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New Scientist: G’bye Dawkins, take selfish gene with you …

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Let the door hit both of you on the way out?

Well, how else to understand this, from a review of new book, The Society of Genes (Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher, Harvard U Press)? From New Scientist:

FORTY years ago, Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene popularised the notion that the gene, rather than the individual, was the true unit of evolution. That view has dominated evolutionary genetics ever since. But in The Society of Genes, biologists Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher say that it’s time to replace the selfish-gene metaphor with a new one that focuses on relationships.

“We are not the simple sum of our genes,” they write. “The members of the society of genes do not live in isolation. Working together, forming rivalries and partnerships, is the only way they can form a human body that can sustain them for a few decades and propel them into the next generation of humanity.”

Their book is not a dry academic argument. Instead, Yanai and Lercher use the idea of a society of genes as a vantage point from which to reintroduce the entire field of evolutionary genetics. … More.

Wonder if they’ll be at the upcoming Royal Society rethink evolution meet?

Dawkins is, in any event, becoming a pretty expensive property to maintain. See, for example, The Flying Horse defends himself against Dawkins

See also: What the fossils told us in their own words

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14 Replies to “New Scientist: G’bye Dawkins, take selfish gene with you …

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    It captures the way the genome works in cancer cells and Neanderthals, in sexual reproduction and the origin of life, always underscoring one critical point: that only by putting the interactions among genes at center stage can we appreciate the logic of life.

    There’s an underlying logic? It’s not just willy nilly happenstance?

  2. 2
    News says:

    Anyway, when you’ve lost New Scientist, you’ve lost the multiverse.

  3. 3
    Mapou says:

    Did those guys just fall into Behe’s irreducible complexity trap? It sure seems like it to me.

  4. 4
    goodusername says:

    I think most people who have read The Selfish Gene would be puzzled by the review. The Selfish Gene is filled with descriptions of genes working in groups and clusters that sound a lot like the “Society of Genes”.

    Over and over again Dawkins explains that a gene is only “fit” depending on how well it works with the other genes in the organism.

    While Dawkins says that the gene is the unit of selection, whether it’s “selected” or not depends in a large way how it interacts with other genes.

    In one metaphor he compares a gene to an oarsman:
    “One oarsman on his own cannot win the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. He needs eight colleagues…. One of the qualities of a good oarsman is teamwork, the ability to fit in and cooperate with the rest of the crew.”

    And here are other passages, from spending about 2 min looking through the book:

    “There is also a sense in which genes which are in no way linked to each other physically can be selected for their mutual compatibility. A gene that cooperates well with most of the other genes that it is likely to meet in successive bodies, i.e. the genes in the whole of the rest of the gene pool, will tend to have an advantage.”

    “The ‘environment’ of a gene consists largely of other genes, each of which is itself being selected for its ability to cooperate with its environment of other genes.”

  5. 5
    Larry Moran says:

    There was never a time when Dawkins’ view of the selfish gene dominated evolutionary genetics.

    There was never a time when most evolutionary biologists believed that it was the gene, and not the individual, that was the main unit of selection.

    None of the leading textbooks on evolutionary biology take the selfish gene seriously. Most of them don’t even mention it. Not now, and not at any time in the past 35 years.

    This is just more proof that creationists don’t know what they’re talking about.

  6. 6
    anthropic says:

    Moran 5

    Actually, this was a quote from New Scientist, not “creationists.” Unless you’re accusing New Scientist of being a creationist front group?

  7. 7
    Seversky says:

    Are they claiming that societies of genes behave any less selfishly than individual genes? If not, then what’s the big deal?

  8. 8
    Mapou says:

    goodusername:

    “The ‘environment’ of a gene consists largely of other genes, each of which is itself being selected for its ability to cooperate with its environment of other genes.”

    Selected by chance you mean, of course. You’re free to believe in your fairy tales but some of us have grown past the toddler stage.

  9. 9
    Mapou says:

    Seversky:

    Are they claiming that societies of genes behave any less selfishly than individual genes?

    Living well in a society for the benefit of every individual seems much more akin to brotherly love than selfishness, IMO.

  10. 10
    Mung says:

    To add to what Larry Noran pointed out, the mathematics of population genetics and population genetics itself are all based on gene clusters too.

    Wikipedia:

    In a series of papers starting in 1918 and culminating in his 1930 book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, Fisher showed that the continuous variation measured by the biometricians could be produced by the combined action of many discrete genes, and that natural selection could change allele frequencies in a population, resulting in evolution. In a series of papers beginning in 1924, another British geneticist, J.B.S. Haldane worked out the mathematics of allele frequency change at a single gene locus under a broad range of conditions.

    I apologize for the quote-mine.

  11. 11
    PaV says:

    Larry Moran:

    This is just more proof that creationists don’t know what they’re talking about.

    You mean, of course, the “creationists” at New Scientist.

  12. 12
    Virgil Cain says:

    There was never a time when science dominated evolutionary genetics.

    There was never a time when evolutionary biologists could actually test the claims of evolutionism.

    None of the leading textbooks on evolutionary biology posit testable entailments for evolutionism.

    This is just more proof that Larry Moran is a blowhard

  13. 13
    snelldl says:

    Wow, LM@5, you REALLY quoted-mined that out of context. Also, based on what you wrote, Dawkins is the one who didn’t know what he was talking about. But I suspect you’ll get many on this forum to agree with that. Thanks for the help.

  14. 14
    Eric Anderson says:

    It would be difficult to come up with a more preposterous idea than the Selfish Gene.

    As Larry points out, the idea never dominated areas of real investigation, at least not in terms of any actual bench science. It couldn’t — because it is nonsense and is not based on bench science. It may have captured a lot of imaginations, but it certainly didn’t contribute anything substantive to our understanding of living systems.

    Rather, the Selfish Gene was mainly a rhetorical tool, a talking point, a simplistic and silly notion that served to capture the Darwinist imagination and provide an “explanation” for evolution. Another just-so story in search of evidence.

    It is good to see anyone, at New Scientist or otherwise, acknowledging that the Selfish Gene is not everything some people thought it was cracked up to be.

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