Monday, May 9

More Latest Stuffs on Altruism

At the time, I didn't write much about the Martin Nowab et al. paper which appeared in Nature about a year back, but it generated a bunch a hubbub mostly because everyone thought they were completely wrong.

I thought they were completely wrong, initially. Kin Selection is a wonderfully simple and elegant concept, that is honestly hard to imagine as possibly being wrong. Its too simple and fundamental. I also didn't want it to be wrong because it underlies many of my own core beliefs and personal theories (yes I admit I am allowing my confirmation bias to work here).

In all fairness, I still think they are wrong. I looked around in the months after the initial release, and was satisfied by the refutations from everyone else in the community.

Somehow, the topic came up again more recently and I went back to the original paper. I checked the supplementary materials, unsure if I had looked at them the first time.

I had not. They are almost an entirely new and different paper from the one that actually appears in print. I considered going through this monster 40+ page adversary and critiquing it page by page, but that seemed like it might become a full-time job for a few months, what with having to relearn all of Nowak's obscure mathematical presentations.

Then another article appeared in Science, about ROBOTS and simulations of kin selection in those models. Good read. Yet, Nowak's comment at the end reignited my ire. In orther sources, Nowak says that the critics aren't really going through all of their arguments no matter how many hundreds of scientists print that they're wrong. Its like he's some kind of avate-garde hipster scientist.

Truth be told, I really didn't want to be the one to "go through all their arguments," and very fortunately, someone else came close enough for my tastes, just recently, too.

Rousset and Leon actually tear away at the paper and its supplements, and, because their commentary was not published in Nature like that giant series from March, they can make some much needed criticisms of this article in context.
"The format of the paper itself is an obstacle to scientific communication. The article has two parts: a short illustrated essay for the general reader and a 43-page online mathematical Appendix. Readers who are not mathematically inclined or simply short on time may be tempted to simply trust the authors and gauge the scientific value of the paper based on the ‘weight’ of the supplementary material or on the prestige of the authors."
Thank you, Rousset and Leon. Regardless of the validity of the results, the paper's presentation is a travesty; a travesty that the authors were fully aware of. Devastating stuff, and I really hope everyone involved or even watching has learned a constructive lesson or two from this catastrophe. Now hopefully I can be satisfied that Nowak et al. have been properly refuted.

Rousset F, & Lion S (2011). Much ado about nothing: Nowak et al.'s charge against inclusive fitness theory. Journal of evolutionary biology PMID: 21457170

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