Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Adaptation and Natural Selection.

A few weeks ago, a chap named George Williams died. He was, apparently a quite famous American biologist. In the 1960's and 70's he was a proponent of the idea that the gene rather than the organism is the unit of selection. A Dawkins predecessor and and anti-Gould.

It's not so much his views that I want to note today. It's the fact that I'd never heard of him. I've been studying biology with varying levels of intensity for a few years now. Admittedly, some of it has been quite specialized, focused on changes in protein structure as a result of changes in nucleotide sequence. The point is though, is that here is this chap, someone who apparently, a huge influence on the way we look at natural selection and I've never heard of him until he dies. I find that a little bit disturbing to say the least. Upon hearing about him, I decided to have a crack at reading his book Adaptation and Natural Selection: A Critique of Some Current Evolutionary Thought. And so far, I have to say that I am not unfamiliar with the ideas or the constraints he explicitly places on the language used to talk about evolution. As I see it then, I am aware of his ideas only because I am aware of the current people in the field who continue to expand upon his work. The volume of reading required these days means that is difficult, if not impossible to trace theories from their inception through to their current state and still be able to contribute to the field.

Which is perhaps, obvious to anyone trying to keep up with current research in their field, but also, I think, a little sad.

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