Truth and Reconciliation in Group Selection

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Richard Dawkins’ recent review of E.O. Wilson’s new book The Social Conquest of Earth affords an opportunity to show that BOTH fail to recognize that the days of pitting group selection theory against kin selection theory are over. I have written an article to this effect titled “Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, and the Consensus…

Scientists who write for the general public must be constantly on their guard. It’s so easy to depart from scientific mode and become just another talking head, opining on topics that one knows nothing about. So it is with Jerry Coyne on the topic of group selection. Jerry is a highly respected evolutionist who writes…

The rehabilitation of group selection took another step with the publication of a commentary titled “Eight Criticisms Not to Make About Group Selection” in the journal Evolution. The authors are Omar Eldakar, my former PhD student currently at the University of Arizona’s Center for Insect Science, and yours truly. Omar conducts wonderful research on male…

The March 24 issue of Nature includes 5 responses to the critique of inclusive fitness theory by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and Edward Wilson published earlier in Nature. One of the responses has 137 co-authors, illustrating the degree to which the evolution community has become aroused. I am reminded of the old record album titled…

So far I have paid homage to George Williams for his clear thinking about adaptation and natural selection, including his principle for evaluating whether a trait counts as a group-level adaptation (see part I). George was wrong when he made the empirical claim that “group-related adaptations do not, in fact, exist”, but it is thanks…

The newest effort to place individualism on an evolutionary foundation is led by Alan Grafen and Andy Gardner at the University of Oxford. Their stated purpose is to develop a mathematical framework whereby natural selection leads toward the optimization of individual fitness. They want to be able to say that virtually all adaptations are individual-level…

Individualism according to Williams’ Principle is dead but another version of individualism is also part of George’s legacy. At the time, no one fully appreciated that the two versions are different and incompatible with each other. Some things are only obvious in retrospect.

In addition to showing how to identify a group-level adaptation (see part I), George Williams also made a strong empirical claim: Individual-level selection is almost invariably stronger than group-level selection. Putting his empirical claim together with his principle, he concluded that “group-related adaptations do not, in fact exist” (Adaptation and Natural Selection p. 93). In…

The death of George C. Williams last September coincided with an article that Elliott Sober and I were writing on the significance of his work. The article, titled “Adaptation and Natural Selection Revisited” has now been published in the current issue of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology and is dedicated to the memory of George.…

Imagine playing chess with someone who insists on continuing after his king has been taken. Or imagine a basketball game where the losing team insists on continuing after the final buzzer has sounded. These vignettes are so absurd that if they actually happened we would regard the protesters as insane. Yet something comparable happens all…