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Important Harvard scientists attack kin selection - Comments

edmundjessie's Avatar Comment 1 by edmundjessie

What in hell's name is going on here?

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 09:59:22 UTC | #609629

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 2 by Peter Grant

It is indeed a disgrace that the Nowak / Wilson paper was published in Nature, it certainly would not have been published but for their reputation and the prestige of Harvard, and it will have done their reputation and the prestige of Harvard no good at all.

Tell 'em Prof! Hope they all feel properly embarrassed.

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 10:13:07 UTC | #609635

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 3 by Richard Dawkins

Comment 1 by edmundjessie :

What in hell's name is going on here?

This.

Richard

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 10:13:28 UTC | #609636

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 4 by Alan4discussion

Comment 1 by edmundjessie :

What in hell's name is going on here?

Guess who was behind it?

Oh, and boo to the Templeton Foundation, who funded the whole Nowak et al. mess and highlighted the paper on their website.

I picked out this quote on the earlier thread

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 10:25:35 UTC | #609641

Metamag's Avatar Comment 5 by Metamag

I am really puzzled how this kind of "incident" can happen in the first place.

Is the scale of knowledge in biology so vast that one can simply forget about basic stuff? How can one even write a paper like that before perfunctory verification with other people?

None of this makes any sense...

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 10:31:12 UTC | #609646

edmundjessie's Avatar Comment 6 by edmundjessie

I am still slightly bewildered by the thought process behind using two computer generated bears to play out a socratic dialogue on kin selection through the medium of robotic text to speech. This video is like a window into another dimension.

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 10:46:04 UTC | #609651

Niall646's Avatar Comment 7 by Niall646

There is more to this than just a catalogue of errors.

This is an egregious abuse of process, and it smacks of the stupidity of the architects that they felt it would not be spotted, more than this, they wanted it to get to print irrespective of the cost of reputation.

They know full well that this is enough to plant a seed into the public realm, for other snakeoil salesman to be able to refer to. The damage is done. Note the 'Richard Dawkins stumped by question episode'.

These are the people who know how to misinform at a professional level.

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 10:47:14 UTC | #609652

Niall646's Avatar Comment 8 by Niall646

'I am still slightly bewildered by the thought process behind using two computer generated bears to play out a socratic dialogue on kin selection through the medium of robotic text to speech. This video is like a window into another dimension.'

I expect that this video was the actual event!

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 11:08:59 UTC | #609660

ghost of numf-el's Avatar Comment 9 by ghost of numf-el

Nope. Lost me. Think it was the robotic voices.

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 11:30:37 UTC | #609668

PurplePanda's Avatar Comment 10 by PurplePanda

I've seen these Xtranormal vids before. A little strange at first but a very easy and useful way of giving voice to a script.

As for the whole science debate... way over my head. Still, the Bill O Reilly reference was surely a low blow!

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 12:21:06 UTC | #609684

Metamag's Avatar Comment 11 by Metamag

Comment 7 by Niall646 :

They know full well that this is enough to plant a seed into the public realm, for other snakeoil salesman to be able to refer to. The damage is done. Note the 'Richard Dawkins stumped by question episode'.

These are the people who know how to misinform at a professional level.

At this point it is more believable that it is an embarrassing astounding incompetence instead of maliciousness.

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 15:38:36 UTC | #609775

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 12 by crookedshoes

It seems that the authors are taking something that generally applies and hunting out specific situations where it may not apply. They are then extrapolating their results erroneously and seemingly for the approval of templeton.

It is like saying "I lost $1000 playing poker". And having someone assume that this means that you lost every hand you played. You can win during a losing night. It reminds me of global warming deniers when they point at a snowstorm and snort "so much for global warming hawhawhaw...."

They should know better. They should also know that they would have their bluff called.

Next we will have to endure the litany of hackneyed "THEY say evolution occurs and yet THEY cannot even agree on it's particulars".

This last part is what steams me the most about this story.

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 16:06:30 UTC | #609797

derika's Avatar Comment 13 by derika

I love nerd fights (:

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 16:17:18 UTC | #609804

Metamag's Avatar Comment 14 by Metamag

Comment 12 by crookedshoes :

Next we will have to endure the litany of hackneyed "THEY say evolution occurs and yet THEY cannot even agree on it's particulars".

This last part is what steams me the most about this story.

Yes, this will have a wide negative effect, how the hell do you even explain these kind of incidents to the public?!

And remember that New Scientist cover titled "Darwin was wrong" or something like that...

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 16:21:35 UTC | #609806

Hendrix is my gOD's Avatar Comment 15 by Hendrix is my gOD

What is this video? A sick joke? So what Harvard scientists say is indisputable fact? I guess Harvard ain't the prestigious school it used to be.

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 16:52:30 UTC | #609830

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 16 by Neodarwinian

Templeton? Well there is the ideology behind this. These people do not like their perceptions of evolutionary processes and think, especially in humans, that these processes are too harsh. So, a kinder, gentler group selection is proposed. They want altruism to be actually altruistic in humans and humans to be insect like in behavior as Sober and Wilson's Hutterites are. Just like many others they want to have their stuff tried in the court of public opinion rather than scientifically. Sound a bit creationist.

Please, no asides about biology this time.

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 17:58:20 UTC | #609868

prettygoodformonkeys's Avatar Comment 17 by prettygoodformonkeys

edmunjesse

slightly bewildered by the thought process behind using two computer generated bears to play out a socratic dialogue on kin selection through the medium of robotic text to speech

..and slightly disturbed by the one on the right swivelling her hips as she makes her points....

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 19:02:26 UTC | #609897

Adam Felton's Avatar Comment 18 by Adam Felton

What I find as disappointing as the failure of the editors, is the failure of the authors themselves. If I was going to publish a paper which challenged something so well established, I'd send the paper myself to at least one of the leaders in the field to see what I might be missing...because my first thought would be, I have to be missing something.

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 19:13:32 UTC | #609908

maria melo's Avatar Comment 19 by maria melo

I have reasons to think about it, nevertheless as general audience. I had already noticed the influence some people have accomplished through using "science", not serving well science.

Thu, 31 Mar 2011 21:21:18 UTC | #609969

samsquatch94's Avatar Comment 20 by samsquatch94

It is indeed a disgrace that the Nowak / Wilson paper was published in Nature

Is that E.O. Wilson?

Fri, 01 Apr 2011 00:20:02 UTC | #610097

rocket888's Avatar Comment 21 by rocket888

Aww, these are just the same bears that explained quantitative easing by the Bernank.

Bears may understand money, but evolution? nah!

Fri, 01 Apr 2011 00:47:21 UTC | #610106

sarith21's Avatar Comment 22 by sarith21

I like the Bill O'Reily line! Ouch!

Fri, 01 Apr 2011 02:04:23 UTC | #610129

s.k.graham's Avatar Comment 23 by s.k.graham

Richard,

As an outsider looking in from a math perspective, I certainly agree that "group selection" is a superfluous concept, but then, perhaps so is "individual selection" once we get down to the brass tacks of the selfish gene, or anything else that constitutes a "replicator". I wonder though, if Nowak, et al, have a point buried somewhere in their "important Harvard science", even if they have stretched it exceedingly in order to say everyone else is wrong.

Please bear with me, then perhaps you can comment.

The simple rB > C of Hamilton is intuitively correct, but clearly needs a lot of work in defining r, B, and C, which I imagine the evolution literature does ad nauseum. For my part, I immediately recognize a need to think in terms of the relative fitness of competing alleles, not organisms, with relatedness reflecting the probability of the beneficiary (of B) sharing the same allele. Then I also recognize a need to sum both sides of the inequality over all possible beneficiaries. B and C must ultimately be complicated and highly nonlinear functions dependent on all possible social exchanges and the environment.

But in the end, what is going to matter for the fitness of an allele is whether the frequency of that allele is likely to increase or decrease in the population as a whole, which, in turn, is a simple sum of the fitness of all carriers of that allele (or if the carriers are not actually known, then a sum of fitness of all individuals in the population weighted by their probability of carrying the allele [which is just the frequency of the allele if the allele is evenly distributed in the population]... and there needs to be some double-counting for individuals who carry two copies). So the fitness of an allele is just a probability weighted sum of the fitness of each individual, where "fitness" is simply the expected reproductive success of an individual in the given environment. (And here I recognize that the statistical term "expected" must in some sense refer to a hypothetical set of random variations of the population and environment).

So the fitness of an allele (at a given time, in a given population, in a given environnet) boils down to a sum of "simple" individual fitnesses, so long as that fitness is measured by the (expected) individual reproductive success of an individual including all social exchanges and other environmental effects. "Inclusive" effects are taken into account by summing over all carriers of the allele.

This leaves me with two "questions":

(1) Could this, at least in part, be the point Nowak, et al, are trying to make? If so, is it in any sense novel in the relevant literature? (I seriously doubt it could be) Perhaps Nowak, et al, feel that many or most biologists do not properly apprehend this point, even if some few do? Perhaps the emphasis on Hamilton's rule, which focuses on trade-offs in the fitness of individuals is actually a distraction from the primacy of the selfish gene (actually the selfish allele)? I don't think they intend to support the primacy of the selfish gene over group-selection (or what-have-you), but perhaps their own confusion, and the fact they passed peer review, brings to light a need for clarification within the field?

(2) Our protagonist in the video concedes the point that relatedness itself is "model dependent" and so seems to concede the point from the paper that "relatedness" is often tortuously defined in these models, so as to not resemble the original relatedness concept. Apparently, these model dependent versions of relatedness do not merely take into account allele frequency and distribution, but other dynamics of the population and environment. If their paper had been restricted to this, would it be a fair criticism? (the protagonist seems to suggest that the problem with their paper is that they use this point about "relatedness" to make a broad attack on the concept of inclusive fitness in general)

To sum up, while I am not sure it is the point Nowak, et al, were making, it does seem to me that any real application of Hamilton's rB>C will get very messy in trying to define and measure r, B, and C. Given the clear primacy of the selfish allele, what matters is the collective effect of a given allele on the total fitness (expected reproductive success, double-counting those with two copies of the allele) of the entire set of carriers of a given allele. I wonder if Wilson and crew wish to look each such "set of individuals who carry a specific allele" as a "group" which is "selected"?

For my part, I have long thought that your landmark book could just as easily have been titled "The Unselfish Gene", because, from the point of view of individual copies of replicators, no exact copy has any more interest in making direct copies of itself than in "helping" other exact copies of itself to be directly copied. In this sense, the set of all exact copies of a gene (allele) are on the same "team" and 100% altruistic cooperation among all members of that "team" (doing whatever benefits the "team" most) is by definition favored by evolution. Perhaps, given the "unselfishness" of individual [copies of] genes, the emergent "selfishness" organisms is what we should think of as counter-intuitive, rather than thinking that the "altruism" of organisms is counter-intuitive given the "selfishness" of genes.

Anyway, I hope you will find it worthwhile to comment here.

Fri, 01 Apr 2011 02:21:58 UTC | #610133

SnowyDoc's Avatar Comment 24 by SnowyDoc

Gold :-)

Fri, 01 Apr 2011 02:56:38 UTC | #610144

Vicktor's Avatar Comment 25 by Vicktor

I can imagine a similar scenario in most parts of Asia - except replace "Harvard" with "US university", as the latter would suffice.

Fri, 01 Apr 2011 04:16:30 UTC | #610174

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 26 by Peter Grant

LOL, finally watched this. "They recognise the importance of important Harvard scientists doing important Harvard science" Hilarious! :D

Fri, 01 Apr 2011 06:43:40 UTC | #610198

jbyrd's Avatar Comment 27 by jbyrd

Just goes to show you how drastically overrated the ivy league schools really are.

Little more than daddy day care with a free ride for the wealthy.

Sun, 03 Apr 2011 06:11:36 UTC | #611148