A new look at the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis

emanuele-sibe2013I present the initiatives, papers, and ideas of Pigliucci, Müller, and others, who are proposing an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES). I then advance some reasons for concern raised by those claims, including uncertainties in timing, historical inaccuracies, lack of a theoretical structure, arbitrariness and instability of the included concepts, stereotypical characterization of the Modern Synthesis, and dissent among evolutionary biologists. Then I mention the studies by historian of the Modern Synthesis, Joe Cain, who is very detailed and careful in explaining that Mayr, Dobzhansky, Huxley & co. who claimed they were part of a Modern Synthesis, they did also for strategic and political reasons, related to their own careers and to more general cultural battles of the time. What I want to argue is not that the Modern Synthesis was an invented product of a marketing operation; rather, it is that the social and interactive dynamics of science are very important in understanding what is going on. The same could be true for the EES in our years. I maintain the primary importance of understanding how biology is today, how it has changed, what future expects us. Pigliucci’s question, “Do we need an EES?”, thus suggests very important issues. But I propose that we shouldn’t take at face value what the protagonists of evolutionary biology see and say. The ‘expert review’ or the ‘small group of architects’ methods cannot work. No solution either comes from a traditional philosophical approach of ‘describing the structure of evolutionary theory’, because scientists don’t work ‘inside’ theories; they use them in different ways. Correct methods for answering could be developed, with the help of advanced technology for analyzing the scientific literature, the ways of doing science, the ‘hot topics’, the birth and death of fields, etc., through time. This would mean to look seriously at the scientific community, avoiding, on t he one hand, the authority principle, and, on the other hand, the surrender to an ‘all flows, everything ever changes’ perspective. In the context of such an endeavour, I suggest a specific look at the Italian evolutionary biology community as important for the future prospects of this science in our country.


Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):

Serrelli E (2013). A new look at the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. 5th congress of the Italian Society for Evolutionary Biology (SIBE). Trento, Faculty of Lettere and MUSE Museum, Italy, August 28-31. [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/46363]