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Sociobiologist Robert Trivers offers vignettes of Darwin’s saints

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Trivers.

Vignette of Stephen Jay Gould here (a reluctant Darwinian, so Trivers doesn’t like him):

As I left his office, I said to myself, this fool thinks he is bigger than natural selection. Perhaps I should have said, bigger than Darwin, but I felt it as bigger than natural selection itself—surely Stephen was going for the gold!!

Many of us theoretical biologists who knew Stephen personally thought he was something of an intellectual fraud precisely because he had a talent for coining terms that promised more than they could deliver, while claiming exactly the opposite. One example was the notion of “punctuated equilibria”—which simply asserted that rates of (morphological) evolution were not constant, but varied over time, often with periods of long stasis interspersed with periods of rapid change. All of this was well known from the time of Darwin. The classic example were bats. They apparently evolved very quickly from small non-flying mammals (in perhaps less than 20 million years) but then stayed relatively unchanged once they reached the bat phenotype we are all familiar with today (about 50 million years ago). Nothing very surprising here, intermediate forms were apt to be neither very good classic mammals, nor good flying ones either, so natural selection pushed them rapidly through the relevant evolutionary space.

But Steve wanted to turn this into something grander, a justification for replacing natural selection (favoring individual reproductive success) with something called species selection. Since one could easily imagine that there was rapid turnover of species during periods of intense selection and morphological change, one might expect species selection to be more intense, while during the rest of the equilibrium stabilizing selection would rule throughout. But rate of species turnover has nothing to do with the traits within species—only with the relative frequency of species showing these traits. As would prove usual, Steve missed the larger interesting science by embracing a self-serving fantasy. Species selection today is a small but interesting topic in evolutionary theory, not some grand principle emerging from paleontological patterns. More.

We are told that Gould died reconciled to the Church of Darwin in the end, but Trivers regards him as an unforgiven oblivion anyway.

Note: Sociobiology was the forerunner of evolutionary psychology.

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One Reply to “Sociobiologist Robert Trivers offers vignettes of Darwin’s saints

  1. 1
    Robert Byers says:

    Gould was a vocal usefull agent for demonstrating that there was not evolution evidence in the fossil record. Things were fully evolved in place and no gradualism was to be found. As if it never existed.
    So he simply said the evidence showed rapid evolution, not caught by fossils, and then quietness for any species.
    He was trying to explain the poverty of the fossil record.
    PE was the last ditch hope.
    the real evidence is that there are no transitions as there should be because nothing ever evolved over long periods of time.
    The bigger failure in all this is that the fossil record is NOT biological scientific evidence.
    Its only a geological paradigm of deposition claims.
    Without the geology paradigm there is no biological leason.
    SO thats means the fossil record has nothing. but nothing, to do with biological scientific investigation.
    Even if it was a accurate picture of evolution.
    ID folks get this wrong too.
    If one means to claim to be a scientist then one must do scientific methodology.
    Gould didn’t and none of them do in origin issues.

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