Kenneth M. Weiss

Kenneth M. Weiss

Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology; Penn State University

Ken is an evolutionary and developmental biologist, genetic epidemiologist, and contributor to relevant areas of epistemology. He has been at Penn State since 1985.  His interests are in the subtle aspects of probabilistic causation related to traits affected by man parts of the genome, the nature of genetic causation and inference, its patterning mechanisms, and how these evolve.  Among other things, since 2002 he has contributed a column of thoughts about these subjects in the journal Evolutionary Anthropology.  He is concerned about the dogmatic acceptance of natural selection as the predominant factor in evolution, in particular the societal as well as scientific damage such a belief has caused.

Profile continued

Ken has been an evolutionary and developmental biologist, genetic epidemiologist, and contributor to relevant areas of epistemology. After a stint as an Air Force meteorologist, a field of complexity not so different, yet very different, from evolutionary and biomedical genomics, he obtained his PhD in Biological Anthropology at Michigan, where he helped developed the field of anthropological and evolutionary demography.  After a post-doctoral work there he was a faculty member at the Center for Demographic and Population Genetics, University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in Houston.  In 1985 he moved to become Anthropology Department Head at Penn State.  He did that for nine (long) years until, having all the wasteful busywork of university administration he could stand, went back to trying, at least, to do real work as a mere Professor (not a Dean!!).

Among other things, since 2002 he has contributed a regular column of thoughts about these subjects in most issues of the journal Evolutionary Anthropology.  He is concerned about the dogmatic acceptance of natural selection as the predominant factor in evolution, and in particular the societal as well as scientific damage that such a belief has caused.

He is an Evan Pugh Professor (emeritus recently), an AAAS Fellow, and has had a few other kinds of awards and honors.  He has published several books and several hundred papers.  His research has included studies of the genetic basis of cancer in a whole-population genealogy from Laredo, Texas (done in the days before DNA sequence was available), Type 2 diabetes susceptibility in Native and Hispanic Americans where he developed the seeds for admixture mapping, experimental genetic mouse models of dental patterning (tooth number and cusp arrangement) and craniofacial genetics.  He advanced the idea of phenogenetic drift, by which traits can have similar value in individuals with different genotypes, as a counterpoint to strongly unitary or deterministic ‘gene for’ reductionism. He has recently been working with a forward evolutionary simulation program, ForSim, that he developed to help understand the evolution of genomic causal complexity and strategies for inferring it from samples and to demonstrate some of the subtleties that seem widely, and intentionally or even culpably, ignored in evolution and genomic causation. 

He has always been interested in the epistemology and sociocultural and philosophical aspects of science.  While he thinks he has occasional had insights and useful things to say, he wants to buck the self-promotional trend in our society, which he thinks leads to the advocacy of simplistic ideologies even in science, and is in part responsible for the need for TheThirdWay.

Ken stresses the importance of his wife and collaborator, Dr Anne Buchanan, in much or even most of his work over the past 35 years.  She has her own contact information: avbuchanan@gmail.com

Quote

 

"Charles Darwin's deep insights about life has changed our understanding of life fundamentally. But Darwinism, a belief in an essentially deterministic view of evolution, with its closely associated value judgments, has had an ominous history when applied to humans, and has been rather misleading in general. It suggests that life is a uni-dimensional linear adaptive process, which provides a kind of smoke-screen for the more complex, more probabilistic and less deterministic, way that biological change actually happens. There is much to learn about how evolution works, in particular the interwoven complexities and subtle aspects of genomic causation that have resulted."

(Ken Weiss)

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