What selfish genes prefer...

Tue Feb 16 10:37:19 EST 1993

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.  We can observe over-replication as increases in copy number of some
sequences, but we can not be sure that there is no advantage to the host...
we can only be sure that we don't know of any such advantage at this time.
While the concept of selfish genes is important becaue it contradicts what
was the prevailing view (that all genes must confer some benefit on the
host or they wouldn't be there), it is intellectually sloppy and the
antithesis of good science to discuss selfish genes as though their existence
were undisputed fact.  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.

Barry Hall

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