That’s the peril of a historically successful, productive research program. We get locked in to a model; there is the appeal of being able to use solid, established protocols to gather lots of publishable data, and to keep on doing it over and over. It’s real information, and useful, but it also propagates the illusion of comprehension. We are not motivated to step away from the busy, churning machine of data gathering and rethink our theories.
We forget that our theories are purely human constructs designed to help us simplify and make sense of a complex universe, and most seriously we fail to see how our theories shape our interpretation of the data…and they shape what data we look for! That’s my objection to the model of evolution in The Selfish Gene: it sure is useful, too useful, and there are looming barriers to our understanding of biology that are going to require another Dawkins to disseminate.
Richard Dawkins has also responded to Dobbs:
I have been asked to respond to an article by David Dobbs called ‘Die, selfish gene, die’. It’s a fluent piece of writing featuring some interesting biological observations, but it’s fatally marred: infected by an all-too-common journalistic tendency, the adversarial urge to (presumably) boost circulation and harvest clicks by pretending to be controversial. You have a topic X, which you laudably want to pass on to your readers. But it’s not enough that X is interesting in its own right; you have to adversarialise it: yell that X is revolutionary, new, paradigm-shifting, dramatically overthrowing some Y.
All of this reminds me of Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm model of science. Is this a paradigm shift in progress? Dobbs and Myers seem to think so. Dawkins and Coyne seem to think it’s just new details in the existing paradigm. As a non-biologist, I fully realize that I can’t make a judgement, so I’ve concluded that my best strategy is to sit back and wait to see how this debate eventually plays out.