Skip Navigation

The Sir Karl Popper Essay Prize

In 2011, arrangements for the Prize have changed. Henceforth, the Sir Karl Popper Essay Prize will be awarded for the best of those papers appearing in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science which concern themselves with topics in the philosophy of science to which Sir Karl made a significant contribution. To be awarded on the basis of the judgement of the Editors of the Journal (in liaison with the BSPS Committee, as the Editors see fit) from papers appearing in that year’s volume of the Journal.

The Prize was originally established at the wish of the late Dr Laurence B. Briskman, formerly of the Department of Philosophy, University of Edinburgh, who died on 8 May 2002, having endowed an essay prize fund to encourage work in any area falling under the general description of the critical rationalist philosophy of Karl Popper. Dr Briskman came to the University of Edinburgh in 1969, after completing graduate studies in logic and philosophy of science at the London School of Economics, where he was greatly influenced by Popper, who remained the dominant intellectual influence on his philosophical outlook throughout his career.


The decision of the Co-Editors of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science is that the Sir Karl Popper Prize for 2014 should be awarded to Rachael Brown for her paper 'What Evolvability Really Is’, Br J Philos Sci (2014) 65 (3): 549-572.

The concept of evolvability has attracted increasing interest within the philosophy of biology, yet it remains conceptually muddled. By focusing on the theoretical roles played by 'evolvability' in 'evo-devo' and evolutionary biology more generally, Brown aims to both clarify the notion and offer a unified account of it. Her analysis is driven by a case study on the evolution of primate limbs and within that context she picks out a role for 'evolvability-based' explanations that complements other explanatory approaches in evolutionary biology. This allows her to identify the core (categorical) properties that evolvability (as a dispositional property of populations) must supervene on and in terms of which she constructs a probabilistic account of the notion. Within that formal framework, various hypotheses concerning evolvability can then be represented and the factors relevant to assessing their truth illuminated.

Thus Brown's paper represents an important contribution to the foundations of evolutionary biology. It relates its central explication of evolvability to an accessible and engaging case study in particular, and to a range of issues in the philosophy of science more generally, thus illustrating the power of an integrated approach to the topic. In all these respects, and especially by bringing the technical, scientific, and philosophical features of the issue together in such a deft and thought-provoking manner, it stands as a worthy winner of this year's BSPS Popper Prize in the philosophy of science.


2013: The 2013 Popper Prize was won by Charles Pence and Grant Ramsey for their paper 'A New Foundation for the Propensity Interpretation of Fitness’ (BJPS 64(4), 851-881).

2012: The 2012 Popper Prize was won by Dr Elliot Wagner (University of Amsterdam) for his paper 'Deterministic Chaos and the Evolution of Meaning' (BJPS 63(3), 547-575).

2011: The 2011 Popper Prize was won by Dr Daniel Greco (NYU) for his article 'Significance Testing in Theory and Practice' (BJPS 62(3), 607-637).

2009: The 2009 Popper Prize was won by Dr Sebastian Lutz of the University of Utrecht for a paper on 'Criteria of Empirical Significance: a Success Story'.

2008: The 2008 Sir Karl Popper Essay Prize was won by Antoni Diller (School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham) with an essay entitled 'On Critical and Pancritical Rationalism'.

2007: no award made.

2006-7: The 2006-7 Sir Karl Popper Essay Prize was won by Maria Kronfeldner (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin) with an essay entitled 'Darwinian hypothesis formation revisited'.

2005-6: no award made.

2004-5: The 2004-5 Sir Karl Popper Essay Prize was won by Benjamin Elliott (University of Aberdeen) with an essay entitled 'Falsifiable Statements in Theology: Karl Popper and Christian Thought'. The runner-up was Milos Taliga (Matej Bel University, Slovakia).