Over at First Things, this blog post links to this article, in which pretty much the entire profession of evolutionary biology comes down hard on one its brightest stars, E. O. Wilson, for insisting that the actual evidence and the math that purports to explain it do not support the theory of kin selection. What makes this more interesting is that Wilson himself is chiefly responsible for the prevalence of kin selection – he read a paper by a student that proposed it, and then spent years promoting and expounding on the theory.
Kin selection won out in large part because it logically falls out from gene selection. The danger here is that, given a good theory, the evidence tends to get found that supports it, while any evidence that confounds it tends to get explained away or ignored. That being said, I personally can’t see how group selection is supposed to work in the real world, or how, fundamentally, it differs from kin selection in practice if it did in fact work – breeding practices being what they are, your group is pretty much coextensive with your kin. But, not being a biologist or a mathematician (although I do often play one at work), I don’t have the chops to look at the actual evidence or math.
Funnier still – would Wilson call this consilience? – this issue comes to my attention just as I’m finishing reading The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Kuhn, in which he lays out the why and how of Normal Science’s reaction to anything that threatens it.
Anyway, my sympathies are with Wilson (read several of his books, he’s a sharp man) even though, logically, I can’t see how he could be right, because his opponents (including, of course, Dawkins – I’ve read several of his books, too – he’s very very bright) are snarling a bit more than is civil.
Gotta love cool, logical science in action!