The linked article is over 5,000 words long, but fascinating. It’s basically arguing that gene expression and genetic accommodation, are the primary mechanisms at work in changes in phenotypes and natural selection. And that these ideas have been around for a while, but because people like Dawkins (who thankfully it acknowledges is a buffoon, although Dobbs is far kinder to him than I would be) won’t talk about it, it hasn’t gained any traction in the popular imagination. It took me a bit to get through, but I thought it was fascinating; it’s also distilling some complicated scientific thought down to one article, i have no background in it. I’d love to know what those of you with science degrees (and/or careers, etc.) think of it.
Most of what Dobbs is talking about is accommodated just fine by the selfish gene metaphor as he clarifies in this follow up piece on his blog
Which is not to say it’s not an interesting article (though the modern synthesis vs extended modern synthesis antagonism seems kind of blown out of proportion to me)
Reading it caused me to go back and find this brief article composed mainly of quotes about the nature/ definition of genes from the last 100 or so years full of interesting stuff which puts the Dobbs article in a broader context.
Paradoxically, in spite of the new, sometimes overwhelming, concreteness of our comprehension of the gene as a result of DNA technology, we seem to be left with a rather abstract and generalized concept of the gene that has quite different significances in different contexts…. It should, however, be strongly emphasized that our comprehension of the very concept of the gene has always been abstract and open as indicated already by Johannsen [in 1909]. Geneticist Peter Portin (1993)
Also, I think the article is right to basically ignore Dawkins the person; Buffoonery is a very mild description of his general and sustained high level of douchebaggery
but the account it gives of his book The Selfish Gene is for me accurate i.e. it’s up there with the best popular science writing I’ve read, clear and engaging as well as providing an extremely powerful and enduringly useful metaphor for understanding evolution, albeit one which is more often than not misrepresented/ misunderstood
, again Dawkins himself is no help here seemingly exemplifying the kind of arrogant selfishness that idiots like Jeffrey Skilling take away as the message of the book.
PS I don’t even think a metaphor can be wrong, just useful or unhelpful, a close fit for a model of reality or not.