Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Group selection and kin selection: formally equivalent

These days, there's a scientific consensus about group selection and kin selection.

As Marek Kohn said in 2008:

There is widespread agreement that group selection and kin selection — the post-1960s orthodoxy that identifies shared interests with shared genes — are formally equivalent.

As Michael Wade, 2009 put it:

It is remarkable that kin selection has been widely accepted and group selection widely disparaged when, for simple genetic models, they are actually equivalent mathematically.

As Peter Richerson, 2012 put it:

I think most evolutionists now agree that kin and group selection are the same thing.

Such observations date back to Hamilton (1975). Queller (1992) is another important paper on the topic.

Modern paper titles in the area include: "Group selection and kin selection: two concepts but one process" and "Group selection and kin selection: formally equivalent approaches".

In "Social semantics: how useful has group selection been?", West, Griffin and Gardner (2009) state:

There is no theoretical or empirical example of group selection that cannot be explained with kin selection.

The theoretical equivalence of kin selection models with those of the new group selection seems to be fairly widely recognized. Wilson and Wilson (2007) seem to agree, saying:

The theories that were originally regarded as alternatives, such that one might be right and another wrong, are now seen as equivalent in the sense that they all correctly predict what evolves in the total population. They differ, however, in how they partition selection into component vectors along the way. The frameworks are largely intertranslatable and broadly overlap in the kinds of traits and population structures that they consider.

Formal models of "group selection" and "kin selection" are now widely regarded as producing the same results. Gardner and Grafen (2008) say:

group selection has already been incorporated into social evolution theory, and is found to be exactly equivalent to kin selection: the two approaches are simply different ways of describing the same evolutionary process and both lead to the prediction that individuals should maximize their inclusive fitness

Here's Gardner, West and Wild (2011):

it has long been understood that the kin selection and multilevel (group) selection approaches to social evolution are mathematically equivalent, and merely represent different partitions of the same evolutionary process (i.e. natural selection; Hamilton, 1975; Grafen, 1984, 2006a; Wade, 1985; Frank, 1986, 1995; Queller, 1992b; Rousset, 2004; Gardner et al. , 2007; Lehmann et al., 2007b; Gardner & Grafen, 2009). No model of multilevel selection has ever delivered a (correct) prediction that could not be reformulated in terms of kin selection – despite repeated claims to the contrary.

Kerr and Godfrey-Smith (2002) recommend switching between the two perspectives - saying:

we also argue that each type of model can have heuristic advantages over the other. Indeed, it can be positively useful to engage in a kind of back-and-forth switching between two different perspectives on the evolutionary role of groups. So the position we defend is a “gestalt-switching pluralism.”

Group selection enthusiast Samir Okasha endorsed equivalence in a 2010 editiorial titled Altruism researchers must cooperate writing:

Lastly, kin and multi-level selection are not alternative theories; they simply offer different takes on the question of how social behaviour evolved. Proponents of kin selection, for example, explain sterile workers in insect colonies by saying that the workers are helping the queen to reproduce, and thus boosting their own inclusive fitness. Proponents of multi-level selection argue that the workers are providing a benefit to the colony as a whole, thus making the colony fitter than other colonies. These explanations may seem different, but mathematical models show that they are in fact equivalent.

To his credit, group selection enthusiast David Sloane Wilson is now on the correct side in this debate. So is group selection enthusiast Peter Richerson and group selection enthusiast Michael Wade.

For naysayers in this area, see here.


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