Should Evolutionary Theory Evolve?

Contrary to many people quoted in the article,1 I don’t think any formal revolution to evolutionary theory is necessary. If we say that the Modern Synthesis was finished by the end of World War II, then it is obvious that evolutionary theory has undergone immense change over the past 65 years. Some notable instances include the development of ideas about inclusive fitness, the neutral theory of molecular evolution, and punctuated equilibrium in paleontology. And those are just ideas from the 1960s.

Andrew Brower
Middle Tennessee State University Murfreesboro, Tenn.

The Modern Synthesis has been accommodating genetic advances for 60 years, with no problem. As for the examples listed in the article, in the case of the house finch beaks, I fail to see how the findings are so outside the mainstream that they constitute a paradigm shift that would require “rethinking” the Synthesis....

Jane Hay
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Ky.

1. B. Grant, “Should Evolutionary Theory Evolve?The Scientist, 24(1):24–30, January 2010.

The Last Act

As one of the many long-time readers of The Scientist, I’ve benefited from Richard Gallagher’s “spot on” insights about the culture and business of science.1 I hope he is leaving to write a book.

Cathy Yarbrough
Freelance science writer
San Diego, Calif.

Criticism of the person, rather than the science, will end up costing us all as society loses interest in science as a discipline, and further withdraws funding.

Richard: You did a superb job at the helm of The Scientist. Thanks for making TS such a dynamic publication. We—in both the science and science journalism communities—quoted TS often, and with increasing regularity. So, it’s clear that you were making a difference. Best wishes for your own personal continued success and, once again, thanks!

Beth Schachter
Principal, Still Point Coaching & Consulting
New York, NY

1. R. Gallagher, “The Last Act,” The Scientist, 24(1):11, January 2010.

Mind Your Manners

The real danger for science is that by squabbling, losing objectivity, and generally displaying very human behavior in public,1 we destroy what little credibility we have left. Look at the fuss over “Climategate,” which only happened because scientists were unprofessional in their comments about their peers through their emails. Criticism of the person, rather than the science, will end up costing us all as society loses interest in science as a discipline, and further withdraws funding.

Brian Jones
Murdoch University
Perth, Australia

Why is the ideal of a scientist dispassionate? Where are the data, from psychology or elsewhere, that say this attitude is the most productive of all possible attitudes?

I fundamentally disagree with your assessment of the comments on the article that suggested the NIH was biased against senior scientists—unless you believe that speaking truth to power is always rude.

Taking a controversial position is an excellent means to spark debate. That debate may be passionate, but it is not wise to dismiss the issues raised in response just because you do not personally care for that style of communication.

Rebecca Weinberg
Penn State University College of Medicine
Hershey, Pa.

1. S. Wiley, “Mind Your Manners,” The Scientist, 24(1):23, January 2010.

Research Remand

In speculating why conservation biologists are so slow to publish,1 in addition to your hypothesis about disincentives to publish, you might add the possibility of longer clearance procedures at government labs and when research is funded by companies. But this does not solve the problem of why there are also delays once the articles are submitted. Here you might reflect on whether conservation biology issues may not face stiffer peer reviews because topics sometimes hit up against political or vested interests of reviewers. This makes responding more difficult, thus takes longer than if the peer review were strictly based on scientific issues. I would like to see the results of further research on this issue.

Lynn Mytelka
Maastricht, The Netherlands

1. E. Dolgin, “Research Remand,” The Scientist, 24(1):17–18, January 2010.

Power Couples

Re: the article about couples where both members are in science,1 been there, done that! What makes/made it work in our case is to, in no particular order: 1) completely consider the other spouse’s obligations as important as your own; 2) family first, always, no exceptions; 3) communicate.

Louisa Tabatabai
Iowa State University
Ames, IA

Both my wife and I are faculty and have two kids, so we understand the struggle. We know other couples in the same situation that have made different decisions. What I am struggling with is the claim by one couple that “family comes first” who then say that kids spend all their time with nannies. Now, I do not have any objection to the lifestyle they chose, I just would like things to be called by their appropriate names so the rest of us trying to decide how we are going to design our lives know exactly what choice we are making. Not working on weekends to spend time with the kids is probably putting family first (something that probably a couple of untenured faculty cannot do); finding somebody else to take care of the kids so we can work is probably putting work first.

Pedro Derosa
Louisiana Tech University, Grambling State University
Ruston/Grambling, La.

1. V. Stern, “Power Couples,” The Scientist, 24(1):55–57, January 2010.

Wanted: Records of Revoked Grants

You are concerned “if this person has a track record of proposing ideas and not following up on them....”1 In fact, the reviewers have the publication record, which shows whether the investigator is capable of following up good ideas.

With R01 grants, at least, sometimes you should not follow up on exactly what you said you would do. The field changes a lot in 3–5 years, and if you only follow up on the old ideas in your grant, you may not be doing your job of keeping up with the field and doing the most relevant, meaningful research you can.

David Harrison
The Jackson Lab
Bar Harbor, Maine

While this pursuit of numbers appears helpful on “face value,” one needs to be very careful to stratify for and categorize reasons why a grant was pulled, rather than a simple “name and shame” policy of public disclosure. Furthermore, holding such a databank could add further costs to the NIH’s dwindling funding pools to administer and keep up to date.

I do not think a simple collection of the numbers of grant suspensions or revocations is that helpful unless specific reasons for doing so are also disclosed.

Marc Williams
Research Investigator
Durham, NC

J. Akst, “Wanted: Records of Revoked Grants,” The Scientist NewsBlog, January 20, 2010.

In the November issue, “A Theory Blossoms” stated that James Knott coined the term “florigen.” In fact, the scientist who came up with the name “florigen,” meaning “flower former,” was Knott’s contemporary, Mikhail Chailakhyan of the Moscow Institute of Plant Physiology. The Scientist regrets the error.

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