Fake Banner
The Robotic Mind

As I was reading the comment section to “Our Anthropomorphic  Bias” I was struck by the...

Book Review - "Social Bonding"

Social Bonding and Nurture Kinship - Compatibility between Cultural and Biological Approaches...

Can Life Be Defined In One Word?

A year or so back Carl Zimmer asked the science world if life could be defined in three words.I...

Naive Group Selection

You would think after thirty years of numerous critics exposing the shortcomings of...

User picture.
picture for Heidi Hendersonpicture for Helen Barrattpicture for Steve Donaldsonpicture for Brian Taylorpicture for Patrick Lockerbypicture for Catarina Amorim
Steve DavisRSS Feed of this column.

gadfly: noun (1) fly that stings horses and cattle. (2) (derog) annoying person, esp one that provokes others into action by criticism, etc.... Read More »


I recently saw W D Hamilton’s 1970 paper “Geometry for the Selfish Herd” described as “a classic in its own right.” As a long-time bibliophile this made it irresistible, but I was also intrigued by the incongruity of “selfish herd” and of linking geometry to animals. I have to report that the paper certainly is a classic, for all the wrong reasons, but it contains a valuable message.

The introduction to the paper began with:
This paper presents an antithesis to the view that gregarious behaviour is evolved through benefits to the population or species. Following Galton (1871) and Williams (1964) gregarious behaviour is considered as a form of cover-seeking in which each animal tries to reduce its chance of being caught by a predator.

Professor Lynn Margulis is the biologist who had the incredible insight that the cells of modern organisms were originally formed by the symbiotic combination of prokaryotic cells and colonies of bacteria, and then had to battle for years to have this recognised by the science community.

The idea is so outlandish, but so significant, that it puts her right up there as one of the greats of biology.
“The Extended Phenotype – The Long Reach of the Gene” is the book Richard Dawkins wants you to read “if you read nothing else of mine” because “It is probably the finest thing I shall ever write.”
It purports to be about science, for scientists, yet at the very beginning there is a quite remarkable disclaimer. Dawkins warns the reader that the book contains nothing new, that it is “unabashed advocacy”, (in other words a mere personal opinion) and that it contains no hypotheses that are testable. In short, the book is declared from the outset to be non-scientific.
What Is Life?

What Is Life?

Jan 11 2009 | comment(s)

In 1943 the eminent physicist Erwin Schrodinger gave a series of lectures in Dublin that were later published in book form under the title What Is Life? Its success was considerable as it kick-started the new field of molecular biology, but Schrodinger deliberately avoided an investigation into a definition of life, believing that the time was not ripe.

Ian Ramjohn recently posted an interesting (but far too short) article on Scientific Blogging titled Competition and Coexistence in which he discussed various theoretical scenarios that could develop if a new species formed and began competing with its parent species for resources.

The debate over gene selection versus group or multi-level selection continues unabated in biological circles, and no end appears in sight. Despite a resurgence of interest in group selection, the gene-only theorists refuse to concede an inch of ground, but I fear the high tide of gene selection is on the ebb and will never dominate again.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />