genome evolution....a partisan manifesto

Robert C. Colgrove robin at cco.caltech.edu
Mon Jan 31 00:17:18 EST 1994


aroger at ac.dal.ca writes:

A somewhat defensive defense of Cavalier-Smith with umbrage taken
at my use of the p-word (or was it the m-word?). OK, lighten up and let
me re-iterate my orignal point lest we be condemned to re-enact this
ad nauseum:

When reading, discussing, and especially when recommending a scientific
text, it is important particularly for those not familiar with the minutiae
of the field to be aware of and honest about the intent of the work at hand.
Every major treatise blends in varying degrees the desire to inform, to
entertain, and to convince; we read them differently depending upon what
they are trying to do.  Readers of this group looking for general references
should be aware of the partisans in the field and of the positions they
so firmly espouse.  They may well be right. They are quite often worth study.
They are not, however, where one should look for a balanced introduction
to the field. Let me be clear: I _like_ partisan manifestoes. I have read most
of the famous ones (including Cavalier-Smith's) in this field.  I believe that
most real advances start out as idiosyncratic partisan positions. Most
idiosyncratic positions, however, are not real advances but rather just screwy 
ideas that get stuck in the heads of otherwise upstanding scientists. 
Nonetheless, we can all cite theories of dubious scientific merit that seem 
convincing when presented
sans the requisite background to interpret them (I resist the temptation to listany since every wild idea has some devoted advocate who would want to take
the discussion of on a tangent).

I believe it would greatly facilitate the use of this group as a forum for
discussion and mutual edification if we are as honest as we can be about
the nature of the sources we cite. Some examples:

A) an exhaustive summary of the relevant data.
B) pretty complete and balanced review of significant literature in the field.
C) good description of the conventional wisdom but lacking much consideration
	of alternative models.
D) fair-minded elaboration of an interesting and plausible minority viewpoint.
E) passionate, yet well-argued defense of the author's pet hypothesis.
F) dubious but not impossible interpretation of the data
G) crackpot theory with virtually no support in the field. 

Don't get me wrong. Every now and then, even a crackpot theory may be right
but it's only fair to those who ask for a reference to be up-front about the
nature of the work you cite.  To bring this discussion back around, I agree with
the reviewers of the Cavalier-Smith book in Science and Nature that it is a
category (D) in the above schema, leaning a bit toward (E). Nothing wrong with
that so long as it doesn't masquerade as (A-C).  We can, should and will
discuss the pros and cons of various C-value theories in detail but this general
principle, full-disclosure of the vested-interests, will help us do more 
learning and less squabbling.  Maybe some of the "partisans" could make cameo
appearances in our little group to show us the true way forward ;^)  .

-robin

*****************************************************************
"Evolution Now" -c 1984, John Maynard Smith, ed.
I always thought that would make a good bumpersticker ;^)
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