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Richard Dawkins vs Human pheromones: integrating neuroendocrinolgy and ethology

Posted on April 23, 2013 by James Kohl.

Growing Up in Ethology Richard Dawkins

Article excerpt with my emphasis: Niko had by then, under the influence of Robert Hinde, Danny Lehrman and others, disowned much of The Study of Instinct (Tinbergen 1951). He was still loyal to Social Behaviour in Animals (Tinbergen 1953) even though, with the ‘sociobiological’ hindsight that came later, much of that book now seems nearly as disownable as The Study of Instinct. I wonder how much of our present theory will eventually be disowned by the hindsights of the future. I suspect not much, where the ‘gene’s eye view’ of social behaviour is concerned, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?

My comment: In fewer than 4 years, the gene’s eye view of social behavior has led to the inevitable link from sensory input to gene activation in hormone-secreting cells of invertebrate and vertebrate brain tissue, which is responsible for adaptively evolved behavior. Dawkin’s approach has been discredited, especially by the past writings of Tinbergen. For example see: Taking note of Tinbergen, or: the promise of a biology of behaviour. (with my emphasis)

“The second reason why we are now poised to adopt an integrative approach to mammalian behaviour reflects the release of constraints on our ability to conduct the kinds of research needed. Innovations and improvements in techniques and methods over the last 50 years (ranging from more field-friendly, non-invasive techniques to monitor physiological processes, to improved molecular and genetic techniques that permit the study of gene–environment interactions, as well as epigenetic and epistatic effects, to the increased computing power that has enabled more powerful forms of statistical and phylogenetic analyses) have allowed us to conduct more sophisticated, wide-ranging studies that naturally combine two or more levels of explanation.”

Who else, besides Dawkins, could not have predicted that epigenetic effects on the gene-cell-tissue-organ-organ system pathway must be balanced to achieve epistasis, which is required for adaptive evolution to non-randomly occur? Is he joking when he writes about what might change: “I suspect not much, where the ‘gene’s eye view’ of social behaviour is concerned, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?”

I think that others might also continue to joke about such things if they were as unaware as Dawkins appears to be that pheromones (i.e., social odors) control nutrient-dependent reproduction in species from microbes to man. How is it, for example, that someone who claims to have grown up in ethology missed our award-winning review: Human pheromones: integrating neuroendocrinology and ethology. Would he rather just ignore it, along with Tinbergen’s promise of a biology of behavior? Clearly, it is the integration of neuroendocrinology and ethology that supports Tinbergen’s ‘promise’ that ‘a biology of behavior’ would be detailed. Perhaps the problem is that the biology of behavior is so clearly not due to random mutations.



James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl

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