Readers may recall that New Scientist published an article some days ago on 13 ways we need to “rethink the theory of nature.”
Their Number 9 rethink is … genetic drift “whereby a gene may become dominant in a population purely by chance.”
Most of the article is paywalled but here’s the gist of #9:
Natural selection favours certain genes – those that make an organism best adapted to a particular environment. But evolution can also occur through a non-adaptive process called genetic drift, whereby a gene may become dominant in a population purely by chance…
Last year, Lindsay Miles at the University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada, and her colleagues published a review of evidence from about 160 studies of evolution in urban environments, in organisms ranging from mammals and birds to insects and plants. Almost two-thirds of the studies reported reduced genetic diversity compared with rural counterparts, leading the researchers to conclude that genetic drift must have played a role. “Genetic drift can definitely be a significant driver of evolution,” says Miles. – Colin BarrasMichael Le Page , Colin Barras , Richard Webb , Kate Douglas and Carrie Arnold, “Evolution is evolving: 13 ways we must rethink the theory of nature” at New Scientist (September 23. 2020)
A “significant driver of evolution”? The current focus is on urban environment, on the theory that they isolate groups of life forms. That’s true but many natural circumstances surely do so as well.
So we’ve moved from survival of the fittest to survival of those who happened to be living there… What the new “genetic drift” idea lacks in gripping narrative, it makes up in prosaic probability.
(Reformed) New Scientist 8: Evolution can happen very quickly. Does anyone remember Darwin’s claim: “It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, wherever and whenever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.” Yes, that “daily, hourly” thing seems quaint to us too. It probably even seems quaint over at New Scientist, given the stuff they’re saying now.
(Reformed) New Scientist 7: Niche construction can shape evolution. To say that “Traditionally, biologists thought of niche construction purely as a consequence of natural selection. However, that argument doesnʼt always work” is to say that neoDarwinism is not THE theory of evolution. Just in: Richard Dawkins has left the building. And New Scientist has become a more interesting publication.
(Reformed) New Scientist 6: Lamarck is out of the doghouse! At New Scientist: “Today, there is evidence of Lamarckian evolution – of a sort… ‘It reorients how we think about the adaptive process,’ he says.”
(Reformed) New Scientist 5: Species don’t really EXIST? Then what was On the Origin of Species about? Never mind.
(Reformed) New Scientist 4: There is more to inheritance than just genes. At New Scientist: “Subsequent studies in plants and animals suggest that epigenetic inheritance is more common than anyone had expected. Whatʼs more, compared with genetic inheritance, it has some big advantages. Environments can change rapidly and dramatically, but genetic mutations are random, so often require generations to take hold.” Just think, within a few years, genetics might start to make some sense. You’ve got to hand it to the New Scientist gang; when they rethink, they really do.
(Reformed) New Scientist 3: The selfish gene is no longer cool. At New Scientist: “Some researchers think the solution lies in an idea called cultural group selection. Forget shared genes, they argue: selection can favour cooperative groups if the people within them share enough culture. ” Darwin has left the building and returned to his estate.
(Reformed) New Scientist 2: Evolution shows intelligence. At New Scientist: “‘Maybe, evolution is less about out competing others and more to do with co-creating knowledge,’ says Watson.” That really is a radical idea. Radical yes, but it really is a good idea. We find it hard to improve on. The only thing we can think of is, keep the “intelligent” part in your description of nature and add “design.”
(Reformed) New Scientist 1 on the genome: Not destiny. Sure but then what about the famous twin studies that were supposed to prove so much about human nature? No? Then it’s probably best for the New Scientists to just get out of the “gene for that” hell while they can.
At New Scientist: We must rethink the (Darwinian) theory of nature. If by “our greatest theory of nature,” the writers mean textbook Darwinism, well the new concepts they list are destroying it. What becomes of “natural selection acting on random mutation” if a variety of means of evolution are “natural,” mutations are not necessarily random, genes aren’t selfish and don’t come only from parents, and the fittest don’t necessarily survive? Just for a start…