Saturday, 23 November 2013

The productivity of kin selection and group selection

West Griffin and Gardner wrote a comparison of kin selection and group selection, titled: Social semantics: how useful has group selection been?. Thay basically said that kin selection was the hands-down winner.

I think it is hard to argue that group selection has been anywhere near as productive as kin selection. However, group selection enthusiasts have been massively outnumbered over most of the recent history of the two ideas. Group selection defenders can claim that group selection has been less productive due to fewer man-hours expended on it.

The primary strengths of kin selection as I see them:

  • Kin selection makes extensive use of relatedness (a concept group selection enthusiasts rarely mention). This facilitates making quantitative predictions.

  • Kin selection has "Kin" in its title, which emphasizes the significance of kinship to the effect. Calling the effect "group selection" fails to to emphasize kinship. In practice this leads to applications where kinship isn't involved - and such applications are more often than not errors and mistakes.

  • The field is more mature, established and respectable.

I think that group selection appeals more to those who are attracted to the scientific fringes - in the hope of finding useful things there. That's all very well, but the the scientific fringes have a lot of junk science in them as well. Some of it is to do with group selection. Take care with it.

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