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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

New Scientist doesn't understand modern evolutionary theory

New Scientist has devoted much of their September 26th issue to evolution, but not in a good way. Their emphasis is on 13 ways that we must rethink evolution. Readers of this blog are familiar with this theme because New Scientist is talking about the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES)—a series of critiques of the Modern Synthesis in an attempt to overthrow or extend it [The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis - papers from the Royal Society meeting].

My main criticsm of EES is that its proponents demonstrate a remarkable lack of understanding of modern evolutionary theory and they direct most of their attacks against the old adaptationist version of the Modern Synthesis that was popular in the 1950s. For the most part, EES proponents missed the revolution in evolutionary theory that occrred in the late 1960s with the development of Neutral Theory, Nearly-Neutral Theory, and the importance of random genetic drift. EES proponents have shown time and time again that they have not bothered to read a modern textbook on population genetics.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Function Wars Part VIII: Selected effect function and de novo genes

Discussions about the meaning of the word "function" have been going on for many decades, especially among philosphers who love that sort of thing. The debate intensified following the ENCODE publicity hype disaster in 2012 where ENCODE researchers used the word function an entirely inappropriate manner in order to prove that there was no junk in our genome. Since then, a cottege indiustry based on discussing the meaning of function has grown up in the scientific literature and dozens of papers have been published. This may have enhanced a lot of CV's but none of these papers has proposed a rigorous definition of function that we can rely on to distinguish functional DNA from junk DNA.

The world is not inhabited exclusively by fools and when a subject arouses intense interest and debate, as this one has, something other than semantics is usually at stake.
Stephen Jay Gould (1982)

That doesn't mean that all of the papers have been completely useless. The net result has been to focus attention on the one reliable definition of function that most biologists can accept; the selected effect function. The selected effect function is defined as ...