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The Human Nature Review Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 310-311 ( 18 August )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/dusekr.html

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

From Professor David P. Barash

Sir,

I believe that Stephen Jay Gould deserves ardent defenders (indeed, given the quality of his later work, he certainly needs them). I also hope that Professor Gould will receive better service than he gets from Val Dusek.

Dusek acknowledges that “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.” This leads me to wonder if Dr. Dusek has actually read Gould’s book, not to mention whether he has done the same with “most scientific works.” It is actually something of a challenge to locate sentences in The Structure of Evolutionary Theory that are not unwieldy, ridiculously self-referential, and grotesquely polysyllabic.

I hope Dusek did his homework with respect to Gould’s book - which he has taken upon himself to defend - more carefully than he evidently read my review of it, which he purports to attack. Thus, far from accusing Gould of inventing the term “symposiast,” I thanked him for bringing it to my attention! (Along with another lovely and potentially useful word: chameleonic.) My friends and colleagues would also be intrigued with Dusek’s observation that I attend “numerous meetings,” because in fact I have often been criticized - and correctly - for doing just the opposite. Of course, this doesn’t matter in itself, but it speaks reams about Dusek’s obliviousness to fact.

Also, in my review, I did not claim that Gould invented the term “bookkeeping” - and thus, Dusek’s account of the origin of “bookkeeping” applied to genes is entirely irrelevant. My point, rather, is that Gould employs it as a mantra by repeating the same phrase, over and over, evidently hoping that this will have the desired persuasive effect. Mischaracterizing the role of genes, even if done repetitively, does not an argument make. (Note to Dr. Dusek: Most people who use a mantra do not claim to have invented it. Ask a Buddhist.)

More substantively, does Dusek seriously maintain that genes indicate only the effects of selection? What is it, in that case, that individuals inherit from their parents, aside from maternal cytoplasm? And why? Are those packages of nucleic acids simply a kind of biological abacus, provided by a beneficent creator so as to facilitate the “bookkeeping” of some snooping evolutionists? Genes are units of function and of selection; we can also use them to keep track of evolution, but that is not why they exist. On the other hand, species are definitely units of bookkeeping, although they may also - and to a limited extent - be units of selection as well. And by the way, I do indeed claim that species - far more than genes - are consequences of our perception. Nominalism indeed!

I had never thought of Ehrlich and Holm’s superb and classic text, The Process of Evolution, as “notorious.” Maybe it is, among post-modernist philosophers, but certainly not among biologists. It may surprise Dusek to learn that “we” are indeed wrong, and often, about which groups exchange genes (at least as often as we are wrong about what, exactly, constitutes a gene). Time and again, seemingly “good” species turn out to exchange these genic “placeholders,” if not in the laboratory, then where their ranges may be sympatric. When this happens, shall we call them one species, or two? In such cases - to advert to a phrase with which I am sure Dr. Dusek would be comfortable - they are without doubt “socially constructed.”

I am pleased that Dusek has been reading my work: “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.” When it comes to such “bag”-gage, I haven’t yet heard Dusek acknowledge the obvious: that biology isn’t his.

Finally, I want to thank Wolpoff and Caspari for pointing out an accidental misrepresentation in my review. My intent in quoting Gould’s rant against the polyphyletic theory of human origin was not to agree with it, but to demonstrate how effective Gould’s rhetoric can be. In the process, I fell prey to it, and regrettably failed to point out that his humorous put-down (“rattitude” and “piegeonosity” are irresistible) unfairly ignores the gene-flow that advocates of this position have consistently emphasized.

(On the other hand, if Gould is correct, then gene-flow itself is of no biological consequence, except as a way of helping paleo-anthropologists such as Wolpoff and Caspari keep track of human origins!)

David P. Barash
Department of Psychology
University of Washington
Seattle, Wa. 98195, USA.

References

Barash, D. P. (2002). Grappling with the Ghost of Gould. Human Nature Review. 2: 283-292.

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.

Wolpoff, M. H. & Caspari, R. (2002). Response to 'Grappling with the Ghost of Gould' by David P. Barash [letter to the editor]. Human Nature Review. 2: 297.

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© David P. Barash.

Citation

Barash, D. P. (2002). Reply to Val Dusek [letter to the editor]. Human Nature Review. 2: 310-311.

 
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