Tuesday, June 28, 2016

New Trends in Evolutionary Biology: The Program

I'm going to London next November to attend The Royal Society conference on New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives. This is where all the scientists who want to change evolution will be gathering to spout their claims.

Developments in evolutionary biology and adjacent fields have produced calls for revision of the standard theory of evolution, although the issues involved remain hotly contested. This meeting will present these developments and arguments in a form that will encourage cross-disciplinary discussion and, in particular, involve the humanities and social sciences in order to provide further analytical perspectives and explore the social and philosophical implications.
The program has been published. Here's the list of speakers ...

Gerd B. Müller
The extended evolutionary synthesis

Douglas Futuyma
The evolutionary synthesis today: extend or amend?

Sonia Sultan
Re-conceiving the genotype: developmental plasticity

Russell Lande

Evolution of phenotypic plasticity

Tobias Uller
Heredity and evolutionary theory

John Dupré
The ontology of evolutionary process

Paul Brakefield

Can the way development works bias the path taken by evolution?

Kevin Laland
Niche construction

James Shapiro
Biological action in read-write genome evolution

Paul Griffiths
Genetics/epigenetics in development/evolution

Eva Jablonka
Epigenetic inheritance

Greg Hurst
Symbionts in evolution

Denis Noble
Evolution viewed from medicine and physiology

Andy Gardner
Anthropomorphism in evolutionary biology

Sir Patrick Bateson
The active role of the organism in evolution

Karola Stotz

Developmental niche construction

Tim Lewens
A science of human nature

Agustín Fuentes
Human niche, human behaviour, human nature

Andrew Whiten
The second inheritance system: the extension of biology through culture

Susan Antón
Human evolution, niche construction and plasticity

Melinda Zeder
Domestication as a model system for evolutionary biology

I didn't know that Paul Griffiths and Karola Stotz were going. It's a bit surprising that they would associate with some of these views. I'm glad that Douglas Futuyma will be there to represent the voice of reason. He seems to be one of the few speakers who understands modern evolutionary theory.

There are still a few spots available, according to the organizers. Sign up quickly.

The meeting is at Carlton House Terrace, which is just a few blocks from Trafalger Square and a short walk down The Mall to Buckingham Palace where the Corgis live.


  1. I see Russell Lande will be there too, to make sane (and knowledgeable) remarks, although that probably won't stop the inmates taking over the asylum.

    The latest choice gloating from Denyse O'Leary at Uncommon Descent:

    James Shapiro (read-write genome) and Eva Jablonka (epigenetics) are in, which would make the whole thing worthwhile. As is Greg Hurst on symbionts. Many speakers are probably there so as not to scare old hat evolutionary biologists into fits of chronic wittering (in which case many evolutionary biologists will be advised by their physicians not to attend).

    Let’s keep in mind that this must be a scary moment for many of these people. It’s not just some retirement-age Darwinists bitching from blogs somewhere. It’s the Royal Society saying, this is so done, so dead, so yesterday, so used-to-was and it will wash no more.


    1. Doug Futuyma, at least, should subtract from the insanity a bit. Don't know most of those folks.

    2. Dense and Dreary sure has a way with words. I am embarrassed to say that we both went to the same high school in Toronto. I may have to return my diploma.

  2. OK, so I'm in. Thought it would be a bit much a week after SVP in Utah, but why else am I living in England these days if not to take advantage of stuff like this. (I've heard John Dupre ---- philsophy of science -- talk before and he's pretty good.)

  3. I hope both the presentations and Q&As will be recorded and posted.

    1. From the conference web page:

      "Recorded audio of the talks will be available on this page after the event has taken place"

      Doesn't say if either the Q&As or the slides will be available.

  4. Voice of reason by just one??!! What purpose to a conference of unreason? Just kidding.
    Is it possible this is a historic meeting? A woodstock of origin thought?
    I don't understand why its okay when its really a revision of the old time evolution.!
    Good luck to it. Already the positive vote out EU seems to be helping.

    1. That's right, Robert. This conference was just thrown together after the Brexit vote. They didn't do a thing prior to that, because the EU wouldn't allow it.

  5. I would bet that many people on that list will provide balanced ideas. In fact, in my mind only a few--Jablonka, Shapiro--would be the ones crying out for a "massive rethink, new paradigm" etc.

    Lande is easily the most brilliant evolutionary biologist in this era. But I'm familiar with almost everyone on that list, and it should be good conference. Most of the bottom half will likely talk more about "macro" things that influence evolutionary trajectories: the role of culture, the role of niches, the role of learning/transmission. I would love to see Dupre, Gardener, and Brakefield speak.

    1. However interesting the phenomena are that are being discussed, the controversial matter will be (and should be) the semantic issue of labeling the theory -- will the meeting be seen as concluding that the current theory of evolution is "wrong" and should be discarded? That issue is more labels and semantics than anything else, but these are important. Babies get tossed out with bath water.

      Note the web page on the Third Way of Evolution where 57 scientists and philosopher sign a call for a Third Way, including at least 5 of the symposium speakers. I wonder whether the 57 are being naïve about what they ultimately will be perceived as advocating, and what they will be perceived as discarding. It is in that area that I expect the RS speakers may end up in conflict.

      Note also Susan Mazur (at HuffPo) being unhappy that not enough of the crackpots she respects were invited. Instead mere "zoologists" (?) were invited.

    2. "Neo-Darwinism ignores important rapid evolutionary processes such as symbiogenesis, horizontal DNA transfer, action of mobile DNA and epigenetic modifications. Moreover, some Neo-Darwinists have elevated Natural Selection into a unique creative force that solves all the difficult evolutionary problems without a real empirical basis."

      That quote from their website is quite silly. I've been following evolutionary theory for quite some time (not as long as you have), and I can't figure out where any of the researchers I know (or have read) have "ignored" processes such as horizontal transfer, symbiosis, and mobile elements within the context of neo-Darwinian theory. The only bit of that quote that contains any hint of novelty is the stuff about epigenetics...but that is an empirical question, likely solved on a case-by-case basis; it is not a manifesto to create dogma. And the bit about the power of natural selection is also quite a gloss.

      I hope the conference doesn't lapse into semantics, as you say. There are interesting new developments, to be sure, but this whole dividing into "camps" and starting flashy websites like the 3rd way is pretty childish.

    3. You're right, but childishness never stopped crackpots and opportunists, and they have considerable power to confuse the public, and even scientists in other disciplines.

    4. They are not crackpots. Other scientists are not confused or if so then why? Indeed labels matter and already seem to be going on eh!
      I understand ID thinkers welcome the meeting as a novel attempt to correct old ideas. A third way as opposed to the previous two. Yet admiting the previous two have merit.
      They think other ideas on how evolution works have been ignored to the loss of credibility and credibility of ID thinkers or any critics of importance.
      A meeting is justifying and has already questioning or present textbook evolutionary thought. They then only allowed a few critics ID really like. A balance was made.
      SANDWALK is endorsing it as I understand. Its a reflection on reality.
      The existing paradigm, those wanting a new one, and a nod to ID?YEC well made criticisms of the last decades.
      it should be in North America where the action really is. if its a good conference then maybe next year.

    5. @Robert Byers

      My position is that modern evolutionary theory, such as that described in Doug Futuyma's textbook or in Dan Graur's textbook or in Joe Felsenstein's textbook, is in fine shape. It doesn't require major revisions or extensions although I wish it wouln't be so dismissive of mutationism.

      My position is that many of the speakers do not understand modern evolutionary theory, If they have read the modern textbooks, it certainly doesn't show up in their writings and speeches. They are by and large arguing against a view of evolution that's half-a-century old. They missed the real revolution.

      In fairness, a lot of other scientists share the same old adaptationist view of evolution.

      ID proponents are also ignorant when it comes to evolutionary theory. That has been proven over and over again.

      I'm not endorsing the meeting. I'm going so I can ask pointed questions like, "Can you describe your new evolutionary theory in a few sentences that can be inserted into the leading textbooks?" or "How do you incorporate your view of evolutionary theory into modern population genetics?" or "Do you know the difference between evolutionary theory and the history of life?"

    6. Okay.
      your position is that they , and many scientists, have not kept up with the most recent ideas on evolutionary thought and so thier ideas have been covered or dealt with in recent scholarship.
      No third way needed.
      I think they will put up a fight on that.
      I think some just want to add things while others hint at a new paradigm. We'll see.

    7. I get the sense from the list of speakers that quite a few of them want to emphasize the importance of saltations in evolution, or internal factors that drive it in particular directions. They ignore the need for natural selection to have been involved, if you end up with a major improvement in adaptation.

      Larry is always concerned that we not assume that every change is the result of natural selection. These folks (James Shapiro is a good example) seem to go overboard in the opposite direction -- they think that there are saltational mechanisms and internal mechanisms that just somehow happen to know which direction to go to get a wonderful result.

      I hope that someone (maybe Doug Futuyma or Russ Lande?) will call them on this. You don't get, say, a bird that can fly by a mutational mechanism that has no way for the improved fitness to feed back to affect the outcome.

    8. Rich, I can explain. For educated people who are not evolutionary biologists, "neo-Darwinism" refers to a scientific theory. As a theory, it would have some internal structure, it would be falsifiable, and so on. There used to be such a theory, but no one defends it anymore, and few actually understand it. Will Provine understood what the theory used to mean, and he said it had fallen apart. That was back in the 1980s sometime.

      For evolutionary biologists, "neo-Darwinism" or "the Modern Synthesis" now means something else. It is not a scientific theory. It means "whatever we decide it means." It basically has become a synonym for "mainstream thinking".

      So, when person A says that neo-Darwinism does not include abundant neutral evolution or non-gradual changes, you can be sure that person A has been reading books and thinking instead of listening to evolutionary biologists. And when person B responds by saying "of course all the evolutionary biologists I know accept neutral evolution and large-effect changes", this is because person B has been drinking the kool-aid and doesn't understand what a theory means.

  6. There is also a small high-falutin' workshop planned for November (at the Konrad Lorenz institute) by Joanna Masel and Johannes Jäger. This is more focused on breaking down the proximate-ultimate distinction by bringing together evolutionary geneticists with experimentalists working on detailed mechanisms. I only know about it because I got invited.

  7. Talked to my wife. She loved the idea to make some sightseeing and shopping in London, as she loves the city. And the cold weather in November is nice to contrast the warm weather we experience all year along here in brazil. Seems Paul Nelson is going. Any other adherent of ID ?

  8. At least the organizers don't accept the prardigm shift fuzz Suzan Mazur is making for months. In May she cited from a mail she recieved from one of the organizers:

    “Could I request that you stop referring to the forthcoming RS-BA meeting (“New Trends in Evolutionary Biology: Biological, Philosphical and Social Science Perspectives”), and to the extended evolutionary synthesis, more generally, as in some way advocating a “paradigm shift”. Such language is both misleading (the vast majority of scientists working towards an extended synthesis do not seek revolutionary change in neo-Darwinism) and counterproductive (such talk undermines calm scientific discussion by creating an unnecessarily emotive and antagonistic atmosphere). I view the Kuhnian model as superseded long ago: the data suggests that sciences rarely if ever change through “revolutions”. Lakatos’ framework of “research programmes” offers a more up-to-date, accurate and useful conceptualization of (gradual and progressive) scientific change. The extended evolutionary synthesis is best regarded as an alternative research programme, entirely complementary to orthodox evolutionary biology. Talk of “paradigm shift” gives the false impression that the differences amongst evolutionary biologists are far more extreme than they actually are. . . .”

    Why I am not surprized she is not embarrassed calling this request to not completey misrepresent the meeting censorship?

    1. The organizer does not seem to realize that Mazur sees them as corrupt ("the evolution indusrty"), trying to impose orthodoxy, repressive, and trying to do "damage control". The organizer sees Mazur as someone who is simply mistaken about paradigms.

      I hope that evolutionary biologists present are aware of the full implications of the views of some of the speakers and organizers, and will tackle them head on, rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt and that they are saying something more reasonable. And I hope that they are aware of Mazur's game.

  9. In an attempt to address Larry's point that these folk have not kept up, if there's a significant new version of evolution since the 1940s, there's appears to be no new name for it, and no consensus reference materials for it. Sure there have been changes since then, and some have even made it into the textbooks, but there's not much consenus about which of them are core evolutionary theory, and which are optional add-ons. While I'm not sure these folk have much of a consensus on that issue, but they do clearly think there's a need for a new name and a new consensus. Arguing that they haven't kept up because they are arguing with 60-year old orthodoxy seems unreasonable. Looking at their content, some are well aware that some of the material involved is now part of orthox evolutionary theory. It's not necessarily that they are deluded into thinking they have new, revolutionary content. They just think it is time for evolution 3.0. Since evolution 2.0 had a bunch of unrealistic dogma in it (mostly to do with tethering evolutionary theory to Mendelian genetics), a new release doesn't seem that unreasonable to me. If you think evolution 3.0 actually came out some time ago, I'm not sure that historians of science will agree with you. Maybe we've had evolution 2.0.1 and evolution 2.0.2 - but it's not easy to make a case for such things. Maybe there will be no more releases and scientists will dispense with milestones in evolutionary theory. In which case, the complaints about the shortcomings of the "modern synthesis" will probably continue to get more shrill.

    1. Tim, I agree with the idea that there needs to be some kind of reckoning, though I reject the assumption that, as scientists, we are under some kind of obligation to maintain a continuously updated consensus view or grand unifying theory. No field needs a grand unifying theory for legitimacy.

      The Modern Synthesis was never intended merely as a summation of available views (it rejected many ideas that had been discussed for decades), and it immediately became inadequate, because it did not predict or explain the results of molecular sequence comparisons that began to appear in the 1960s. This is why "molecular evolution" became a thing. In the MS (the original theory), the "gene pool" serves as a kind of dynamic buffer, so that evolution depends on recombination, not new mutations. Selection never waits for a new mutation, and thus there is no relationship between the rate of evolution and the rate of mutation.

      The kind of reckoning that we need would expose just how far the goal-posts have shifted. For instance, today leading evolutionary geneticists depict models of the adventitious fixation of a lucky mutant and call it "Darwinian adaptation". By contrast, Mayr, et al rejected the lucky mutant view. To the extent that they even described it at all, they called it "pre-adaptation" rather than "adaptation". For them, "adaptation" referred to a graduated response. Darwin was likewise clear that his view of evolution was not simply the survival of a mutant that happened to be beneficial.