"I am not being funny when I say of Edward Wilson's latest book that there are interesting and informative chapters on human evolution, and on the ways of social insects (which he knows better than any man alive), and it was a good idea to write a book comparing these two pinnacles of social evolution, but unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of erroneous and downright perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory," Dawkins wrote in his review of Wilson's "The Social Conquest of Earth" in Prospect magazine this month.
Someone who wrote "The Selfish Gene" is being critical of a guy who makes a difficult case in a book, one that isn't supported by evidence? Here's hoping Professor Dawkins does not hate irony as much as he hated Wilson's latest work.
Dawkins, as he is wont to do, even made an appeal to popularity, noting how many scientists agreed with him. Wilson seemed unimpressed in his response, writing "The science in our argument has, after 18 months, never been refuted or even seriously challenged—and certainly not by the archaic version of inclusive fitness from the 1970s recited in Prospect by Professor Dawkins. "
Their spat is basically over gene and group selection, notes Vanessa Thorpe in The Guardian. Natural selection was not a term Darwin seemed to prefer later in life, opting for a more subtle 'natural preservation' term. Too late to go back now, Chuck. You're stuck with survival of the fittest also.
Nothing says fun like two cranky old scientists going at each other but I have to call them as I see them; when it comes to research credibility versus populist grandstanding, Wilson is head and shoulders above Dawkins in the science world. But Dawkins can sure turn a phrase and I always feel a little smarter, even just reading his overview of arguments he does not like. He is 71 years old and if he hasn't listened by now, asking him to tone down the rhetoric probably does no good.