Why Evolution Is True: Jerry Coyne Response
In several previous posts (e.g., here and here), I’ve described the recent dust-up about whether kin selection (selection of “altruisitic” traits based on their effect on increasing the reproductive fitness of relatives) was an important cause of social evolution in nature, particularly in the evolution of “eusociality” (social insects with a nonreproductive caste and a reproductive queen) and of “altruism” (animals who appear to injure their own evolutionary prospects by helping non-relatives).
The controversy was inspired by a paper published in 2010 in Nature by Martin Nowak et al. (reference at bottom, other authors are Corina Tarnita and the eminent biologist E. O. Wilson), maintaining that kin selection was not a good way to analyze evolution in nature, that it was not a form of natural selection (WRONG), and that the evolution of eusociality was better explained by “group selection” (differential reproduction of groups) than by selection among relatives.
To most biologists, this controversy appears to have been settled: Nowak et al. were wrong. About a hundred and fifty biologists wrote five separate critiques that were published in Nature, along with a lame response by Nowak et al. As far as I know (and I may have missed something), no paper has been published in support of Nowak et al., and only a handful of biologists (I think David Sloan Wilson was one of them) even supported it with public statements. Referring to Nowak et al.’s lame reply to their critics, science writer Carl Zimmer said this:
Nowak et al respond to all the criticism and don’t budge in their own stand. They claim that their critics have misinterpreted their own argument. And they claim that sex allocation does not require inclusive fitness. Oddly, though, they never explain why it doesn’t, despite the thousands of papers that have been published on inclusive fitness and sex allocation. They don’t even cite a paper that explains why.