I laid out my position in: Rethinking evolutionary theory. I don't think any of the new ideas like epigenetics, plasticity, facilitated variation etc. are about to change evolutionary theory significantly. However, I do think that the standard version of the 1940s Modern Synthesis was far too rigid and that a modern emphasis on population genetics (including Neutral Theory and more emphasis on random genetic drift) have significantly changed evolutionary theory—something close to a "revolution." The problem is that many scientists, and even many evolutionary biologists, haven't really integrated this change into their way of thinking. This resistance was very well described in a paper by Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin over 45 year ago (Gould and Lewontin, 1978) [What Does San Marco Basilica Have to do with Evolution?]
I think there's already been a "revolution" but most people didn't notice and are still stuck in the 1940s adhering to an old-fashioned version of evolutionary theory that emphasizes adaptation.
Razib Khan doesn't like Gould and doesn't like new-fangled ideas like "neutralism" and "random genetic drift". Let's see what he thinks of the latest kerfluffle.
It seems that rather regularly there is a debate within evolutionary biology, or at least in public about evolutionary biology, where something new and bright and shiny is going to revolutionize the field. In general this does not pan out. I would argue there hasn’t been a true revolution in evolutionary biology since Mendelian genetics and classical Darwinism were fused in the 1920s and 1930s during the period when population genetics as a field was developed, and the famous "synthesis" developed out of the interaction of the geneticists with other domains of evolutionary relevance. This does not mean that there have not been pretenders to the throne. Richard Goldschmidt put forward his "hopeful monsters," neutralism reared its head in the 1970s, and evo-devo was all the rage in the 2000s. Developments that bore scientific fruit, such as neutralism, were integrated seamlessly into evolutionary biology, while those that did not, such as Goldschmidt’s saltationism fell by the wayside. This is how normal science works.The main point here is whether Neutral Theory and an increased emphasis on random genetic drift "were integrated seamlessly" into the Modern Synthesis view that was popular in the 1960s. Is it true that the way modern population geneticists look at evolution is just a little bit different from the way evolutionary biologists thought about evolution in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s? I don't think so. I think there's been a significant shift—so much so that we can no longer refer to the "Modern Synthesis" as the most modern version of evolutionary theory.
Unlike Razib Khan, I am not convinced that most evolutionary biologists have made the shift. At my university, for example, the students must take a first-year course on evolution taught by members of the Dept. of Evolution & Ecology. I see these students in subsequent years and they don't understand the basics of population genetics. Nor do they appreciate the role of neutral alleles and random genetic drift. They are being taught the evolutionary theory of the Modern Synthesis (circa 1960).
Also the debates we are having over junk DNA suggests strongly that most scientists are not familiar with modern population genetics and Neutral Theory.
But every now and then you have a self-declared tribune of the plebs declaring that the revolution is nigh. For decades the late Stephen Jay Gould played this role to the hilt, decrying "ultra-Darwinism," and frankly misrepresenting the state of evolutionary theory to the masses from his perch as a great popularizer. More recently you have had more muted and conventional revisionists, such as Sean Carroll, who promote a variant of evo-devo that acclimates rather well to the climes of conventional evolutionary biology.I do not believe that Gould misrepresented evolutionary theory to the masses. I believe that Richard Dawkins misrepresented evolutionary theory to the masses.
Like Razib, I'm not a big fan of evo-devo and I don't think it contributes much to fundamental evolutionary theory.
Nature now has a piece out which seems to herald the launching of another salvo in this forever war, Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? It’s written in the form of opposing dialogues. I’m very much in the camp of those believe that there’s no reason to overturn old terms and expectations. Evolutionary biology is advancing slowly but surely into new territory. There’s no problem to solve. The one major issue where I might have to make a stand is that it focusing on genetics is critical to understanding evolution, and dethroning inheritance from the center of the story would eviscerate the major thread driving the plot. The fact that evolutionary biologists have the conceptual and concrete gene as a discrete unit of information and inheritance which they can inspect is the critical fact which distinguishes them from fields which employ similar formalisms but have never made comparable advances (such as economics).I agree with Razib Khan that genetics (population genetics) is the key to understanding evolutionary theory at the population level. I think we disagree on exactly what version of population genetics we support and on the importance of adaptation.
Gould, S.J. and Lewontin, R.C. (1979) The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, Vol. 205, No. 1161, The Evolution of Adaptation by Natural Selection (Sep. 21, 1979), pp. 581-598. [AAAS reprint] [printable version]
Laland, K., Uller, T., Feldman, M., Sterelny, K., Müller, G. B., Moczek, A., Jablonka, E., Odling-Smee, J., Wray, G. A., Hoekstra, H. E., Futuyma, D. J., Lenski, R. E., Mackay, T. F. C., Schluter, D. and Strassmann, J. E. (2014) Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? Nature 514, 163-165. [PDF]