[ExI] Group Selection Advances

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Tue May 5 06:10:43 UTC 2009

Keith wrote

>> Why Multilevel Selection Matters
>> <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1095943>
> I read that paper when it came out.  It is poorly written and full of 
> BS.  If you want me to go into detail, post the whole thing right here 
> and I will tear it apart.
> I am not saying that there can't be group selection, it just that nobody 
> has *ever* come up with an example that cannot be completely explained 
> by a combination of memetics and biological evolution.

Yes, but what may be bothering other people---and
as I explained in my last post bothers me---is that
the most reductionistic explanation isn't always
the best.

Let's consider the relatively simple example first
discussed in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_selection

     Some mosquito-transmitted rabbit viruses, for
     instance, are only transmitted to uninfected rabbits from infected
     rabbits which are still alive. This creates a selective pressure on
     every group of viruses already infecting a rabbit not to become too
     virulent and kill their host rabbit before enough mosquitoes have
     bitten it. In natural systems such viruses display much lower
     virulence levels than do mutants of the same viruses that in
     laboratory culture readily out-compete non-virulent variants (or than
     do tick-transmitted viruses—ticks, unlike mosquitoes, bite dead

Of course we can force a reductionistic Dawkins style
explanation: What do you see now? Oh, you see lower
virulence? Well, see, the genes ended up doing what
was best for their survival.

So long as we keep in mind the reductionistic basis
underlying any given phenomenon, is there really
anything so awful about describing the foregoing
as "group selection"?

If the phenomenon is to be described in terms of
reified qualities (and we all do this all the time),
then one ought to be willing to say that "the
less virulent group outcompeted the virulent

And this by no means commits us to the common errors
illustrated by, for example, many of Wynne-Edwards'
claims. Any description in complete defiance of the
reductionistic, gene-centered view, has to be wrong.


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