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category: Biology

Eight Criticisms Not to Make About Group Selection

Post: April 23, 2012 1:43 pm
Author: David Sloan Wilson         Source: ETVOL Exclusive

Major topics in science typically include a zone of consensus among the experts, based on past progress, and a zone of current controversy still being thrashed out. The topic of group selection is unusual in the degree of ignorance among professional evolutionists who are experts on other topics, but whose ideas about group selection remain sadly out of date. Their ignorance interferes with the peer review process when they are called upon to review articles on their area of expertise that are written from a multilevel perspective. David Sloan Wilson and Omar Eldakar review eight criticisms that no one should be making about group selection, based on a commentary published in the academic journal Evolution in 2011.

Comments

Post: April 24 2012 8:09 pm By: David L.


ok, how about instead of having two group selection proponents telling each other how much they agree with each other (especially when one is a student of the other, for crying out loud…), you have an actual real life debate with someone who disagrees?  That would be more informative AND convincing to your audience than rehashing the ‘group selectionists are so misunderstood’ line.  Thanks!

Post: April 24 2012 11:27 pm By: evoman


David L. Did you miss the point? This was a discussion on 8 criticisms that are misguided/misinformed, hence not scientifically valid. This is akin to having an evolution lecture that dispels repeated nonsense arguments against evolution so that anyone curious about evolution can wade through the mud and get to a relevant starting point. Unless of course you find it more useful that people curious to learning about evolution still hear nonsense such as it claims we came from monkeys and the complex vertebrate eye is a crippling mystery to evolutionary biologist.

Post: April 25 2012 12:03 am By: David L.


there is a tendency among group selectionists, including yourself, it seems, to claim that the evidence for group selection is so overwhelming and obvious that to want to hear an opposing view is tantamount to believing that creationism should be taught as science.  Please spare me the ludicrous comparisons. 
I think it’s great that D.S. Wilson and others have gone so far out of their way to spell out the ways they believe that their position is being misunderstood.  This was a necessary and useful step.  However, it could also be useful to talk to the people you disagree with.  I know Wilson must do this anyway, so why not host such an interface through the website?  That’s all I’m suggesting.  Personally, I believe that would be so much more useful than a walk-through of previously published arguments.

Post: April 25 2012 10:38 am By: evoman


This is a useful step, because first one must clear the deck so to speak. It seemed like in the interview D.S.Wilson mentioned to have a later video cast about the REAL debate that is taking place in the field. At that point it would be great to have an Inclusive fitness proponent interviewed. BUT, they are not anti group selection per se, they just prefer their framework, hence the mention of equivalence in this interview. Just like D.S.Wilson is not anti Inclusive fitness. The majority of people that are anti group selection are usually those that dont know what it is and that is hugely important to clear up. I think both interviews would be useful afterall but this seems like the obvious first step. Also, anyone interested in the REAL debate must also be brought up to speed on modern Inclusive fitness as that has changed considerably, so many that think they know it are hugely mistaken. This site is not for the hardcore scientists, this site is for a general audience.

Post: April 25 2012 12:50 pm By: Omar Tonsi Eldakar


high five fail…

Post: April 25 2012 1:33 pm By: David Sloan Wilson


To David L and others,

I’m HAPPY to conduct a videocast with someone who “disagrees”. Give me your dream list and I’ll see what I can arrange smile

d.

Post: April 25 2012 11:48 pm By: Omar Tonsi Eldakar


Kevin Foster might be a good one.

Post: April 26 2012 10:08 pm By: David Sloan Wilson


Where is David L. when we need him??? I genuinely want to compile a list of critics of group selection with whom to engage in a dialogue. Kevin Foster is one suggested by Omar. I volunteer David Queller, a highly respected colleague who appreciates the virtues of inclusive fitness theory and also understands its relation to multilevel selection? Who else?

d.

Post: April 27 2012 8:03 pm By: David L.


You know your field better than I do, but I suspect you could start with any of the over 100 scholars in this response article: http://www.socialgenes.org/publications/Pub_Nature.pdf

Queller seems good, of course someone like Trivers, Coyne, or Dawkins would be amazing, but I’d be surprised if they’d agree to participate.  Perhaps Robert Kurzban?  Samir Okasha?  Maybe one of these guys: http://www.pnas.org/content/104/16/6736.abstract
?

Post: April 28 2012 6:54 pm By: Omar Tonsi Eldakar


It certainly has to be someone who is an expert because it would be pointless to have someone that is basically part of the problem in maintaining the outdated myths. The billion author Nature pub was not necessarily an anti group selection paper, it was basically saying that Nowak et al. misinterpreted what modern inclusive fitness is, ironic as that is. Queller is a great idea. He really understands both but prefers inclusive fitness so would present an expert perspective without involving outdated myths. David, it might also help pave the way for our new project…

Post: April 28 2012 7:31 pm By: David L.


well the trick will be to find someone that 1) you agree has a good understanding of fundamentals, and 2) who you nevertheless disagree with on what conclusions follow from those fundamentals. just remember experts can disagree on many things. I, for one, sometimes learn more from engaging with people that I disagree with deeply than I do from engaging with people that are closer to my perspective. Especially on foundational issues. good luck to you guys.
(by the way - notwithstanding my original comment, I really enjoyed the video!)

Post: April 29 2012 12:40 pm By: Omar Tonsi Eldakar


and 3) can high five…

Post: April 29 2012 4:32 pm By: David L.


4) while juggling

Post: April 30 2012 1:59 pm By: Omar Tonsi Eldakar


5) on horseback

Post: April 30 2012 8:44 pm By: David Sloan Wilson


I don’t think I’m ever going to live down my high five failure…but why doesn’t anyone conclude that it was Omar’s fault???

By chance, David Queller was at the Consilience conference in St. Louis that I attended last week. I did an audio interview with him that covered some of the basics, which will be posted soon. I’ll try to line up some more interviews with David and others as soon as I can find the time.

d.

Post: May 3 2012 3:46 pm By: JOHN JACOB LYONS


It seems to me that, for any particular species population, one determinant of the evolutionary importance of the group selection effect over time will be the physical possibility of group formation and of movement of individuals between groups. Would group selection mavens care to comment? If I am correct, it is surprising that these determinants weren’t mentioned in the video.

Post: May 3 2012 10:16 pm By: Omar Tonsi Eldakar


John. What matters is that there is variation among groups, and consequences to that variation for selection to act upon. There need not be a physical separation of groups as trait groups can be very ephemeral and exist within larger “groups” per se [see trait groups]. There MUST be movement between groups, not just for the sake of group selection, but for the sake of it being a population. In other words, if there is no migration among groups, then each group is in essence its own population. We mention in the video how random movement between groups will break down variation among groups, thus reducing the strength of group selection. However, if movement between groups is nonrandom, then variation between groups can be increased thereby strengthening group selection. 

Here is an excerpt explaining trait groups [Considering the formal approaches to group selection depend on identifying group level traits (or mean trait value of individuals within a group), the issue of “what a group is” is crucial to understanding its influence on the fitness of individuals. Sober and Wilson (1998) approached this problem with their definition of “trait groups”, which defines groups based on the relevant behavior in question. Groups here are defined as those whose experience a change in fitness resulting from behavior of the actor. For example, with alarm calls in birds, the relevant group would simply be those within earshot of the call. In scenarios of altruism, the group would be the individual who donates the altruism and the recipients (which also means that groups can be a small as two members). This logic is preferred over considerations of defining groups based on proximity as not all those within an arbitrary distance influence the fitness of others.]

Hope this helps.

Post: May 3 2012 11:43 pm By: Swinging Hammer


Whats a beep to a bop?

Post: May 4 2012 2:11 am By: JOHN JACOB LYONS


Yes, it does. Many thanks for that Omar.

I was also surprised that the ‘free-rider’ objection (mainly in the context of altruism) to group selection wasn’t mentioned. I think I can see now that this might have arisen from a misunderstanding of what is meant by ‘group selection’ together with a lack of consideration of the probable cultural reaction to freeriders in a group; but would you care to comment?

Post: May 8 2012 2:33 pm By: Omar Tonsi Eldakar


John, what do you mean by the free rider objection? Free riders are essentially the selfish individuals in the population. So basically free riders win within groups, and altruists win between groups.

Post: May 9 2012 4:41 am By: JOHN JACOB LYONS


Omar - This is a quote from a paper by Jonathan Haidt.   
                                                        “Dawkins, along with George Williams and most critics of group selection, acknowledge that natural selection works on groups as well as on individuals, and that group selection is possible in principle. But Dawkins relies on Williams’ argument that selection pressures at the individual level are, in practice, always stronger than those at the group level: free riders will always undercut Darwin’s suggestion that morality evolved because virtuous groups outcompeted selfish groups.”

As I understand it, the argument is that the strategy of a few free-riders within an altruistic group would always be more successful than that of the altruistic majority. Therefore, over time, the number of free-riders would tend to increase in the group, thus making it impossible for a completely altruistic group to exist.

Have I got this argument right? Also, am I correct that this arises from a misunderstanding of what is meant by ‘group selection’ and a lack of consideration of the deterrents that can be used to combat free-riding?

Post: May 9 2012 6:02 am By: JOHN JACOB LYONS


Thanks Omar.      Jonathan Haidt has written—- “Dawkins, along with George Williams and most critics of group selection, acknowledge that natural selection works on groups as well as on individuals, and that group selection is possible in principle. But Dawkins relies on Williams’ argument that selection pressures at the individual level are, in practice, always stronger than those at the group level: free riders will always undercut Darwin’s suggestion that morality evolved because virtuous groups outcompeted selfish groups.”

As I understand it, the free rider objection - raised by Williams and Dawkins - is that any such exploitative individual in an otherwise altruistic group would be relatively more successful. Therefore it would be impossible for a completely altruist group to arise. However, this would seem to imply a misunderstanding of the group selection mechanism as you have explained it. It also ignores the sanctions that an altruistic group can impose on free riders. Is this correct?

Post: May 9 2012 7:31 am By: JOHN JACOB LYONS


Thanks Omar.      Jonathan Haidt has written—- “Dawkins, along with George Williams and most critics of group selection, acknowledge that natural selection works on groups as well as on individuals, and that group selection is possible in principle. But Dawkins relies on Williams’ argument that selection pressures at the individual level are, in practice, always stronger than those at the group level: free riders will always undercut Darwin’s suggestion that morality evolved because virtuous groups outcompeted selfish groups.”

As I understand it, the free rider objection - raised by Williams and Dawkins - is that any such exploitative individual in an otherwise altruistic group would be relatively more successful. Therefore it would be impossible for a completely altruist group to arise. However, this would seem to imply a misunderstanding of the group selection mechanism as you have explained it. It also ignores the sanctions that an altruistic group can impose on free riders. Is this correct?

Post: May 10 2012 11:01 am By: Omar Tonsi Eldakar


For those interested in the current state of group selection and inclusive fitness, here is a paper from inclusive fitness proponents that is directly based off my previous research which was explicitly phrased in terms of multilevel selection. Considering this paper was written by those strongly in favor of inclusive fitness shows how the two frameworks are very compatible. This should demonstrate that those who are “against” group selection are not “against” group selection in the way that many think they are.  http://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/group/west/pdf/Wild_etal_11.pdf

Post: May 10 2012 11:18 am By: Omar Tonsi Eldakar


For those interested in the current state of group selection and inclusive fitness, here is a paper from an inclusive fitness approach that is directly based off my previous research which was explicitly phrased in terms of multilevel selection. Considering this paper was written by those strongly in favor of inclusive fitness shows how the state of these two frameworks. This should demonstrate that those who are “against” group selection are not “against” group selection in the way that many think they are.  http://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/group/west/pdf/Wild_etal_11.pdf

Post: May 12 2012 11:29 am By: JOHN JACOB LYONS


The objection that has been raised is that, if free-riders do win within groups - as you say- then how can a group of altruists come to exist?

Post: May 17 2012 10:08 am By: JOHN JACOB LYONS


Sorry I haven’t replied Omar. I have been trying to post for several days now but the s/w seemed to be rejecting all posts. I lost my original in the mayhem.

Anyway, the main point is that the ‘free-rider objection’ was raised by Richard Dawkins among others. Since a free-rider in an otherwise altruistic group would tend to be more successful, free-riding would be selected and thus make it impossible for a fully altruistic group to exist. This appears to be a straw-man argument based on a misunderstanding of the group selection process and ignoring the possibility of punishing free-riders.

Post: July 26 2012 11:04 pm By: Roy Niles


If altruism and selfishness are not separate traits from separate genes, but separate behavioral strategies that are optional to each individual, then the whole group selection scenario breaks down.

Wilson has written about altruism that the level of selection for the trait is in the group rather than in the individual.  Nothing was said about the contention of others that it’s the experience of adapting to the group that causes the individual to adapt its behavioral traits accordingly.

I’d write much more, but in the past my post has disappeared, so let’s see what happens to this one first.

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