Natural selection versus artificial selection

I like working with clear and precise definitions not for some love of rigid conventions, which I don’t have, nor because I think science is immutable and made of fixed certainties, which is not true. For me, clear and precise definitions provide a basis for thinking and planning a research, for scientific communication and for the development of scientific activity. We all like to talk and exchange ideas with smart people, using logical and consistent reasoning, especially regarding our academic life. However, it is not uncommon for many of these people, by indolence or even overconfidence, to neglect the importance of some definitions and some fundamental principles of the science they work with. Continue reading

Can we quantify genetic and environmental influences on a characteristic?

There are indispensable books, books that we have to have (even if we end up reading only the book flap…). Other books, down below in a list of importance, are books that we plan to buy when a chance comes. However, there are certain books that we did not even know about, and that are discovered by chance when we wander through the books on the shelves of a bookstore —you pull a stool, if there is one around, sit beside the shelves, and start skimming through pages, book after book. These books, which we find fortuitously, bring sometimes approaches that we didn’t know, once we are so accustomed to those few authors of our predilection. I like to browse the shelves at random, when I have some bucks saved at the end of the month, of course… Continue reading

Selection and cultural transmission

When I was about to conclude the chapter on selection of my book I came across a problem of definition I’ve never thought about before. Almost without planning, leaving the ideas flow freely to the paper (actually, to the hard disc), I had begun to write about a defensive behaviour found in certain African elephants (which I’ll describe in detail below), when I found myself between a rock and a hard place: how to correlate the concept of cultural transmission to the concept of selection currently used by the vast majority of evolutionary biologists? The rock would be deleting all paragraphs regarding cultural transmission; the hard place would be changing the definition until they fit my needs, something a science writer should refrain from (freely) doing. Continue reading