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The Human Nature Review Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 300-301 ( 22 July )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/dusek.html

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

From Professor Val Dusek

Sir,

‘Grappling with the Ghost of Gould’ by David P. Barash

Barash's review of Gould's huge tome shows that Barash is suffering not only from textual but conceptual indigestion.

Bernard Davis of Harvard Medical School once wrote a screed against Gould's treatment of eugenics in Mismeasure of Man, assuming that Gould was dying of cancer and would be unable to reply. Much to Davis' dismay, Gould recovered and gave back to Davis as good as he got. Barash need fear no such recovery, unless Gould, Lazarus-like is resurrected to unleash thunderbolts of logic and rhetoric in reply. (Please forgive the mixed Christian and pagan metaphor.)

A good part of Barash's review is taken up with criticizing Gould's bloated and flatulent style. It is possible that Gould rushed to finish in light of his approaching demise. Barash does find a couple of Kant-like, paragraph-long, run-on sentences, but much of the work is written in a style far more accessible to the layman than most scientific works. One begins to distrust Barash's castigation of Gould's over-rich vocabulary when we find that Barash seems to think that Gould invented the term "symposiast." I have heard the word from numerous symposium chairs and read it in many brochures. I am surprised Barash, who attends numerous meetings, has not.

On more substantive topics, Barash calls the contrast of "bookkeeping" and "causality" a "mantra" of Gould. Here Barash borrows Gould's own rhetoric of abuse, as Gould called genic causality a "mantra." One can almost hear Barash chanting "I'm rubber. You're glue. Anything you say, I'll borrow and fling back at you." In fact Gould credits "bookkeeping" to Bill Wimsatt of the University of Chicago. Wimsatt answered an e-mail query saying that as far as he knows he coined the term [Reductionistic Research Strategies and their Biases in the Units of Selection Controversy," in Tom Nickles, ed., Scientific Discovery-vol. II: Case Studies, Kluwer, 1981, pp. 213-259, and "Units of Selection and the Structure of the Multi-Level Genome, in P. D. Asquith and R. N. Giere. Eds PSA 1980 vol. 2, Lansing Michigan. Philosophy of Science Association, pp. 122-183 ]. The term is a description of logical analyses of causes and non-causes in genetics used by many philosophers of biology. Gould hardly pulled it out of the air. Lewontin and Sober's "Artifact and Cause in Genic Selection" in Philosophy of Science, 1982, pp. 157-180 is an analysis, which, though not using the term extensively, gives an analysis suggesting that context-dependence limits the analysis of fitness of individual genes, and individual genes as objects of selection. Using Reichenbach's notion of "screening off" causes they claim individual genes rarely if ever function as causes in selection processes. Dan Dennett lamely replies in Darwin's Dangerous Idea that counters can be important. Gould and Lewontin do not deny this. They simply say they are results not causes of selection. The situation is similar to that in economics. Labor can be a numeraire of profits, but that hardly justifies the labor theory of value, because many things can be numeraires. Stock predictors who use "technical" approaches do a kind of astrology on share price fluctuations and numbers of shares sold, but do not claim to be following causes of this within corporate structure and production that "fundamentalists" claim to be analyzing. Barash might say that "philosophy" is not his bag, but recently he has been holding forth on Buddhism, Kantian ethics, Sartre's existentialism and other philosophies in the Chronicle of Higher Education and in books. Perhaps it is just logical analysis that is not his thing.

In another case of hurling back an accusation, Barash holds that, against Gould claiming genes are counters, he, Barash, claims species are counters. Barash himself seems to follow a highly nominalistic account of species. His initial remark reminds one of Ehrlich and Holm's notorious The Process of Evolution (1964, 2nd edn. 1974) that claimed that species were solely our arbitrary classifications or lumpings of individuals. Barash says that species are whatever we classify them to be. He then equivocates by using the biological definition of species, as interbreeding population, but fudges it by saying it is groups we judge to be exchanging genes. Of course, we can be wrong about which groups we judge to be species by the biological species definition. But this does not prejudge whether in reality some populations really do interbreed and some to not. We could be wrong about precisely which sequences of nucleotides comprise genes, but this hardly makes genes into purely subjective constructions. Barash gives no good reason to claim that species are merely bookkeeper's counters. (Of course this does not deny that better arguments against species selection might be given by someone.).

Val Dusek
Department of Philosophy
University of New Hampshire
Durham NH 03824
USA

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© Val Dusek.

Citation

Dusek, V. (2002). Response to 'Grappling with the Ghost of Gould' by David P. Barash [letter to the editor]. Human Nature Review. 2: 300-301.

 
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