Why is Jerry Coyne blocking scientific discussion?

This is a guest blog by Ben Allen of the Plektix blog. I don’t agree entirely with it; Jerry Coyne has the right to police his blog in any way he chooses, and I also don’t find Nowak’s critique of inclusive fitness theory at all convincing — so I’m actually more on Coyne’s side on this issue! But Ben works with Nowak, has some expertise on this subject, and was not allowed to express himself on Coyne’s blog, so I offered him an opportunity to say his piece here.

Posting it here is not an endorsement of Ben’s position, but he has reasonable arguments that I’m willing to give an airing.

PZ Myers

I imagine most readers of this blog are familiar with Jerry Coyne.  If not, he’s a prominent biologist and atheist who maintains the blog Why Evolution is True.   And apparently, he has taken to blocking commenters who disagree with him, even over substantive scientific issues. 

First, some background: A conflict has been brewing over how to model the evolution of social behavior.  At issue is a method called inclusive fitness theory, which emphasizes the role of genetic relatedness between interacting organisms.  In 2011, Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and EO Wilson (hereafter, NTW) published an article arguing that inclusive fitness is a mathematically limited method, and that the role of relatedness has been overemphasized in the evolution of worker castes in social insects. 

NTW’s article generated a strong response—most famously, a letter signed by 137 prominent researchers (also some talking bears).  I happen to agree with Nowak, and have collaborated with him and Wilson on follow-up work.  However, intelligent people can disagree on this issue, and I trust that science will sort it out.

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Another reason Iceland is awesome


It’s full of fierce independent women. Adda Þóreyjardóttir Smáradóttir (also, full of great names) demonstrated for equality by posting a picture of herself bare-breasted on twitter — if men can do it, women ought to have that privilege, too — and as you might expect, immediately got a rash of misogynistic comments. So what did other Icelandic women do? They posted pictures of their breasts in solidarity.

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So that’s why I avoid mirrors

I’m going to be speaking in Köln, Germany on the 22nd of May, at the International Atheist conference. They just posted some videos from previous events — I was last there in 2012. I listened to the first bit of this talk (really, I can’t bear to watch videos of myself) just to remind myself of what I talked about then, and to make sure my planned talk doesn’t overlap (it doesn’t). But I did learn something important from my brief glimpse.

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