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Eight criticisms not to make about group selection
January 15, 2013 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Group selection, which was once widely rejected as a significant evolutionary force, is now accepted by all who seriously study the subject. There is still widespread confusion about group selection, however, not only among students and the general public, but among professional evolutionists who do not directly study the subject. We list eight criticisms that are frequently invoked against group selection, which can be permanently laid to rest based upon current knowledge. Experts will always find something to critique about group selection, as for any important subject, but these eight criticisms are not among them. Laying them to rest will enable authors to openly use the term group selection without being handicapped during the review process. [HTML], [PDF]
posted by Blasdelb (41 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
is now accepted by all who seriously study the subject

This should be entertaining.
posted by brennen at 8:50 AM on January 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


Socio-biology: Never say die.
posted by No Robots at 9:02 AM on January 15, 2013


Group selection = multi-level selection

This change reduces the number of arguments considerably.
posted by francesca too at 9:07 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


A treat awaits in the penultimate sentence of the article!
posted by TreeRooster at 9:23 AM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


No true Scotsman would seriously study the subject.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:24 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Coming at this as a complete layman -- my impression was that this sort of theory was being explored as a possible explanation for e.g. homosexuality, in that while homosexuality would supposedly place an individual at a reproductive disadvantage, it was a useful trait for some members of a group to have, and so it persisted. These comments give me the impression that 'group selection' isn't taken seriously, though. Is that so? Some context would be lovely. :)
posted by Drexen at 9:54 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The further down the birth order, the more likely a male is to be homosexual, but the more likely he is to have nieces and nephews who will pass on his homosexual genes and who will benefit from his investment in their upbringing. Net gain, selfish genes, no group selection. (This is a hypothesis: I mean no moral message, do not know it to be true or false, and have not kept up with the field since my undergraduate degree twenty years ago)
posted by alasdair at 10:25 AM on January 15, 2013


Drexen: what you are describing is more properly termed kin selection. Kin selection occurs among related individuals, and a given population on which group selection would act is a larger unit than all of the closely related individuals within that population. Kin selection is something pretty much all biologists recognize must happen in some populations, but its frequency in the world is subject to much debate, and as an explanation for homosexuality it is entirely hypothetical.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks Blasdelb, I think I just found my next article for when it's my term to lead my lab's discussion group. I always enjoy your science posts here. I admire your dedication to presenting primary research to the generalist audience that is MetaFilter, and I hope to follow your example one day when my own expertise and literature familiarity has developed some more. Not many people, on MeFi or off, are doing what you are doing here with such aplomb.
posted by Scientist at 10:36 AM on January 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Groups with more altruists robustly outcompete groups with more selfish individuals, which can counterbalance the selective disadvantage of altruism within groups."

Science now confirms my thoughts on liberals versus conservatives.
posted by Windopaene at 10:38 AM on January 15, 2013


alasdair: if I read the article correctly, it demonstrates a mechanism that shows that the gain is to the group even if most of the group do not carry the gene. Multi-level selection is the successor to the selfish gene model.
posted by idiopath at 10:39 AM on January 15, 2013


Science now confirms my thoughts on liberals versus conservatives.

Does self-sacrifice for the sake of the nation and the race count as altruism?
posted by No Robots at 10:42 AM on January 15, 2013


Perhaps "Randian Tea Party-ers" might have been a better way to put it.
posted by Windopaene at 10:44 AM on January 15, 2013


Science now confirms my thoughts on liberals versus conservatives.

Does it explain why we're about half and half?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:48 AM on January 15, 2013


"Does it explain why we're about half and half?"

You'll only need math for that
posted by Blasdelb at 10:51 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would just like to caution that the type of group selection that is being discussed in this article is generally considered most applicably to non-human groupings (that is, groupings of species other than Homo sapiens). When you add human culture into the mix things get so complex that you really can't apply normal ecological theory in a straightforward way.

Ecology definitely still informs human society and behavior (there is a whole utterly fascinating field of socioecology which as you might guess straddles that gap between sociology and ecology) but attempts to do so must be made with great care and caution, and must be informed by sociology (which contrary to some reductionist portrayals is much more than just an abstraction layer on top of ecology in much the same way that ecology is more than just applied evolutionary bio which is more than just applied genetics which is more than applied chemistry, physics, mathematics, etc...) at every step of the process if one is to avoid veering off into a swamp of reductionism and fallacious reasoning.

I realize that most of the people here who are talking about group selection in humans are just kind of joking around but I thought it was worth pointing out that those kind of statements don't really follow directly from ecological theory because human culture is (understatement of the year alert) a really massively complicated thing that has its own rules which are only tenuously connected to those which govern most other species.
posted by Scientist at 10:57 AM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


(e.g., Blasdelb's correct invocation of political rather than ecological theory to explain the question of why the U.S. electorate tends to divide more-or-less evenly into conservative and liberal voting blocs.)
posted by Scientist at 10:58 AM on January 15, 2013


On Memetics: Group selection and kin selection are formally equivalent (Tim Tyler)
Richard Dawkins, E. O. Wilson, Martin Nowak and Steven Pinker have all weighed in on group selection recently. They are all wrong about it.
[...]
These days, there's a scientific consensus about group selection - and these folk are not part of it.
[...]
Daniel Dennett has a mild-mannered response to Pinker's article, but it looks as though he doesn't understand the topic very well either.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:11 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, and sorry for the serial commenting, group selection is (to my understanding) currently in a sort of weird place in ecology where it is mostly respectable and everybody agrees that it happens and is significant, but where many researchers are reluctant to invoke it because it is still frequently criticized and poorly understood. This is somewhat understandable because group selection purports to explain many phenomena which can at first glance be explained instead by more long-established and/or more intuitive concepts. (Never underestimate the ability of an intuitive concept to persist long after it ought to have been supplanted by a more accurate but less intuitive one.)

What happens when this is allowed to occur is rather problematic. You have people incorrectly applying models that they prefer on the basis of familiarity or simplicity, and you have people who are correctly using group selection to explain phenomena having difficulty publishing their work because their reviewers don't have a clear understanding of the topic and don't know that their understanding is unclear. (Obviously you also have people incorrectly using group selection to explain phenomena, but that's beyond the scope of the article.)

That's actually the problem that this article (which I confess I have not yet read, because I've been so excited by it that I can't seem to stop commenting here) purports to address -- the authors are trying to set the record straight on group selection to that researchers can have a clearer understanding of when it actually does apply and when older concepts are actually inaccurate despite having superficial appeal.
posted by Scientist at 11:12 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is really good and helpful. My first reaction was similar to francesca too's -- "Oh, David Sloan Wilson, you know we only accept group selection when we call it multi-level selection" -- but this clarifies some key points that I was missing when I took my evo exam last semester. I've definitely been guilty of 3) and 5). And damnit, this was published two April's ago! Oh, well, I have no one to blame but Blasdelb.

Some of my awesome treehoppers that I want to study have really fantastic coloration, are not chemically defended, and are very gregarious if not subsocial. These guys in particular (Membracis mexicana), I think, have variously been suggested to either be mimicking leaf-cutter ants, or to look like flower petals when arrayed in their highly specific aggregation patterns around a thin stem. I say "suggested" because, like with most treehoppers, unless the mimicry is really obvious, it's really hard to figure out exactly what the guys look like to their most common predators--or if it's even mimicry at all. I floated a group-selection story to one professor, and got shot down with a sour look and a grumpy derision of group-selection hypotheses; as Blasdelb's link points out, there's sort of a general disdain for and impatience with the theory -- and I think the authors are right that it's mostly due to continued confusion about what precisely the claims are. (Also, because coming up with 'just-so' stories in the absence of any data is about as useful as something that's not really very useful at all.)

Heh, I just saw how clever the last paragraph of the article is. I do think that my professor was trying to look out for me when they discouraged me from thinking about group selection hypotheses. But what about the truth, Dr. ScienceCoat? Don't you care about the truuuuuuuth?
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 11:38 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


shoot, Dr. ScienceCoat would have been an excellent Metafilter handle.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 11:38 AM on January 15, 2013


In general, any criticism of biologists which posits a more complex and messy process than simple math would prefer, is likely to be at least somewhat correct. Nature does not select for simplicity or parsimony.

Science does, and that's Science's problem, not Nature's.
posted by effugas at 11:44 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


...but it looks as though he doesn't understand the topic very well either.

That makes me feel better, because I don't quite get it yet myself. The introduction to the Wikipedia article left me a bit more confused.

Searching "definition group selection" I found some fun stuff like:
Steven Pinker’s unconvincing debunking of group selection (with a nice discussion thread)
and Altruism and Group Selection
posted by ovvl at 12:06 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would just like to caution that the type of group selection that is being discussed in this article is generally considered most applicably to non-human groupings (that is, groupings of species other than Homo sapiens). When you add human culture into the mix things get so complex that you really can't apply normal ecological theory in a straightforward way.

The paper refers to the "altruistic gene." Seems like the authors have ventured a little too far into the "a swamp of reductionism and fallacious reasoning."
posted by No Robots at 12:23 PM on January 15, 2013


I thought all of science was a swamp of reductionism and fallacious reasoning, and what we've been trying to do all this time was find higher ground, or at the very least keep our hats dry.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:29 PM on January 15, 2013


What's wrong with reductionism? A little reductionism between friends is totally healthy, my shrink says.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 12:33 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would just like to caution that the type of group selection that is being discussed in this article is generally considered most applicably to non-human groupings (that is, groupings of species other than Homo sapiens). When you add human culture into the mix things get so complex that you really can't apply normal ecological theory in a straightforward way.

Quite. For one thing, human cultural concepts are not so constrained in how they can mix - any two cultures can swap ideas.
In architecture, for instance, neo-classicism is basically a fossil rabbit in the pre-cambrian (or a living plesiosaur in the Holocene, more accurately) but no-one thinks that's the least bit puzzling.
posted by atrazine at 1:03 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's wrong with reductionism? A little reductionism between friends is totally healthy, my shrink says.

That's true, and I can prove it using only the the Schrödinger equation.
posted by atrazine at 1:08 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Robert Sapolsky's okay with it, so am I.
posted by cthuljew at 2:02 PM on January 15, 2013


In evolutionary biology, group selection is a theory that alleles can become fixed or spread in a population because of the benefits they bestow on groups. This theory proposes a causal mechanism for traits that cannot be attributed to the agency of natural selection acting on individual alleles or the fitness of individuals within that group. [from Blasdelb's first link; my emphasis]

If animals had genes outside our chromosomes that could easily jump to unrelated individuals, nobody would have trouble seeing a genetic basis for what we now think of as altruistic traits which contribute to the fitness of unrelated individuals at the expense of themselves or their nearer relatives, and thereby benefit the group over the individual or near relatives, because we could simply see those traits as favoring the propagation of those extrachromosomal genes.

But in truth, we animals do have such genes-- millions of them.

I refer, of course, to the genes of our symbionts and pathogens, both inside and out. There are thousands of species of them in our mouths, in our guts and on our skin, and they can all potentially be passed to unrelated individuals with relative ease.

Consider a behavior, for example, which is often used as a poster child for altruism: food sharing with an unrelated individual. It would be an ideal mode of transferring organisms from the mouth or the skin to that individual, as would nursing an unrelated baby, and as would grooming.

All that's necessary for this scenario to play itself out are mechanisms for these particular extrachromosomal genes to cause behavior traits in the the animals they infect which would tend to pass them on, and as we see from one of Blasdelb's other recent posts, Deciphering the Tools of Nature’s Zombies, those appear to be present in abundance.

Nor is it any coincidence in this light, in my opinion, that a couple of the primary vectors of altruism and group selection among humans mentioned in this thread, language and culture, are so often compared with infections.
posted by jamjam at 2:56 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Life sure is complex.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:09 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm torn about whether I should reject these points individually or as a group.
posted by srboisvert at 4:39 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Thanks jamjam).

I'm still figuring this out.

1) I just make the assumption that social species have social behavior patterns that help ensure their basic overall survival, which evolve into part of their genetic code.
2) Social behavior patterns can be fuzzy and diverse, reflecting genetic variation...
3) In some social species, not every individual is a breeder.

Do these basic assumptions make sense?

So far this seems almost simple to me, but I'm missing the subtleties they're arguing about in the halls.

(Also: Does kin-selection apply to kissing-cousins, like to bees?)
posted by ovvl at 5:09 PM on January 15, 2013


Isn't all the confusion simply that the group selection people changed their definition without stressing how their definition differed from the historical definition? Anyone confused might initially ignore all the biologists bickering and simply read about the Price equation.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:18 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK, so I am presenting Blasdelb's linked paper for my lab meeting this Friday and I thought that I ought to bone up on group selection in general since my understanding of the subject was a bit hazy. (Turns out that this was at least in part because there isn't a strong consensus as to whether group selection truly exists, or whether it is just a restating of kin selection, or what in fact is meant by the term "group selection".) I came across this theoretical-bordering-on-philosophical paper [PDF] on the subject in which Nicholas Thompson makes what I feel is a powerful argument in favor of the existence of group selection as a separate phenomena from kin selection and which gives what I feel is a useful and coherent definition of the concept.

I also found it a really pleasant read as papers go, but it's nineteen dense pages long and I don't expect many people here are going to read it. Frankly I don't expect that any of my lab mates were going to read it either, but I figured that perhaps some of them had as hazy an idea of group selection as I did so in the interests of promoting better discussion on the topic I summarized the article for them. For the same reason (and for yall's general edification and commenting pleasure) I have reproduced that summary here, with a few modifications for context. I think it is pretty comprehensible, and hopefully some will find it interesting.

Thompson defines group selection as an extension of natural selection which he states as follows:

    A better-designed group trait has evolved because:
    1) groups more seeded by groups...
    2) that they themselves bear the better-designed trait...
    3) tend to be more numerous...
    4) and also tend to bear the well-designed trait

Here "design" refers to the shaping forces of a group's environment, and a "better-designed" trait should be thought of as simply a trait that increases the fitness of the group. The word "design" simply comes from an analogy with artificial selection, with the environment replacing a human breeder. "Seeding" refers to the founding ("reproduction") of new groups through the ejection of group members who then go on to form new groups. This process relies on quantitative descent, meaning that for instance a "child" group of 100 individuals might be seeded by as few as one (or zero, of course) individuals from the parent group, or as many as 100 in the case of reproduction by splitting. It is also important to realize that we are talking about the reproduction of groups of individuals, rather than individuals themselves.

This definition, he (and I) feels, clears up several major ambiguities in the group selection concept caused by the extension of the natural selection metaphor to groups of individuals. It makes a group of organisms within a species a target of selection on equal logical footing with an individual within a group or a pigeon within a fancier's flock. He identifies the descent of groups as being the founding of new groups by seeding (or splitting) from parent groups.

He also, in another section of the paper, defines group traits as being traits that are emergent rather than aggregate properties of a group. Aggregate traits are those which vary in proportion to the number of individuals bearing that trait, whereas emergent traits are those properties which belong to the group itself but which cannot sensibly be attributed to any one individual. For instance, when discussing group selection in favor of individual (rather than reciprocal) altruism, it is obvious that it selection would never favor altruism over selfishness unless groups with many altruistic members possessed an emergent and positive property which outweighed the aggregate loss of individual fitness -- a property like successful defense, wherein more group members survive through a cooperative defense against attack even though some individuals put themselves at greater risk of death than others. Niceness itself is not effective -- selection of altruists can only happen when it selects for a group property collectively generated by those altruists.

A variant of the previous definition of the group selection metaphor is as follows:

    A better-designed emergent group trait comes to characterize a species because:
    1) groups more descended from groups...
    2) that bear the better-designed trait...
    3) tend to be more numerous...
    4) and also tend to bear the better-designed group trait.

(Again, you may mentally substitute "more fit" for "better-designed".)

One of the most common criticisms of group selection (which people bring up above) is that it is tautological with kin selection. Thompson counters this argument fairly effectively, I feel, by pointing out that group selection still functions if we conceive of a group of unrelated organisms which all bear characteristics that produce a particular group trait. He acknowledges that empirical evidence for this is debatable, but further says that since group selection can operate in the absence of kin selection whereas kin selection cannot operate in the absence of group selection (since a kin-selected trait would not be advantageous if it did not produce a group benefit) they are in fact logically not the same phenomenon. Rather (and this is my own extension of his argument) it might sometimes be better to conceive of kin selection as a special case of group selection.

So anyway, that's my summary -- I hope it makes sense and that you found it interesting and that it is useful for the discussion here. I do recommend the article as the logic of it is really beautifully laid out (in my opinion) and it dives into more than a few points that I skipped over in the summary as well as spending some time talking about the value of metaphor in science, the importance of well-specified metaphors, the distinction between indispensable and dispensable implications of a scientific metaphor, and the importance of those distinctions when judging whether a challenge to that metaphor is serious or not.

It's a really nice paper that has really kindled an interest in group selection for me, a concept which in the past I had just sort of handwaved off as being kind of a minor (if controversial) backwater in evolutionary theory. It's actually a really fascinating topic that lends itself to a lot of interesting thought experiments and implications, and I thank Blasdelb again for providing me with the impetus to go and dive into the subject a bit further.

And now I still haven't read the original linked article. But now I feel like I at least have the background to judge it properly when I do read it, which will be just as soon as I've had dinner.
posted by Scientist at 5:48 PM on January 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


OK, so I read that On Mimetics article linked by Golden Eternity above and it really looks to me like it's just a collection of cherry-picked quotes from the literature designed to give the impression of a scientific consensus supporting Tim Tyler's personal position. I don't really see a lot of logical justification going on, just repeated citation of people making assertions either for or against the formal equivalence of kin selection and group selection, accompanied by statements from Mr. (Dr.?) Tyler like "Dr. X [whom I disagree with] clearly does not understand the topic" or "Dr. Y's viewpoint [with which I agree] reflects the scientific consensus on the subject".

It's frankly not a very strong piece, although some of the underlying articles that he quotes ("cites" is really too strong a term, as he doesn't really use them to support an argument but rather just as sources for assertions that mimic his own viewpoint) may be strong articles. I would read some of them but I have too many other things to do right now. If somebody knows of a really cogent article that lays out the case against the validity of group selection though, then I might take a swing at reading it.
posted by Scientist at 7:08 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


...also, I could understand Richard Dawkins going on about something that he doesn't really understand, but E.O. Wilson? Sure you can often find room to disagree with the man, but he has seldom been accused of a lack of understanding of the subject matter. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more universally-revered ecologist working today. He definitely takes a lot of controversial positions, but he always does so in an intelligent and thoughtful manner and frankly he frequently turns out to have been right all along. He's the ecologist's ecologist. Even my PI, who is mostly of the opinion that group selection and kin selection are basically the same in practice if not necessarily in theory is considering adding some material about it to a course she is teaching this semester simply on the basis that if E.O. Wilson is publishing on it then there must be something of value there.

I mean OK, argument from authority, don't believe something just because a smart person with some letters after his name says it's true, but Wilson legitimately has a unique track record of repeatedly championing controversial topics in ecology in a really rigorous way that forces other scientists to think hard about concepts that they might otherwise dismiss out of hand, and then turning out to be right. He's been at it for a long time, too. The man is 83 years old and still at the forefront of the field. I mean heck he basically invented the whole field of sociobiology, or at least gave it legitimacy.

What I'm saying is that E.O. Wilson is not someone who you just dismiss out of hand. You might think of him as the Warren Buffett of ecology. He's someone who if you find yourself holding an opposing view to, you sit down and have a long, hard think about your position because if E.O. Wilson is on the opposite side then there's probably a good reason for that.
posted by Scientist at 7:50 PM on January 15, 2013


Scientist, sorry if that post wasted your time - the lack of any stated credentials is highly dubious. He did link to a few academic papers on the formal equivalence of kin selection and group selection, but they are behind a pay wall.

I did find this article by David Sloan Wilson: Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, and the Consensus of the Many
The Price equation also helped Hamilton realize that his original interpretation of r, which was largely restricted to genealogical relatedness, could be generalized to include any correlation between the genes of the donor and genes of the recipient(s), for any reason. Moreover, Hamilton’s original formulation remained useful for calculating what evolves in the total population, even if it didn’t partition selection into within- and between-group components along the way. The choice of which framework to use became largely a matter of preference, with any given result from one framework translatable into the other framework.
previously: The False Allure of Group Selection

It seems to me if it is agreed that the results of the mathematical kin selection and group selection models are translatable, then the disagreement is merely semantics. But I am completely ignorant.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:47 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK, I've already commented entirely too much in this thread but I finally managed to read the actual article and it was interesting. The author expresses a lot of emotion considering the venue (Evolution is a big-name srs bsns journal, and while this is a letter rather than a research article the tone equates to basically a combination of frustration, rage, and not a little condescension) which to be honest I found mildly shocking. I feel like the tone of the article is likely to turn off a lot of people who it might ostensibly be trying to convert.

That said, it does a solid job of dispatching what really are some very obviously fallacious criticisms of group selection. It's telling how often he has to repeat the statement, "the need to invoke group selection cannot be evaluated unless selection differentials at the local scale are compared with selection differentials in the total population." This is a very remedial statement for an ecologist to have to make toward a professional audience, and if it's true that reviewers are frequently criticizing group selection papers on the basis of criticisms 1 - 4, then the people doing so really are either being foolishly dismissive or foolishly ignorant.

Criticism 5 touches on what Thompson (whose views I summarized above) would call "aggregate" vs. "emergent" traits. While it is true that the vast majority of really interesting cases of group selection probably involve selection acting emergent traits (which cannot be measured in individuals) there is no theoretical or empirical reason why it shouldn't also act on aggregate traits just as easily.

Criticisms 6 - 8 are the most interesting in my opinion, reflecting a genuine lack of familiarity among the research community (assuming that the case in favor is as strong as Eldakar purports it to be -- I think he leans too much on his citations here in much the same way as Tyler does in the On Memetics piece, though not to the same degree) that ought to be corrected through the kind of continuing self-education that any researcher worth his or her salt does continuously as a matter of course.

The problem, and I think that Eldakar identifies it correctly, is that once the scientific community develops the consensus that a theory has been debunked, it can be very hard to get them to turn around again. Nobody wants to publish a paper that hinges on a discredited theory, and so people will find other ways to express their conclusions without invoking it so as to avoid looking foolish in front of their colleagues or drawing unwanted controversy. They will invoke kin selection, or frequency-dependent selection, or the group as social environment -- which may be valid and true, but which still (often) fall under the umbrella of group selection. We end up with a more fragmented and less generalizable body of scientific knowledge because of it.

By the way Golden Eternity, I don't think that you wasted my time! For one it only took a few minutes to read that article, and for two it pointed me to a lot of resources that I might pursue should I get the time. There definitely are people who take the opinion that group selection and kin selection are the same thing. I would even agree that they are often one and the same. However it's worth exploring whether inclusive fitness (what we are looking at when we invoke kin selection) is really the driving factor in most cases of group selection, or whether there might be selection pressures acting directly on the group without the intermediary of inclusive fitness. It's a matter of trying to examine the root cause of an observed phenomenon, and it would be an interesting thought experiment to try and devise a test for whether a particular behavior or the frequency of an allele should be explained based on inclusive fitness or whether the effect being seen was of a magnitude too strong to be explained by inclusive fitness alone, given the relatedness of a group's members.

And thanks for the link to This View of Life. I don't think I'll have time to read it tonight (too much coursework!) but it looks like a great article and I'll try to read it once I get the chance.

Oh, and that reference to the "altruistic gene" in the Evolution article is only invoking it as a conceptual tool and possibly a play on Dawkins' "selfish gene" (which by the way I have always felt was a flawed metaphor that I was never able to really pin down properly until I read that Thompson article, which gives Dawkins a few rhetorical black eyes). The author is not seriously positing the existence of a single gene that codes for altruistic behavior.
posted by Scientist at 9:07 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


A bit of the digression, but that Tim Tyler blog is curious just for the fact that Memetics appears to still be alive somewhere. I was under the impression that the arch-enemies of Memetics had driven a sharpened stake though it's heart. I wouldn't uncritically agree with everything Tyler says, but he is engaging, and he often has some interesting insights.
posted by ovvl at 9:13 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


SMBC
posted by jeffburdges at 12:41 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


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