


MLA   Click to copy
Ariew, André. “The Statistical Thinking of Darwin.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 95, 2022, pp. 215–23, doi:10.1016/j.shpsa.2022.08.005.


BibTeX   Click to copy

@article{andr2022a,
  title = {The Statistical thinking of Darwin},
  year = {2022},
  journal = {Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science},
  pages = {215-223},
  volume = {95},
  doi = {10.1016/j.shpsa.2022.08.005},
  author = {Ariew, André}
}

ABSTRACT
Recently historians and philosophers of science have been interested in the role of statistics and probability in investigating population variation. The focus is typically on investigators apply statistics and probability to explain large scale phenomenon that arise out of the collective behavior of numerous and varied individuals. The case studies that inform this work come mostly from molecular physics and 20th century genetical versions of evolutionary theory. Charles Darwin’s work on evolution is rarely mentioned in this context except to point out his shortcomings—he made evolutionary theory “ripe” for statistical investigations, but he was not a statistical thinker. But this is a mistake, Darwin was a statistical thinker. In this essay I describe two instances where Darwin utilized statistical methods to investigate evolution. In the light of these cases, we ought to revise our views about Darwin’s scientific methodology, in particular, how he came to develop his ideas about evolution and about the nature of his “population thinking”. Furthermore, Darwin’s cases provide us with an expanded view about what constitutes “statistical thinking” in the biological sciences. It is not just for explanation. In the examples we will find Darwin using statistical measures of type frequencies to detect large scale ensemble effects, confirm hypotheses by comparing between expected and observed averages, and applying the astronomer’s law of error to explain evolutionary trends.

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