Richard Dawkins and "Inclusive Fitness Theory"

Richard Dawkins has a review of E.O. Wilson’s new book (which I blogged about here). After reading it, I was planning for my next blog post to be a discussion of how Dawkins makes many of the same mistakes as E.O. Wilson, but from the other direction.

However, David Sloan Wilson (no relation to E.O.) beat me to it.

Dawkins and Wilson are only two of dozens of scientists who have been working on the issues over a period of decades. This is in contrast to their outsized images on the public stage, as if they are the only two figures meriting attention and all the important ideas sprang from them.

I mean Dawkins and Wilson no disrespect by calling them two among many. I trust that they would agree and would defer to others especially when it comes to mathematical models, which is not their area of expertise. If the public is going to become literate on the issues at stake—as well they should, because they are fundamental to the study of human sociality—then they will need to realize that both Wilson and Dawkins get some things right and other things wrong. Moreover, the entire community of scientists is in more agreement than the infamous exchange in Nature seems to indicate.

I highly recommend the full post.

PS – I found Dawkin’s squirrel example particularly telling, for reasons D.S. Wilson explains:

 “The American grey squirrel is driving our native red squirrel to extinction…” Choosing an example of competitive exclusion between species to illustrate group selection is poorly informed. Even the concept of species selection, which is different than the concept of group selection within species, is not represented by competitive exclusion (14).

One thought on “Richard Dawkins and "Inclusive Fitness Theory"

  1. What Dawkins says about squirrels is perfectly fine.

    Probably the biggest problem with his article (AFAICS) is his approving citation of his own: “Twelve Misunderstandings of Kin Selection” – which is making a point now widely regarded as rather dubious.

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