April 23, 2016

Big grant for another look at evolution theory

As one of the few publications to pay any attention to the evolution in evolutionary thinking, we are pleased to see that the Templeton Foundations has come up with nearly $10 million to help study "the extended evolutionary synthesis" further.

The first conference on this topic was in Altenberg, Austria in 2008. As we wrote at the time:
Since the Review is better known for its political scoops rather than its scientific ones, excuse us for bragging that the latest issue of the highly regarded Nature Magazine has a cover article about the important but hidden Altenberg meeting on post-Darwinian research and new thoughts about evolution. We ran a piece of Suzan Mazur's ground breaking work on this topic back in March and followed up with another in July. Nature even borrows from Mazur's term 'evolutionary Woodstock' to describe the critical meeting. The scientific establishment has been somewhat scared of dealing rationally and openly with new evolutionary ideas because of its fear of the powerful creationist movement. So for the topic to make the cover of Nature is a notable development.
Now, David Sloan Wilson writes: 
All of a sudden, the Altenberg 16 (I was one of them) were in the middle of a media circus. Creationists and Intelligent Design theorists gloated that Darwin’s theory had finally been revealed as dead.  We began to be described as some sort of cabal. Why were these 16 invited and not others? Conservative evolutionary biologists sniffed that the word “extended” in the title was unnecessary. The Modern Synthesis was good enough for them and should be good enough for the next generation.  Some of us were dismayed by the hype while others rather enjoyed our 15 minutes of fame as rock asteroids, if not rock stars.

Fast forwarding to the present, the phrase “The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis” has gained a tiny toehold in the scientific literature. According to Google Scholar, it has appeared in the title of only 12 articles and books between 2008 and 2016 (listed at the end of this report). That is about to change, however, because the John Templeton Foundation has just awarded one of the largest grants in its history—approaching 10 million dollars—to put the EES to the test, including over 20 inter-related projects involving a team of over 50 scientists ...

 Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?

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