Bickering theorists: opinions about selfish genes and group selection

The Descent of Edward Wilson by Richard Dawkins / May 24, 2012

A new book on evolution by a great biologist makes a slew of mistakes

Book review: The Social Conquest of Earth

By Edward O Wilson
(WW Norton, £18.99, May)


My comment:

Last month (see below) I responded to a request for information about The Social Conquest of Earth. I think Dawkins’ review and Wilson’s book are like cries for help in the wilderness of evolutionary theory.

When these prominent theorists bicker, it can only mean good things for those with a better understanding of adaptive evolution/natural selection/sexual selection, via the basic principles of biology and levels of biological organization that link sensory cause directly to hormones and their affects on mammals, like us.

Wilson says we evolved via group selection. Dawkins, as always, posits the primary role of genes as replicators, as if epigenetic effects of the sensory environment are not responsible for their stochastic expression (e.g., in cells).

On 4/11/2012 8:05 PM, I wrote:
His [Wilson’s] focus is somewhat on eusociality in insects and humans. He drops kin selection and inclusive fitness for humans, but acknowledges the Westermarck effect; drops effects of mammalian pheromones on hormones / neurotransmitters while accepting concealed ovulation and the ever-present but altogether unsubstantiated claim that humans have reduced olfactory acuity and specificity compared to other animals. (If true = no Westermarck effect, for example). Auditory stimuli and faces are causal for the mother-infant bond et al.

Suddenly, “epigenetic rules” offer explanatory power about half-way through the book, which allows him to link everything except olfactory/pheromonal input to group selection and an attack in the last chapters on religious beliefs.

Overall, I think he’s been somewhat forced to acknowledge epigenetic/regulatory influences on the genome, since the sequencing of the human genome made it clear that our environment directly (e.g., epigenetically) alters the proteome involved in development of the body and brain. I am, however, confounded that his invertebrate expertise seems to have left him relatively clueless about the cause and effect of eusocial behavior. He seems not to realize that it is the diet of the queen bee, for example, that epigenetically determines her pheromone production and everything about the interaction of the colony including the epigenetically-determined neuroanatomy of the worker bees brains, and that this olfactory/pheromonal concept is the binding concept across evolution, not just in eusocial insects and eusocial humans. (In other mammals, for example, we have the epigenetic effects of nutrient chemicals and pheromones on luteinizing hormone (LH): the link between sex and the sense of smell — as also seen in brain imaging studies)

To him, epigenetic rules are rules of gene-culture co-evolution and group selection, I think, but maybe I missed something since I’m not a good listener. I only had time for the audiobook, not a more thorough read. I encourage those less biased by molecular biology to see if what he’s saying makes more sense to them than it does to me. Overall, I think many sex researchers will be happy to see his careless disregard of the concept of human pheromones, for example, and be better able to link what he’s saying about ‘epigenetic rules” to some other model for the development of sexual preferences.

About James V. Kohl 1307 Articles
James Vaughn Kohl was the first to accurately conceptualize human pheromones, and began presenting his findings to the scientific community in 1992. He continues to present to, and publish for, diverse scientific and lay audiences, while constantly monitoring the scientific presses for new information that is relevant to the development of his initial and ongoing conceptualization of human pheromones. Recently, Kohl integrated scientific evidence that pinpoints the evolved neurophysiological mechanism that links olfactory/pheromonal input to genes in hormone-secreting cells of tissue in a specific area of the brain that is primarily involved in the sensory integration of olfactory and visual input, and in the development of human sexual preferences. His award-winning 2007 article/book chapter on multisensory integration: The Mind’s Eyes: Human pheromones, neuroscience, and male sexual preferences followed an award winning 2001 publication: Human pheromones: integrating neuroendocrinology and ethology, which was coauthored by disinguished researchers from Vienna. Rarely do researchers win awards in multiple disciplines, but Kohl’s 2001 award was for neuroscience, and his 2007 “Reiss Theory” award was for social science. Kohl has worked as a medical laboratory scientist since 1974, and he has devoted more than twenty-five years to researching the relationship between the sense of smell and the development of human sexual preferences. Unlike many researchers who work with non-human subjects, medical laboratory scientists use the latest technology from many scientific disciplines to perform a variety of specialized diagnostic medical testing on people. James V. Kohl is certified with: * American Society for Clinical Pathology * American Medical Technologists James V. Kohl is a member of: * Society for Neuroscience * Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology * Association for Chemoreception Sciences * Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality * International Society for Human Ethology * American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science * Mensa, the international high IQ society