Laland at it again: touts a “radically different” account of evolution

Yes, the folks who want evolutionary biology to be radically expanded to take into account phenomena like development, “niche construction,” culture, and epigenetics are at it again, and again they have nothing to offer but a few lab examples mixed with a lot of hype. And the promoter of this view is once again Kevin Laland from the University of St Andrews, who has published a new piece in Aeon, “Science in flux: Is evolutionary science due for a major overhaul, or is talk of a ‘revolution’ misguided? Now Laland is not just a dispassionate person who sees evolution neglecting these areas, for he’s head of a £5.7 million Templeton grant “to further our understanding of evolution.” Templeton has donated a lot of money lately to projects trying to revise or dismantle the current neo-Darwinian view of evolution. I’m not quite sure how this fits into their science-loves-religion agenda, but it must.

To Laland and his co-investigators, “furthering our understanding of evolution” means relentlessly beating the drum to say that the modern evolutionary synthesis is severely deficient, and that saviors like Laland and The Templetonians are going to fix it. Laland’s essay adds nothing to what these workers have said before (see this Nature essay and its rebuttal from four years ago)—things that I, along with others, have characterized as an overblown and careerist program designed not so much to further evolutionary biology as to advance the reputations and grant-bestowed dosh of the “revolutionaries.” (See here and here as well the Nature link and the three papers at bottom of this post.)

It’s not that development, epigenetics, and culture don’t play a role in evolution. As I’ve written before (see here and here for instance) “Evo-devo”, or the study of development and evolution, has produced great insights, like the finding that the Pax-6 gene controls eye formation in taxa as distant as flies and mice—taxa in which eyes have evolved independently. It’s just that development folds neatly into the study of evolutionary biology, and wasn’t really neglected—just laid aside until we had the molecular tools to study it. Epigenetics is important in putting marks on genes that enable cell lines to differentiate, and to produce sexual conflict in embryos, but there’s no evidence, as the touts pretend, that environmentally-induced epigenetic marks have been important in evolution. (They are almost invariably erased when gametes are formed, ergo can’t produce permanent changes).  Culture has certainly played a rule in the evolution of some species: the most famous example is how lactose tolerance has evolved in human societies that keep sheep, goats and cattle. Culturally inherited songs learned by “brood parasites” in birds can initiate speciation when a parasite lays its eggs in the “wrong” nest and thus gets imprinted on a new host, and so on. But these have been studied for years (remember the blue tits who learned to drink cream by piercing milk bottles?), and the idea that culture can change selective pressures on genes is hardly revolutionary. (Do remember, too that the vast majority of species on this planet don’t have cultures that can pass on nongenetic information between generations.)

The problem is not that these phenomena aren’t interesting. It’s that they haven’t been shown to be ubiquitous in evolution, and some things, like “Lamarckian” epigenesis, have never been shown to be important in nature, though you can demonstrate them in the lab. Given how multifarious nature is, almost everything has happened at least once, but to call for a new view of evolution you have to show that your favored phenomenon is widespread.  None of the promoters of the “extended evolutionary synthesis,” like Laland, have done that. They just keep writing the same article over and over again, adding the same tired (and sometimes flawed) handful of examples.

So Laland’s Aeon piece isn’t really new in those respects. What is new are two things. First, Laland admits that the talk of an “evolution revolution” is exaggerated: no “paradigm shift” is in the offing. Yet although such a paradigm shift may not be happening, we are still, says Laland, on the verge of a “radically different and profoundly richer account of evolution”. Second, Laland has started hitting below the belt by smearing his critics: he says that resistance to this “richer account” is the fault of “traditionally minded” evolutionists (I suppose I’m one). He’s trying to equate, I think, scientific conservatives with political conservatives.

Here’s a quote from Laland; the emphases are mine:

Why, then, are traditionally minded evolutionary biologists complaining about the misguided evolutionary radicals that lobby for paradigm shift? Why are journalists writing articles about scientists calling for a ‘revolution’ in evolutionary biology? If nobody actually wants a revolution, and scientific revolutions rarely happen anyway, what’s all the fuss about? The answer to these questions provides a fascinating insight into the sociology of evolutionary biology.

Revolution in evolution is a misattribution – a myth propagated by an unlikely alliance of conservative-minded evolutionists, creationists and the press. I don’t doubt that there are a small number of genuine, revolutionarily minded evolutionary radicals out there, but the vast majority of researchers working towards an extended evolutionary synthesis are simply ordinary, hardworking evolutionary biologists.

We all know that sensationalism sells newspapers, and articles that portend a major upheaval make for better copy. Creationists and advocates of ‘intelligent design’ also feed this impression, with propaganda that exaggerates differences of opinion among evolutionists and gives a false impression that the field of evolutionary biology is in turmoil. What’s more surprising is how commonly conservative-minded biologists play the ‘We’re under attack!’ card against their fellow evolutionists. Portraying intellectual opponents as extremist, and telling people that they are being attacked, are age-old rhetorical tricks to win debate or allegiance.

I had always associated such games with politics, not science, but now realise I was naive. Some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans I have witnessed, seemingly designed to prevent new ideas from spreading by fair means or foul, have truly shocked me, and are out of kilter with practice in other fields that I know. Scientists, too, have careers and legacies at stake, as well as struggles for funding, power and influence. [If I were Laland, I’d look in the mirror here.] I worry that the traditionalists’ rhetoric is backfiring, creating confusion and inadvertently fuelling creationism by exaggerating division. Too many reputable scientists feel the need for change in evolutionary biology for all to be credibly dismissed as fringe elements.

Here we see a would-be Galileo crying that he’s been stifled and censored by hard-core traditionalists—evolutionary conservatives. And his critics are FUELING CREATIONISM!

In fact, “conservative-minded” evolutionists like myself, Brian and Deborah Charlesworth, and Doug Futuyma, haven’t been the ones erecting the strawman of a proposed “evolution revolution”. It was scientists themselves—people like Laland, Massimo Pigliucci and the “Altenberg 16” participants, physiologist Dennis Noble, my Chicago colleague Jim Shapiro, epigenetics-touter Eva Jablonka, and the entire panoply of scientists (yes, most of them “fringe biologists”) at The Third Way site—all of these people have either explicitly called for a revamping of evolutionary thinking and a drastic expansion of evolutionary biology, if not its replacement. (Some reject a “gene-centered” view of evolution and argue that adaptations result from “self organization”—surely non-neo-Darwinian views!) Yet none of these calls are based on any new empirical evidence that evolutionary biology needs the “radically different” take that Laland touts in his article.

Actually, “conservative-mindedness”, while it may not be good in politics, is an eminently sensible way to do science. That is, if we have a view that explains what we see pretty well, as does neo-Darwinism, then we should abandon or seriously modify that view only when enough evidence has accumulated to show that the view is full of holes or seriously deficient. That hasn’t happened with neo-Darwinism, despite Laland et al.’s endlessly repeated and largely identical screeds. Since serious evolutionists haven’t embraced Laland et al.’s views, he now tries to smear people who are careful scientists, loath to hop on new bandwagons, by calling them “conservative-minded biologists”. He even says that these “conservatives” can fuel creationism, which is a stupid and erroneous claim if I’ve ever heard one. In fact, it is people like Laland who fuel creationism: just see how often organizations like the Discovery Institute tout evolution’s “third way” and call attention to the revisionists’ criticisms of neo-Darwinism. The claim that evolutionary biology is seriously deficient because it ignores important insights is a claim tailor-made for the ID movement.

What about the substance of Laland’s Aeon essay? There isn’t much there beyond what he’s said before. He gives a few examples of epigenetic changes that can be passed on for several generations in the laboratory, but at least one of these (inheritance of fear of some odors in mice) is controversial, and the rest have no relevance to nature. Laland gives not a single example of an adaptation in nature that evolved because its initial phases involved environmentally induced changes in the DNA that somehow got passed on and then became adaptive. In the light of this gaping lacuna, why do these people keep banging on about “Lamarckian” epigenetic evolution? I can see no reason beyond the careerism that Laland imputes to the “conservatives”.

Laland talks about “gene-culture” coevolution, noting the lactose tolerance example, but that’s nothing new, and was already incorporated into evolutionary theory well before Laland starting trumpeting it. I’ve taught it for years in introductory evolution! Laland touts the importance of development as limiting the possibilities of evolutionary change, since you have to evolve adaptations in the milieu of an already-existing system of development. But that again is hardly anything new. Yet when Laland argues that evolutionary “convergence”—the evolution of similar phenotypes in very unrelated species, like the existence of marsupial “moles” that are very similar to placental moles—is too striking to involve natural selection alone, and must involve the channeling of evolution by developmental plans, he’s on shaky ground. After all, fishy appearances evolved in the ancestors of fish, ichthyosaurs, and dolphins—three groups with very different developmental systems. As Darwin said, and Charlesworth et al. emphasize (see below), animals and plants are quite plastic, and seem able to evolve remarkably similar appearances despite very different developmental systems and evolutionary backgrounds. If development severely restricted how animals could evolve, artificial selection experiments with a given end in mind would often fail.  Just looking at the breeds of dogs is refutation enough of Laland’s claims.

Several readers called my attention to Laland’s essay, and as I read it I got the sinking feeling that I was just reading the same essay I’ve read many times before. And I was. Some of Laland’s words are new—like his invidious criticism of “conservative-minded evolutionists”—but there’s no new evidence adduced. Until that evidence accumulates—and we need more than one-off lab studies—there’s little call to start bashing evolutionary theory.

The claims of Laland, his fellow investigators on the Templeton grant, and the “Third Way” evolutionists have been adjudicated by evolutionists I deeply respect, and have been found wanting. These people aren’t diehard opponents of new phenomena in evolution, but rather people who change their minds only when they see evidence from nature to do so. To read three good rebuttals of Laland et al.’s self-promoting and overblown claims about the “new evolutionary synthesis”, read the papers at the bottom, which are freely available.

The dogs bark—loudly!—but the caravan moves on.

________________

Charlesworth, D., N. H. Barton, and B. Charlesworth. 2017. The sources of adaptive variation. Proc Roy Soc B 284:http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2016.2864.

Futuyma, D. J. 2015. Can modern evolutionary theory explain macroevolution? Pp. 29-85 in E. a. N. G. Serelli, ed. Macroevolution: Explanation, Interpretation, and Evidence. Springer, Switzerland.

Haig, D. 2007. Weismann Rules! OK? Epigenetics and the Lamarckian temptation. Biology and Philosophy 22:415-428.

 

67 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    It boggles the mind

    Where to start? What do you say?

    It’s Friday, that’s what.

  2. colnago80
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    The mere fact that this clown is a recipient of funding from the Templeton Foundation is sufficient in my mind to look at anything he says with a very jaundiced eye. The very reason for being of that nefarious organization is to inject religious bullshit into science.

    • lwgreen1
      Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      And unfortunately they have the deep pockets with which to do it.

      • Posted January 19, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Here’s a how long is a piece of string question from a non-scientist. In view of the £5.7 million Templeton grant that Jerry cited for Laland’s work, does anyone know of the size of untainted grants for comparable work in biology? How much better-funded would a Templeton project be than the normal or average investigation? Apologies if this has been covered somewhere else on the site. Cheers.

        • Posted January 19, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          What *lab or field work* does it fund? In biology one generally has to have some of those.

        • colnago80
          Posted January 19, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

          Here’s an example of NSF awards in the biological sciences to researchers at the California Institute of Technology, rated as the top university in the world in several surveys (and top 10 in virtually all of them)

          https://www.nsf.gov/awards/award_visualization.jsp?org=BIO#region=US-CA&instId=0011312000

          Here’s an example of NSF awards in the biological sciences to researchers at UC Berkeley, also a top 10 institution in most surveys.

          https://www.nsf.gov/awards/award_visualization.jsp?org=BIO#region=US-CA&instId=0013128000

          As can be seen, all awards are less then what the clown Laland got from phonies at Templeton.

          Note that the awards by the NSF are in US Dollars while the award by Templeton is in British Pounds.

          • Posted January 19, 2018 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

            Thank you, Colnago80. One wonders why Templeton research costs up to ten times as much as CIT projects. A comparative audit would be interesting, especially the salaries section.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 19, 2018 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      My opinion is Templeton are using these scientists, and not just to make themselves look good by financing serious work.

      The meme Creationism and Intelligent Design have to fight against is #EvolutionIsTrue. If Laland (which I always read as LalaLand) et al can show that the fringe stuff is actually a major part of evolution, it creates confusion about whether evolution really is true.

      People will then use that confusion to argue that ID should be taught in schools, that studying it should get serious funding etc.

      At the end of the day, the goal of groups like Templeton is to get science to prove the Bible is true. They fund an archaeological dig that finds a wall that’s fallen over. This is enough for some to prove that the story of Jericho is true. Facts like the wall being from the wrong period in history are ignored, as is the complete lack of proof for what made the wall fall over.

      • Posted January 19, 2018 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        See Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman, Heather, for no-nonsense, evidence-based Syro-Palestinian archaeology on biblical datings. Dr. Nili Samet, of Bar-Ilan University, is very good on the intellectual links and direct literary connections (ca. 1500-500 BCE) between the Hebrew Bible and Mesopotamian and Egyptian thought.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted January 20, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          Thanks.

      • W.Benson
        Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

        Heather makes an important point. If third-way advocates can make enough noise to make it appear that a serious scientific controversy exists concerning Darwinian evolution, or that a conservative conspiracy exists within evolutionary biology to block new scientific understanding, anti-science will grab onto it like it has with man-made climate change. It is essential that Laland’s arguments prophesying the need for an EES be refuted (and mocked) one by one.

        • Elmo
          Posted January 20, 2018 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

          But man-made climate change IS a totally tainted field! The skeptics are real scientists, in the philosophy of science sense, not creationists.
          I’m too tired to go into the details tonight, but you could spend some time at Watts’ site and compare them to the Templeton and IDers.

          Evolution is a pretty mature field of study and has gone through a lot of debate. Climatology is 40 years old and hopelessly corrupted by politics.

          I hope to live long enough to see this sorted out. I believe it will deserve a chapter in Extraordinary Poular Delusions, right next to Lysenkoism.

          • rickflick
            Posted January 20, 2018 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

            “The skeptics are real scientists”

            There are a vanishingly small number of this species. And almost all are on the payroll of big oil. No need to provide some actual evidence. I wouldn’t want to disturb your fatigue.

  3. Mark Perew
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Clicked through the science article to boost the stats, even though I read it in email.

    • pck
      Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Same.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted January 19, 2018 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

        Same.

        Whenever I read these articles, I get the impression that Laland and the others don’t really understand what evolution actually is. Kind of like, um, you know, creationists…

  4. jaxkayaker
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I started reading Laland’s article until I saw it just looked like another epigenetics article. I’m interested in epigenetics and how it might contribute to our understanding of biology and evolution, but this didn’t seem to be anything new, just more of the same, as you said, Jerry. I saved the article for later reading, and now I’m glad you’re confirming my suspicion to save me the trouble of reading it carefully any time soon.

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Also, thank you for posting links to many relevant articles from the primary literature. I’m downloading them to read and for future reference.

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Sorry to make several separate comments, but my thinking is slow and disjointed this morning.

      The article on Weismann’s barrier seems especially relevant to me. Many of the examples of epigenetic inheritance have come from plants, which are often capable of vegetative reproduction in addition to sexual reproduction. As a result, even if they have molecular mechanisms during gamete formation that reset epigenetic marks, as do animals, they can potentially circumvent the “barrier”. Even with plant gamete formation, plants lack the usual source of Weismann’s barrier, the separation between germ and somatic cell lineages. (Ignoring the complication of plant alternation of generations.)

      Even some animals, e.g. sponges, don’t have the germ/soma distinction. One would think researchers should be looking to those types of animals for likely candidates to prove the importance of epigenetic inheritance in at least some animals.

      • Jacques Hausser
        Posted January 19, 2018 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        It seems now than even long living plants like oaks have a somewhat protected “germ line”, see https://www.nature.com/articles/s41477-017-0066-9.
        I thing that the evolutionary theory has a stomach strong enough to digest the present hype about epigenetics, as well as it digested the punctuated equilibria some years ago.

        • jaxkayaker
          Posted January 19, 2018 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          Interesting, thanks, Jacques.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Very good article and I will get to reading the articles soon. It is the evolution scientists like you that we turn to on important issues such as this one. Examining the motives behind these claims is not that much different than learning about our own dysfunctional government. Sometimes you just need to follow the money.

  6. Erik
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I read the essay too, and agree that there is nothing new here – including the examples. I think the foundation of these claims is similar to criticisms that can be traced back to contemporary critics of Darwin. First, because Descent with Modification and Natural Selection are broad concepts, one can play with semantics, etc., to create all sorts of “straw men”. Second, people still have trouble believing that the basics of Natural Selection are sufficient to explain all adaptive evolution. In some ways, some of the people arguing for a New Synthesis share a perspective with the Intelligent Design group – they just use a different language.

  7. eric
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    if we have a view that explains what we see pretty well, as does neo-Darwinism, then we should abandon or seriously modify that view only when enough evidence has accumulated to show that the view is full of holes or seriously deficient.

    I guess I’m even more scientifically conservative that you, Jerry, as I think scientist sshould stick with views that are full of holes…until some better explanation comes along.

    Now if you do have a holey theory (not holy!), that should probably spur scientists to spend more of their time and effort developing alternative hypotheses and testing them – as opposed to when we have a really solid theory, we’ll spend lots of time and effort exploring what it implies about the world.

    But theory-competition in science is a bit of a game of king of the hill. You don’t win by calling the guy on top of the hill ugly; you only win by pushing him off. Doesn’t matter how ugly he is – he stays king until someone else takes his place at the top of the hill. Doesn’t matter how holey a scientific theory is, you only beat it by supplanting it with a better one.

    • Posted January 19, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      One is also able to take the “we don’t know what to say here” view. This was Galileo’s and Newton’s view on what gravity was. Newton, for example, was able to refute one theory of what gravity was – Cartesian style vortices – without a positive replacement.

      • colnago80
        Posted January 19, 2018 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

        A little like dark energy as an explanation for the observed acceleration of the expansion rate of the universe. As Neil Tyson puts it, we don’t have a clue what dark energy is.

      • eric
        Posted January 19, 2018 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

        Saying “I don’t know” is a perfectly fine answer to factual questions about the world. However a scientist can’t really do science without any theory at all. Questions like “what experiment should I do next” and “what variables is it important to track” necessarily require some hypothesis or theory to answer. What are the odds of finding a fossil rabbit under a layer of dinosaur bones? Is that experiment worth trying or a waste of time and effort? These questions require a theory to answer, and the scientist who yes ‘no not worth it’ or ‘yes worth the try’ is using a theory, whether they do so explicitly or just implicitly/unconsciously.

        • Gordon
          Posted January 20, 2018 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          Presumably, and being a bit pedantic, you mean a hypothesis is needed given the many comments and probably some posts I have seen here on how scientists use the two terms

          • Posted January 22, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

            The terms do not have well established meanings.

            I try to use hypothesis as basically a synonym for “appropriately scientific guess” and “theory” as a system of hypotheses closed under a relation of logical consequence. Most of the time one doesn’t specify the relation explicitly, but it is useful sometimes.

        • Posted January 22, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          That’s why Newton (in part) wrote the Principia. He was sure that Descartes, Galileo, Kepler, Huygens and so on had done important work, which nevertheless needed correction. In order to look for where to improve, one needs to systematize what has gone before that seems to be still correct.

          Same reason as I mentioned on the thread about Bohm and looking for more in the QM line.

  8. Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    The suggestion that it is the defenders of neo-Darwinism who are providing fodder for creationists is hilarious.

  9. Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Quaerere Propter Vērum.

    • colnago80
      Posted January 19, 2018 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Upon visiting Mr. Ratliff’s website, I find that he is a climate change skeptic, if not a denier. Citing cranks like Anthony Watts does inspire confidence.

      • Posted January 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        Every one of his comments I’ve noted is simply an announcement of re-posting on his blog.

        He may well be just trolling for more hits.

        Fleas come to mind …

      • colnago80
        Posted January 19, 2018 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        The last sentence is missing a “not” before inspire!

  10. Julian C
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the links — will read the articles.

  11. Posted January 19, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Been reading too and so far I surmise that Laland has adopted the ad-hom because he is well aware of the weakness of his position.

    • Posted January 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      That’s the usual reason! 🙂

  12. rickflick
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    We have become accustomed to politicians being influenced by money. They lack the integrity to uphold their oath. But it really makes me wince to see scientists on the take. They violate a near sacred oath to seeking the truth.

    Templeton is the equivalent of big oil, or big pharma, in the political realm.

    • Posted January 19, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      We scientists are just like everyone else; more than a few are “on the take”, especially in the bio-medical world. Wherever there is money to be got, some will do whatever it takes to get hold of it.

      The advantage that science has over other professions is that there is a built in mechanism to correct for bad science, flawed and less than 100% effective as it is.

  13. Tom
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    If Mr Laland really had a game changer it would have been picked up long ago by all the international organisations and universities that he seems to imply are wasting so much time by not attending to his theory.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted January 19, 2018 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      The ultimate refutation of cranks, pseudoscientists, parapsychologists, and other fringe types everywhere.

  14. Luke Vogel
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    When I read “conservative-mindedness”, I instantly thought of Darwinian Fundamentalist. I’ve enjoyed these “debates” for long time. I appreciate your piece, Jerry.

    Speaking of the latter:

    “A movement of strict constructionism, a self-styled form of Darwinian fundamentalism, has risen to some prominence in a variety of fields, from the English biological heartland …. Moreover, a larger group of strict constructionists are now engaged in an almost mordantly self-conscious effort to “revolutionize” the study of human behavior along a Darwinian straight and narrow under the name of “evolutionary psychology.”

  15. Posted January 19, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    The Templeton Foundation is in the business of cultural epigenetics, the passing on of bad ideas using dollars and nonsense.
    Going by the non evidence so far, Laland must have nice lunches…

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    The “careers at stake”/”struggles for funding” trope is widely used by defenders of the (discredited) theory that Edward DeVere, the Earl of Oxford, is the real author of Shakespeare’s plays. These folks frequently espouse belief in an academic cover-up to conceal the evidence to protect the old guard’s tenure, etc. etc.

    In reality, their arguments are just not convincing.

    • Posted January 19, 2018 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      In reality, it is those in the Shakespeare industry, especially the Birthplace Trust, who are protecting their milk cow.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted January 19, 2018 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        The Shakespeare Birthplace trust is a non-profit.

        • Gordon
          Posted January 20, 2018 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          That doesn’t mean they won’t protect their cash cow

    • Posted January 19, 2018 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      You may describe that theory as “disputed”, but it has not been discredited.

      • colnago80
        Posted January 19, 2018 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        The problem with the de Vere theory is the same as with the Christopher Marlowe theory, namely that he died in 1604 and several of the plays were believed to have been written after that date (Marlowe died in 1593).

  17. Posted January 19, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Renaming the Modern Synthesis to accommodate some phenomenon, because that phenomenon is so earth-shatteringly important is always possible. It is a matter of opinion whether the Synthesis continues under the same name of gets renamed.

    But the folks who want to do this because what they study is so amazingly important and central should be careful what they wish for. Just a few years after we all give in and agree that the Modern Synthesis should be renamed the Blotzian Synthesis because of the incredibly important work of James Blotz, along will come Jane Schmerz, demanding the renaming of the Blotzian Synthesis as the Schmerzian Synthesis.

    And as one new Synthesis replaces another with dizzying speed, people will be told that the evolutionary forces they were taught about are now all gone and replaced by Blotz’s and Schmerz’s ideas. And that will be wrong and a shame.

    • W.Benson
      Posted January 19, 2018 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Joe.

  18. Eduardo
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Very nice. This kind of article is why you shouldn’t stop posting about biology. (By the way, I read the article without clicking it open. I only opened when I decided to post this comment.)

  19. Posted January 19, 2018 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Poor Massimo Pigliucci, for making these same arguments by assertion, yet failing to tap into Templeton dough.

  20. Susan D.
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Great posting Jerry. I will get around to reading the other articles. thanks for all you do!

  21. µ
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    “alliance of conservative-minded evolutionists, creationists and the press” (quote Laland)

    Absolute nonsense! And stupidity.
    Especially the part about the alliance between evolutionists and creationists.

  22. Hemidactylus
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t evolution of lactase persistence in response to the advent of dairying (blessed are the cheesemakers) an example of niche construction?

    http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/366/1566/863

    I have Laland’s new book but have been all over the place in my compulsive reading habits. Maybe he gets too carried away with promotional rhetoric but has interesting ideas once you get past all the hype. I am not on the memes bandwagon.

    Comparably I found Ted Steele’s Lamark’s Signature fascinating ca 20 years ago but didn’t buy his retrovector passing Weismann’s barrier. I learned a bit more about the genetic quirks of immunocytes as a result and Steele forced me to think more clearly to see how he could be wrong. No harm. No foul.

    As for Templeton, damning with faint praise, they have markedly improved the available fare on educational television with whatever role they play in supporting Robert Kuhn’s series Closer to Truth. There’s some pretty good stuff. Maybe not Your Inner Fish caliber that Shubin did when he brought evodevo to TV viewers, but far better than Ancient Aliens and River Monsters. I’d rather skeptically hatewatch shows about neo-Lamarckism than watch the crap cable tv passes off as educational.

    • Hemidactylus
      Posted January 20, 2018 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      Uggh! Peripatric speciation.

  23. Posted January 19, 2018 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Here, Boss.

  24. Rob Munguia
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the post. I thought that the debate had been settled with the nature papers. I wonder how the scarce evidence of epigenetics continue making news in the popular science magazines.

  25. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Late to the party. But an excellent piece here.

  26. Dale Franzwa
    Posted January 20, 2018 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    I read this science article. Great job, Jerry. Keep up the good work.

  27. Frank
    Posted January 20, 2018 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    Fwiw – few days ago, Jerry, you “kvetched” about how many more people read the non-science posts than they do the science posts. While the alt left/right shenanigans, Trump, po-mo silliness, etc. are mildly interesting (not to mention baffling!), its posts such as this one that make this site so valuable.
    Thanks to you, I’ve discovered such gems as The Edge’s discussion on group selection (started by Steve Pinker); articles on biology and race (before reading these, I was convinced race was a purely social construct. I now realise how much more nuanced the question of race is and how wrong I was); a Brian Charlesworth paper on macroevolution debunking “punk-eek” and now the several papers highlighted here which I’ve downloaded and, once I’ve mustered the mental fortitude, will read…as they’re bound to be at the very limit, if not beyond, my comprehension.
    Anyway, I for one would much rather see more posts such as these even though I understand they must take a lot of work on your part.
    So thanks and don’t stop now.

  28. Steve Pollard
    Posted January 20, 2018 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    Many thanks for such a cogent and readable article, and for the valuable links.

    I have little to add to the excellent comments above, except to say that I was slightly surprised to see Kim Sterelny’s name in the Laland camp. Admittedly I haven’t read much of his writings, but he did produce a good book a few years ago on the Dawkins vs. Gould debate, in which (IIRC) he largely came down on Dawkins’ side. Oh well.

  29. Hemidactylus
    Posted January 20, 2018 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Jerry wrote:

    Culture has certainly played a rule in the evolution of some species: the most famous example is how lactose tolerance has evolved in human societies that keep sheep, goats and cattle.

    Isn’t that a bit misstated? Being mammals human infants should have an already evolved ability to digest lactose. It would be the ability of adults to still digest lactose that is important (aka lactase persistence). It is the evolution of said persistence that is the interesting bit.

    Bill Durham wrote a longish book called Coevolution that explores some of what Laland is getting at. Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd are also important thinkers. But these are idiosyncrasies of human evolution mostly. Can behavior lead and drive evolution? Jean Piaget, who was familiar with Baldwin and Waddington thought so. These are not novel ideas.

    As for “memes” this guy is the go-to source (evil smirk):
    http://m.pnas.org/content/94/6/2091.full

    “Dawkins (19) has introduced the term “meme” for the entities subject to selection in cultural evolution. It seems to me that this word is nothing but an unnecessary synonym of the term “concept.””- Ernst Mayr, Guru! Nuff said.

    As far as evodevo I prefer my promotional rhetoric from luminaries such as Rudy Raff, Scott Gilbert, Brian Hall, and Wallace Arthur. Ernst Mayr had an interesting twist on recapitulation called “somatic program”. I loved that guy. He invented punk eek (aka perouatric speciation) 😝

    • Hemidactylus
      Posted January 20, 2018 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      Peripatric speciation. Sorry for misplaced self reply above. Need coffee.

  30. Posted January 20, 2018 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the helpful analysis. Your taking time to provide this critical appraisal is much appreciated.


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