What selfish genes prefer...

Andy Peters adpeters at sunflower.bio.indiana.edu
Tue Feb 16 12:01:01 EST 1993


In article <01GUSB5UABDS8ZDZKB at DBV> DRBH at DB1.CC.ROCHESTER.EDU writes:
>Proclaimations of what selfish genes "prefer" or "are interested in" strike
>me as being roughly as valid as proclamiations about what football team God
>prefers in the Superbowl.  The concept of selfish genes applies to sequences
>that over replicate in the genome, and confer no obvious benefit upon the
>host.  
[...]
>The existence of selfish genes is a good hypothesis
>and there is considerable evidence that is consistent with that hypothesis.
>Period.  To then begin to attribute desires and preferences to such
>hypothesized entities is not only absurd, it is just the sort of sloppy use
>of language that leads many molecular biologists to the couclusion that
>evolutionary biologists are not only a bit daft, but that they can not
>distinguish fact from fancy.

Even ignoring the uncalled-for dig at evolutionary biologists (a broad
class of biologists, which includes molecular biologists and cannot be
included under the blanket category of loonies which Mr. Hall would
seem to prefer), the above quote betrays the very scientific
provincialism from which the field of evolutionary biology is finally
beginning to emerge, even if Mr. Hall's personal field isn't.  _The
Selfish Gene_ is a book by Richard Dawkins, which advocates a
particular perspective from which to think about evolution: the
perspective that hypotheses of adaptation in biology should be
explained in terms of the transmission advantage they offer to
particular alleles, rather than simply the number of offspring they
allow individuals to leave.

While it is unfortunate that Dawkins' terminology overlaps that of
"the molecular biologist," those who are informed are aware of this
overlap, and are able to judge which meaning is intended.

>Barry Hall

--Andy Peters
-- 
--Andy
     "God is a real estate developer / with offices around the nation
          They say one day he'll liquidate / his holdings on High
             I say it's all speculation." -- Michelle Shocked



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