Pigliucci pwns Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini

March 17, 2010 • 5:58 pm

In this week’s Nature, philosopher/biologist Massimo Pigliucci reviews What Darwin Got Wrong, the book-length attack on natural selection penned by Jerry Fodor and (the unrelated) Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini:

By misusing philosophical distinctions and misinterpreting the literature on natural selection, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini make a mess of what could have been an important contribution. The authors are correct in two of their assessments. Namely that: mainstream evolutionary biology has become complacent with the nearly 70-year-old Modern Synthesis, which reconciled the original theory of natural selection with Mendelian and population genetics; and that the field needs to extend the conceptual arsenal of evolutionary theory. But in claiming that there are fundamental flaws in an edifice that has withstood a century and a half of critical examination, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini err horribly. . .

. . . Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini offer only sterile and wrongheaded criticism. Fortunately, other philosophers of science and theoretical biologists are coming together to clarify and build on the conceptual foundations of science and explore issues of its practice; this is a better way to bridge the two cultures.

The “important contribution” that F&P-P fail to make, apparently, is the contribution that Pigliucci himself is bent on making, for that “extension” of neo-Darwinism is laid out in a soon-to-appear book, Evolution: The Extended Synthesis, edited by Pigliucci and Gerd Müller.

And Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini?  Well, they’ll claim that Pigliucci is just another philosopher who has failed to grasp their point.

My own review of What Darwin Got Wrong will appear in four weeks.

31 thoughts on “Pigliucci pwns Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini

    1. I hate when that happens!

      [I always try to take it on the chin, but believe you me paywalls leave noses out of bent everywhere.]

  1. I can’t wait for the book by Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd Müller and also Jerry’s review of the F&P-P book.

  2. Interesting pointer, Jerry Coyne, but gosh, you’ve now progressed to employing no less than three different spellings of Piatelli-Palmarini’s name several times within the same blogpost.

    It’s funny for you to point out that the Massimos are unrelated, by the way. Imagine an Italian scientist feeling the need to point out that Jerry Coyne and Jerry Fodor are unrelated.

    1. Corrected; thanks. Before you go getting all pc on me, the “relatedness” comment was a JOKE!

      1. Jerry made the joke because of a comment I made on one of his posts weeks ago about temporarily confusing the two Massimo’s.

    2. Well, if Jerry Fodor’s name were Jerry Koine or Jerry B. Coin-Dollar, he might want to distance himself a bit.

      Did you know that Sean Carroll and Sean B. Carroll are two completely different scientists? Lots of people don’t.

  3. Since you pointed out that the two Massimos are unrelated but not the two Jerrys, should we assume that you and Fodor are in fact related?

  4. lylebot, I just posted the exact same point in the same minute that you did, but my comment “is awaiting moderation”!

  5. Never imagined so many people read so many book reviews-there are more reviews than books-.Does anyone read the books? Or papers anymore? Maybe not: many came out of the closet right here never reading Darwin?….

    1. I read books. I have read 100+ non-fiction books in the last 2 years. That is why the reviews are so important to me. I can then select books worth reading and not waste my time on poorly written or poorly conceived ones. There are a lot of books published each week on sciences.

    2. A subtle touch of Jorge Luis Borges here: comments on meta-reviews of reviews of books which might as well turn out to be imaginary…
      (In the case of F&PP, alas, also in the sense that their book is the square root of negative unity…)

      1. Isnt this whats goes on here? A Borgian stage?: Reviews of the reviewing-or more properly, critique-of Mr Darwins’ work? With more vapidity than eloquence the main body of ideas and science is left out replaced by a tangential mess of non ideas and scientists fighting the evil forces of religious pundits turned overnight experts-which is theretically possible- jerking off left and right celebrating their new -or renewed-15 minutes of fame. Which places many scientists in the same limelight and stage, which we may enjoy more than we know.

  6. “And Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini? Well, they’ll claim that Pigliucci is just another philosopher who has failed to grasp their point.”

    And if they’re right, will that mean that they pwned Pigliucci back?

  7. they’ll claim that Pigliucci is just another philosopher who has failed to grasp their point.

    Fodor has it both ways. The biologists can’t understand the abstruse philosophical points he makes, and the philosophers can’t understand the biology. Of course, Fodor doesn’t seem to understand the biology too well himself.

    1. I’d trust a “biologist who doesn’t ‘understand’ philosophy” over a “philosopher who doesn’t understand biology” any day…

    1. Notice how Kitcher & Block keep getting clearer and clearer, but Frodo and Pepperoni-Parcheesi get more & more muddled and arch?

  8. Off topic:

    I just finished reading Debunking Delusions by Nathan Geffen.

    Get. This. Book.

    Seriously, well written, has a nice pro-science axe to grind and it will show you exactly why the anti-scientific community needs squashing.

    1. Enough with the ridiculous “pro-science” vs “anti-science.” Let the battle be between “good science” and “bad science.”

      1. The book follows the TAC (Treatment Action Campaign) and the impact of AIDS denialism in the “traditional healer” community.

        If you want a case study on how to beat that bullshit and why you should, read the book.

        In South Africa with the AIDS epidemic part of the whole denialist camp’s strategy was that modern medicine is “Western science.”

        The basic issue with the traditional medicine is that it doesn’t want to get the same testing as normal medicine because, ultimately, they reject the germ theory of disease.

        When we talk bad science, it is anti-science we are faced with. Frequently with government collusion thrown in.

        You get the exact same issue with creationists and other forms of science denial.

        The TAC represents a science movement that actually has made significant progress towards victory. The book shows in part, how they did it.

        Something which other science movements can learn from.

  9. Pigliucci
    The authors are correct in two of their assessments. Namely that: mainstream evolutionary biology has become complacent with the nearly 70-year-old Modern Synthesis, which reconciled the original theory of natural selection with Mendelian and population genetics; and that the field needs to extend the conceptual arsenal of evolutionary theory

    Does Pigliucci know anything happened in the last 70 years?

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