publications by prof. havstad
Ordered chronologically, newest at the top.
sensational science, archaic hominin genetics, and Amplified inductive risk
Canadian Journal of Philosophy (2022), 52(3): 295–320.
More than a decade of exacting scientific research involving paleontological fragments and ancient DNA has lately produced a series of pronouncements about a purportedly novel population of archaic hominins dubbed “the Denisova.” The science involved in these matters is both technically stunning and, socially, at times a bit reckless. Here I discuss the responsibilities which scientists incur when they make inductively risky pronouncements about the different relative contributions by Denisovans to genomes of members of apparent subpopulations of current humans (i.e., the so-called “races”). This science is sensational: it is science which empirically speculates, to the public delight’s and entertainment, about scintillating topics such as when humans evolved, where we came from, and who else we were having sex with during our early hominin history. An initial characterization of sensational science emerges from my discussion of the case, as well as a diagnosis of an interactive phenomenon termed amplified inductive risk.
Not functional yet a difference maker: junk DNA as a case study
Biology & Philosophy (2022), 37: 29, 1–27.
with Alex Palazzo
It is often thought that non-junk or coding DNA is more significant than other cellular elements, including so-called junk DNA. This is for two main reasons: (1) because coding DNA is often targeted by historical or current selection, it is considered functionally special and (2) because its mode of action is uniquely specific amongst the other actual difference makers in the cell, it is considered causally special. Here, we challenge both these presumptions. With respect to function, we argue that there is previously unappreciated reason to think that junk DNA is significant, since it can alter the cellular environment, and those alterations can influence how organism-level selection operates. With respect to causality, we argue that there is again reason to think that junk DNA is significant, since it too (like coding DNA) is remarkably causally specific (in Waters' 2007 sense). As a result, something is missing from the received view of significance in molecular biology—a view which emphasizes specificity and neglects something we term ‘reach’. With the special case of junk DNA in mind, we explore how to model and understand the causal specificity, reach, and corresponding efficacy of difference makers in biology. The account contains implications for how evolution shapes the genome, as well as advances our understanding of multi-level selection.
There is a perennial philosophical dream of a certain natural order for the natural kinds. The name of this dream is ‘the hierarchy requirement’ (or ‘assumption’ or ‘thesis’). According to this postulate, proper natural kinds form a taxonomy which is both unique (i.e., there is only one taxonomy of such natural kinds) and traditional (i.e., said taxonomy consists of nested relations between specific and then more general kinds, each kind occupying one and only one particular place within that framework of relations). Here I demonstrate that complex scientific objects exist: objects which generate different systems of scientific classification, produce myriad legitimate alternatives amongst the nonetheless still natural kinds, and make the hierarchical dream impossible to realize, except at absurdly great cost. Philosophical hopes for a certain order in nature cannot be fulfilled. Natural kinds crosscut one another, ubiquitously so, and this crosscutting spells the end of the hierarchical dream.
forty years after laboratory life
Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology (2020), 12: 3, 1–34.
There is an ongoing and robust tradition of science and technology studies (STS) scholars conducting ethnographic laboratory studies. These laboratory studies—like all ethnographies—are each conducted at a particular time, are situated in a particular place, and are about a particular (scientific) culture. Presumably, this contextual specificity means that such ethnographies have limited applicability beyond the narrow slice of time, place, and culture that they each subject to examination. But we (STS scholars) do not always or even often treat them that way. It is beyond common for us to speak about what one or another laboratory study reveals about the laboratory, or “science” much more broadly. Given the contextual specificity of our ethnographic laboratory studies, what justifies this presumed generalizability? Initially, this manuscript surveys typical responses to this question, but then it pursues an unusual one: the potential replicability of ethnographic results. This potential is hereby explored, via an ethnographic replication attempt—one designed and conducted in order to test the generalizability of a particular laboratory study, that of Latour and Woolgar’s classic Laboratory Life (1979). The results of the ethnographic replication attempt are reported, and a remarkable degree of replicability is established.
Community engagement in the classroom can take several forms such as engaged scholarship, service learning, and philanthropy. Each of these activities connects course material with the immediate community, creating a multi-directional discourse. In this article we explain and provide a program evaluation of the Student Philanthropy and Community Engagement Program (SPCEP) run in a wide variety of classes at Oakland University in Michigan. The results indicate that SPCEP is effectively increasing students’ philanthropic inclinations while also increasing their engagement with and knowledge of the local community. These findings have important implications for the classroom, university reputation, and the local community.
Scientists have been arguing for more than 25 years about whether it is a good idea to collect voucher specimens from particularly vulnerable biological populations. Some think that, obviously, scientists should not be harvesting (read: killing) organisms from, for instance, critically endangered species. Others think that, obviously, it is the special job of scientists to collect precisely such information before any chance of retrieving it is forever lost. The character, extent, longevity, and span of the ongoing disagreement indicates that this is likely to be a hard problem to solve. Nonetheless, the aim of this paper is to help field biologists figure out what do to when collecting a voucher specimen risks extinction. Here I present and assess varying practices of specimen collection for both extant (i.e., neontological) and extinct (i.e., paleontological) species in order to compare and contrast cases where extinction risk both is and is not a problem. When it comes to taking vouchers from extant species at some risk of extinction, I determine that those advocating for conservative approaches to collection as well as those advocating for liberal information-gathering practices have good reasons to assess things in the way they each do. This means that there is unlikely to be a decisive, one-size-fits-all response to this problem. Still, progress can be made. We can acknowledge the risks of proceeding in either manner, as well as the uncertainty about how best to proceed (which will be deep in some cases). We can proceed as thoughtfully as possible, and be ready to articulate a rationale for whichever procedure is used in any particular case.
Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology (2019), 11: 10, 1–5.
Part of a Book Symposium on Adrian Currie's Rock, Bone, and Ruin (2018), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
fossils with feathers and philosophy of science
Systematic Biology (2019), 68(5): 840–851.
with Adam Smith
The last half century of paleornithological research has transformed the way that biologists perceive the evolutionary history of birds. This transformation has been driven, since 1969, by a series of exciting fossil discoveries combined with intense scientific debate over how best to interpret these discoveries. Ideally, as evidence accrues and results accumulate, interpretive scientific agreement forms. But this has not entirely happened in the debate over avian origins: the accumulation of scientific evidence and analyses has had some effect, but not a conclusive one, in terms of resolving the question of avian origins. Although the majority of biologists have come to accept that birds are dinosaurs, there is lingering and, in some quarters, strident opposition to this view. In order to both understand the ongoing disagreement about avian origins and generate a prediction about the future of the debate, here we use a revised model of scientific practice to assess the current and historical state of play surrounding the topic of bird evolutionary origins. Many scientists are familiar with the metascientific scholars Sir Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, and these are the primary figures that have been appealed to so far, in prior attempts to assess the dispute. But we demonstrate that a variation of Imre Lakatos’s model of progressive versus degenerative research programmes provides a novel and productive assessment of the debate. We establish that a refurbished Lakatosian account both explains the intractability of the dispute and predicts a likely outcome for the debate about avian origins. In short, here, we offer a metascientific tool for rationally assessing competing theories—one that allows researchers involved in seemingly intractable scientific disputes to advance their debates.
messy chemical kinds
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (2018), 69(3): 719–743.
Following Kripke () and Putnam (, ), the received view of chemical kinds has been a microstructuralist one. To be a microstructuralist about chemical kinds is to think that membership in said kinds is conferred by microstructural properties. Recently, the received microstructuralist view has been elaborated and defended (for example, Hendry , ), but it has also been attacked on the basis of complexities, both chemical (for example, Needham ) and ontological (for example, LaPorte ). Here, I look at which complexities really challenge the microstructuralist view; at how the view itself might be made more complicated in order to accommodate such challenges; and finally, at what this increasingly complicated picture implies for our standard assessment of chemical kindhood—primarily, for the widespread assumption that chemical kinds in general are more neat and tidy than those messy biological ones.
inductive risk, deferred decisions, and climate science advising
In Kevin Elliott and Ted Richards' Exploring Inductive Risk (2017), New York: Oxford University Press.
with Matt Brown
This chapter discusses the philosophical viability of Ottmar Edenhofer and Martin Kowarsch’s proposed pragmatic-enlightened model of science advising. Edenhofer and Kowarsch’s (2015) model makes central use of a cartographic metaphor—one in which scientists and policy-makers craft and consider different scientific routes to various value-laden ethical, political, and social destinations. But the argument from inductive risk poses a significant challenge to the viability of the metaphor, and hence, to the workability of the model.
Neutrality, relevance, prescription, and the ipcc
Public Affairs Quarterly (2017), 31(4): 303–324.
with Matt Brown
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that its assessment reports are “policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive.” Here we investigate the meaning of that statement. Far from being a mere philosophical exercise, our investigation reveals that at least one of the components within the statement—the claim to policy-neutrality—is extremely misleading. Misunderstandings of this neutrality claim have resulted in real harm to the IPCC’s efforts and image. In an effort to assist the IPCC in its endeavors, and to help restore its credibility, we explore possible interpretations of the term “neutrality,” expose past sources of misunderstanding, and suggest a plausible way of interpreting the term which is both defensible as a goal and fits with the actual activities of the IPCC. We suggest that the IPCC at minimum endorse this understanding of the “neutrality” term. Future science advising efforts should carefully choose how they present their aims, to avoid the potential confusions created by misleading connotations of “neutrality.”
The disconnect problem, scientific authority, and climate policy
Perspectives on Science (2017), 25(1): 67–94.
with Matt Brown
The disconnect problem arises wherever there is ongoing and severe discordance between the scientific assessment of a politically relevant issue, and the politics and legislation of said issue. Here, we focus on the disconnect problem as it arises in the case of climate change, diagnosing a failure to respect the necessary tradeoff between authority and autonomy within a public institution like science. After assessing the problematic deployment of scientific authority in this arena, we offer suggestions for how to mitigate climate change’s particular disconnect problem, as well as more general proposals for reforming science advising.
protein tokens, types, and taxa
In Katie Kendig's Natural Kinds and Classification in Scientific Practice (2016), London: Routledge.
the semaphorontic view of homology
Journal of Experimental Zoology, Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution (2015), 324(7): 578–587.
by Joyce C. Havstad, Leandro C. S. Assis, and Olivier Rieppel
The relation of homology is generally characterized as an identity relation, or alternatively as a correspondence relation, both of which are transitive. We use the example of the ontogenetic development and evolutionary origin of the gnathostome jaw to discuss identity and transitivity of the homology relation under the transformationist and emergentist paradigms respectively. Token identity and consequent transitivity of homology relations are shown to be requirements that are too strong to allow the origin of genuine evolutionary novelties. We consequently introduce the concept of compositional identity that is grounded in relations prevailing between parts (organs and organ systems) of a whole (organism). We recognize an ontogenetic identity of parts within a whole throughout the sequence of successive developmental stages of those parts: this is an intra-organismal character identity maintained throughout developmental trajectory. Correspondingly, we recognize a phylogenetic identity of homologous parts within two or more organisms of different species: this is an inter-species character identity maintained throughout evolutionary trajectory. These different dimensions of character identity—ontogenetic (through development) and phylogenetic (via shared evolutionary history)—break the transitivity of homology relations. Under the transformationist paradigm, the relation of homology reigns over the entire character (-state) transformation series, and thus encompasses the plesiomorphic as well as the apomorphic condition of form. In contrast, genuine evolutionary novelties originate not through transformation of ancestral characters (-states), but instead through deviating developmental trajectories that result in alternate characters. Under the emergentist paradigm, homology is thus synonymous with synapomorphy.
Skipper and Millstein (2005) analyze natural selection and mechanism, concluding that natural selection is not a mechanism in the sense of the new mechanistic philosophy. Barros (2008) disagrees and provides his own account of natural selection as a mechanism. This discussion identifies a missing piece of Barros's account, attempts to fill in that piece, and reconsiders the revised account. Two principal objections are developed: one, the account does not characterize natural selection; two, the account is not mechanistic. Extensive and persistent variability causes both of these difficulties, so further attempts to describe natural selection as a mechanism are also unlikely to succeed.
Who is master chief?
In Luke Cuddy's Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved (2011), Chicago: Open Court.
Proponents of human reproductive cloning do not dispute that cloning may lead to violations of clones' right to self-determination, or that these violations could cause psychological harms. But they proceed with their endorsement of human reproductive cloning by dismissing these psychological harms, mainly in two ways. The first tactic is to point out that to commit the genetic fallacy is indeed a mistake; the second is to invoke Parfit's non-identity problem. The argument of this paper is that neither approach succeeds in removing our moral responsibility to consider and to prevent psychological harms to cloned individuals. In fact, the same commitment to personal liberty that generates the right to reproduce by means of cloning also creates the need to limit that right appropriately. Discussion of human reproductive cloning ought to involve a careful and balanced consideration of both the relevant aspects of personal liberty – the parents' right to reproductive freedom and the cloned child's right to self-determination.
the legend of feminism
In Luke Cuddy's The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy: I Link Therefore I Am (2008), Chicago: Open Court.
with Iris M. Jahng
phosphoinositide signalling links o-glcnac transferace to insulin resistance
Nature (2008), 451(7181): 964–969.
by Xiaoyong Yang, Pat P. Ongusaha, Philip D. Miles, Joyce C. Havstad, Fengxue Zhang, W. Venus So, Jeffrey E. Kudlow, Robert H. Michell, Jerrold M. Olefsky, Seth J. Field, and Ronald M. Evans
Glucose flux through the hexosamine biosynthetic pathway leads to the post-translational modification of cytoplasmic and nuclear proteins by O-linked β-N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc). This tandem system serves as a nutrient sensor to couple systemic metabolic status to cellular regulation of signal transduction, transcription, and protein degradation. Here we show that O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT) harbours a previously unrecognized type of phosphoinositide-binding domain. After induction with insulin, phosphatidylinositol 3,4,5-trisphosphate recruits OGT from the nucleus to the plasma membrane, where the enzyme catalyses dynamic modification of the insulin signalling pathway by O-GlcNAc. This results in the alteration in phosphorylation of key signalling molecules and the attenuation of insulin signal transduction. Hepatic overexpression of OGT impairs the expression of insulin-responsive genes and causes insulin resistance and dyslipidaemia. These findings identify a molecular mechanism by which nutritional cues regulate insulin signalling through O-GlcNAc, and underscore the contribution of this modification to the aetiology of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
the price of dignity: Kantian accounts of moral responsibility to non-human animals
Dialogue (2007), 49(2–3): 99–107.
This paper discusses the possibility of a Kantian account of moral responsibility to non-human animals. Within a Kantian framework, basis for moral responsibility requires rationality. The possibility of non-human animals acting as both a source and an object of moral responsibility is allowed for on the grounds that should a non-human animal turn out in fact to be a rational entity, then it would be both a source and an object. However, both Korsgaard's and Kant's accounts of actual moral responsibility to non-human animals turn out to provide only an account of animals as an object of moral responsibility not as a source. Thus it appears impossible to give a plausibly Kantian account of non-human animals as an object and a source of moral responsibility as far as they are non-rational entities. Kant resolutely maintains that the price of dignity is rationality.
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PDFs have been posted where possible. Otherwise, pictures link to postings. Official versions of any paper available upon request to joyceDOThavstadATutahDOTedu