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Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists, Large and Small

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Some of the following people are well worth remembering for their great achievements, and the way they did them; others are not. But all were well known in their time and exercised undue influence. I have already described the parallel cases of Ernst Mayr and Huey Newton, while Bill Drury was the most important influence in my life but barely known to the outside world. All of the following people I knew personally. Let me start with the greatest.

 

W. D. Hamilton

All great minds have their unique style and Bill Hamilton was no different. While Huey Newton would blast you against the far wall with the force of his argument, you had to lean in to hear what Bill was saying, so soft was he spoken. It was almost as if he clutched his thoughts close to the chest, but the effort on your part was well worth it. His every thought on every topic was worth your close attention.

In 1969, William Hamilton came to Harvard to lecture. He was coming from a “Man and Beast” symposium at the Smithsonian in Washington where he had presented some of his latest thinking on spiteful behavior in an evolutionary context, which was the same talk he gave us. There were perhaps eighty or ninety people, almost filling the lecture hall, most of us with eager anticipation. Hamilton got up and gave one of the worst lectures I had ever heard in my life.

For one thing, he lectured for a full fifty-five minutes without yet getting to the point. It was abstruse and technical; he often had his back to us while he was writing things on the board; you had difficulty hearing his voice; you did not get any overview of where he was going or why he was going there. When he realized that he was five minutes over time and still had not gotten to the point—or indeed very near it—he looked down at Ed Wilson, his host, and asked if he could have some more time, perhaps an extra fifteen minutes. Of course Professor Wilson granted more time, but he also made a rolling, “let’s-try-to-speed-this-up” motion with his arms. Hamilton then called for slides. The room went dark, and there was a rumble and a roaring sound as about 90% of the audience took the opportunity to escape. I remember walking home with Ernst Mayr, both of us shaking our heads. It was obvious that the man was brilliant, a deep thinker, but whoa, was he bad in public.

Hamilton was not unaware of this problem. He once told a class we taught together at Harvard that after hearing him lecture many students would doubt that he understood even his own ideas.He did improve considerably in subsequent years, but he still showed the touch of a true master. He was invited to lecture to law professors in Squaw Valley, as a guest of the Institute for the Study of Law and Behavioral Sciences, and there he introduced a trick that I had never seen before. He showed a number of interesting but complex slides on parasite-host interactions. He had a hand-held microphone but no pointer, so he used the microphone as the pointer. Often all you would hear him say was, “Here, as you can see … ” and then the microphone would point to various parts of the slide, while his mouth continued to move. Then you might hear, “And then in the next slide … ” and once again you would not hear anything about the slide, though you could see Dr. Hamilton pointing animatedly to various places in it with his microphone while moving his lips.

I first met him at a party after his Harvard talk at Mary Jane West Eberhard’s home. I gave him a paper that was a very short version of the logic on reciprocal altruism, perhaps nine pages long. I had set up genes at two separate loci, so that kin effects would not be an obvious confound. He later complimented me on that but suggested my paper would be stronger without the “maths”, as gentle a way of saying that they added nothing of value (in fact, they added only a set of errors).

My first impression of Bill was that he was physically strong. I remember thinking that if the argument ever 
turned physical, the contest I would least like to be engaged in against
 him was a shoving contest. I felt that he would dig in his heels, you would be unable to move him, and he would lean forward and
 shove you slowly and stubbornly to wherever he wished to get you. Intellectually I imagine the interaction may have gone along similar lines.

I thought of Bill as perhaps the greatest evolutionary theorist since Darwin. Certainly, where social theory based on natural selection is concerned, he was our deepest and most original thinker. His first work in 1964—his theory of inclusive fitness—was his most important, because it is the only true advance since Darwin in our understanding of natural selection. Hamilton’s work is a natural and inevitable extension of Darwinian logic. In Darwin’s system, natural selection refers to individual differences in reproductive success in nature, where reproductive success is the number of surviving offspring produced. Hamilton enlarged the concept to include effects on other relatives—that is, not just fitness or reproductive success but inclusive fitness, defined (roughly) as an individual’s reproductive success plus effects on that of relatives, each devalued by the appropriate degree of relatedness (r).

This idea had been briefly advanced by R. A. Fisher and J. B. S. Haldane, but neither took it seriously and neither provided any kind of mathematical foundation. That foundation was not as obvious as it sounds. For a rare altruistic gene, it is clear that Br > C will give positive selection, where B is the benefit conferred, C the cost suffered and r the chance that a second copy of the altruistic gene is located in the recipient by direct descent from a common ancestor; but the matter is not so obvious at intermediate gene frequencies. As the altruistic gene spreads, should not the criterion for positive selection be relaxed?

Hamilton showed that the answer is ‘no’ and that his simple rule worked for all gene frequencies. He once told the story of sitting down as a doctoral student to write to Haldane, but to formulate each question more precisely he had to do additional work and after a couple of years he never sent the letter because he had by then worked out all the answers himself. A noteworthy implication of Hamilton’s work was that in almost all species the individual was no longer expected to have a unitary self-interest, because genetic elements are inherited according to different rules, a man’s Y chromosome going only to sons while the X goes only to his daughters, for example.

He soon followed this work with major advances in understanding selection acting on the sex ratio, senescence, the aggregation and dispersal of organisms, social insects, dimorphic males, and the origin of higher taxonomic units in insects. For the latter he argued that the more-or-less closed spaces created by rotting wood imposed a system of small, inbred subpopulations in insects inhabiting it, leading to a great diversity of homozygous forms, often with arbitrary, novel characters (such as a second complete metamorphosis in many male scale insects). In 1981 with Robert Axelrod he laid the mathematical foundation for the study of reciprocal altruism, when they showed that the simple rule of tit-for-tat in playing iterated games of Prisoner’s Dilemma was itself evolutionarily stable.

Thirty years ago Bill devoted himself to the theory that parasites play a key role in generating sexual reproduction in their hosts, recombination being a defense against very rapidly and antagonistically co-evolving parasites. In his memorable phrase, sexual species are “guilds of genotypes committed to free, fair exchange of biochemical technology for parasite exclusion”. He then argued that finding parasite-resistant genes must be a key function of mate choice and that in areas of high parasite abundance, species of birds evolved bright color and complex song to reveal such genes since it is hard to sing well or be brightly colored when ill.

It is hard to capture on paper the beauty of the man and the reason that so many evolutionists felt such a deep personal connection to him. He had the most subtle, multi-layered mind I have ever encountered. What he said often had double and even triple meanings so that, while the rest of us speak and think in single notes, he thought in chords. He was modest in style, with a warm sense of humor. His letters were laced with humorous asides. He once sent me a news clipping of a human father-to-son testicle transplant, along with the comment, “New vistas for parent-offspring conflict?”. The last time I saw Bill, at Oxford in December 1998, he pointed with pride to the two, and possibly three, species of moss growing on his Volvo—indeed on its front windows—and told me that this was a clear advantage of Oxford over Cambridge, the latter being too dry.

Certainly one of the most creative minds I have ever met in biology. I still remember the day a graduate student came running down the hall saying “Have you heard Hamilton thinks that bacteria use clouds for dispersal? As quick as you can say “Bill Hamilton”, I asked “Has he shown how the bacteria get the rain to fall where they want it to?” And indeed his idea humbled me because ever since I had been coming to Jamaica I had heard rural people tell me “trees draw rain” as in, don’t cut them down, and I had thought to myself you poor benighted souls, you have the correlation right but causality wrong—naturally, where it rains more, trees are more apt to grow. Now Bill suggested they Jamaicans may well have had it right all along—lower temperatures over wooded areas could itself be a useful signal.

Bill Hamilton was a naturalist of legendary knowledge, especially of insects, but he was also an acute observer of human behavior, right down to the minutiae of your own actions in his presence. Had I noticed, he asked, that lopsided facial expressions in humans are usually male? No, but I have seen it a hundred times since then. He was an evolutionist to the core, and was always heartened by news of fellow evolutionists enjoying some reproductive success. In a similar spirit I take joy in the lives of his three daughters, Helen, Ruth and Rowena, not to mention his many surviving siblings. But the loss of this ‘gentle giant’ is very great. Bill died at the age of 63 on 7 March 2000, from complications after contracting malaria during fieldwork in the Congo in January, work which was designed to locate more exactly the chimpanzee populations that donated HIV-1 to humans, as well as the mode of transmission. This was in service of a theory of HIV-1 spread into East African children via polio vaccination, one I regarded as doubtful from the outset and now firmly disproved, so in one sense, he died in service of trying to prove a falsehood, but he was strong in mind, body and spirit, with many new projects and thoughts under way, and he has been sorely missed ever since.

Bill chose to describe his preferred burial and its aftermath in biologically vivid and poetic terms. He would die in the Brazilian rain forest, his body to be scavenged by burying beetles so that he would later fly out as buzzing beetles “into the Brazilian wilderness between the stars”. But it was not to be. He died in the UK and was buried in Wytham at Oxford and it took the love of the second half of his wife, Luisa, to add her poetry, drawing on his bacterial/cloud/dispersal vision so that “eventually a drop of rain will join you to the flooded forest of the Amazon”.

I am no W.D. and my burial plan is very simple. If dead outside of Jamaica kindly cremate me—inexpensive and no place to point to. If in Jamaica dig a circular hole beneath my favorite large pimento tree, three feet wide and preferably ten feet deep and drop me head-first into the hole. Throw in some dirt and call it a day—no plaques please. I will not become a bright buzzing burrowing beetle or bacterial cloud, just a few more pimento berries when in season. I add the details on positioning my body mostly to annoy my Jamaican friends. They think I should be resting comfortably on my side in a conventional coffin, but if my way—why not standing up?—the strain on my neck upside down is too much for them to bear. I tell them all the nutritional goodness now is in my brain and upper body, hardly a thing of value is below my waist—they can trust me on that—so let’s go deepest with the best.

 

Stephen Jay Gould

I first met S. J. Gould when he was a freshly minted Assistant Professor in Invertebrate Paleontology at Harvard and I a graduate student in evolutionary biology. Invertebrate Paleontology was well known then as a backwater in evolutionary biology, 80% devoted to the study of fossil foraminifera whose utility was that they predicted the presence of oil. In this environment, it was obvious that Gould would go far. New York City Jewish bright, verbiage pouring from his mouth at the slightest provocation, he would surely make a mark here.

This was not why I was visiting him. I had heard he was an expert in ‘allometry’—indeed had done his PhD thesis on the subject. Back then I wanted to know everything in biology, so I sought him out. Allometry refers to the way in which two variables are associated. It can be 1:1—the longer the fore-arm, the longer the total arm, or it can show deviations. For examples, the larger a mammal is, the more of its body consists of bone. Why? Because the strength of bone only goes up as the square of bone length whereas body weight goes up as the cube—thus larger bodies, weighing more, require relatively more bone. But what about antler size, I wanted to know, why is it that the larger the body size of the deer, the relatively larger his antlers? Why would natural selection favor that?

Gould leaned back in his chair. No, you have this all wrong, he said. This is an alternative to natural selection, not a cause of natural selection. My head spun. Natural selection was unable to change a simple allometric relationship regarding antler size that it had presumably created in the first place? Had it not already done so in adjusting bone size to body size? As I left his office, I said to myself, this fool thinks he is bigger than natural selection. Perhaps I should have said, bigger than Darwin, but I felt it as bigger than natural selection itself—surely Stephen was going for the gold!!

Many of us theoretical biologists who knew Stephen personally thought he was something of an intellectual fraud precisely because he had a talent for coining terms that promised more than they could deliver, while claiming exactly the opposite. One example was the notion of “punctuated equilibria”—which simply asserted that rates of (morphological) evolution were not constant, but varied over time, often with periods of long stasis interspersed with periods of rapid change. All of this was well known from the time of Darwin. The classic example were bats. They apparently evolved very quickly from small non-flying mammals (in perhaps less than 20 million years) but then stayed relatively unchanged once they reached the bat phenotype we are all familiar with today (about 50 million years ago). Nothing very surprising here, intermediate forms were apt to be neither very good classic mammals, nor good flying ones either, so natural selection pushed them rapidly through the relevant evolutionary space.

But Steve wanted to turn this into something grander, a justification for replacing natural selection (favoring individual reproductive success) with something called species selection. Since one could easily imagine that there was rapid turnover of species during periods of intense selection and morphological change, one might expect species selection to be more intense, while during the rest of the equilibrium stabilizing selection would rule throughout. But rate of species turnover has nothing to do with the traits within species—only with the relative frequency of species showing these traits. As would prove usual, Steve missed the larger interesting science by embracing a self-serving fantasy. Species selection today is a small but interesting topic in evolutionary theory, not some grand principle emerging from paleontological patterns.

Recently something brand new has emerged about Steve that is astonishing. In his own empirical work attacking others for biased data analysis in the service of political ideology—it is he who is guilty of the same bias in service of political ideology. What is worse—and more shocking—is that Steve’s errors are very extensive and the bias very serious. A careful reanalysis of one case shows that his target is unblemished while his own attack is biased in all the ways Gould attributes to his victim. His most celebrated book (The Mismeasure of Man) starts with a takedown of Samuel George Morton. Morton was a scientist in the early 19th Century who devoted himself to measuring the human cranium, especially the volume of the inside, a rough estimate of the size of the enclosed brain. He did so meticulously by pouring first seeds and then ball bearings into skulls until they were full and then pouring them out and measuring their volume in a graduated cylinder. He was a pure empiricist. He knew brain size was an important variable but very little about the details (indeed, we do not know much more today). He thought his data would bear on whether we were one species or several, but in any case he was busy creating a vast trove of true and useful facts.

I love these people—they work for the future and gather data whose logic later generations will reveal. Precisely because they have no axes to grind or hypotheses to prove, their data are apt to be more reliable than the first wave after a new theory. I have benefitted from them in my own life, most memorably when I was shown a large and accurate literature on ratios of investment in 20 ant species, gathered long before anyone appreciated why these facts might be of some considerable interest, as indeed they were.

In any case, Morton grouped his data by population according to best estimates of gross relatedness, Amerindians with Amerindians, Africans with Africans, Nordic Europeans with Nordic, and so on. It is here, Gould alleged, that all sorts of errors were made that supported preconceived notions that among the smaller cranial capacity (and therefore stupider)) peoples would be Amerindians and Africans. For example, Gould claimed that Morton made more subgroups among Nordic people than tropical ones, thus permitting more of them to be above norm, but in fact, the opposite was true. Morton reported more Amerindian subsamples than European and routinely pointed out when particular Amerindian subsamples were as high or higher than the European mean, facts that Gould claimed Morton hid.

In other cases, Gould eliminates all samples with less than four individuals in order to reduce the number of sub-samples with only one sex—a statistically meaningless goal but one that happened to be biased in his favor and permitted him to make additional errors in his favor by arbitrarily eliminating some skulls while including others. If you are comparing group means, you may not wish to use means of less than four, but if you are adding up sub-samples to produce a larger sample, there is no reason not to aggregate all data. Morton is made to look careless and incorrect when it is really Steve who is arbitrarily biasing things in his own favor.

There is an additional contrast between Morton and Gould worth noting. To conjure up Morton’s mistakes, Gould lovingly describes the action of unconscious bias at work: “Morton, measuring by seed, picks up a threateningly large black skull, fills it lightly and gives a few desultory shakes. Next, he takes a distressingly small Caucasian skull, shakes hard, and pushes mightily at the foramen magnum with his thumb. It is easily done, without conscious motivation; expectation is a powerful guide to action.” Indeed it is, but careful re-measures show that Morton never made this particular mistake—only three skulls were mis-measured as being larger than they were and these were all either Amerindian or African.

The same can’t be said of Gould. He came across distressingly objective data of Morton, and by introducing biased procedures (no sample size below four) he was able to get appropriately biased results. And by misrepresenting the frequency of Nordic vs Amerindian subpopulations, he was able to create an illusion of bias where none existed, by mere emphatic assertion (no one bothered to check).

Where are the unconscious processes at work here? Is Steve flying upside-down on auto-pilot, unconsciously making the choices (substitute Nordic for Tropical, delete all samples smaller than four) that will invite the results he wants while hiding his bias? Is the conscious organism really completely in the dark while all of this is going on? Hard to imagine—but at the end the organism appears to be in full self-deception mode—a blow-hard fraudulently imputing fraud, with righteous indignation, coupled with magnanimous forgiveness for the frailties of self-deception in others.

In response to the criticism of Lewis et al, the keeper of Gould’s Tomb—his longtime editor at Natural History, Richard Milner—had some choice comments in defense of Stephen. Gould acted with “complete conviction and integrity” (that is, with full self-deception). “He was a tireless crusader against racism in any form.” (In what way is misrepresenting the true facts about population differences—and then hiding this misrepresentation—a contribution to anti-racism?) And then, fully in flight, he says that any bias was “on the side of the angels”. Who of us is in any position to say what is on the side of the angels? We barely know what is in our own self-interest.

A general point is that it is often very hard to draw the line between conscious and unconscious deception—or to define the precise mixture of the two. Linguistic analysis in 2010 suggested that the architects of the U.S. 2003 war on Iraq were speaking deceptively when they warned that Saddam Hussein caused 9/11 and Iraq possessed WMDs. I naively thought that this analysis showed conscious deception (Trivers 2011) but I no longer agree with myself—unconscious deception could cause the same symptoms—reduced use of the word “I”, less qualifiers, and so on.

 

Richard Lewontin

Professor Lewontin was quite the dominant figure in the 1970’s. He strode back and forth in front of audiences, hands on his suspenders, belly pushed forward, and expounded on the importance of “dynamical equations” in evolutionary thinking. None of us knew what a dynamical equation was, but we knew we sure better find out quickly. Although apparently expert in population genetics theory, his true move to fame was to ally himself with Dr Hubby so as to give—for the first time—what appeared to be a more or less unbiased measure of the frequency of heterozygosity in nature, that is, the degree to which the two sides of an organism’s genome (maternal and paternal) are different from each other. This is an important variable that had never been measured before. Inbreeding produces similarity, outbreeding heterozygosity (vide President Obama). Hubby and Lewontin’s conclusion was that there was a lot of heterozygosity in natural populations. This was an important finding.

I first heard him talk when he visited Harvard in 1969 to lecture on the new work. He gave a masterful talk, both in content and in style, and polished off the work with a series of slides showing evidence of selection along gradients in nature, acting similarly in several Drosophila species. But within five years he turned his back on natural selection and decided to emphasize the importance of random factors, which of course produced no patterns of particular interest, nor any insight into the function of genes and traits. This I believe he did for political grounds, emasculating his own discipline in order to render it sterile regarding human behavior and genetics.

In later years, doing less and less science, he spent more of his time on politics and philosophical writing whose meaning was difficult to locate, in part because there was often no meaning there. Consider the following obscurantist thought:

“Throughout the history of modern biology there has been a confusion between two basic questions about organisms: the problem of the origin of differences and the problem of the origin of state. At first sight these seem to be the same question, and taken in the right direction, they are. After all, if we could explain why each particular organism has its particular form, then we would have explained, pari passu, the differences between them. But the reverse is not true. A sufficient explanation of why two things are different may leave out everything needed to explain their nature.”

David Haig responds by quoting Isadore Nabi (the fictional character who Lewontin and colleagues used to write anonymous criticisms of sociobiology, E.O. Wilson, and others).

“If we could explain how each organism has evolved its particular form, by the selection of differences, then we would have explained, per stirpes, why it has its particular state. But the reverse is not true. A sufficient explanation of how an organism develops may tell us nothing about why it has its particular form.”

As for his political writing, nothing could beat a piece he wrote with Richard Levins stating that there was nothing in Marxist/Leninism that could be contradicted by objective reality. Wow, I thought, it is rare for people to fess up so quickly that there is no content to their enterprise, since if in principle it can’t be contradicted, it says nothing.

Lewontin’s story is that of a man with great talents who often wasted them on foolishness, on preening and showing off, on shallow political thinking and on useless philosophical rumination while limiting his genetic work by assumptions congenial to his politics. He ran a successful lab for many years, and easily raised large sums of research funds, so many U.S. geneticists remember him fondly for their time with him at Harvard, as a grad student or post-doc, but as an evolutionary thinker, never mind geneticist (beyond his early work on linkage disequilibrium), he has turned up mostly empty and the best of his ex-students concede he had done little of note for more than 20 years.

By the way, Lewontin would lie openly and admit to doing so. Lewontin would sometimes admit, in private at least, that some of his assertions were indeed fabrications, but he said the fight was ideological and political—they lied and so would he. On other matters, such as committee work, Lewontin could be rational and useful. Much less so, it was said was Stephen Gould, who was into self-promotion, self-inflation and self-deception full time. Not only was his science hopeless but so was much of his behavior in other contexts as well. I can remember him arguing against offering a full professorship to a truly excellent Colombian biologist because we would be discriminating against a third world country by depriving it of him. A heavy silence enveloped the room. Surely there was no brain/drain problem in evolutionary biology (Colombia to the United States) comparable to the one for nursing. Why not imagine the benefit he could confer on his own country sitting on a fat sum of Harvard money, linked to one of the best Museum collections in the world, with multiple opportunities to polish off his top scientists.

 

Phil Darlington’s limp

Professor Darlington was a revered and much feared personage along the hallways of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. He was the Curator of Coleoptera (beetles) the most speciose group in all animals and he was revered because he was the master of zoogeography, the distribution of all animal species through space and even time. And there were very interesting patterns. Life overwhelming and repeatedly differentiates in the tropics, spreads to the temperature zone, and a section onto the arctic but rarely the other way around. Salamanders are a temperate group that has colonized the tropics but they are the exception. The rule even holds for humans, repeated evolution out of the tropics, Africa, with minor reverse movements. And on more intimate scales, very few Canadians sneaking across the U.S. border but hordes of Mexicans and those from countries further toward the tropics.

In Darlington’s world of the 1950s the continents were stationary, but this soon gave way in the 1960s to moving tectonic plates and ‘continental drift’. For a moment, it looked like a lifetimes’ work, built on one assumption, would prove irrelevant on another, but it was not to be. Most of Darlington’s findings held whether the continents moved or not. Africa was the center of Gondwanaland, itself the center of Pangaea (when all the continents were combined) and the deeper inside the land mass, in general the more tropical. A corollary of Darlington’s discovery is that almost all groups are more speciose in the tropics, especially the smaller the individuals are, insects and then microbes.

We also feared him because he was a tall, lanky, dour, elderly character who did not invite easy banter. But there was one reason we all loved him. He had a pronounced limp on one side and he gained this, we were told, is the service of evolutionary biology. As the story went, he was walking along a rope ladder above a river in Indonesia when a crocodile leapt up and grabbed his leg and hauled him into the river. As is their style, a croc likes to pull you under water, whip you around and drown you. On his way down Darlington was alleged to have said to himself in righteous anger, “Wait a second, you don’t collect us as specimens, we collect you!” In any case, he managed to free himself and reach safety, although for the rest of his life he walked with a pronounced limp.

 

George C. Williams

The last time I spoke with George Williams was in 2002 when I called about something and he told me he had pre-Alzheimer’s. There were simple memory tests now that were diagnostic, he said. In the background I could hear his wife Doris saying something and George said, “Doris always tells me not to tell people” and continued by saying that what he first noticed is that all words starting with capital letters were disappearing from his mind—arbitrary words for cities, buildings, people and so on.

A few months later, I sent my Selected Papers book but I never heard from him. He was gone. The person I felt for was Doris, a beautiful woman about half his size, and a very welcome complement to him. It is those closest to someone with Alzheimer’s who often suffer the most but George had a sweet disposition that, I hear, greatly reduced the cost to those closest to him.

We last saw each other when we were at the William Hamilton memorial session at Amherst in 2000 during the meetings of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, at which both of us spoke. He was sitting behind me while Richard Dawkins was talking and I could hear Doris saying, “Now, George, don’t do what you are thinking of. Just tell the stories you have about Bill, don’t do it.” So I was full of anticipation when George got up because I knew he was surely going to do exactly what his wife thought was a bad idea. George gets up and says “I wish Bill were here today, because I have a bone to pick with him”.

And then he went and picked that bone for the entire talk. It had to do with the evolution of sex and patterns of evidence that George had pointed out years ago that contradicted (so George said) aspects of Bill’s parasite approach. I thought it was wonderful. There were those that said it was inappropriate and why didn’t he tell stories, but I thought it was perfect for the occasion, both vintage George Williams—no wasted motion with that organism!—and a tribute to the enduring importance of Bill’s ideas.

My first contact with George was when as a graduate student. I sent him my chapter then in press on “Parental investment and sexual selection”. When I wrote the paper I had completely forgotten that a key portion of the argumentation came right out of George’s 1966 book, Adaptation and Natural Selection. I had only relearned this when I reread his book in preparation for teaching my first course on social evolution. There were “sex role reversed” species (as well as female choice for genes and investment) and the relevant pages were full of underlining and marginal comments by me. None of this was acknowledged in the chapter I was sending him, so I pointed this out and said I would try to put some in before the book was printed. I was therefore feeling a little nervous when a letter came from George Williams. I braced myself for an unpleasant experience.

Instead, I found one of the warmest and most generous letters I have ever received. Among other things, he said my paper had rendered obsolete a chapter in his own forthcoming book on “Sex and Evolution”, namely the one on differential mortality by sex, which chapter he enclosed. He said nothing about not being properly cited but dealt only with scientific content. His chapter had my essential insight regarding male mortality—that higher variance in male reproductive success would often select for traits more costly in survival. The larger book was the first to systematically explore the consequences of seeing that sex usually has an immediate 50% cost in every generation (compared to asexuality) which cost has to be overcome in any successful model.

I invited him to Harvard in 1974 and he lectured on his ideas on sex. I do not say he was shy so much as reserved, but with a warm smile and sense of humor. My favorite joke of his occurred when George was telling me about the joys of grand-fatherhood. “If I could have figured out how to have grandchildren without having children first, I would have done so.” I knew just what he meant—high relatedness, no work, Or as Melvin Newton (Huey’s brother) once put it, “You can serve them ice cream for breakfast, what do you care?”

Having started with the evolution of senescence in 1957, in later life he tackled Darwinian Medicine, memorably saying that he did not think there was any compound—arsenic included—that was not beneficial if given in sufficiently small doses. This was almost surely an overstatement but a bracing and useful one. His knowledge of biology was so deep that he is the only person I know of to have predicted in advance the existence of an entire category of selfish genetic elements (genes that spread within an individual because they are advantageous to themselves, not the individual). Called ‘androgenesis’ it occurs when paternal genes eject maternal ones and take over the genome of an organism, a system now known from three very different groups of organisms.

He was a beautiful man, with a very simple and clear style of thinking, in a warm and humble personality. He was especially good at seeing through gibberish—group selection or psychoanalysis—and advancing carefully and slowly on major issues.

Copyright 2015 The Biosocial Research Foundation

 

111 Comments to "Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists, Large and Small"

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  1. Duplicate:

    I just finished watching 24 half-hour lectures of “Great courses” by Stanford U. Professor Robert Sapolsky,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Sapolsky

    about nervous system, biology and behavior. I learned a lot of material, which was new for me.
    Numerous mentions of Holocaust and gas chambers did not initially irritate me.
    But in the second part of the course he started to give examples, how bad conditions during pregnancy of rats or of humans are harmfully influencing many generations of progeny.
    Here I started to feel his agenda. And indeed, around 18 min. of lecture 21 he called Nobel prize winner Konrad Lorenz war criminal.

    Wiki:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konrad_Lorenz

    From there:
    Lorenz’s work was interrupted by the onset of World War II and in 1941 he was recruited into the German army as a medic.[1] In 1944 he was sent to the Eastern Front where he was captured and spent 4 years as a Soviet prisoner of war. After the war he regretted his membership of the Nazi party.

    Meanwhile, Harvard biologist Stephen J. Gould was presented in Sapolsky’s lectures as brilliant scientist with immaculate reputation.
    Still, educational quality of lecture course was pretty good.

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  2. Nice essay. Thank you for confirming Stephen J Gould was a pompous ass, my assumption on discovering he was revolting to read. Side note would be, bigger brains certainly don”t necessarily confer higher intelligence, particularly the most important intelligence; that is social intelligence.

    Pity you didn’t include Desmond Morris and his seminal work ‘Tarzan’ (uh, sorry, I must’ve meant ‘The Naked Ape’)

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2015/04/01/merge/

    ^

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  3. It’s interesting that Trivers’ take on Gould’s character is similar to what Lewontin said in a recent interview:

    Steve [=Gould] and I taught evolution together for years and in a sense we struggled in class constantly because Steve, in my view, was preoccupied with the desire to be considered a very original and great evolutionary theorist. So he would exaggerate and even caricature certain features, which are true but not the way you want to present them. For example, punctuated equilibrium, one of his favorites. He would go to the blackboard and show a trait rising gradually and then becoming completely flat for a while with no change at all, and then rising quickly and then completely flat, etc. which is a kind of caricature of the fact that there is variability in the evolution of traits, sometimes faster and sometimes slower, but which he made into punctuated equilibrium literally. Then I would have to get up in class and say “Don’t take this caricature too seriously. It really looks like this…” and I would make some more gradual variable rates. Steve and I had that kind of struggle constantly. He would fasten on a particular interesting aspect of the evolutionary process and then make it into a kind of rigid, almost vacuous rule, because—now I have to say that this is my view—I have no demonstration of it—that Steve was really preoccupied by becoming a famous evolutionist.

    It seems that even Gould’s intellectual and political allies found him insufferable.

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  4. In 1981 with Robert Axelrod he (W.D. Hamilton) laid the mathematical foundation for the study of reciprocal altruism, when they showed that the simple rule of tit-for-tat in playing iterated games of Prisoner’s Dilemma was itself evolutionarily stable.

    I wonder about the Press-Dyson novelty:

    Executive summary: Robert Axelrod’s 1980 tournaments of iterated prisoner’s dilemma strategies have been condensed into the slogan, Don’t be too clever, don’t be unfair. Press and Dyson have shown that cleverness and unfairness triumph after all.

    http://edge.org/conversation/on-iterated-prisoner-dilemma

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  5. Very interesting, Prof. Trivers. Thank you for sharing it!

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  6. “But rate of species turnover has nothing to do with the traits within species—only with the relative frequency of species showing these traits.”
    I can’t get a handle on this sentence at all. Anybody care to enlighten me?

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  7. Gould acted with “complete conviction and integrity” (that is, with full self-deception).

    Beautiful sentence.

    “He was a tireless crusader against racism in any form.” (In what way is misrepresenting the true facts about population differences—and then hiding this misrepresentation—a contribution to anti-racism?)

    Err, in the obvious way? The misrepresentations and obfuscations you refer to are of a piece with anti-racism, which is itself a misrepresentation and obfuscation. Now, if you’d added “and got caught” at the end, I’d have to agree with your rhetorical question.

    A general point is that it is often very hard to draw the line between conscious and unconscious deception—or to define the precise mixture of the two. Linguistic analysis in 2010 suggested that the architects of the U.S. 2003 war on Iraq were speaking deceptively when they warned that Saddam Hussein caused 9/11 and Iraq possessed WMDs. I naively thought that this analysis showed conscious deception (Trivers 2011) but I no longer agree with myself—unconscious deception could cause the same symptoms—reduced use of the word “I”, less qualifiers, and so on.

    I haven’t done any studies, but I came to the same conclusion years ago. It’s just such a morass that I figured it was a waste of time to try and “read minds,” as it were. Better to focus on deception as a whole – the sort of person who doesn’t value honesty highly, and leave questions of whether any given liar lies to himself, as well as to the rest of us, to the gods. My take-home is that the definition of a liar has expanded, for me, to include people who peddle deception, regardless of what’s going on in their heads. Honest people are at pains to check their work, and liars are not.

    On the patterns in zoogeography: warm climates support more life and more diversity because selection pressures are lower, with the reverse being true of colder climates. Thus, warm climates get more throws of the dice, as it were, and are thus much more likely to come up with something that works in colder climates. This would seem to be a great place to correct for the much greater number of dice throws afforded to warmer climates, no?

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  8. This is nothing we haven’t heard before.

    People should know about all the fields Gould, Lewontin et al. dug their claws in. They go beyond evolutionary biology and sociobiology into behavioral genetics and psychometrics.

    The arguments they made in favour of leftist, marxist dogma such as racial equality and sex equality and such was total crap, asserting that everyone is the same and there are no such thing as sex differences or race differences, in things like behavior and intelligence.

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  9. “Side note would be, bigger brains certainly don”t necessarily confer higher intelligence, particularly the most important intelligence; that is social intelligence.”

    Perhaps he was a liar with and agenda.

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  10. The worst thing is that Gould was initially found out by an undergraduate. The study that was published 20 years later did not acknowledge this.

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  11. Trivers’ characterizations appear accurate based on my limited interactions with or observations of four of five of these late 20th century evolutionists. George Williams as editor of The American Naturalist accepted a paper on the adaptive trade-offs of snake color pattern despite a very biased negative review from someone who was trying to publish a less well-developed note on the topic in another journal; he was fair, supportive and clear-minded. At Dona Antonietta’s rooming house in Ipiranga, Sao Paulo, Bill Hamilton inquired about the locale in Britain from which my ancestors derived, saying that there were Jacksons in his family; clearly interested in whatever crossed his path. When I asked him to comment on an argument from geometry that I thought might explain a zone of integration in the lizard taxa I was working on, he responded that the geometry seemed right but that the case was so idiosyncratic that nobody would care; go, young man, and spend your effort on general patterns; good roommate too, snoring right through my returns from evenings on the town. Lewontin I heard give an invited lecture at LSU in which he claimed that there was no evidence at all for any genetic influence on human behavior; the assumption must have been that Southerners are so dumb that not only can one lie to them but the lies can be enormous. Gould I saw once being interviewed by Sam Donaldson on a Sunday morning ABC News program. He refused to answer any of Donaldson’s questions with anything more than “Yes”, “No” or “Not really;” whatever ABC paid for that appearance was wasted; two pompous asses together like scorpions in a bottle; funny.

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  12. Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists, Large and Small
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    […] From Robert Trivers. Here is Trivers on William Hamilton: […]

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  13. Tooby on Gould
    “In Gould’s view, most evolutionary change takes place when closely related biological lineages compete, with one surviving and spreading through the others’ ranges while the others go extinct…there is not much difference between a incipient species and a ‘race’ and in Goulds world of sudden genetic revolutions there is not necessarily any difference at all… Gould does intimate that competitive ability between sibling species is often the deciding force”

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  14. My favorite biologist/essayist is Garrett Hardin. I read his book “Nature and Man’s Fate”
    and found it to be very informative.

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  15. bigger brains certainly don”t necessarily confer higher intelligence,

    True, bigger brains do not necessarily confer higher intelligence, but there is a statistically significant correlation between brain size and IQ

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  16. Are you referring to Michael’s study? It was discussed by Lewis et al. in their 2011 paper.

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  17. Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists, Large and Small | Homines Economici
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    […] From Robert Trivers. Here is Trivers on William Hamilton: […]

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  18. True, bigger brains do not necessarily confer higher intelligence, but there is a statistically significant correlation between brain size and IQ

    Rough analogy might go like this:

    Imagine a roulette wheel with numbers 1 thru 10, let’s say 10 is the “winning” number; for our purposes, relating to a higher operating IQ.

    Imagine another wheel right next to it, but it’s got 5 extra 10′s, making that roulette wheel a bit larger because of the additional 10′s added.

    If you want to win, which spinning wheel would you rather place your bet on?

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  19. I’ve seen reference to genetic research that has all sorts of politically correct social scientists freaking out at the idea it will be construed to bear out White supremacy in intelligence. Their own lack of intelligence is to fail recognizing there are different kinds of intelligence in Humans. These politically correct scientists measure by a yardstick that is culturally biased to Western Science which originated with Western (European) mentality or intelligence, a world-wide contagious and malevolent social phenomena. These people who’ve initiated and sustained the industrial revolution to point of poisoned planet & environmental collapse are the ones mainly sold on how smart they are. Anyone can learn this mentality to one degree or another, but how useful is it?

    Perhaps other people’s genetics are predisposed to an intelligence the European cultures do not know how to measure. Or alternatively stated, perhaps it is a matter of how our brains are organized differently in disparate cultures points to actually useful employ of intelligence.

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2013/05/15/youve-got-apes/

    ^

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  20. Their own lack of intelligence is to fail recognizing there are different kinds of intelligence in Humans.

    No, there isn’t. Read a copy of The Bell Curve if you want to know the reasons why.

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  21. A wonderful article! It is amazingly well written, and it shows the blunt honesty of the naturalist: tell it like you see it and let the chips fall where they may. I wish my geneticist father were alive to read it.

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  22. I expect you’re someone who can’t distinguish between individual IQ & real social intelligence. Referring to the ‘bell curve’ reinforces my point. It seems you’re depending on western intelligence to reinforce the western intelligence point of view exclusive to other cultures’ insights. As much as one might intellectually grasp a concept of ethnocentric bias, the fact of the intellectual grasp doesn’t necessarily overcome the bias. I doubt you would grasp the intelligence this woman writes about…

    http://www.earthspirituality.org/archive/zimmerman_seminar.htm

    …but other people will read this

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  23. I expect you’re someone who can’t distinguish between individual IQ & real social intelligence.

    Oh, I can quite easily distinguish between IQ and social philosophy, dear fellow

    It seems you’re depending on western intelligence to reinforce the western intelligence point of view exclusive to other cultures’ insights.

    MMM, the higher gibberish…..It’s the kind of thing that I’m quite used to hearing from Latin@ academics….

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  24. What a coincidence; happened to run across some the #BlackLivesMatter agitators on my way to class today; for some reason thought of Black Panthers (perhaps because of the way they were dressed) so I started to look at some Panther videos on Youtube on my IPhone; came across a Huey Newton video and recalled reading about him in Robert Triver’s book “Folly of Fools”. So when I got home from class I started flipping through that book again, flipped on my computer while doing so, and came across this article…

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  25. I’ve seen reference to genetic research that has all sorts of politically correct social scientists freaking out at the idea it will be construed to bear out White supremacy in intelligence. Their own lack of intelligence is to fail recognizing there are different kinds of intelligence in Humans. These politically correct scientists measure by a yardstick that is culturally biased to Western Science which originated with Western (European) mentality or intelligence, a world-wide contagious and malevolent social phenomena. These people who’ve initiated and sustained the industrial revolution to point of poisoned planet & environmental collapse are the ones mainly sold on how smart they are. Anyone can learn this mentality to one degree or another, but how useful is it?

    Perhaps other people’s genetics are predisposed to an intelligence the European cultures do not know how to measure. Or alternatively stated, perhaps it is a matter of how our brains are organized differently in disparate cultures points to actually useful employ of intelligence.

    It’s funny how many more leftist freaks there are at unz.com, once you wander out past the borders of iSteve.

    Maybe the social scientists in question are freaked out because they know all about “alternative intelligences” and are disturbed by how squishy a defense they form?

    Or maybe they’re just the usual leftist control freaks.

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  26. You can use your IQ to get a high score on a “social intelligence” test. The reverse is not true (except to the extent that “social intelligence” is actually a proxy for IQ).

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  27. Your statement, AKAHorace, that Lewis et al. “did not acknowledge” the work of an undergraduate student, is false. The student in question is John S. Michael. Here is a direct link to the publication of Lewis et al. (Open access). http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1001071#pbio.1001071-Michael1
    You can there read that Michael is named in the text, and that his publication on the topic appears in the article as citation #14. John Michael’s work was also clearly covered in subsequent press about this topic, as shown in the article that appeared in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/14/science/14skull.html?_r=0

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  28. Wonderful stuff! I wish Prof. Trivers would drop everything else he’s doing and write an autobiography. Lewontin is an interesting case. Based on his recent phone interview with group selectionist David Sloan Wilson, he seems to have pulled in his horns a bit lately. When Wilson tries to draw him out on his objections to sociobiology, he just replies that it’s “too loose” for him. Take a look at “Not In Our Genes,” a Blank Slate classic he authored with Rose and Kamin back in 1984, and you’ll see his objections really amount to a lot more than that. It was basically a political tract in which he claimed that everyone who suggested that there was such a thing as human nature was an evil hireling of the bourgeoisie who was trying to stave off the glorious socialist revolution by supplying ideological props for the status quo. He named names. The evil hirelings of the bourgeoisie included Prof. Trivers, W. D. Hamilton, Richard Dawkins, and Konrad Lorenz, with Robert Ardrey thrown in for good measure. Among the many interesting quotes in the book (p. 52 of my paperback copy):

    “The systematic distortion of the evidence by nineteenth-century anatomists and anthropologists in attempts to prove that the differences in brain size between male and female brains were biologically meaningful, or that blacks have smaller brains than whites has been devastatingly exposed in a detailed reevaluation by Stephen J. Gould.”

    Now, as noted above by Prof. Trivers, we know the rest of the story.

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  29. The Group Selectionist and the Blank Slater: David Sloan Wilson Interviews Richard Lewontin @ Helian Unbound
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    […] a link to a great article by Robert Trivers posted at the Unz Review website entitled, Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists, Large and Small.  Included is a vignette of none other than Richard Lewontin.  As it happens, Prof. Trivers was […]

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  30. Ahhh…Sapolsky.

    Years ago Robert Sloviter did great work on the effects of adrenalectomany on cell death in the brain, that falsified Sapolsky’s main ideas.

    Sapolksy organised a petition to try and block the publication of Sloviter’s results.

    …and then went on to write various popular works the pushed his falsified “big idea” hard.

    Draw your own conclusions.

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  31. I took sent chapters of my thesis out to famous thinkers (15 years ago).

    Dawkin’s sent back a snooty and sarcrastic, but valuable and intellectually serious reply.

    Dennett sent back a brief critical comment than was also valuable.

    Williams sent me a warm and encouraging letter telling me that “he wished he’d thought of that”…and that he should have used the ideas more in his own work. I was floored.

    Such great and humble man, and still an inspiration to me.

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  32. We’re referring to a Newton of a different Hue.

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  33. “The arguments they made in favour of leftist, marxist dogma … asserting that everyone is the same and there are no such thing as sex differences or race differences, in things like behavior and intelligence.”

    Let me guess: Kothiru, no leftist marxist he, belongs to the race with (he believes) the highest intelligence.

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  34. Careful. Next he’s going to be calling us “ice people”.

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  35. Don’t worry, I had to read over it a few times.

    As far as I can see, the sentence is saying that it doesn’t matter if a rabbit has 100 children a week, or 3 children a year – the same traits will be inherited. The only notable difference is the number of rabbits expressing those traits.

    Correct me if I’m wrong. As I said, I did struggle with the sentence too!

    (Hadn’t realise that there was already a response! Think I am wrong.)

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  36. The article at

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/12/1209_041209_crows_apes.html

    indicates that crows have comparable intelligence to chimpanzees. I cannot say what this indicates about brain size and intellect but it must indicate something.

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  37. The only citations I can find of the petition you mentioned are the dozens of comments you have made repeating the same claim over the past few years. Is there a source for this? And what is this big idea that was falsified?

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  38. Crows and chimps both have similar brain-body size ratios.

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  39. Mañana Break: Si no lene brida, más VA mala conducta - Tus dientes sanos
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    […] la medicina darwiniana Todos los compuestos – y eso incluye el arsénico – son beneficiosos si se administra […]

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  40. SJW science | Neoreactive
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    […] Robert Trivers writes about Stephen Jay Gould, an evolutionary biologist he quickly learned was strongly inclined towards intellectual fraudulence and faux scientific fakery:Many of us theoretical biologists who knew Stephen personally […]

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  41. If one were to accept the simple relationship of brain to body size as a significant indicator of intellect it would seem that those humans with a very short stature and a normal head size (and that does happen reasonably frequently) would all have huge intellects. I doubt that and suspect that intelligence is based on rather sophisticated central nerve structures rather than bulk alone although it is probably likely nervous system size does make some sort of contribution. On that basis some rather small creatures may have unsuspected intelligences that have yet to be validated.

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  42. Across species I think brain-body size is a pretty good indicator of intelligence. Within species the correlation breaks down, as you mention. For example, for human midgets or breeds of very small dogs you would get ridiculous results using this rule.

    The reason the rule works in general though is that most of the brain is used for “low-level” sensory and motor processing, which scales with body size. Extra brain tissue beyond this is presumably used for higher cognitive functioning.

    Another factor to consider is the type of sensory processing. One factor contributing to the extra brain size in primates is their excellent visual processing, which involves up to 50% of neocortex, without any concomitant enlargement in body size, except for large eyes.

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  43. Bob Trivers’ (and my) take on famous evolutionary biologists « Why Evolution Is True
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    […] readers sent me a link to a piece by Bob Trivers  called “Vignettes of famous evolutionary biologists, large and small” (Trivers is of course also a famous evolutionary biologist.) His essay is at the Unz […]

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  44. Bob Trivers’ (and my) take on famous evolutionary biologists - Atheist Boutique
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    […] readers sent me a link to a piece by Bob Trivers called “Vignettes of famous evolutionary biologists, large and small” (Trivers is of course also a famous evolutionary biologist.) His essay is at the Unz Review, […]

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  45. Sociobiologist Robert Trivers offers vignettes of Darwin’s saints | Uncommon Descent
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    […] of Stephen Jay Gould here (a reluctant Darwinian, so Trivers doesn’t like […]

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  46. It may be that the optic component of the nervous system contributes heavily to intellect. Birds and animals that move quickly through the trees like primates must have high optic perception. Dolphins and bats substitute sonics for optics and that might have intellect potential. Squirrels, on the other hand, as far as I have observed, seem less mentally quick.

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  47. Perhaps so, but even if brain size and intelligence are correlated within groups, that would not imply that between-group differences in brain-size necessarily imply a between-group difference in intelligence.

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  48. Dr. Trivers:

    In general, I enjoyed your essay. I think it would have been better without the mean-spirited personal comments about fame-mongering and self importance sprinkled throughout. I honestly don’t know what motivates the living to write about the dead or otherwise retired like that – except the desire for highly-visible copy.

    On your point about Iraq war linguistic analysis: I was working in this field, pretty much at ground zero at the time that the Bush I administration started practicing escallatio on the US intelligence and security communities over Iraq WMD. Despite the many backward-glancing memoirs and analyses of the time that have concluded otherwise, there was a very deliberate attempt to manipulate the intelligence process.

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  49. Some of the following people are well worth remembering for their great achievements, and the way they did them; others are not. But all were well known in their time and exercised undue influence. I have already described the parallel cases of Ernst Mayr and Huey Newton,

    Regarding the description elsewhere of Mayr and Newton, was that in a publication or a similar internet write-up to this one? Anybody have a link

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  50. Not all that sure, but you are probably right. The interesting thing about Gould is that he knew the truth about the part played by genetically distinct sub populations such as sub populations isolated from one another by geographical barriers (or races if you prefer that term), but he didn’t think the stupid masses could be trusted with it.

    Gould trumpeted old hat in new language, but his real point was epistemological or moral, and concealed as an apparently trivial byway to what ostensibly was his main argument. Gould was the Leo Strauss of evolutionary theory!

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  51. Perhaps so, but even if brain size and intelligence are correlated within groups,

    Just to be clear, the correlation is not one to one.Hence, you can’t point to a guy whose brain volume is 5% greater than yours and assume that he is 5% smarter:

    Abstract

    The relationship between brain volume and intelligence has been a topic of a scientific debate since at least the 1830s. To address the debate, a meta-analysis of the relationship between in vivo brain volume and intelligence was conducted. Based on 37 samples across 1530 people, the population correlation was estimated at 0.33. The correlation is higher for females than males. It is also higher for adults than children. For all age and sex groups, it is clear that brain volume is positively correlated with intelligence.

    The mean correlation for females appears to be .40. It’s .41 for female adults. The other numbers are .38 for male adults, .37 for female children and .22 for male children.

    http://www.unz.com/gnxp/brain-size-and-intelligence/

    that would not imply that between-group differences in brain-size necessarily imply a between-group difference in intelligence.

    I don’t see why not.Granted, one would have to be quite careful about differences in body size distorting results (cf, for example, the gulf between the average pygmy and the average Dutchman), but scientists are used to making those kinds of allowances (cf, for example, how they factor in sexual dimorphism when measuring differences in brain volume between men and women)

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  52. Someone knows who is the “truly excellent Colombian biologist”?

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  53. for example, the gulf between the average pygmy and the average Dutchman

    I couldn’t pass this one up .. put the average Dutchman in the average Pygmy’s habitat and see how far the Dutchman’s bigger brain (and by implication, his higher intelligence) will see him live attempting to find his way to Nairobi.

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2013/05/15/youve-got-apes/

    Western scientists measure by a yardstick that is culturally biased to Western Science. It follows, other people’s genetics can be predisposed to an intelligence the European cultures do not know how to measure. There actually is another way to see these things but it’s almost impossible from within a cultural context to see exterior to that cultural context. European based culture is no exception. It’s called ethnocentric bias and it is a severe cultural bias.

    That’s why I insist there is a concept of social intelligence that doesn’t correlate with bigger brains having higher intelligence. If the bigger brains are higher IQ, why are they behind trashing the habitat necessary to everyone’s survival? Just how smart has the industrial revolution been by comparison to societies exterior to European culture’s technical innovations? If trashing the planet with the industrial revolution’s technology can be construed to bear out a lack of intelligence, then ‘Houston has a problem.’ Deal with it.

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  54. Thank you, Professor Trivers.

    Here’s my own little comment on Gould:

    http://cancerselection.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-axillae-of-san-stefano.html

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  55. West,

    Your point doesn’t make any sense. The pygmies in central Africa are one of a small, marginal group of peoples who are slowly disappearing. So their “habitat” is shrinking, and has been shrinking for quite some time, precisely because they’re not as well adapted to it as you believe – at least in comparison to other neighboring peoples who are moving into, and taking over, what was previously pygmy habitat.

    Forget the Dutch. What about the Bantu tribes? Pygmies relied on isolation to evolve and thrive. When that isolation was removed, they were enslaved, bred out, or so marginalized that they now rely on the good will of people like the Dutch to save them. In effect, they’ve become like so many black rhinos herded to, or encouraged to stay on, some refuge to keep outsiders from exploiting them to the point of genocide.

    So what’s with this nonsense about how well suited they are to their environment? If the Dutch were so inclined, they could start building condos on pygmy territory tomorrow – and enjoy a comfortable life there. Can the pygmies say the same about Holland?

    That’s why I insist there is a concept of social intelligence that doesn’t correlate with bigger brains having higher intelligence. If the bigger brains are higher IQ, why are they behind trashing the habitat necessary to everyone’s survival?

    Blither blather. Do you know what habitat is necessary for survival? Of course not. You’re exhibiting your own stupid environmentalist bias as if its reality. But anyone can see by measuring the hard demographics that evolution doesn’t give a shit about your preconceived views of what’s good for the environment.

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  56. Pygmies practice a form of spirit worship that focuses on achieving harmony with the forest in which they live. How is that working out for them? Pygmies live as slaves of the Bantu and have no rights.

    The three complainants were pygmies, small people who have since time immemorial lived at the heart of central African forests. The rapes took place last June. “One of them is head of his village. He claims to have been raped by several men in front of his wife and children. His entire family was also attacked and made to suffer the same torture,” added the lawyer

    Horrific rapes of Pygmy infants

    Tooby:“In Gould’s view, most evolutionary change takes place when closely related biological lineages compete, with one surviving and spreading through the others’ ranges while the others go extinct…there is not much difference between a incipient species and a ‘race’ and in Gould’s world of sudden genetic revolutions there is not necessarily any difference at all”

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  57. I couldn’t pass this one up .. put the average Dutchman in the average Pygmy’s habitat and see how far the Dutchman’s bigger brain (and by implication, his higher intelligence) will see him live attempting to find his way to Nairobi.

    For a proper test, dear fellow, we would have to take a baby pygmy and a baby Dutchman and switch them at birth….

    That’s why I insist there is a concept of social intelligence

    I’m afraid that you are talking about social philosophy, dear fellow, and not some unknown variety of IQ

    Unless, of course, you are simply saying that pygmy’s are too unintelligent to figure out ways to modify their environment….

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  58. “Punctuated equilibrium” isn’t as trivial as Trivers makes it sound. It’s not just the idea that evolutionary rates vary. More specifically, it’s the idea that species usually change relatively little during the course of their existence, and that most evolutionary change happens during speciation, when small populations bud off from large ones, and become reproductively isolated. So a punk eeker would predict that rapid evolution early in bat history was a matter of lots of new, highly diverged species being generated, while evolutionary change within species would still be limited.

    This might or might not be true — you can find people who know their stuff arguing on either side — but there is some substance to the debate. Anyway, even if punk eek is true, it still leaves you some big “Why” questions.

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  59. @ all the morons who ducked the fact they’re ‘big brained White people’ who’ve set a chain of events in motion destroying the larger planetary habitat with run amok technology, not to mention the destruction of entire societies with colonialism, here’s my virtual middle finger .!.

    Meanwhile you’re all missing a critical component of intelligence measure. To assess the intelligence of a Black (or Red or Yellow or Brown), you have to conform them to your own big–brained White people social structure. This, by definition, means you are measuring them out of context to their original culture and this small but critical fact determines your measurement is invalid in relation to the social intelligence or culture they had been extracted from. So you actually have no valid measurement of intelligence specific to the origins of all those ‘little brained’ people you are so proud to lord it over.

    @ Sean, what do you suppose the rapes you refer to might have to do with Christians?

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2015/04/22/junipero-serra/

    ^ Big-brained White people have spread that filthy habit around the world (for a very long time.)

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  60. ps, sweet dreams, it’s past my bedtime (central europe time) Ron out.

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  61. @ all the morons who ducked the fact they’re ‘big brained White people’ who’ve set a chain of events in motion destroying the larger planetary habitat with run amok technology, not to mention the destruction of entire societies with colonialism, here’s my virtual middle finger .!.

    Ronald, stick that finger up your nose and then put your head in a book, because your ignorance knows no bounds.

    Environments have been recreated by man since Homo sapiens and his Homo predecessors first began expanding around the planet. It’s nothing new. It certainly wasn’t invented by white men. It didn’t even require much in the way of technology.

    And today? Just the growth in China’s carbon emissions over the next few years alone will equal the U.S.’s entire output:

    China’s greenhouse gas emissions are twice those of the United States and growing at 8 percent to 10 percent per year. Last year, China increased its coal-fired generating capacity by 50 gigawatts, enough to power a city that uses seven times the energy of New York City. By 2020, an analysis by Berkeley Earth shows, China will emit greenhouse gases at four times the rate of the United States, and even if American emissions were to suddenly disappear tomorrow, world emissions would be back at the same level within four years as a result of China’s growth alone.

    Take a trip outside the United States or Europe and you’ll find no shortage of non-white people destroying their environment. Now you can use your computer, the internet, electricity, and all the other modern inventions to blame this condition on white men, but I don’t see you out there living the pygmy lifestyle, you clown.

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  62. “Punctuated equilibrium” isn’t as trivial as Trivers makes it sound. It’s not just the idea that evolutionary rates vary. More specifically, it’s the idea that species usually change relatively little during the course of their existence, and that most evolutionary change happens during speciation, when small populations bud off from large ones, and become reproductively isolated. So a punk eeker would predict that rapid evolution early in bat history was a matter of lots of new, highly diverged species being generated, while evolutionary change within species would still be limited.

    How has your comment added anything to, or changed anything about, Trivers’ explanation?

    What you say in the part I highlighted in bold is also unclear. Punctuated equilibriumists can predict when rapid evolution takes place by looking at … when lot of highly diverged species begin to be generated?

    That’s doesn’t seem to be a prediction, but a tautology.

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  63. I make simulations to find optimal solutions to some business problems. There is an element of heritability in them and “punctuated equilibrium” defiantly characterizes how the solutions improve. A model will flop around awhile finding slightly better solutions, and then some solution will arise that lends itself to rapid evolutionary improvement. In a brief period the solutions will improve by multiples. I’ve seen this over and over. I wonder if the idea wasn’t suggested to Gould by computer simulations. In simulations like this, another idea of Gould’s is suggested, the randomness of that first solution that leads to the others, the shear contingency of evolution, though I think, like all he said, he made too big a deal of this.

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  64. *****
    There is an additional contrast between Morton and Gould worth noting. To conjure up Morton’s mistakes, Gould lovingly describes the action of unconscious bias at work: “Morton, measuring by seed, picks up a threateningly large black skull, fills it lightly and gives a few desultory shakes. Next, he takes a distressingly small Caucasian skull, shakes hard, and pushes mightily at the foramen magnum with his thumb. It is easily done, without conscious motivation; expectation is a powerful guide to action.” Indeed it is, but careful re-measures show that Morton never made this particular mistake—only three skulls were mis-measured as being larger than they were and these were all either Amerindian or African.
    *****

    Please repeat after me: Gould never claimed that Morton’s shot-based measurements (which is what Lewis et al compared their remeasurements to) were inaccurate. Never. Not at all. Gould in fact claimed, repeatedly, that after Morton switched from seeds to lead shot, and did all the measurements himself (rather than letting his assistant do some of them) that his measurements were accurate and reliable. Gould just flat out wrote that, OK? Flat out wrote in Mismeasure that after Morton switched to lead shot, and switched to making all the measurements himself, that Morton “achieved consistent results that never varied by more than a single inch for the same skull” (Gould, 1981 53).

    So, what’s up with the quoted passage? Well, if you’d bothered to actually read Gould, you’d realize that what Gould noticed was that when Morton switched from measuring with seed to using shot, the average measurements for the different races changed different amounts, in a way that seemed to imply that the previous measurements (that Morton himself figured out were inaccurate), were biased by race.

    As Jonathan Weisberg noted as well, the difference in the change is indeed suspicious (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ede.12077/abstract). Lewis et al claim it may just be random, but that’s a lousy hypothesis (my colleagues and I tested it statistically, and it is massively improbable — impossible, really — http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369848615000035 ).

    Now, as it turns out, the hypothesis that seed is inherently easier to mismeasure than shot is problematic, too — so Gould’s preferred hypothesis isn’t that great, either (Jake Michael has done some great preliminary work on this). But something was wrong with Morton’s initial seed-based measurements, and that thing wasn’t random with respect to race.

    Gould got some stuff very wrong re: Morton’s work. But the remeasurement of the skulls was a total waste of time, and completely irrelevant to Gould’s arguments.

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  65. Big-brained White people have spread that filthy habit around the world (for a very long time.)

    Dear fellow, rape has been around for a very long time.Indeed, animals have been known to do it…

    So you actually have no valid measurement of intelligence specific to the origins of all those ‘little brained’ people you are so proud to lord it over.

    Sure we do, dear fellow.IQ.Having a high one is useful every where, even in the jungle….

    not to mention the destruction of entire societies with colonialism,

    Dear fellow, non-White cultures have done plenty of destroying in their time.Try looking up Genghis Khan and Shaka….

    all the morons who ducked the fact they’re ‘big brained White people’ who’ve set a chain of events in motion destroying the larger planetary habitat with run amok technology,

    MMMM, you might want to look into the burgeoning Malthusian crisis in Africa…..

    http://www.unz.com/isteve/why-africas-fertility-rate-threatens-the-globe/

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  66. Kaplan,

    So, what’s up with the quoted passage? Well, if you’d bothered to actually read Gould, you’d realize that what Gould noticed was that when Morton switched from measuring with seed to using shot, the average measurements for the different races changed different amounts, in a way that seemed to imply that the previous measurements (that Morton himself figured out were inaccurate), were biased by race.

    Since you, Gould, and everyone else seems to agree that Morton was not satisfied with the measurements obtained by seed, what’s suspicious about it? Morton didn’t like the inconsistency of his measurements using seed and so he changed to BBs. And he didn’t need your input about his racial bias to make that change.

    You, Gould, and everyone else also seem to agree that the BB method of measuring the skulls was accurate, so what’s this garbage about you using statistics to prove Morton was racially biased?

    Either Morton was ultimately accurate in his experiments or he wasn’t. Focusing on the seed/BB measurements is a diversion from that critical point, since Morton himself was dissatisfied with the inconsistency of his original measurements using seed.

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  67. … assume that he is 5% smarter

    What does “5% smarter” mean? We don’ have any absolute scale for intelligence (except perhaps the very crude memorized digit string test). For all we know a person with an IQ of 130 might be a 100 times smarter than one with an IQ of 100.

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  68. What does “5% smarter” mean?

    Not much.I was using it to indicate the absurdity of thinking that someone with 5% more brain volume would be 5% more intelligent.In other words, it was a teeny-tiny joke.

    We don’ have any absolute scale for intelligence (except perhaps the very crude memorized digit string test). For all we know a person with an IQ of 130 might be a 100 times smarter than one with an IQ of 100.

    Our metrics are approximate in character.For example, a three SD gap (a 100 IQ vs a 145 IQ) is more consequential than a one SD gap (a 100 IQ vs 115).

    James Thompson describes the ramifications of IQ here:

    http://drjamesthompson.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-7-tribes-of-intellect.html

    The main thing, of course, is that my initial point stands regarding brain volume and IQ.The two are related, and there is no reason to think that this relationship does not exist when studies are extended to inter-group variations in IQ

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  69. All great minds have their unique style and Bill Hamilton was no different. While Huey Newton would blast you against the far wall with the force of his argument, you had to lean in to hear what Bill was saying, so soft was he spoken.

    By what definition can one consider Huey Newton a great mind?

    Started out a pimp, died a crackhead. A perfect emblem of the age. Watch this, for laughs. WF Buckley and Huey Newton.

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  70. He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #26 | Overlord of the Über-Feral
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    […] and think in single notes, he thought in chords.” — Robert Trivers on W.D. Hamilton, Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists, Large and Small, Unz Review, […]

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  71. “In general, I enjoyed your essay. I think it would have been better without the mean-spirited personal comments about fame-mongering and self importance sprinkled throughout. I honestly don’t know what motivates the living to write about the dead or otherwise retired like that – except the desire for highly-visible copy.”

    Whatever motivates a person to speak his mind about another person’s behavior and apparent value system, I am glad that some, like Trivers, are willing to do so. Such forthrightness is the only way that information, the validity of which will of course be evaluated, can get to a public that is by definition not part of a particular professional or political in-group. Motivation matters in all human endeavors, including science as Gould often maintained. Secondly, except for the fact that Trivers is not dead, your ascribing of motivation to him is no different than his ascribing motivation to Gould and Lewontin.

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  72. Gould espoused standard modern Darwinisn. Gould’s evolutionary theory was always scientific mainstream although his meaning was not clear because he liked to make his actual main point (which concerned other matters) subtly and unnoticed. If you are against Gould on evolution you are peddling orthogenesis, the convenient mathematics of assuming a single gene is being acted on by natural selection or other eccentric thinking.

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  73. The reason I care about this is that Lewis et al remeasurements are often interpreted, as they were by Trivers, as showing, via their remeasurements, that Gould was wrong about there having been bias in Morton’s original measurements of the skulls. For this to be true, the remeasurements would have to show that Morton’s original seed-based measurements were not racially biased. But the remeasurements do not do that, and cannot do that. Given that, the remeasurements were, at best, a stupid stunt — completely irrelevant to the argument in Lewis et al. At worst, it was meant to be misunderstood and was grossly intellectually dishonest. But either way, it was that stupid, completely irrelevant stunt that got them attention.

    I don’t like people getting credit for stupid, irrelevant stunts that border on the intellectually dishonest, especially when the point of their paper was to attack someone else for not being as careful and intellectually rigorous as they should have been.

    As for what is suspicious, again, I reiterate that Gould’s argument was that the *difference* in what happened to the averages in the different races was problematic, and I reiterate that the explanation for that difference is *not* chance (the larger variance of the seed-based measurements and smaller sample size).

    The argument, again, is as follows: – Gould noted that Morton recognized that the initial measuring system he used (using seeds rather than lead shot, and making use an assistant to do some of the measuring) was unreliable, changed it, and remeasured the skulls he’d originally measured badly (doing all the measurements himself, with lead shot). So Gould credits Morton with recognizing that he had a problem, and finding a way to fix the problem, and then redoing his measurements with the new, no longer problematic, system. But when Morton remeasured the skulls, something odd happened: the skulls Morton associated with “African” and “African-American” populations increased in size much more than the skulls Morton associated with “Caucasian” populations. Gould speculated that the earlier method, using seeds, permitted Morton’s unconscious bias against Blacks to influence his measurements. When Morton switched to a more reliable method, Gould hypothesized, his bias was no longer able to influence the results; the room for an unconscious bias to skew the results was eliminated by the new system. The difference between the measurements when a less-reliable system and a more-reliable system were used was what suggested, to Gould, that bias might be at play, and was what was responsible for skewing the results when the less reliable system was used. Gould speculation, quoted above, about how this bias might work in practice, emerges from this line of reasoning. (Now, Gould might have been wrong — bias might *not* be the correct explanation. Other explanations are possible. But whatever the explanation is, it isn’t just that the original measurements were unreliable in a way that was random with respect to race.)

    An analogy might be helpful. If I initially grade students in my class based on my “overall impression” of their ability, and then switch to using a multiple choice test, and one finds that the scores of women in my class suddenly improve markedly compared to the men with the introduction of the new testing method, one might, justifiably, think that my initial grading method (“overall impression”) was biased against women. (Of course, one might also think that bias had nothing to do with it, and some other explanation was the right one.) But — and this is the key! — the way to test the hypothesis that bias might have been at play in my earlier measurements isn’t to regrade the multiple choice tests! If you do that, and find that I generally scored the multiple choice tests accurately, and that my grading of the multiple-choice tests wasn’t biased against women, this provides no evidence whatsoever that my initial “overall impression” based system was similarly fair! And yet that is precisely the argument that Lewis et al spend almost a third of their paper developing, and precisely the results that were reported as proving that Gould was wrong. That’s just stupid.

    I think it is obvious that this is a serious problem with Lewis et al’s papers, and the way that their paper has been interpreted. Does it matter much in the grand scheme of things? No, probably not. Gould made a lot of mistakes in his interpretation of Morton (and so, for that matter, did Lewis et al). Had Lewis et al focused only on the mistakes Gould actually made, their paper would not have been as popular, but it would have been more honest, and better for it.

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  74. That’s really not correct. I’m sure it’s largely forgotten today, but during the mid-1980s Gould’s greatest focus was on arguing that a major fraction of all important evolutionary developments were produced by “chemical drive,” namely that the genes involved where chemically favored over their competitors. In effect, he was arguing that many human or animal traits were produced by essentially random processes (random relative to any phenotypic advantage). I think this *astonishingly* stupid idea petered out after a few years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gould partisans have done their best to airbrush it out of his record.

    The notion that important traits were produced by a random walk within a biological possibly space of enormously high dimensionality is so crazy I couldn’t believe Gould really meant it the first few times I heard him. But he did…

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  75. Two scenarios (not the only two possible):

    1) A widespread species evolves over the course of time until it is radically different from what it was. It never splits into multiple species, or if it does, the rate of change during splitting is not significantly more rapid than change within a single lineage when it’s not splitting. The rate of change may be fast or slow, but it’s not closely tied to new species budding off from old.

    2) A widespread species changes very little over the course of its existence, from the time it first splits off from another species to the time it goes extinct. However, occasionally small populations bud off and become reproductively isolated. This is speciation. Change is very rapid during this process of budding-off-and-isolation, slow otherwise. A new species that buds off sometimes replaces the old over all or part its range. Evolutionary change results from rapid evolution during speciation and species replacement.

    The second scenario is the one that Eldredge and Gould claim is supported by the fossil record. Some paleontologists agree. Others disagree. This is not a fight in which I have a dog, except to note that the theory is not trivial or tautological.

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  76. I sort of agree with you Ronald. Bear with me, in addition to having young females suffering ruptured internal organs from rapist Bantu overlords who run about waving the victim’s underwear and laughing. The Pygmies are being eaten; did Christians introduce cannibalism to Africa too?

    Recent report Pygmy attacks on Bantu rivals in DR Congo leave 27 dead: UN. Don’t the Pygmies realise that everything will be OK if they just accept an influx of black Africans ? Christian missionaries must be behind this, they have obviously have been supplying the Pygmies with the video game ‘Ethnic Cleansing’, leading the little folk to erroneously believe “Your skin is your uniform in this battle for the survival of your kind”.

    Ronald, you are correct that white inventions and no other peoples’ have the potential to destroy the global environment. But it follows that if whites are helpless to keep a slow but sure occupation of their land by non whites , it’s for some reason other than lack of destructive technology (London, which has far more people than Scotland is now half non-European). Rather obviously the genetic adaptations of Europeans make them more or less unable to protect themselves from genetic ellipse unless it comes as an actual rape and murder invasion (even the Pygmies have worked out what to do in that scenario).

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  77. In effect, he was arguing that many human or animal traits were produced by essentially random processes (random relative to any phenotypic advantage).

    Sounds like the opposite of the constant improvement of orthogenesis. I don’t know about the random process, but Gould was deliberately opaque, and his big ideas were often just cover for disguised points he was making. That is my reading of him anyway.

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  78. A week of links | EVOLVING ECONOMICS
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    […] Robert Trivers on his friends and enemies. HT: Razib […]

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  79. However, occasionally small populations bud off and become reproductively isolated. This is speciation. Change is very rapid during this process of budding-off-and-isolation, slow otherwise. A new species that buds off sometimes replaces the old over all or part its range.

    I don’t know that the small population can properly be called a species while the original population is still extant. Tooby says in Gould’s world there is nothing to say these are not races of the same species that compete (though no one is particularly keen on that terminology nowadays). Once the successful subpopulation has won the competition it will have become a species by definition, because the loser is no longer around. This is not clearly incompatible with “A widespread species evolves over the course of time until it is radically different from what it was”. You have to wonder if Gould was so political because he understood the implications.

    The main complaint against Gould among his academic peers seemed to be that he recast established theory in mystifying terms, and thereby presenting himself as having innovative ideas.

    The second scenario is the one that Eldredge and Gould claim is supported by the fossil record.

    That second scenario is standard modern Darwinism according to Mayr. But as I understand it Trivers didn’t focus on species at all, he looked at the single gene in isolation. Biologists look at species or one gene but never the individual members of a species. And then they wonder why they are called reductionist

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  80. Friday links: origin of an evolutionary icon, Canada vs. basic research, and more | Dynamic Ecology
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    […] Trivers’ personal recollections of famous evolutionary biologists. (ht Marginal Revolution) Very personal and frank–Robert Trivers always tells you exactly […]

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  81. The most enlightening words ever written by Gould:

    “I am hopeless at deductive sequencing…I never scored particularly well on so-called objective tests of intelligence because they stress logical reasoning…”

    Source: New York Review of Books March 29, 1984.

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  82. I don’t think your classroom analogy holds up.

    If you as a teacher are bothered by the inconsistency of the results you get from your “impressions” about your students’ ability, and you’re bothered by these inconsistencies enough to subsequently fire your Teaching Assistants (as Morton did his lab assistants) and use a multiple-choice test to see whether that method is more consistent – and indeed it’s not only more consistent, but shows you previously slighted your female students’ abilities – then I would say you’re not an example to be used in a book about the “mismeasure of man.” Your desire for good pedagogy was stronger than any bias you held against your women students.

    And if I were more than a century later to highlight you in a book about how gender bias affected teaching to women, how honest a presentation is that? Shouldn’t you be an example of how good teachers can correct their own biases, as long as their commitment to teaching is stronger than any other view they hold? So why isn’t Morton an example of how even a racist man living in what was a racist society can still correct his own perceptions of the scale of racial differences simply because his commitment to good science was stronger than any other view he held?

    Your particular grievance against Lewis et al also seems overwrought. They make a case against Gould’s view of Morton. One can miss some very important details and still have a thesis that makes a solid contribution to a topic. You say, for example, that Gould got a lot wrong. Well, had you highlighted those errors before Lewis et al came along to prompt you to look at them?

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  83. Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists
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    […] http://www.unz.com/article/vignettes-of-famous-evolutionary-biologists-large-and-small/ Not one of these biologists was able to see the problem with darwninism… […]

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  84. I am John Michael who measured the Morton skulls back in 1986. If you care to see my take on Morton and Gould, its at my web site. Over the last 4 years I have read much of Morton’s work and those of his associates. I have two comments on the article:

    1) Prof. Travers notes that, “Morton was a scientist in the early 19 th Century who devoted himself to measuring the human cranium, especially the volume of the inside, a rough estimate of the size of the enclosed brain. He did so meticulously by pouring first seeds and then ball bearings into skulls until they were full and then pouring them out and measuring their volume in a graduated cylinder. He was a pure empiricist.”

    Actually, much of the above quote is simply Gould’s interpretation. Morton’s work was quite sloppy, and not meticulous. His samples were arbitrary defined and his math errors were rampant (even worse than my spelling!). And Morton was far from being a “pure empiricist.” Gould claimed Morton was celebrated as an objectivist, but the word “objectivity” had a different meaning back then and nobody in Morton’s era ever called him that. And in the 1830s and 1840s, the word “empiricist” was an insult akin to “quack.” If you don’t believe me, just check Gould’s papers and look for citations supporting his “objectivity” and “empiricism” claims. There are none.

    Gould exaggerated Morton’s significance. In fact, Darwin wrote Lyell a letter warning that Morton’s work was not to be trusted. Morton was a great museum administrator with a huge ego and a great PR team. But, he was no better or more objective (by today’s definition) than any of his peers. Morton was just another run of the mill scholar, and an overtly racist jackass who believed in arrested development.

    2) I agree that it was Gould’s drive for celebrity that was his undoing. But, I think people read too much into his politics. If he was so dedicated to Marxism, why did he so embrace the publishing industry, which is all about capitalism?

    Gould had a disabled son, which is a stress, and then he got cancer, but he refused to slow down. I think the guy just pushed himself too hard, spread himself to thin, and especially later in life, did quick, poorly researched papers. As he got older and more famous, no one would question him. I doubt he got any meaningful peer review of his Morton work. Like Elvis Presley, fame ripped Gould apart. I now see Gould as a kind of tragic figure. And remember, all those star-struck people at Harvard and Science Magazine, deserve some of the blame as well. It wasn’t JUST Gould’s fault. The people who benefited from (and still benefit from) the “Gould Brand” need to do a little soul searching.

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  85. Outside in - Involvements with reality » Blog Archive » Chaos Patch (#60)
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    […] Vignettes from Trivers. Genius-autism linkage. Neanderthal legacy. […]

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  86. Feel free to stop driving cars, flying in planes, and using computers, the internet, or refrigeration if the “worldwide contagion” of The Evil White Man® is such a problem for you.

    I hear the real estate is super cheap in the Congo, but I don’t suppose you’ll be moving there anytime soon, lol.

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  87. Whewell’s Gazette: Vol. #46 | Whewell's Ghost
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    […] The Unz Review: Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists, Large and Small […]

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  88. On Hypocrisy | askblog
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    […] Robert Trivers writes, […]

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  89. >no meaning there… Obscurantist thought…
    “…A sufficient explanation of why two things are different may leave out everything needed to explain their nature.”

    This is perfectly meaningful, understandable, and true.

    The presence of a single gene on the Y chromosome can make the difference whether an embryo becomes anatomically male instead of female. But that gene is just a switch, setting the embryo along one incredibly complex developmental pathway instead of another one, and barely tells you anything about how those pathways work and why maleness and femaleness are the end results.

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  90. In what way do non-Western races possess a superior ‘social intelligence’ or whatever alternative measure you claim they excel in? And what good is it for them? What tangible benefits does it offer to their civilizations that are unseen in Western countries?

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  91. What does death or retirement have to do with it? Aside from the “don’t speak ill of the dead” taboo, which apart from when the news first breaks and at their funeral I consider irrelevant. If you want your copy to be visible you write about the famous, not necessarily the dead.

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  92. What other types of intelligence do you refer? Magik? Sourcery?… Bow and Arrow skills?

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  93. The main point I was making here was correcting a misconception about what Lewis et al actually showed, a misconception that was repeated by Trivers as part of his story about Gould. So, naturally, I was focused on that misconception. What Trivers’ claims Lewis et al’s remeasurements show, those remeasurements do not, and cannot, show.

    I remind you that if everyone agreed that after Morton switched to shot, his measurements of the skulls were accurate, then an entire third of Lewis et al’s paper was completely pointless and the thing they are mostly famous for — remeasuring a bunch of skulls — was an utter waste of time.

    Further, I would argue (and, in the above cited co-authored paper, did argue), that Lewis et al’s interpretation of how Morton is understood in the literature is badly misguided; Gould did not accuse Morton of conscious manipulation, and in fact stressed that Morton was a careful, honest researcher trying to get the right answer, and *not* trying to manipulate his data (but see Jake Michael’s post, above, on whether Gould ought to argued that!). (An aside of sorts: Another “grievance” I have against Lewis et al and their paper is that, for example, they make claims about how Morton is understood in the literature, and provide several references, none of which, when one goes and reads them, actually support the claims they are making. So Lewis et al are either terrible readers (unlikely), or didn’t care that the claims they were making were unsupported by the references they were using to support those claims. As a reader, I find that intellectually dishonest, or unforgivably sloppy. Again, see our argument in http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369848615000035 )

    As for Gould’s mistakes — yup, he made a number of them (not surprising, I think — you’ll get no robust defense of Gould from me!). But Jonathan Weisberg, in a paper also cited above, argues (compelling, I think), that Lewis et al’s defense of Morton’s analysis of his data fails in a number of key areas (again, see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ede.12077/abstract), and that Gould’s criticisms land rather more often than Lewis et al’s analysis would suggest. I would stress that this doesn’t make Gould “right” — my co-authors and I argued that Gould was at best foolish to attempt to reanalyze Morton’s data, and suggest that it was because he was able to get an answer that he liked that he was unable or unwilling to see that there could be no “correct” summary of the data, and that many of the assumptions he was making and methodologies he was deploying were no better justified than Morton’s.

    But had Lewis et al written an honest paper, one that fairly criticized the mistakes Gould actually made, and distorted neither Gould’s claims, nor the place of Gould’s analysis in the literature, their paper wouldn’t have gotten written up in the NYT. We shouldn’t reward people for being dishonest or sloppy. That goes for Gould, and it goes for Gould’s critics, too.

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  94. Professor Trivers’ demolition of Stephen Jay Gould is impressive and appreciated. But he himself makes a grave error on a separate topic.

    “Linguistic analysis in 2010 suggested that the architects of the U.S. 2003 war on Iraq were speaking deceptively when they warned that Saddam Hussein caused 9/11 and Iraq possessed WMDs.”

    Professer Trivers seems to be very confused here. None of the “architects of the U.S. 2003 war on Iraq war… warned that Saddam Hussein caused 9/11 …”

    They stated that Saddam supported terrorism (he did), was hostile to the U.S. (he was), had possessed chemical and biological weapons (he had), and had sought to produce nuclear weapons (he had). They also stated Iraq still had chemical and biological weapons, something in which most of the world’s intelligence agencies concurred, and which most Iraqi army generals believed (Saddam apparently lied to them).

    But no one in the Bush administration ever asserted that “Saddam Hussein caused 9/11″.

    There were reports which suggested (but did not prove) contacts between Iraqi intelligence and the 9/11 terrorists. Some pro-war partisans cited these reports, but not anyone in the Bush administration.

    For Trivers to throw out such a claim in passing is drive-by libel.

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  95. I never got “inclusive fitness.” It leads inevitably to too many obvious absurdities. Who in the world really believes, for instance, that siblings sacrifice as much and as often for eachother as parents do for children? The world is full of bad parents and every so often you get a Party of Five situation, but is there anything commoner in human experience than brothers and sisters competing for parents’ love or parents giving things up for their children? Anyone who’s ever been in a family with more than one child knows this. The fact that we share as many genes with our siblings as with our parents/children is irrelevant.

    Likewise, I’ve never understood sociobiology’s explanation of homosexuality. The argument that it helps their familymembers’ fitness is especially weak, but let’s take that for granted. What about all the other ways not to have offspring? Why doesn’t natural selection promote suicide and self-castration? (Or does it?) (No.)

    How can someone as brilliant as a W.D. Hamilton waste time calculating degrees of consanguinity and miss the inclusive insanity slapping him in the face?

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  96. Ronald West says
    put the average Dutchman in the average Pygmy’s habitat and see how far the Dutchman’s bigger brain (and by implication, his higher intelligence) will see him live attempting to find his way to Nairobi.
    To be sure. If suddenly placed there Dutchman would not last long, either in the rainforest or say in the Artic. By contrast the Pygmy or Inuit could forage quite successfully if dumped in the middle of Amsterdam.

    .
    Pincemartin says:
    If the Dutch were so inclined, they could start building condos on pygmy territory tomorrow – and enjoy a comfortable life there. Can the pygmies say the same about Holland?
    To be sure the Pygmies would have no problem, and it would be much easier for the Pygmies to pitch camp and survive in Amsterdam, than for the Dutch to spend multi-millions hauling concrete to start erecting condos in the middle of the Ituri forest.

    .
    Sean says:
    Pygmies live as slaves of the Bantu and have no rights.
    Exaggerated pablum, that your own reference contradicts. Read the Forest people by scholar Colin Turnbull. Far from being “slaves” they Pygmies once in or near their forest can and do run rings around the so-called “Bantu” and can easily move away from them. The “slavery” the article cites is not at all a uniform phenomenon but one based on Pygmy sufferance, when the Pygmies leave the forest to go into villages and settlements. The Pygmies join themselves to the Bantu and perform labor services to get various material goods but this is their call and their choice. Even your article notes:

    “The ties between the two groups are complex and vary from family to family, village to village. Some Pygmies live exclusively in the forest, rarely visiting Bantu villages.”

    And when they attach themselves it is on Bantu territory in villages, not the Pygmy forest strongholds- as the article points out -quote from article: ” are responsible for much of the hunting, fishing and manual labor in jungle villages like Enyellé.”

    Furthermore the article shows the Pygmies are engaging Bantu society on their own terms. All are not rushing wholesale to serve the Bantu. They are miking their own choices, as they see fit.

    Quote: “But many activists acknowledge that their task is formidable. For one, no one is quite sure what the Pygmies themselves want. Pygmies are an egalitarian people, who organize in small groups without anointing a clear leader. Although interviews with Pygmies show that nearly all want their situation to improve, some voiced reluctance at giving up their old ways – of trading a semi-nomadic jungle lifestyle, for example, for organized work or schooling.

    And your own cited story shows Pygmies attacking Bantu: “Recent report Pygmy attacks on Bantu rivals in DR Congo leave 27 dead: UN”

    So the picture you paint of long lines of dreary, hapless, helpless Pygmy “slaves” does not reflect actual reality of the situation, and that is proved by your own “supporting” references, which contradict what you are claiming.

    .
    But it follows that if whites are helpless to keep a slow but sure occupation of their land by non whites , it’s for some reason other than lack of destructive technology (London, which has far more people than Scotland is now half non-European).

    ^^All quite dubious. White people are not “helpless” against so-called “occupation of their lands.” Just as an example, West African refugee numbers to Europe in recent years matter of fact have been GOING DOWN overall, as UN data shows. Mos of the recent refugee migrants going to Europe are “Caucasoids” from the Middle East.

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-vWXgtiSCsWs/VU_Hy8276JI/AAAAAAAABhg/Bke2YCch73A/s1600/origin_of_migrants_to_Europe.jpg

    The main reason white numbers are shrinking is the fault of whites themselves: from their high rates of abortion (white Russia for example kills 2 white babies for each live white birth), to white women deferring marriage and childbearing into later years of less fertility, to high white divorce rates that lessen stability (almost 50 percent of recent white marriages in the US end in divorce), to the embrace of pattens and policies such as “gay” marriage that undermine the traditional family. All these are self-inflicted problems brought upon themselves by white people. Trying to shift the blame to “the culluds” can’t hide the blunt reality of white failures, and simply won’t work. People can easily see through that BS.

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  97. To be sure the Pygmies would have no problem, and it would be much easier for the Pygmies to pitch camp and survive in Amsterdam, than for the Dutch to spend multi-millions hauling concrete to start erecting condos in the middle of the Ituri forest.

    This is only true to the extent that Pygmies in the Netherlands would be heavily subsidized by their host population and would not be threatened by hostile neighboring savage hordes. The Dutch in the Ituri forest? On their own.

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  98. Oh there are plenty of “hostile neighboring savage hordes”next to the Dutch too. Why, they killed around 100,000 Dutch people not so many years ago. In fact the Dutch had the highest per capita death rate of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe (2.36%). Over half (107,000) were Holocaust victims, deported and murdered Jews.

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  99. Enrique has been mentioning the Nazis a lot lately, it will take him a while but he will eventually have placed an addendum to every comment section, explaining that the Nazis represented the essence of white people.

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  100. Nonsense. I challenged your continually bogus comparisons of Pygmies as somehow “representative” of all Africans of Africa migrants, and a few Bantu ner’do wells as equally “representative.” You made this claim in the “Boas” thread, were roundly debunked, and you do it here again, with still pitiful results. And you need to add your own “addendum” as to why you continually duck and run away from substantive replies when your claims are exposed as BS. You are pretty good at throwing out all these sweeping claims but when debunked you run away from defending them with any substance, usually changing the subject to yet another dubious claim, or pretending to make reply with non-reply. Up above your own “supporting” reference actually contradicts what you say. No wonder you continue to duck and run.

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  101. “And indeed his idea humbled me because ever since I had been coming to Jamaica I had heard rural people tell me “trees draw rain” as in, don’t cut them down, and I had thought to myself you poor benighted souls, you have the correlation right but causality wrong—naturally, where it rains more, trees are more apt to grow. Now Bill suggested they Jamaicans may well have had it right all along—lower temperatures over wooded areas could itself be a useful signal.”

    Then why does the frequency of rain decrease after you cut down the trees? It’s not to much of a mind stretch to assume that the correlation was noticed between the cutting of trees and falling in precipitation, not between mere presence of trees and precipitation in the same locus, since it’s pretty obvious that the Jamaicans would of abandoned their conclusion after noticing instances of deforestation without the accompanying drop in precipitation.
    During the late 60′s and early 70′s the communist government of Romania was actually planting forests to exploit this connection.

    Really, to see such a patent lack of intuition from a supposedly smart academic is off putting.

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  102. Way to change the subject. Pointless non-discussion, dialogue with this man. Good night.

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  103. Beyond the Doors of Death | MarzAat
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    […] they possessed, as a genetic group, high inheritable intelligence. As an example, there is the outright fraud Steven Jay Gould committed in The Mismeasure of Man when he attacked the idea of heritable […]

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  104. Oh dear. It is only natural that those who hold Robert Trivers and Bill Hamilton up as gods would be the most prolific of commenters on this article. We who favor Gould and Lewontin are in the minority appearing in this post, thus we get a biased reading of the issues. One of the best non-technical books I’ve read on this controversy is Andrew Brown’s “The Darwin Wars” of some 15 or 20 years ago. Not much has happened in the field since those days. But recently (2015), we now have the founding father of Sociobiology, Edward O. Wilson’s “The Meaning of Human Existence”, in which he reverses his thesis on Inclusive Fitness and refutes both Trivers and Hamilton. It looks like the Darwin wars have not yet ended. It is no wonder Wilson’s name doesn’t come up in this article

    Years ago, I attended a conference in Geneva, where I live, with Gould on the same day a negative article on him by Robert Wright (The Moral Animal) in Time magazine ripped Gould apart. Gould merely replied, that guy’s not a scientist but a journalist, a know nothing, and it’s his job to make waves of scandal.

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  105. We’ve been through that “different kinds of intelligence” stuff before. What it basically boils down to, is, yes, talents and motivations and environments do differ among individuals of similar iq, but in order to achieve something significant in any given field, IQ matters. For instance, except for drumming, exeptionally musically talent people also score higher in IQ according to the level of their talent. Same for artists. OTOH, a person can have a superior IQ and not be able to computer program, or at least not have the motivation to learn. Of course it happens. Yet, overall, if you examine how their lives play out, IQ is the most significant single factor in their behavior. Kind of like height is the most important single factor in the success of most basketball players, but not the only.
    It’s really not rocket science.

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  106. I used to work in a bookstore in Harvard Square and had to deal with S. J. Gould several times. He was one of the rudest, most arrogant people it has been my misfortune to encounter. A truly obnoxious assh*le.

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  107. Crows are hilarious. That commercial with the crows closing the glass patio door, then making a noise to get the guy sitting outside on the patio, get up and run into the glass — and the crows laughing cruelly. Brilliant. You just know that’s what those jerks (crows) do.

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  108. Of all the “leftist” arguments I ever hear, the one that whites “destroy” more than other races, is the weirdest and one of the least credible. Even considering the vastly better record keeping of European societies, even when the records are unflatering, non-white peoples have done just as much or worse, and given less in return. There is a famous site in Canada called “Massacre Mountain.” In the 1700s, a well known British explorer was being conducted through the west by a friendly tribe of Indians. They came on another tribe peacefully settled for the night. For some reason the tribe conducting the British explorer decided to massacre them. It haunted the British explorer for the rest of his life. Such things happened among Indian tribes. They were not all noble. Corruption always eats from within the most.

    In return, whites have created a world where non-white peoples are increasing in numbers exponentially, and enjoying more opportunities than most ever did in their traditional cultures. And I say this despite recognizing that, of course, there were some aspects of traditional cultures (everywhere, including Europe) that are preferable to modern society. Yet, almost nobody would really trade places. FCOL, just try to take the cell phones away from Kenyan farmers today. I know a Kenyan and she tell some funny stories about how the parents keep tabs on their kids with cell phones.

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  109. Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists, Large and Small – The Unz Review | the neuron club
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    […] Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists, Large and Small – The Unz Review. […]

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  110. “If he was so dedicated to Marxism, why did he so embrace the publishing industry, which is all about capitalism?”

    Once he came to power why did Lenin take possession of (and arrange for it to be chauffeur-driven) a confiscated Rolls Royce?

    Why is does the personal wealth of Fidel Castro, per Forbes, total $900 million?

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  111. Thanks Dr. Trivers for the reminiscences and the stimulus to learn something about you and recall those turbulent times. The motivations of Gould and Lewontin and their numerous aggressive followers and patrons have been analyzed extensively by Prof. MacDonald as I am sure you are aware. Hahvud is such a stifling and clannish place, socially, academically, scientifically, and politically. In the future please let us know your impressions and assessment of the
    man himself, Ed Wilson, as I am sure your paths crossed. The Lewontin/Gould/New Left forces made a tremendous stink about his speaking to us at Berkeley Life Sciences building about 1973. The usual Cal spectacle.

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