Wednesday, November 12, 2014

e.o. wilson on bishop dawkins...,

independent |  “We just corrected a mistake made originally by Hamilton and then repeated by a number of people, myself included,” he says.

Wilson argues that multilevel selection – both at the level of individuals and groups – has led to the creation of eusociality in ants and humans. In the simplest terms, individuals who co-operate together in groups achieve more and enhance the survival of their group, while selfish individualism does not, even in terms of Hamilton’s inclusive fitness and kin selection.

“Within groups, selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals but in the selection of other traits of individuals that are interactive with other individuals – social traits – then groups of altruists defeat groups of selfish individuals,” Wilson explains. “In a nutshell, individual selection favours what we call sin and group selection favours virtue.”  But for many evolutionary biologists, this is demonstrably untrue, at least in animals. For the past 40 years or more, biology students have been taught that natural selection works on the level of genes. Richard Dawkins was the first to articulate this approach to a mass audience, arguing that individuals and their bodies are mere vehicles or “gene machines” for carrying genes through one generation to the next.

Two years after the 2010 Nature paper, Dawkins wrote a scathing review in Prospect magazine of Wilson’s support for group selection which Dawkins dismissively labelled “a bland, unfocused ecumenicalism”.

Natural selection without kin selection is like Euclid without Pythagoras, wrote Dawkins. “Wilson is, in effect, striding around with a ruler, measuring triangles to see whether Pythagoras got it right,” he said. “For Wilson not to acknowledge that he speaks for himself against the great majority of his professional colleagues is – it pains me to say this of a lifelong hero – an act of wanton arrogance.”
Although Wilson has much to be arrogant about, few who have met him would accuse him of it. But the criticism must have hurt, and Wilson was evidently still feeling stung by it when writing his latest book, in which he rather waspishly describes Dawkins, a distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society and retired Oxford professor, as an “eloquent science journalist”.

“What else is he? I mean journalism is a high and influential profession. But he’s not a scientist, he’s never done scientific research. My definition of a scientist is that you can complete the following sentence: ‘he or she has shown that…’,” Wilson says.

“I don’t want to go on about this because he and I were friends. There is no debate between us because he’s not in the arena. I’m sorry he’s so upset. He could have distinguished himself by looking at the evidence, that’s what most science journalists do. When a journalist named Dawkins wrote a review in Prospect urging people not to read my book, I thought the last time I heard something like that I think it came from an 18th-century bishop.”