Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Giuliana Pulvirenti: Review of Farine R. D. “Social network analysis of mixed-species flocks: exploring the structure and evolution of interspecific social behavior”.

In Philosophy of Biology, Pulvirenti, Review on March 29, 2013 at 1:20 PM

Functional explanations advocated for mixed-species groups (mainly foraging and anti-predator advantages) are based on top-down approaches that implicitly assume the species as fixed and static social structures and shift the analysis of fitness benefits and costs from the level of individuals to the one of the groups/species. According to Farine, this operation of over-simplification leads to cursory inferences. On the contrary, a bottom-up approach, usually used to study intraspecific sociality, could provide an insight and a better understanding of the emergent and dynamic properties at each level of the social system. In this perspective, the author proposes Social Network Analysis (SNA) as a tool to measure inter-individual interaction within mixed species flocks. His aim is to explore the different roles within the flocks and the individual variations of sociality, as well as the fitness consequences that such variations leads to both individual and community structure. SNA main strength is the possibility to graphically represent and quantify, at any scale between dyads and groups, specific aspects of social relationships, such as number, intensity, frequency of direct and indirect interactions and individual roles, centrality (i.e. “keystone” individuals). As an istance, Loussou & Newman (2004) found a “keystone” individual in a bottlenose dolphin community in Scotland that acted as a bridge between two subgroups, therefore playing a critical role in keeping the connection between them. However, SNA current applications raise some issues concerning spatial and temporal constraints (Wey et al. 2008). On one hand, pattern of associations vary on a case by case basis depending on habitat topology and distribution of resources, while on the other hand, it’s important to distinguish genuine social network structures from relationships explained solely by shared space use. Furthermore, traditional graph models are limited in addressing temporal questions regarding changes that may occur over a given time period. Future work must also go beyond simple description, beginning to link network structure to biological and evolutionary consequences, in order to answer the “why” questions in sociobiological and ethological studies (Hock & Fefferman 2011).


Farine Damien R., Garroway Colin J., Sheldon Ben C. (2012), Social network analysis of mixed-species flocks: exploring the structure and evolution of interspecific social behavior, in Animal Behaviour 84: 1271-1277.

Hock C. & Fefferman N. (2011), Extending the role of social networks to study social organization and interation structure of animal groups, in Ann. Zool. Fennici 48: 365-370.  http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.5735/086.048.0604

Lusseau D. & Newman M. E. J. (2004), Identifying the role that animals play in their social networks, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B (suppl): Biological Sciences 271: 477- 481. http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/271/Suppl_6/S477.short

Sih A., Hanser S. F. & McHugh K. A. (2009), Social network theory: new insights and issues for behavioral ecologists, in Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 63: 975-988. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00265-009-0725-6?LI=true

Sueur C., Jacobs A., Amblard F., Petit O., King A. J. (2011), How can social network analysis improve the study of primate behavior?, in American Journal of Primatology 73: 703-719. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajp.20915/abstract

Wey T., Blumstein D. T., Shen W. & Jordan F. (2008), Social network analysis of animal behaviour: a promising tool for the study of sociality, in Animal Behaviour 75: 333-344. http://www.colbud.hu/apc-aa/img_upload/4d11dfd490c468ca39fcefabae592944/JordanAniBe2008.pdf


Laura Desirée Di Paolo: Review of Heyes, C. “What’s Social About Social Learning?”

In Di Paolo, Philosophy of Cognitive Sciences, Review on March 28, 2013 at 9:00 AM

As always, Cecilia Heyes asks the right question: What’s social about social learning? Nothing, she answers, except for social inputs. There are two points: (1) social and asocial learning use same mechanisms; (2) social inputs make sociality unique. The first point is appealing, the second one looks tautological, but it is not. Let us see why. Three points: (1) the exhibited list include only three animal-learning typologies (stimulus enhancement, observational conditioning and observational learning), not considering the generally accepted distinction between emulation/imitation (e.g. Byrne & Russon, 1998) and this cannot be a slip; (2) uniqueness of social learning is trivially explained by inputs; (3) all the article looks like the pars destruens of a more completed reasoning. As a matter of fact, there is one theory, widely valued, which underlines qualitative differences among social learning strategies, saying that just one strategy produces “TRUE CULTURE” (e.g. Tomasello, 1999; 2008; 2009). Heyes’ pointing on identity of mechanisms could mean that these differences (emulation, imitation, true imitation, over-imitation) are not momentous. Therefore, we can suppose that (a) environmental factors, which in primates are social factors, affect abilities of social transmission considerably; (b) explaining sociality’ uniqueness does not require evolutionary adaptations, but simpler things as differences in inputs; (c) ontogenetic inheritance is otherwise significant. If this was the theoretical, tacit framework of this article, I could have not agreed more.



Byrne, R.W. & Russon, A.E. (1998) Learning by imitation: A hierarchical approach. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 21: 667-721. http://web.media.mit.edu/~cynthiab/Readings/Byrne-Russon98.pdf

Heyes, C. (2011) What’s Social About Social Learning? Journal of Comparative Psychology, (online first). http://www.all-souls.ox.ac.uk/users/heyesc/Celia’s%20pdfs/94%202011%20Heyes%20What’s%20social.pdf

Tomasello, M. (1999) The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition. Harvard University Press

Tomasello, M. (2008) Origins of Human Communication. Cambridge, Ma-  London, En: MIT Press

Tomasello, M. (2009) Why We Cooperate? Cambridge, Ma-  London, En: MIT Press

Ivan D’Annibale: Review of Marshall, R.A.J., “Group selection and kin selection: formally equivalent approaches.”

In D'Annibale, Philosophy of Biology, Review on March 28, 2013 at 8:47 AM

The level at which natural selection “acts” has been a much debated issue in evolutionary biology (Okasha 2006), especially in connection with the evolution of altruism. Two major kinds of explanations have been proposed: group selection theory (GST) and inclusive fitness theory (IFT). Marshall (2011) surveys the most common objections to the latter, claiming that the two approaches are in fact formally equivalent. We discuss exclusively his claim of equivalence. Rewriting of the Price equation (Price 1970) yields: 1) a version of Hamilton’s rule (a basic tool in IFT); 2) a partition of selection in between-group and within-group selection (typical of GST explanations). Thus, 1) and 2) are formally equivalent. If we assume that 1) holds, then also 2) holds, and conversely. Is this the same as saying that IFT and GST are formally equivalent? The author concedes that IFT cannot be identified with Hamilton’s rule. Thus the claim of formal equivalence must be, at least as far as this article goes, re-evaluated. On the other hand, to prove formal equivalence it requires an explicit set of axioms to be given. This request seems honestly unreasonable. Even in the case where such a formal model could be described, it remains dubious that many, or any, would agree on it. The word “theory”, as in “inclusive fitness theory” and “group selection theory”, should be better understood as a set of different but related explanations (for IFT alone, in addition to Hamilton’s rule and the Price equation, population genetics and evolutionary game theory have been useful approaches, among others). In particular, formal models are currently being used with a more modest goal: to describe more limited and well defined (agreed upon) aspects of the world, in order to produce testable predictions. On a final note, even if any two of these models will be found to be formally equivalent, we may have gained a more thorough “understanding” in the process. Mathematics also, after all, is more than the axioms that we put into it.


Okasha, S. (2006), Evolution and the Levels of Selection, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marshall, J.A.R. (2011), Group selection and kin selection: formally equivalent approaches, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 26 (7): 325-332.

Price, G.R. (1970), Selection and covariance, Nature, 227 (5257): 520-521.
(I thank all the participants in our last reading group for discussing and sharing ideas).

Severini, E.: Review of Driscoll, C., “Can Behaviors Be Adaptation?”

In Philosophy of Biology, Review, Severini on March 22, 2013 at 8:01 AM

Although sociobiology (SB) and evolutionary psychology (EP) are not competitor projects, they must be integrated, argues Driscoll: according to her both psychological mechanisms and behaviors represent kinds of adaptation. In order to achieve an integrate theory, she focuses her discussion on an Sterelny & Griffiths’ idea (Sterelny 1992; Sterelny & Griffiths 1999), for whom SB’s attempt to identify evolutionary explanation for discrete units of human behavior is substantially wrong. Since the relation between psychological mechanisms and produced behaviors is one-to-many, each behavioral change (e.g., B1) cannot exist without a relative change in the mechanism that produced it, which then produces other behaviors’ changes (B2, B3…). Therefore, none behavior is supposed to evolve independently of others, thus it cannot be an adaptation. According to Driscoll’s analysis, there are mainly two objections to this reasoning. First of all, this argument relies on a too strong interpretation of Lewontin’s quasi-independence criterion (QIC). On the contrary, there should be at least one way to change T-trait such that the positive contribution to an organism’s fitness is greater than the total negative contribution supplied by any connected trait: in this way a trait can be considered under natural selection. The latter is that merely possession of a mechanism supporting different behaviors does not imply that changes in one behavior make necessary changes in others. Otherwise, an identical mechanism should manage different inputs in order to produce as many different outputs as it is possible. Seems to me that both these objections are unsatisfactory: as a matter of fact, Driscoll’s interpretation of QIC (Brosnan 2009) does not solve the mereology problem about how legitimately identifying behavioral units; the second objection, relying on a strong computational model of human psychology, can be theoretically assumed but not empirically supported.


Brosnan, K. (2009), Quasi-independence, fitness, and advantageousness, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 40, 228–234 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369848609000351

Driscoll, C. (2004), Can behaviors be adaptations?, Philosophy of Science, 71, 16–35. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.1086/381410?uid=3738296&uid=2134&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21101593659077

Sterelny, K. (1992), Evolutionary explanations of human behavior, Australian Journal of Philosophy, 70 (2), 156–172. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00048409212345051

Sterelny, K. & Griffiths, P. (1999), Sex and death, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sex-Death-Introduction-Philosophy-Foundations/dp/0226773043