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May 9, 2017

Not. My. Peers. (Part Two)

Does Competency in Theoretical Biology Require Superior Intelligence?

If one were to ask members of the public whether or not a particular profession demanded high intelligence most would answer "Yes" to "Evolutionary Biology." Ask Americans to name a fellow countryman, living or dead, who they associate with "evolution" and many would name Stephen Jay Gould. Many of his admirers would even claim he had been a "great" theorist. 

Now consider what Gould wrote in the March 29, 1984 issue of The New York Review of Books: "I am hopeless at deductive sequencing...I never scored particularly well on so-called objective tests of intelligence because they stress logical reasoning ..."  Having scored in the ninety-ninth percentile on more than one of those tests, I do not consider persons with intellectual inadequacies similar to Gould's to be my peers.  

Perhaps Gould was an exception, a masterful self-promoter and a skillful writer who managed to hide his "hopeless" inability to engage in logical thinking. Well, in light of my first encounter with him and the weird popularity of his co-written paper inspired by Gothic architecture, I suspect that the field is over-populated with his intellectual equals. His peers. Not mine.

Does Biology Lack Theorists?

The Economist once noted (circa 1980) that contemporary Biology was not known for its theorists. Having observed the field and read many of its publications for more than thirty years, I am astounded by the nearly complete absence of serious thinkers in Evolutionary Biology. The field appears over-populated with box-dwelling memorizers, people who acquired their doctoral credentials by blindly accepting evolutionary theory as it was taught and by accumulating for future regurgitation an enormous number of facts, bits of information they can spew on demand.

What can one of these highly-proficient memorizers do when asked to evaluate a theoretical paper that deconstructs ~550 million years of animal evolution to elucidate a problem ignored in all evolution textbooks, the uninterrupted successful construction of all the actual ancestors?  Well, as the nit-picking nitwit who was actually asked by a supposedly serious journal to evaluate my submission demonstrates, one simply dives into his personal fact-locker and pulls out handfuls of irrelevant trivia about midges, tadpoles, froglets, neotenic newts, epigenetic markings, single cell bottlenecks, paedogenetic larvae and insects with long life-spans.

And how does this incontinent fact-spewer respond to the theoretical core of the paper, my assertion that the faultless development of every actual ancestor in unbroken lines of descent beginning with submarinal worms and ending with elephants, whales, butterflies and millions of other complex animals, including humans, must have involved a mechanism not found in the "meh" transformational evolutionary history of mushrooms, sponges and other cell colonies?  His comment in its totality: "Why should it?"

For those few members of his profession who are indeed capable of serious thought, I cringe in sympathy.

The Necessity of Conceptual Thinking

Although the core of my theory was intact before I read Ernst Mayr, I found his writings (see The Growth of Biological Thought, 1982, Harvard University Press) on  the tools he considered useful to evolutionary theorists (the hypothetico-deductive method, probabilistic thinking and the generous use of useful concepts) and those which were of limited value (experiments and mathematical models) consistent with the approach I had already used. 

Few biological concepts are emphasized in standard evolution texts. Perhaps gene pools and selection pressure will be mentioned in passing but here are some of the concepts I used in developing, presenting and arguing for my theory (in addition to the hypothetico-deductive method and probabilistic thinking) all of which are unlikely to be mentioned: control, quality assurance, fail-safe mechanisms, feedback loops, one-eyed thinking, unbroken chains of perfect replication, the time-bomb phenomenon, anti-oncogenes, and the highly efficient, de facto system responsible for the construction of the most complex things in the known universe. 

A theoretical proposal which is the product of conceptual thinking cannot be evaluated by a person incapable of conceptual thinking.

Link to Part One.

At this site you will find links to additional material including my original Letters to the Journal of Theoretical Biology and the 1992 Nature review of my book.

Copyright © 2017 by James Graham

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