The Idea of Mismatch in Evolutionary Medicine


Mismatch is a prominent concept in evolutionary medicine and a number of philosophers have published analyses of this concept. The word ‘mismatch’ has been used in a diversity of ways across a range of sciences, leading these authors to regard it as a vague concept in need of philosophical clarification. Here, in contrast, we concentrate on the use of mismatch in modelling and experimentation in evolutionary medicine. This reveals a rigorous theory of mismatch within which the term ‘mismatch’ is indeed used in several ways, not because it is ill-defined but because different forms of mismatch are distinguished within the theory. Contemporary evolutionary medicine has unified the idea of ‘evolutionary mismatch’, derived from the older idea of ‘adaptive lag’ in evolution, with ideas about mismatch in development and physiology derived from the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) paradigm. A number of publications in evolutionary medicine have tried to make this theoretical framework explicit. We build on these to present the theory in as simple and general a form as possible. We introduce terminology, largely drawn from the existing literature, to distinguish the different forms of mismatch. This integrative theory of mismatch captures how organisms track environments across space and time on multiple scales in order to maintain an adaptive match to the environment, and how failures of adaptive tracking lead to disease. Mismatch is a productive organising concept within this theory which helps researchers articulate how physiology, development and evolution interact with one another and with environmental change to explain health outcomes.

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
Pierrick Bourrat
Pierrick Bourrat
Senior Lecturer & DECRA Fellow

My research interests include the concepts of evolutionary theory, causation and the interplay between biological and cultural evolution.