Sunday, February 20, 2011

Listen to Richard Lewontin

Here's an interview with Richard Lewontin from Nov. 20, 2003. He talks about all sorts of things that are relevant to what we debate on the blogs and he's a lot smarter than we are.


  1. If Lewontin is as smart as you say; how come other smart scientists named Lewontin’s Fallacy after Lewontin?

  2. Lewontin's Fallacy refers to Lewontin's idea that "races" don't exist in our species (and that the term "race" isn't a valid taxonomic term in other species either).

    I think Lewontin was wrong about this. In fact, I think he's making the very mistake that he warns us against in the video; namely, making your science conform to your social preferences.

    That does not mean that Lewontin isn't smart.

    I think Daniel Dennet is a very intelligent man. He's smarter than most of us (especially me). That doesn't mean he can't be wrong about some things.

    Same with Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. Smart intellectuals aren't always right about everything. I sometimes wonder if being wrong about some things isn't part of what it means to be an intellectual—provided, of course, that you are right about most things.

  3. Very interesting interview. Fascinating character and definitely very acute mind.

  4. My Ph.D. advisor, Rama S. Singh, did his postdoc with R.C. Lewontin, so I'm quite familiar with his writings and views. One of my great regrets is that I didn't get to meet him on the occasion of his 80th birthday a few years ago - his former students and postdocs had planned to hold a series of talks at Harvard, but they were canceled. It would have been such a great opportunity to meet some big names in the field of evolutionary genetics - but such is life ;-)

  5. Lewontin's fallacy is NOT a fallacy. Tons of studies have confirmed what he found: that there is more genetic variation within a population than between them. This is completely reconcilable with the idea that genes are correlated--the latter being AF Edwards "great" idea (which had been already stated by Jeff Minton). Witherspoon et al., in Genetics, show how to reconcile these two FACTS of genetic variation. The only fallacy here is that Edwards, rather carelessly, mistitled his paper, "Lewontin's fallacy"

    1. No, the fallacy is that Lewontin concluded that race was of no taxonomic significance and that one member of one population was probably more similar to a member of another population than he is to a fellow member of his own population.