In “The Descent of Edward Wilson,” (June), Richard Dawkins reviewed the latest book by the renowned biologist, concluding that its “theoretical errors are important, pervasive, and integral to its thesis in a way that renders it impossible to recommend.” The article received more responses than any in Prospect’s history. To read the debate in full, see the comments section of Dawkins’s article here
Hamilton’s rule [a formula specifying the conditions under which reproductive altruism evolves] is fine as a rule of thumb. But if you look into the maths rigorously it doesn’t work properly. Dawkins is no mathematician and doesn’t understand this, but this seminal paper went through a completely rigorous peer review. Many biologists didn’t like the results but no-one has refuted them.
An obvious non-mathematical counterexample to Dawkins’s assertion that “Group selection would imply that a group does something equivalent to surviving or dying” is the fact that groups can be defined by cultural ties. If members of a group share a common language which allows them to communicate and hence fight or forage more effectively they will survive better than a group that doesn’t (other things being equal). The ability to learn a language has a genetic basis, but the particular language that you learn doesn’t.
Nicholas Beale, Sciteb