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May 28, 2014

On Peto's Paradox

"Peto's Paradox is the observation ... that at the species level, the incidence of cancer does not appear to correlate with the number of cells in an organism."

Do blue whales seldom get cancer?

Being a cautious fellow I don’t know whether or not it is true that blue whales get less cancer than (say) mice but I do accept that fewer cases of cancer have been reported in blue whales than in smaller vertebrates. But caution also tells me that neither I (nor anyone else) has, at present, access to technology that enables one to observe an animal’s somatic cells as they are transformed to the cancerous state. Nor can we observe whether such cells are promptly extinguished by agents of an adaptive immune system (which all vertebrates possess) before producing cancerous daughter cells in sufficient numbers. Sufficient, that is, to cause death from cancer or to produce detectable symptoms. 
So, my starting point is different from others who have written extensively on this subject. My view is that—most probably—blue whales, because they consist of greater numbers of somatic cells, produce a greater number of cells transformed to the cancerous state than do mice but, as I will explain below, their greater size enables them to minimize production of detectable cancer.

May 15, 2014

An Open Letter to Armand Marie Leroi (Continued, With a New Postscript)

The first part of the Open Letter is available here

Dear Armand,

Connections you fail to make.

1. What I think will be eventually judged as twentieth century Biology’s most embarrassing episode was the publication and enthusiastic receptionit's received nearly five thousand citations—of Gould and Lewontin’s Spandrels paper. 

Now, Armand, consider this. As lead author of a 2003 paper in Nature Reviews Cancer you expressed agreement with a fragment of my theory—that following adoption of physiological modifications lethal juvenile cancer rates increased—but, unlike me, you ignore the import of that fact to evolutionary theory.
Those increased cancer rates demolish the Gould-Lewontin notion that non-adaptive physical modifications could have played a significant role in Bilaterian evolution. If a prospective new feature offered no immediate survival benefit whatsoever, but increased the incidence of lethal juvenile cancer that feature would not have been selected.

Need I point out that the same idea also demolishes any suggestion that genetic drift played a major role in Bilaterian evolution?

Armand, you hold a university title that includes the word “evolution.”  You could have written a publishable paper pointing out the significance to evolutionary theory of those pediatric cancer rates: they nullify anti-adaptationist notions as they pertain to the bilaterian phenotypes. Instead, your paper appeared in a cancer journal where it was classified as "Opinion" and ignored by evolutionists.

As I wrote in the rejected TREE manuscript, “Neo-Darwinism is insufficiently Darwinian,” meaning that in Bilaterian evolution natural selection in the form of cancer selection explains the heretofore inexplicable: the unbroken chains of perfect construction of the most complex things in the universe. But you managed to ensure that no one will read those words in that journal.