Pigliucci pwns Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini

In this week’s Nature, philosopher/biologist Massimo Pigliucci reviews What Darwin Got Wrong, the book-length attack on natural selection penned by Jerry Fodor and (the unrelated) Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini:

By misusing philosophical distinctions and misinterpreting the literature on natural selection, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini make a mess of what could have been an important contribution. The authors are correct in two of their assessments. Namely that: mainstream evolutionary biology has become complacent with the nearly 70-year-old Modern Synthesis, which reconciled the original theory of natural selection with Mendelian and population genetics; and that the field needs to extend the conceptual arsenal of evolutionary theory. But in claiming that there are fundamental flaws in an edifice that has withstood a century and a half of critical examination, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini err horribly. . .

. . . Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini offer only sterile and wrongheaded criticism. Fortunately, other philosophers of science and theoretical biologists are coming together to clarify and build on the conceptual foundations of science and explore issues of its practice; this is a better way to bridge the two cultures.

The “important contribution” that F&P-P fail to make, apparently, is the contribution that Pigliucci himself is bent on making, for that “extension” of neo-Darwinism is laid out in a soon-to-appear book, Evolution: The Extended Synthesis, edited by Pigliucci and Gerd Müller.

And Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini?  Well, they’ll claim that Pigliucci is just another philosopher who has failed to grasp their point.

My own review of What Darwin Got Wrong will appear in four weeks.

30 Comments

  1. HP
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Ow! My nose! I walked right into a paywall.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 19, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      I hate when that happens!

      [I always try to take it on the chin, but believe you me paywalls leave noses out of bent everywhere.]

  2. newenglandbob
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait for the book by Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd Müller and also Jerry’s review of the F&P-P book.

  3. orange juice
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Interesting pointer, Jerry Coyne, but gosh, you’ve now progressed to employing no less than three different spellings of Piatelli-Palmarini’s name several times within the same blogpost.

    It’s funny for you to point out that the Massimos are unrelated, by the way. Imagine an Italian scientist feeling the need to point out that Jerry Coyne and Jerry Fodor are unrelated.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      Corrected; thanks. Before you go getting all pc on me, the “relatedness” comment was a JOKE!

      • orange juice
        Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        OK, now I get it…

      • newenglandbob
        Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        Jerry made the joke because of a comment I made on one of his posts weeks ago about temporarily confusing the two Massimo’s.

    • HP
      Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      Well, if Jerry Fodor’s name were Jerry Koine or Jerry B. Coin-Dollar, he might want to distance himself a bit.

      Did you know that Sean Carroll and Sean B. Carroll are two completely different scientists? Lots of people don’t.

    • Posted March 19, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Jerry Coyne and Jerry Fodor are NOT related?!

      Must adjust all my thinking.

  4. lylebot
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Since you pointed out that the two Massimos are unrelated but not the two Jerrys, should we assume that you and Fodor are in fact related?

  5. orange juice
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    lylebot, I just posted the exact same point in the same minute that you did, but my comment “is awaiting moderation”!

    • orange juice
      Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      OK, no longer so! :-)

  6. Artikcat
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Never imagined so many people read so many book reviews-there are more reviews than books-.Does anyone read the books? Or papers anymore? Maybe not: many came out of the closet right here never reading Darwin?….

    • newenglandbob
      Posted March 17, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      I read books. I have read 100+ non-fiction books in the last 2 years. That is why the reviews are so important to me. I can then select books worth reading and not waste my time on poorly written or poorly conceived ones. There are a lot of books published each week on sciences.

    • Occam
      Posted March 17, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      A subtle touch of Jorge Luis Borges here: comments on meta-reviews of reviews of books which might as well turn out to be imaginary…
      (In the case of F&PP, alas, also in the sense that their book is the square root of negative unity…)

      • Posted March 17, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        Isnt this whats goes on here? A Borgian stage?: Reviews of the reviewing-or more properly, critique-of Mr Darwins’ work? With more vapidity than eloquence the main body of ideas and science is left out replaced by a tangential mess of non ideas and scientists fighting the evil forces of religious pundits turned overnight experts-which is theretically possible- jerking off left and right celebrating their new -or renewed-15 minutes of fame. Which places many scientists in the same limelight and stage, which we may enjoy more than we know.

  7. Posted March 17, 2010 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Hmm…Pigliucci also had an interesting bloggheads diavlog with Mike Treder on the topic of transhumanism:

    http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/26683

  8. Frank
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    “And Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini? Well, they’ll claim that Pigliucci is just another philosopher who has failed to grasp their point.”

    And if they’re right, will that mean that they pwned Pigliucci back?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 18, 2010 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      They’re not right.

  9. tomh
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    they’ll claim that Pigliucci is just another philosopher who has failed to grasp their point.

    Fodor has it both ways. The biologists can’t understand the abstruse philosophical points he makes, and the philosophers can’t understand the biology. Of course, Fodor doesn’t seem to understand the biology too well himself.

    • Michael K Gray
      Posted March 18, 2010 at 12:54 am | Permalink

      I’d trust a “biologist who doesn’t ‘understand’ philosophy” over a “philosopher who doesn’t understand biology” any day…

      • Frank
        Posted March 18, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        In some areas, I agree. In others, I wouldn’t. Maybe Coyne should start a post about this.

  10. tomh
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini respond to Kitcher and Block’s rather devastating review of their book, then Kitcher and Block answer. An interesting exchange.

    http://bostonreview.net/BR35.2/darwin_exchange.php

    • AdamK
      Posted March 18, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Notice how Kitcher & Block keep getting clearer and clearer, but Frodo and Pepperoni-Parcheesi get more & more muddled and arch?

  11. Bruce Gorton
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Off topic:

    I just finished reading Debunking Delusions by Nathan Geffen.

    Get. This. Book.

    Seriously, well written, has a nice pro-science axe to grind and it will show you exactly why the anti-scientific community needs squashing.

    • Frank
      Posted March 18, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      Enough with the ridiculous “pro-science” vs “anti-science.” Let the battle be between “good science” and “bad science.”

      • Bruce Gorton
        Posted March 19, 2010 at 3:35 am | Permalink

        The book follows the TAC (Treatment Action Campaign) and the impact of AIDS denialism in the “traditional healer” community.

        If you want a case study on how to beat that bullshit and why you should, read the book.

        In South Africa with the AIDS epidemic part of the whole denialist camp’s strategy was that modern medicine is “Western science.”

        The basic issue with the traditional medicine is that it doesn’t want to get the same testing as normal medicine because, ultimately, they reject the germ theory of disease.

        When we talk bad science, it is anti-science we are faced with. Frequently with government collusion thrown in.

        You get the exact same issue with creationists and other forms of science denial.

        The TAC represents a science movement that actually has made significant progress towards victory. The book shows in part, how they did it.

        Something which other science movements can learn from.

  12. Gerdien
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Pigliucci
    The authors are correct in two of their assessments. Namely that: mainstream evolutionary biology has become complacent with the nearly 70-year-old Modern Synthesis, which reconciled the original theory of natural selection with Mendelian and population genetics; and that the field needs to extend the conceptual arsenal of evolutionary theory

    Does Pigliucci know anything happened in the last 70 years?


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