As promised. Further to: Science 2.0 on Darwin great dismissing arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins as a “journalist”:
A friend explains that Wilson’s attack on Dawkins grew out of an earlier attack by Wilson (Wilson, Nowak et al. Nature 2010) on the concept of kin selection. This mattered to Dawkins because W. D. Hamilton’s ideas on kin selection were aired in Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.
Dawkins made his bones attacking a theory that claimed some behaviours were maintained by evolution because they benefited the species, although they damaged the individual involved. Using mathematics suggested by Haldane, and worked out by Hamilton, he argued that they benefitted genes, which spread through the surviving relatives of the self-sacrificing individual and that when you analyse the situation properly, you see “ruthless selfishness” all the way down.
Wilson was originally a convert to the Hamilton view. Later he changed his mind, for two reasons. The first is that the Hamilton equations don’t actually work well when you apply them to social insects. These are more eusocial than their degree of relatedness would suggest, since some of them are not in fact haplodiploid — ie they are not closely enough related for the equations to work. Also, there is a suggestion that the equations do not predict the emergence of eusociality even when they account for its maintenance. [too long since I read the relevant paper, so I can’t remember the reference].
There is also good experimental evidence for group selection among all sorts of not very closely related organisms: see David Sloan Wilson. “Darwin’s Cathedral”. So that’s the experimental evidence against Dawkins’ favoured hypothesis, and so far as I know it hasn’t been challenged. More.
He goes on to say that the politically correct view advanced by both Hamilton and John Maynard Smith (an elder generation of Darwin greats) and accepted by Dawkins and his followers, is that even though group selection could conceivably occur, natural selection will always favour cheaters. So evidence of group selection, accepted by Darwin greats and Darwin faithful today, comes at an inconvenient time for Dawkins, who ruled it out as nearly impossible in practice.
Still not clear? No, because nature just doesn’t fit into either box, really. This still feels like a moment of Darwinism in decline, except for the power to punish dissenters.
See also: If Dawkins is only a hack like me – doesn’t that raise the question whether the same could be said of Wilson?
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