If I'm correct, then why all the fuss in the 21st century about extending the Modern Synthesis?
I think there are two things going on here. First, there are a bunch of biologists who want to incorporate their favorite fad into modern evolutionary theory. They think that their ideas are so revolutionary that this requires an extensive revision of evolutionary theory. Second, those biologists seem to have been asleep during the 1970s when the Modern Synthesis died so they are fighting a strawman.
There's an entire book devoted to these fads. The editors are Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd B. Müller. Here's what they write in chapter 1.
More than a century has passed since the integration of several strands of evolutionary thought into what came to be called Modern Synthesis (MS), the conceptual framework that has defined evolutionary theory since the 1940s. Despite significant advances since then in all methodological and disciplinary domains of biology, including molecular genetics, developmental biology, and the "-omics" fields, the Modern Synthesis framework has remained surprisingly unchanged. Although it is still regarded as the standard theoretical paradigm of evolutionary biology, for several years now dissenters from diverse fields of biology have been questioning aspects of the Modern Synthesis, and pivotal novel concepts have been elaborated that extend beyond its original scope. As a result, calls for an expansion of the Modern Synthesis framework have intensified, prompting further scientific debate.It seems as though Pigliucci and Müller are unaware of the revisions that took place in the 1970s or else they think these were insignificant allowing the 1940s theory to remain "substantially unchanged."
Either way, they look awfully foolish to me.
Most of you know my views on the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology [Basic Concepts: The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology]. I have very little patience with those scientists who criticize the Central Dogma without ever bothering to find out what it means and without ever reading the papers that Crick wrote. I think that such sloppy scholarship is a pretty good indication of the quality of scholarship those scientists apply to other topics.
Let's see how Pigliucci and Müller handle the "Central Dogma Test" a few pages later.
As we will see in the rest of this volume, several of these tenets [of the Modern Synthesis] are being challenged as either a inaccurate or incomplete. It is important however, to understand the kind of challenge being posted here, in order to avoid wasting time on unproductive discussions that miss the point of an extended evolutionary synthesis. Perhaps a parallel with another branch of biology will be helpful. After Watson and Crick discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, and the molecular revolution got started in earnest, one of the first principles to emerge from the new discipline was the unfortunately named "central dogma" of molecular biology. The dogma (a word that arguably should never be used in science) stated that the flow of information in biological systems is always one-way, from DNA to RNA proteins. Later on, however, it was discovered that the DNA > RNA flow can be reversed by the appropriately named process of reverse transcription, which takes place in a variety of organisms, including some viruses and eukaryotes (through retrotransposons). Moreover, we now know that some viruses replicate their RNA directly by means of RNA-dependent RNA polymerases, enzymes also found in eukaryotes, where they mediate RNA silencing. Prions have shown us how some proteins can catalyze conformational changes in similar proteins, a phenomenon that is not a case of replication, but certainly qualifies as information transfer. Finally, we also have examples of direct DNA translation to proteins in cell-free experimental systems in the presence of ribosomes but not of mRNA. All of these molecular processes clearly demolish the alleged central dogma, [my emphasis - LAM] and yet do not call for the rejection of any of the empirical discoveries or conceptual advances made in molecular biology since the 1950s. Similarly, we argue, individual tenets of the Modern Synthesis can be modified, or even rejected, without generating a fundamental crisis in the structure of evolutionary theory&mdas;just as the Modern Synthesis itself improved upon but did not cause the rejection of either Darwinism or neo-Darwinism.I'm more than willing to accept their parallel. I give just as much credence to their attack on the "Modern Synthesis" as I do to their attack on the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.
(That's "no credence at all" for those of you who don't appreciate the irony.)