Sunday, December 8, 2013

Steven Pinker defends "neo-Darwinism," whatever that is

Jerry Coyne posted a couple of tweets (see below) from Steven Pinker (photo) at Dawkins responds to Dobbs.

We shouldn't be surprised at the first one since Pinker is an evolutionary psychologist with a strong tendency to adaptationism. I don't know exactly what he means by "neo-Darwinism" (does he?) but I strongly suspect that it's very much like Darwinism. I'd love to know whether he thinks Neutral Theory and random genetic drift have been successful challenges to neo-Darwinism. If not, then it must mean that neo-Darwinism has incorporated those views. In that case, neo-Darwinism must have begun in the 1970s and somebody picked a very bad name for this view of evolutionary theory.

I think it's more likely that Pinker is just not thinking about Neutral Theory and random genetic drift when he says that challenges to neo-Darwinism have all failed to hold water.

The second tweet means that molecular biologists never knew about tRNA genes or ribosomal RNA genes or the genes for other RNAs that have won Nobel Prizes. I find this very surprising. It's true that some biochemists and molecular biologists are a bit behind in their field but I don't think it's fair to say that "molecular biologists" (i.e. the knowledgeable experts in the field) re-defined the word "gene" in that way.