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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The sound of warfare within the camp: And it's about ants

At AccessResearchNetwork, British physicist David Tyler writes about the latest division in the orthodox Darwin camp:
Towards constructive discourse in science 
Inclusive Fitness Theory (IFT) is of considerable importance to Darwinian evolutionists. The theory is concerned with the phenomena of altruistic behaviour and eusocial societies, both of which involve the willingness of some animals to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the group. Darwin struggled to provide a rationale, and so did those who followed him. It was Bill Hamilton who put together a coherent theory and Richard Dawkins who popularised it in The Selfish Gene. For many, IFT has achieved the status of orthodoxy. It was an intellectual and an emotional shock, therefore, when a paper appeared in Nature (August 2010) from three prominent evolutionary biologists saying that the IFT paradigm is unproductive. Responses were immediate and much of it was hostile. Science journalist Roger Highfield provided an overview of the controversy: 
"The mainstream media often like to portray the scientific community as regularly riven by blazing rows. Scientists, understandably, complain: after all, if you go to any mainstream academic conference, you won't find any hint of controversy about the MMR jab or the reality of climate change, let alone argy-bargy over the basic facts of evolution. But in the past few weeks, I have witnessed a bare-knuckle brouhaha that would make an uninformed outsider gasp at how bloody a battle over a seemingly arcane issue can be. The row was triggered by a paper in Nature by Martin Nowak, Edward Wilson and Corina Tarnita of Harvard University. While some hailed it as "revolutionary" and a "return to rigour", others condemned it as "sad", "baffling", "irritating" and "unscholarly"." 

Readers of this blog might be interested in the reactions of Jerry Coyne, who was mystified by Ed Wilson's participation in the paper. 
"I don't know what's gotten into E. O. Wilson. He's certainly the world's most famous evolutionary biologist, and has gone from strength to strength over the years, winning two Pulitzer Prizes, writing great general books on not only ants but conservation and social behavior. [. . .] But now Wilson, along with some collaborators like David Sloan Wilson and Martin Nowak, is definitely heading off on the wrong track. They're attacking kin selection, maintaining not only that it has nothing to do with the evolution of social insects, but that's it's also a bad way to look at evolution in general. And they're wrong - dead wrong."
Coyne is also outraged by the publication of this paper in a prestigious journal ... (links at site)

Oh, where have we heard that before? Any time anyone who doubts Darwin gets a paper published, we hear the Darwin lobby booing and hissing.

But now that they are divided among themselves, they may not be able to drown out everyone else.

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