Suzan Mazur has been making a name for herself by promoting the overthrow of modern evolutionary theory. She began with a lot of hype about the Alternberg 16 back in 2008 and continued with a series of interviews of prominent evolutionary biologists.Now she's focused on the upcoming meeting in November as another attempt to shift paradigms [see New Trends in Evolutionary Biology: The Program]. She's not entirely wrong. Many of the people involved in those meeting see themselves as paradigm shifters.
However, one of the organizers of the London meeting made a really stupid mistake [see Censorship & Upcoming Royal Society Evo Meeting]. He wrote to Suzan Mazur saying ...
Could I request that you stop referring to the forthcoming RS-BA meeting (“New Trends in Evolutionary Biology: Biological, Philosophical 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 I view the Kuhnian model as superseded long ago: the data suggests that sciences rarely if ever change through “revolutions”.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. . . .”]The author is NOT Denis Noble, according to Mazur. It sounds very much like something John Dupré, a philosopher, would say.
Denis Noble, one of the organizers, is a founding member of The Third Way group along with Jim Shapiro. Suzan Mazur interviewed him a few yeas ago (2014) [Replace the Modern Synthesis (Neo-Darwinism): An Interview With Denis Noble]. It certainly sounds to me like Denis Noble wants to entirely replace modern evolutionary theory. He said,
I would say that it needs replacing. Yes.I suppose we could quibble about the term "paradigm shift" but I've heard Denis Noble speak (Boston 2015: Physiologists fall for the Third Way ) and he has harsh words to say about evolutionary biologists and molecular biologists. He is a physiologist [see A physiologist thinks about evolution] and he has a very different view of evolutionary biology.
The reasons I think we’re talking about replacement rather than extension are several. The first is that the exclusion of any form of acquired characteristics being inherited was a central feature of the modern synthesis. In other words, to exclude any form of inheritance that was non-Mendelian, that was Lamarckian-like, was an essential part of the modern synthesis. What we are now discovering is that there are mechanisms by which some acquired characteristics can be inherited, and inherited robustly. So it’s a bit odd to describe adding something like that to the synthesis ( i.e., extending the synthesis). A more honest statement is that the synthesis needs to be replaced.
By “replacement” I don’t mean to say that the mechanism of random change followed by selection does not exist as a possible mechanism. But it becomes one mechanism amongst many others, and those mechanisms must interact. So my argument for saying this is a matter of replacement rather than extension is simply that it was a direct intention of those who formulated the modern synthesis to exclude the inheritance of acquired characteristics. That would be my first and perhaps the main reason for saying we’re talking about replacement rather than extension.
If he gets his way, evolutionary theory will look nothing like it does today. If that's not a paradigm shift then I don't know what is.
Kalevi Kull is an evolutionary biologist at Tartu University in Estonia. He plans to attend the meeting. He also made the mistake of writing to Suzan Mazur and she has published his letter in Kalevi Kull: Censorship & Royal Society Evo Event. Kull thinks there IS a paradigm shift going on. He wrote,
Well, I really interpret the letter you refer to in your article [“Censorpship & Upcoming Royal Society Evo Meeting“] as evidence that this IS a paradigm shift. Because it focuses not on the biological theory itself, but on social matters in academia. And this is a serious hint. Because if this kind of deep change happens, then very many scientists face a problem of how to survive this change because the new dominant model they would like to accept results in many of their previous writings losing much of their value. Nobody wants to belong to the party of losers. One of the best strategies in such a case is evidently an interpretation of the change as a gradual accumulation of knowledge while their work has always been at the cutting edge.It looks to me like the organizers of this meeting didn't think very carefully about the can of worms they were opening. When you have speakers like Denis Noble and Jim Shapiro you are just inviting trouble. When you try to lecture Suzan Mazur about paradigm shifting you are bound to regret it.
Is this a radical change in biology what is going on now? The contrast is quite clear, if we look at how evolutionary innovation is described. Either innovation begins from a new mutation, followed by newly behaving phenotype, which is amplified by natural selection (this is what the neo-Darwinian model suggests), or innovation begins from a change of function (with habitat choice, or resource choice, etc.) first stabilised by epigenetic or ecological inheritance and followed by fixation due to mutational noise (which is what the new model states, let us call it the post-Darwinan model).
That is: either a genetic change first, followed by functional change, or a functional (epigenetic, i.e., non-genetic) change first, followed by genetic changes.
The details of this contrast are described, for instance, in my work “Adaptive Evolution without Natural Selection“ published in the Linnean Society journal. . . but there are many scholars who share this model. That paper provides a row of references. Isn’t it a deep contrast, and a possible move from one to another, a radical change of the major model of evolution?
Science, deeply speaking, is the mutual help in understanding. We should help each other as friends; nobody is understanding everything. Keeping this in mind, the best way to make our thoughts clear is to use formulations that do not hide meaning. A better understanding is not always an extension of the earlier model, sometimes it is an alternative.
In other words — summarizing — claiming that what is going on is just an ongoing extension of Darwinism would be equivalent to saying that Einsteinian physics is just an extended Newtonianism. Why not, one may describe it so. However, the Einsteinian change became a classic example of a paradigm shift, for Kuhn. . . .
I like very much your writings.
I'm beginning to think this meeting isn't going to happen. The Royal Society is going to end up looking very bad and there's no easy way to fix the problem short of cancelling the meeting.