Kin selectionists think that natural selection favors genes of related individuals. The idea, also called inclusive fitness, purports to explain self-sacrifice in animals and humans — why worker ants serve the queen without reproducing themselves, and why humans put themselves in danger for their families. Some of their genes, presumably, will be passed on through their kin. Kin selection theory was given a mathematical formulation by W. H. Hamilton in 1964, to the relief of many Darwinians eager to find an explanation for altruism. It was promoted by E.O. Wilson, father of sociobiology (which led to evolutionary psychology), Richard Dawkins, father of Selfish Gene theory, Jerry Coyne, and many other Darwinians.
But when E.O. Wilson jumped ship in 2004, expressing doubts about the empirical evidence for kin selection, his former friends turned on him. Wilson had joined forces with mathematicians who cast doubt on “Hamilton’s Rule” undergirding the theory. When Wilson, with Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita criticized kin selection as empirically lacking in 2011 in Nature, 150 other evolutionists banded together to defend it, attacking Wilson’s motivations and arguments. There’s been a standoff ever since.
Now, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Wilson, Nowak and two others have launched another attack, with a vengeance: kin selection is not just wrong, it’s not even scientific! Here’s the fightin’-words title of the new paper: “The general form of Hamilton’s rule makes no predictions and cannot be tested empirically.” More.
One outcome of undermining or preventing meetings like the Royal Society’s one last November is that controversies are likely to become more frenzied and irrational. Like this one.
Note: Earlier blow-by-blow account here.
See also: Another textbook Darwin talking point bites the dust – Bateman’s sexual selection
Could We All Get Together and
Evolve as a Group?