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Konrad Lorenz Institute: Following through on non-Darwinian biology

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Does anyone remember the Altenberg 16, a group of dissenting evolution theorists who met so nervously at the Konrad Lorenz institute in Austria that they locked a journalist out of the meeting?*

They seem to be continuing to write papers, according to Massimo Pigliucci,

I have just spent three delightful days at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for theoretical biology in Vienna, participating to a workshop of philosophers and biologists on the question of how to think about causality, especially within the context of the so-called Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, the currently unfolding update to the standard model in evolutionary theory.

Here’s one:

Susan Foster, Incorporating the environmentally sensitive phenotype into evolutionary thinking: phenotypic plasticity mediates the relationship between selection and genotype

The genomic era has brought biologists a previously unimaginable wealth of data describing the genetic structure of populations and species, as well as detailing the nature and scale of polymorphism along the genome. Yet there has been a departure between expectations and the answers these data have actually provided in explaining the origin and evolution of the traits that matter most to biologists. This gap is attributable to the absence of a linear, deterministic relationship between genes and traits. In this manuscript we describe how better integrating the environment into our understanding of trait production can help to close the gap. We describe the ubiquitous role of the environment in shaping traits, outline the prevailing theoretical mechanisms by which such widespread phenotypic plasticity can determine evolutionary trajectories, and discuss the evidence for these mechanisms and how better incorporating them into evolutionary thought can help resolve longstanding controversies.

If we are talking about “the ubiquitous role of the environment in shaping traits,” we are not talking about any form of traditional Darwinism but rather the much-maligned Lamarckism. Safely for now, it would seem.

See also: * The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry (2009)

Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you’re wanted in the conference room!

and

Darwinism: Replacement or extension?

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Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista

7 Replies to “Konrad Lorenz Institute: Following through on non-Darwinian biology

  1. 1
    Bob O'H says:

    If we are talking about “the ubiquitous role of the environment in shaping traits,” we are not talking about any form of traditional Darwinism but rather the much-maligned Lamarckism.

    Um, no. They’re talking about phenotypic plasticity, which has long been a part of evolutionary biology (e.g. it’s “environmental variance” and the “permanent environmental effect” in quantitative genetics). We even study how it evolves, e.g. through the study of reaction norms.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Perhaps Bob O’H at 1 can account for why environmental effects on the genome were everywhere discredited as “Lamarckism” until recently.

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    Eh? Why are you changing the subject? The abstract of the talk says nothing about that.

  4. 4
    rhampton7 says:

    “This gap is attributable to the absence of a linear, deterministic relationship between genes and traits. In this manuscript we describe how better integrating the environment into our understanding of trait production can help to close the gap.”

    It’s still materialism, and ID still loses.

  5. 5
    LocalMinimum says:

    It sounds like they’re not talking about Lamarckism, but “instanced” development. Basically, Lamarckism minus the genetic feedback, or “training”.

    Of course, this concept is older than civilization, so I don’t know what the hubbub is, other than looking for another free ride. Phenotypical development in response to the environment only makes the relationship between genotype far less “linear”; more of a topological nightmare, even; and does nothing to ease the burden on mutation + natural selection.

    The attempted piggyback/burden shift I’m seeing is on “niche building”. Basically, niche building is going to expand the potential for positive selection of given traits. The problem is, niche building is itself a complex set of behaviors emergent from an interaction of systems that’s hard to build, so the whole niche building/trait that’s being potentiated is itself a interdependent system. By treating niche building as a freebie, however…

    Another issue is that it’s likely the more generally applicable the niche building behavior, the more likely it will be selected against in specific scenarios. Hard to gain, easy to lose; just like the general suite of metabolic pathways in Lenski’s E.Coli being shed for the one being put to use.

  6. 6
    Dionisio says:

    In this manuscript we describe how better integrating the environment into our understanding of trait production can help to close the gap.

    “…can help to close the gap.” obviously implies that it may not close the gap. Actually, what is really happening is that the more research is done, the more discoveries are made, more light is shed on the elaborate cellular and molecular choreographies orchestrated within the biological systems, more ‘surprising’ and ‘unexpected’ things are getting described in the papers, thus leading us to a scenario where some outstanding questions are answered while new ones are raised. The complex complexity is getting more complex. The biology BIG DATA keeps getting bigger –filled with interrogations– feeding a growing number of “dry” labs connected to the clouds and running all kinds of computer-based simulations and modeling software, intensively trying to understand the many ‘surprising’ and ‘unexpected’ things revealed in the most recent research papers published in the peer-reviewed online magazines. Much effort is being wasted on a long and winding road saturated with reductionist bottom-up approaches to researching what clearly appears to be robust top-down designed systems constantly processing functional complex specified information through fascinating procedures.
    Work in progress… stay tuned.
    That’s why we should look forward with increasing anticipation to reading future research papers and enjoy the new discoveries that will keep obliterating the archaic pseudoscientific hogwash that has been taught in schools for too much time. Let’s encourage more students to pursue STEM careers, but specially Biology research, so that more discoveries are made faster.
    We ain’t seen nothing’ yet. The best is ahead of us.

  7. 7
    Dionisio says:

    @6 term clarification:

    Please note that the expression “archaic pseudoscientific hogwash” refers to “low grade bovine excreta” found in (allegedly) “scientific” literature.

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