Idealization in evolutionary developmental investigation: A tension between phenotypic plasticity and normal stages

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Abstract

Idealization is a reasoning strategy that biologists use to describe, model and explain that purposefully departs from features known to be present in nature. Similar to other strategies of scientific reasoning, idealization combines distinctive strengths alongside of latent weaknesses. The study of ontogeny in model organisms is usually executed by establishing a set of normal stages for embryonic development, which enables researchers in different laboratory contexts to have standardized comparisons of experimental results. Normal stages are a form of idealization because they intentionally ignore known variation in development, including variation associated with phenotypic plasticity (e.g. via strict control of environmental variables). This is a tension between the phenomenon of plasticity and the practice of staging that has consequences for evolutionary developmental investigation because variation is conceptually removed as a part of rendering model organisms experimentally tractable. Two compensatory tactics for mitigating these consequences are discussed: employing a diversity of model organisms and adopting alternative periodizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)679-690
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume365
Issue number1540
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 27 2010

Keywords

  • Idealization
  • Model organisms
  • Normal stages
  • Periodization
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Variation

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