Caveat: it helps if you’ve read The Selfish Gene, preferrably the Anniversary Edition.
If you’re interested in evolution, selfish genes, gene expression, and genetic accomodation, you really should follow this ongoing discussion (in order of publication):
- David Dobbs: “Die, Selfish Gene, Die!”
- PZ: “Higher Order Thinking”
- Jerry Coyne: “David Dobbs Mucks Up Evolution, Part I”
- RD: “Adversarial Journalism and The Selfish Gene”
- Jerry Coyne: “David Dobbs Mucks Up Evolution, Part II”
- PZ: “The Reification of the Gene”
Wot I Think:
The selfish gene is “dead” if, and only if, you haven’t read The Selfish Gene closely enough. Dobbs’s piece seems indeed both “adversarial” and, at times, outright shoddy. (I haven’t yet read West-Eberhard’s much-quoted Developmental Plasticity and Evolution, critized by Coyne, but held in high esteem by Richard, from which Dobbs develops part of his argument). Yet, PZ also makes a very important point: that even if the “Selfish Gene” is still valid as a lense through which to look at evolution, it doesn’t give us the whole picture. There are huge gaps in our knowledge, and that’s why we should try and explore new territory, including new metaphors.
Not only will following this discussion give you some insights into how genes work, what gene expression is all about, how we are shaped by the environment through our genes, and a much better understanding of the “nature vs. nurture” discussion’s false dichotomy—you will also understand why the typical news headline screaming “Gene X has been found to cause Y!” is naïve at best, and total bullshit at worst.