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Dan McShea, Affliated Faculty of Philosophy and Professor of Biology    editDan McShea

Office Location: 139 Bio Sciences Building, Box 90338
Office Phone: 919-660-7342
Fax:  (919) 660-7293
Email Address: send me a message
Web Page:

Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1990
A.B., Harvard College, 1978

Philosophy of Biology
Cognitive Science

Research Interests:
Dan McShea (Ph.D. 1990, University of Chicago) arrived at Duke in 1996 with a primary appointment in Biology, and now holds a secondary appointment in Philosophy. From 1991-93 he joined the Michigan Society of Fellows as a postdoctoral fellow, and from 1994-95 held a postdoc at the Santa Fe Institute. His major papers are in the field of paleobiology, with a focus on large-scale trends in the history of life, especially documenting and investigating the causes of the (putative) trend in the complexity of organisms. A significant part of this work involves operationalizing certain concepts, such as complexity and hierarchy, as well as clarifying conceptual issues related to trends at larger scales. He publishes regularly in the journals, Evolution, Paleobiology, and Biology and Philosophy. He serves on the editorial board of Biology and Philosophy and as a book-review co-editor for the journal Complexity . McShea is a member of Duke's Center for the Philosophy of Biology.

Areas of Interest:
Biological hierarchy

Teaching (Spring 2015):

Teaching (Fall 2015):

  • LS 760.28, Selected topics Synopsis
    Perkins 085, M 06:15 PM-08:45 PM
  • BIOLOGY 790S.01, Special topics seminar Synopsis
    Bio Sci 130, W 03:05 PM-05:35 PM

Representative Publications   (More Publications)
  • D.W. McShea. "Upper-directed systems: A new approach to teleology in biology." Biology and Philosophy 27 (2012): 663-684.
  • D.W. McShea and Robert Brandon. Biology's First Law. University of Chicago Press, 2010.
  • L. Fleming and D.W. McShea. "Drosophila mutants suggest a strong drive toward complexity in evolution." Evolution and Development 15 (): 53-62. (Paper was written up in a Scientific American piece by Carl Zimmer. Attached)
  • J. Marcot and D.W. McShea. "Increasing hierarchical complexity throughout the history of life: phylogenetic tests of trend mechanisms." Paleobiology 33 (2007): 182-200.  [abs] [author's comments]
  • D.W. McShea and W. Hordijk. "Complexity by subtraction." Evolutionary Biology 40 (2013): 504-520. [doi]
  • D.W. McShea. "The evolution of complexity without natural selection (or, a possible large-scale trend of the fourth kind)." Paleobiology 31 (Supplement) (2005): 146-156.
  • D.W. McShea. "Machine wanting." Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (): 679-687. [doi]
  • D.W. McShea. "A universal generative tendency toward increased organismal complexity." Variation: A Central Concept in Biology (2005): 435-453.
  • D.W. McShea and C. Anderson. "The remodularization of the organism." Modularity: Understanding the Development and Evolution of Natural Complex Systems (2005): 185-206.
  • L. Marino, D.W. McShea, and M.D. Uhen. "Origin and evolution of large brains in toothed whales." Anatomical Record 281A (2004): 1247-1255.
  • D.W. McShea and M.A. Changizi. "Three puzzles in hierarchical evolution." Integrative and Comparative Biology 43 (2003): 74-81.
  • D.W. McShea. "A complexity drain on cells in the evolution of multicellularity." Evolution 56.3 (2002): 441-452.
  • D.W. McShea and E.P. Venit. "Testing for bias in the evolution of coloniality: A demonstration in cyclostome bryozoans." Paleobiology 28.3 (2002): 308-327.
  • D.W. McShea. "The "minor transitions" in hierarchial evolution and the question of directional bias." Journal of Evolutionary Biology 14 (2001): 502-518.
  • D.W. McShea. "The hierarchical structure of organisms: a scale and documentation of a trend in the maximum." Paleobiology 27 (2001): 405-423.
  • Anderson, C and DW McShea. "Individual versus social complexity, with particular reference to ant colonies." Biological Reviews (of the Cambridge Philosophical Society) 76 (2001): 211-237.
  • D.W. McShea and E.P. Venit. "What is a part?." The Character Concept in Evolutionary Biology (2001).
  • D.W. McShea. "Functional complexity in organisms: parts as proxies." Biology and Philosophy 15 (2000): 641-668.
  • D.W. McShea. "Feelings as the proximate cause of behavior." Where Psychology Meets Biology: Philosophical Essays (1999).
  • D.W. McShea. "Possible largest-scale trends in organismal evolution: eight "live hypotheses"." Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 29 (1998): 293-318.

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