Lucas Matthews

Research Scientist


Office Address

331A Gilmer Hall

Biography

After earning a PhD in Philosophy of Science, I am now working alongside scientists in Professor Eric Turkheimer's human behavior genetics laboratory. On the one hand, I conduct quantitative statistical analyses of human twin data on everything from the heritability of Body Mass Index (BMI) to the effects of socioeconomic status (SES) on IQ. I'm currently working on a project that demonstrates how the effect of SES on IQ is quadratic, which sadly suggests that poverty hurts intelligence more than affluence helps it. On the other hand, I use philosophical training to address the conceptual challenges that are not amenable to empirical investigation, such as the nature of human intelligence and interpretation of the controversial results of human behavior genetics. For example, Eric Turkheimer and I are currently combining our empirical and philosophical talents to tackle one of the most vexing problem in modern biology: the missing heritability problem. The problem, which has challenged scientists since the completion of the human genome project, arises from conflicting results between different scientific approaches to understanding the complex relationship between genes and behavior. Where traditional methods suggest complex behavior, such as intelligence, is largely genetic, modern molecular genetics consistently struggles to identify underlying genes. Part of the problem, we argue, is that the missing heritability problem has many faces across the sciences. We mitigate the issue by offering a careful characterization of the three facets of the problem -- heritability, prediction, and mechanism -- which permits a more directed approach to its resolution. 

Because current policies are informed by current science, it is of the utmost importance that we achieve a firm understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the variety of different ways that we investigate the world and build evidence for our hypotheses about it. Much of my previous and current research, for example, seeks to characterize the nature of contemporary investigation and understanding of evolution. Traditionally this has been done by scientists and philosophers by tracking what is obvious: the explicit visual representations and diagrams depicted in journal publications and textbooks. I have shown, however, that there is far more to scientific understanding than what meets the eye. My unique approach is to look 'under the hood' and elucidate the various styles of scientific reasoning that drive current understanding of the world. In my (2015) paper "Embedded Mechanisms and Phylogenetic" I show, for example, that although phylogenetic tree hypotheses are in no obvious way mechanistic, the mathematical and statistical models that generate them are driven by mechanistic reasoning about the world. More recently, in my forthcoming paper "On Mechanistic Reasoning in Unexpected Places: the case of population genetics" I demonstrate how the seemingly nonmechanistic field of statistical population genetics is genuinely integrated with a host of mechanistic approaches in current efforts to build evidence for hypotheses regarding adaptive evolution.

PUBLICATIONS

“On Mechanistic Reasoning in Unexpected Places: the case of population genetics” (accepted). Biology & Philosophy

“On Closing the Gap between Philosophical Concepts and their Usage in Scientific Practice: a lesson from the debate about natural selection as a mechanism” (2016). Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Science, 55:pp. 21–28.

“Chance in the Modern Synthesis,” (2016, with A. Plutynski, K. B. Vernon, and D. Molter) in Chance in Evolution (G. Ramsey and C. Pence, eds.).

“Embedded Mechanisms and Phylogenetics” (2015) in Philosophy of Science. 82(5):pp. 1116–1126.

“Mechanisms and the Metaphysics of Causation” (forthcoming, with J. Tabery) in Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Mechanisms (S. Glennan and P. Illari, eds.).

book review

“Review of Does your Family Make you Smarter? by James Flynn” (commissioned, with Eric Turkheimer) in Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Science

PRESENTATIONS

“On the Differential Sensitivity of IQ Subtests to SES”
47th Behavior Genetics Annual Meeting ; Oslo, Norway, July 2017 (poster presentation)

“The Missing Heritability Problem as Genetics, Psychology, and Philosophy”
Department of Philosophy Colloquium, University of Utah, 2017

“On Mechanistic Reasoning in Unexpected Places: the case of population genetics”
Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association; Atlanta, 2016

“Population Genetics and Mechanism”
International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB); University of Montreal, Canada; 2015

“Embedded Mechanisms and Phylogenetics”
Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association; Chicago, 2014

“Phylogenetic Mechanisms”
WISHKABIBBLE; Gorges du Verdon, France; 2013

“Conflicting Results for Natural Selection and the New Philosophy of Mechanisms”
International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB); University of Montpellier, France; 2013

“Explanation and Integrative Complexity: Lessons from the Psychopath”
International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB); University of Utah; 2011

“On the Value of Uncertainty: Lessons from Bootstrapped Phylogenies” 
International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB); University of Utah; 2011 (Poster Presentation)

Intermountain West Graduate Philosophy Conference; University of Utah; 2011

History and Philosophy of Biology in the Desert (HPBD); Arizona State University; 2011

“Fleshing Out the Epidemiological Account”
National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Experimental Philosophy Institute; University of Arizona; 2012

“Functional Reductionism and the Unpalatable Alternative: a Reply to Khalidi’s 2008 Challenge”
University of Georgia Graduate Philosophy Conference; University of Georgia; 2011

“On a Neurophilosophy of Science: Churchland’s Neurocomputational Perspective of Kuhnian Dynamics of Science”
Taft Research Fellowship Presentation; University of Cincinnati; 2010

“What is it Like to be a Dualist?”
Ohio State University Annual Undergraduate Philosophy Conference; Ohio State University; 2009

FELLOWSHIPS, AWARDS, AND GRANTS

Genetics & Human Agency Postdoctoral Research Fellowship 
University of Virginia, 2016

Tanner Humanities Center Faculty Research Interest Group (RIG) 
University of Utah, 2016

Department of Philosophy Tanner Fellowship
University of Utah, 2015-2016

National Science Foundation, Travel Grant
History of Science Society meeting, Chicago, 2014

Marriner S. Eccles Graduate Research Fellowship
University of Utah, 2014-2015

National Endowment for the Humanities, Visiting Scholarship
Summer Experimental Philosophy Institute; University of Arizona, 2012

Utah Humanities Council Graduate Research Fellowship
University of Utah, 2011-2012

Children’s Cognitive Research Lab, Research Assistantship
University of Cincinnati, 2009-2010

Charles Phelps Taft Undergraduate Research Fellowship
University of Cincinnati, 2009-2010"