Was regression to the mean really the solution to Darwin’s problem with heredity?: Essay Review of Stigler, Stephen M. 2016. The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

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Biology & Philosophy, ISSN: 0169-3867, Vol: 32, Issue: 5, Page: 749-758

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Krashniak, Adam; Lamm, Ehud
Springer Nature; Springer
Arts and Humanities; Agricultural and Biological Sciences
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Statistical reasoning is an integral part of modern scientific practice. In The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom Stephen Stigler presents seven core ideas, or pillars, of statistical thinking and the historical developments of each of these pillars, many of which were concurrent with developments in biology. Here we focus on Stigler’s fifth pillar, regression, and his discussion of how regression to the mean came to be thought of as a solution to a challenge for the theory of natural selection. Stigler argues that the purely mathematical phenomenon of regression to the mean provides a resolution to a problem for Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Thus, he argues that the resolution to the problem for Darwin’s theory is purely mathematical, rather than causal. We show why this argument is problematic.