Studying populations without molecular biology: Aster models and a new argument against reductionism

Emily Grosholz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


During the past few decades, philosophers of biology have debated the issue of reductionism versus anti-reductionism, with both sides often claiming a 'pluralist' position. However, both sides also tend to focus on a single research paradigm, which analyzes living things in terms of certain macromolecular components. I offer a case study where biologists pursue other analytic pathways, in a tradition of quantitative genetics that originates with the initially purely mathematical theories of R. A. Fisher, J. B. S. Haldane, and Sewall Wright in the 1930s. Aster Models (developed by Ruth Shaw and Charles Geyer) offers a class of statistical models designed for studying the fitness of plant and animal populations, by integrating the measurements of separate, sequential, non-normally distributed fitness components in novel ways. Their work generates important theoretical and practical results that do not require elaboration by molecular biology, and thus serves as a counterexample to the claims of philosophers whose 'pluralism' still harbors reductionist assumptions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-251
Number of pages6
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C :Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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