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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Group selection: A fresh approach to evolution

The Quarterly Review of Biology will publish a landmark paper in December written by two giants in sociobiology, David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson.

The paper “Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology,” proposes a new consensus and theoretical foundation that affirms Darwin’s original conjecture and is supported by the latest biological findings.

Wilson and Wilson trace much of the confusion in the field to the 1960’s, when most evolutionists rejected “for the good of the group” thinking and insisted that all adaptations must be explained in terms of individual self-interest. In an even more reductionistic move, genes were called “the fundamental unit of selection,” as if this was an argument against group selection. Scientific dogma became entrenched in popular culture with the publication of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976). Although evidence in favor of group selection began accumulating almost immediately after its rejection, its taboo status prevented a systematic re-evaluation of the field until now.

Based on current theory and evidence, Wilson and Wilson show that natural selection is unequivocally a multilevel process, as Darwin originally envisioned, and that adaptations can evolve at all levels of the biological hierarchy, from genes to ecosystems.

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