Talk:Modern synthesis

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August 24, 2017 Good article nominee Not listed

Disputes and ambiguity[edit]

I don't think it is very responsible to mention the MS without mentioning that (1) the idea is profoundly ambiguous and, in particular, often does *not* refer to a scientific theory but to a mid-century movement to create an institutionalized discipline, and (2) the idea that the MS-- considered strictly as a scientific theory-- is, or should be, the foundation of evolutionary thought, or the ruling theory, or whatever, is clearly in dispute. Most people who accept the idea that the MS prevails don't even define it as a falsifiable scientific theory, but treat it as a research program that shifts from one position to another, depending on which way the wind is blowing. The idea that the MS is a "moving target" is mentioned *explicitly* in Smocovitis's seminal work, for instance. Smocovitis uses "The Synthesis" to refer to the socio-political movement orchestrated by Mayr, et al that resulted in an established discipline with a common historical narrative, a flagship journal (_Evolution_) etc. Dabs (talk) 21:51, 6 September 2014 (UTC)

I think this issue has been addressed now Dabs (talk) 16:31, 19 September 2017 (UTC)
Thanks... Chiswick Chap (talk) 16:40, 19 September 2017 (UTC)

"Quotation marks"[edit]

Brief note on "this sort of thing": if we allow quotation marks to be put round each and every special term used in science we'll all go quite, quite mad! For one thing, a term with a link is signalled as having a special meaning, is it not? And in any event, if a reader has chosen a scientific topic then they surely are able to use their common sense when reading the article. Macdonald-ross (talk) 19:59, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

Huxley's or Mayr's phrase?[edit]

According to this work, the phrase "evolutionary synthesis" was not used by Huxley in the work mentioned by Mayr. Sarkar, Sahotra (2007) Haldane and the emergence of modern evolutionary theory. Pages 49- In Philosophy of Biology by Mohan Matthen and Christopher Stephens. Elsevier. ISBN 0444515437 Shyamal (talk) 07:05, 21 July 2008 (UTC)

A big part of the problem is that, as the intro points out, this thing has had several names, and modern evolutionary synthesis, and evolutionary synthesis, especially the former, are not, historically speaking, the most important of them. The historially most common term and the one used most by historians of science like Gould, Larson, and Bowler is modern synthesis, which is the name that came directly from the title of Huxley's book Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (1942). The only term possibly used more would have been neo-Darwinism, but lets not dredge up that argument. Modern synthesis probably should have been the title of this article, but that phrase doesn't convey much meaning to people who don't have much knowledge of the history of biology. So some editor(s) settled on modern evolutionary synthesis as a compromise that everyone would understand. Rusty Cashman (talk) 00:03, 22 July 2008 (UTC)

Modern synthesis and neo-darwinism are not defined[edit]

This "modern synthesis" thing is fraud, it was called Neo-Darwinism in the Journals. One can't by renaming something arbitrarily remove all the journal papers on Neo-Darwinism such as this one:

"There is no canonical definition of neo-Darwinism, and surprisingly few writers on the subject seem to consider it necessary to spell out precisely what it is that they are discussing. This is especially curious in view of the controversy which dogs the theory, for one might have thought that a first step towards resolving the dispute over its status would be to decide upon a generally acceptable definition over it. ... Of course, the lack of firm definition does, as we shall see, make the theory much easier to defend." P.T. Saunders & M.W. Ho, "Is Neo-Darwinism Falsifiable? - And Does It Matter?", Nature and System (1982) 4:179-196, p. 179. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:21, 18 March 2009 (UTC)

As the article neo-Darwinism clearly states, that term has been used for the modern synthesis, but not everyone considers the usage correct, because as both this article and neo-Darwinism point out that term came into use before the synthesis started. Some form of the term "modern synthesis" has always been most common and most widely accepted. It is my observation that with the exception of ultra-Darwinians like Dawkins people usually label it neo-Darwinism because they want to attack it in some way. In the case of respectable scientists that is usually because they think it relies to heavily on adaptationism; either by neglecting genetic drift, or, as the proponents of punctuated equilibrium would have it by minimizing contingency, or as some of the developmental biology crowd would say by ignoring developmental constraints. In the case of some non-scientific critics they are just using it as a pejorative stick to bash evolutionary theory in general. Rusty Cashman (talk) 23:38, 18 March 2009 (UTC)
Rusty is quite right. Also, isn't it time that we openly acknowledge Eldredge's and Gould's punctuated equilibria thing to be one of the most fantastically overrated straw man arguments in the history of evolutionary thought? I find it hard to believe that any serious evolutionary thinker has ever genuinely been the kind of hard-core gradualist against which their theory is supposedly a reaction. (Quite apart from their abuse of mathematical terminology---saying equilibrium when merely stasis or stationarity is meant.)
Neo-Darwinims or Modern synthesis is the semantics, the real issue is the pragmatics or the concept that we are dealing with. Instead we have semantic word and definition games. The concept P.T Saunders was referring to isn't defined, calling the concept Modern whatever or green cheese isn't going to make the confusion surrounding the concept disappear. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:02, 20 March 2009 (UTC)
Yes, so? What is this meant to contribute?
Neo-Darwinism was first used as a term by George John Romanes in his 3-volume work Darwin, and after Darwin (1892–1897). It therefore precedes not only the synthesis, but also the rediscovery of Mendel. The evolutionary synthesis, on the other hand, was a complex and far-reaching series of publications lasting at least twenty years. It was of huge importance, but the awkward polysyllabic phrases used to describe it lead many to prefer Romanes' simpler phrase. And, the main contributors to this article are perfectly well aware of the relevant literature, and have given a fair selection in the references to the article. Macdonald-ross (talk) 09:44, 19 March 2009 (UTC)

Modern evolutionary theory[edit]

I don't think it is acceptable to reference the claim that the Modern Synthesis (= Modern neo-Darwinism, by my definition) is the current theory of evolution by citing an NAS report (ref #1) that says merely that scientists agree that evolution has happened. Those are two different things. The MS is a particular conjectural theory that emerged in 1930 to 1950 and was aggressively promoted by its proponents. The essential claim of the theory is that genetics rationalizes Darwin's concept of "natural selection" and particularly, that it justifies the "neo-Darwinism" of Weissman and Wallace (who excised Lamarckism and Buffonism from Darwin's theory). This is why the MS also is called "modern neo-Darwinism". It is unwise to equate "evolutionary theory" automatically with the MS. The theoretical infrastructure of the neutral theory, for instance, clearly is part of the body of abstract principles known as "evolutionary theory", but it is not part of the MS. If you want to argue that the MS is the "current paradigm", a reference for that view from a respected scientist would be by Pigliucci, who argues that the MS is the "current paradigm" but also argues that we need an "extended" synthesis. BTW, I'm a professional and I can supply a lot of useful references if anyone wants to work with me to clarify this article. It is very difficult because my colleagues have not been particularly clear about what is the MS. Dabs (talk) 00:33, 16 July 2012 (UTC)

Modern evolutionary theory was a redirect here, but I've made it into a redirect into evolution which covers the current theory, unlike this page which is essentially historical. By the same logic, Evolutionary theory should redirect to evolution: any good reason why not? There's also the unexplained issue of "The synthesis is still, to a large extent, the current paradigm in evolutionary biology." The MET is the current paradigm in evolutionary biology, and if the MES isn't to any extent, that must be clarified in this article. . . dave souza, talk 09:33, 28 March 2009 (UTC)

Thanks for the ref, could an explanation of the ways in which the MET paradigm differs be added in the body text? . dave souza, talk 12:07, 28 March 2009 (UTC)
I don't think your MES/MET question is easy to answer. First thoughts are that the MES has stood up remarkably well, considering. Obviously, DNA/RNA/Cell biology details are mostly post-synthesis, but do not particularly undermine the points made in the 'Tenets of the MES section'. This section steered a course between constructive critics like Eldredge and Gould on one hand and ultra gene-centric types on the other, without actually mentioning names. Its comment on palaeontology was modest. Most of the really extreme anti-synthesis stuff of the 1970s has withered, and some is clearly disproven. Some of the best post-synthesis stuff (for example, homeobox organisation in evo-devo) is consistent with MES, but is vastly more sophisticated technically. Above all, the continued discovery of vast amounts of both genetic variation and selection in natural populations is the surest sign that the synthesis got the big points right. The symbiotic origin of the eukaryotic cell needs to be covered in modern evolution courses (probably already is in many places).
In this article we could put a bit more into the further advances section; I'll suggest a few lines on the symbiosis stuff; and some on the control of development. In a few days... Macdonald-ross (talk) 00:31, 29 March 2009 (UTC)
As per above, I'm going to enter notes on what seem to be the most important issues in evolution omitted or scarcely addressed by the synthesis, under a section 'Omissions'. I'll put in about one a day this week, starting with symbiosis. Macdonald-ross (talk) 18:08, 30 March 2009 (UTC)
Some good sources for that section would be PMID 10603504, PMID 10782137 and PMID 17984972. Tim Vickers (talk) 18:56, 30 March 2009 (UTC)
Thanks, that will make a big difference. Any comment on whether Evolutionary theory should redirect to evolution instead of to this page? . . dave souza, talk 21:22, 30 March 2009 (UTC)
I'd say here, since this is the page that deals with the theory and not the fact. Tim Vickers (talk) 21:43, 30 March 2009 (UTC)
If we're treating this as an article on current theory, would it be better to make the new section Additions to the synthesis rather than Omissions, which as written suggests that evolutionary theory is inadequate or incomplete. Thus the opening sentence in that section could read "There are a number of evolutionary issues which were either omitted completely or inadequately dealt with by the original synthesis, and have since been added to modern evolutionary theory.". . dave souza, talk 21:58, 30 March 2009 (UTC)
Yes, I like the new subtitle. Macdonald-ross (talk) 22:13, 30 March 2009 (UTC)
Sounds good to me. Tim Vickers (talk) 22:36, 30 March 2009 (UTC)
Well, I've done my bit for the time being; now a pause so you can look it over. I've changed the overall section title because it seems a moot point whether all or any of it is consistent with the synthesis. I'm conscious that another person might have produced a different list, though the topics covered seem to me to be pretty important. Macdonald-ross (talk) 17:41, 3 April 2009 (UTC)

What about conclusions? Let me try out these points, based on the list of examples:

1. Earth history obviously plenty long enough for evolution to take place. Change from Darwin's day, but not from synthesis.
2. Atmosphere: explains wide range of geological obs. eg banded iron formations, and aerobic respiration. Indirectly explains growth of more complex life-forms (energetic benefits of aerobic respiration).
3. Continental drift and change in atmosphere together explain a huge range of phenomena, including much of paleoclimate changes and paleogeography of living forms. Paleoclimates contribute much to our appreciation of the interaction of life with the physical environment. This was all at a primitive stage at the time of the synthesis. Ditto catastrophes and mass extinctions, now a really productive field of research.
4. Early microbial life and ediacara confirm that simpler forms of life came first, more complex later.
5. Origin of feathers: classic example of "What is their advantage in early stages". Now solved by appreciation of their original function. Darwin suggested this line of reasoning.
6. Flatfish evolution now consistent with evolutionary synthesis. Good example of how more fossil data can solve evolutionary problems; also, interestingly, a counter-example to extreme forms of punk-eek. Significant evolutionary changes do not always happen too fast to be captured in the fossil record. The evolution of Synapsids into mammals could also be used as an example, but is too complex for any brief treatment. They are the locus classicus for mosaic evolution, which we have not mentioned (requires space, and a degree of paleontological sophistication).

Macdonald-ross (talk) 10:01, 5 April 2009 (UTC)

7. The relevance of evo-devo is that one way to get rapid evolutionary change is by selection acting on feedback codes at the developmental stage, rather than changing the codes for structural proteins. Macdonald-ross (talk) 19:10, 5 April 2009 (UTC)

I also disagree with this article's "fan-boy" approach to the subject. The modern synthesis (aka neo-Darwinism) is wrong. For those who try to justify appeal to it by the claim that it "gets many things right", I would remind them that when experiment contradicts theory, you toss-out/modify the theory. ND is basically of historical interest and its basic conclusions are clearly contradicted by the evidence. Approaching it in the way this article does is a disservice to both all of the scientists who have contributed to modern understanding of evolution and, worse still, serves to provide ammunition to Creationists, Intelligent Designers and others who dispute the claim that the Theory of Evolution explains the facts/evidence. The FACT that this theory is OUTDATED should appear PROMINENTLY in the lede!!! This should be obvious to any truth-seeker. It is extremely important as the basis for modern understanding, but it is NOT modern theory!! It is reprehensible that this FACT is not expressed up-front. Our aim here should not be to mislead, nor should we expect everyone to read the "fine print". I would politely suggest that Mayr's book, written when he was 98 years old after being retired for 25 years is NOT authoratative on modern theory (I'd accept him as an authority on the modern synthesis, but the authors of this article don't seem able or willing to discern the difference). From Science (magazine AAAS) Vol. 343 pgs. 1088-9, March 7, 2014 I exerpt portions of an article (not a research report) by Rossenberg and Queitsch:"Traditional evolutionary biology began in the 1930's with the 'modern synthesis'...This synthesis predated knowledge that genes were made of DNA and of the structure of DNA and how it replicates. ... Thus, molecular mechanisms could not be integrated into concepts about how phenotypic variation is generated. ... [! → ] Among the cornerstone assumptions were that mutations are the sole drivers of evolution; mutations occur randomly, constantly, and gradually; and the transmission of genetic information is vertical from parent to offspring, rather than horizontal (infectious) between individuals and species..." The authors then go on to discuss that ALL of these assumptions are wrong as well as the theory positing DNA as the sole way inheritable traits are transmitted. The leap between the 'modern synthesis' and modern theory is much more significant than that between Newtonian Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics and Relativity because it is relevant and experienced in our everyday experience. (For instance, drug and pesticide resistance transitted laterally rather than vertically, prions,...). Not discussed is the importance of NON-beneficial mutations on evolution...I'm no expert but I'm under the impression based on what I've read that random mutations with no survival benefit contribute a LOT to evolution, falsifying another of the basic tennants of the 'modern synthesis'. This whole article needs to decide: is it about a no longer accepted theory or is it about the basis of the current theory? It does neither adequately. Worse it contains misleading information, and a lot of it. It needs a major structural rewrite. I suggest the lede discuss the difference between modern theory and the modern synthesis (after 70-80 years, clearly a misnomer) then discuss what the modern synthesis was. It basic components. Some discussion of their origin (synthesis) also would be good. There needs to be clear understanding that the History of its origins, differ from the History of its development during the two decades between 1930 and 1950, then what happened since then. Since this is NOT an article on current theory, that part can be kept to a minimum.Abitslow (talk) 22:50, 15 March 2014 (UTC)

Unit of selection?[edit]

I can't find where to start a new discussion so I'll post it here. What is the unit of selection? "The object of selection is the phenotype in its surrounding environment." Does this imply the individual organism? I don't think it is clear enough. Savagedjeff (talk) 19:15, 2 July 2009 (UTC)

Good question. That is a very contentious topic, which is probably why that sentence is vague! Levels of selection that have been proposed include the gene, the organism and the species. See Unit of selection for more details. Tim Vickers (talk) 19:19, 2 July 2009 (UTC)

Thanks. Would this be enough?

From Mayr as published by the PNAS:

"For Darwin and most evolutionists since 1859 the individual organism was the object of selection. The individual is the entity which survives or not, which reproduces or not, and which reproduces successfully or not."

"From Darwin to the present day most evolutionists (1) have considered the individual organism to be the principal object of selection. Actually, it is the phenotype which is the part of the individual that is “visible” to selection (14). Every genotype, interacting with the environment, produces a range of phenotypes, called by Woltereck (15) the “norm of reaction.” Therefore, when an evolutionist says that the “genome is a program that directs development,” it would be wrong to think of it in a deterministic way. The development of the phenotype involves many stochastic processes which preclude a one-to-one relation between genotype and phenotype. This is, of course, precisely the reason why we must accept the phenotype as the object of selection rather than the genotype."

He also explains why it can't be the gene and how many prominent supporters have backed off the concept as the gene as the unit of selection. [1]

Savagedjeff (talk) 19:47, 2 July 2009 (UTC)

That's one viewpoint, but as there are others we can't use a single source to discuss the topic. Best just to note that multiple levels of selection may operate, and that the issue is discussed in detail at Unit of selection. Tim Vickers (talk) 19:51, 2 July 2009 (UTC)
The Mayr quote given above is a good summary of general opinion during and after the synthesis. Also, under 'tenets of the ev syn' we have the clear statement "All evolutionary phenomena can be explained in a way consistent with known genetic mechanisms and the observational evidence of naturalists". This 'consistency argument' is flexible enough, and we should leave well alone, avoiding the temptation to add arcane complications. (If we don't have discipline we would end up with every page as long as a book!) Further discussion of pros & cons of gene-centered thinking should be left to the relevant page. Macdonald-ross (talk) 22:19, 2 July 2009 (UTC)

It is baffling that people believe this to be an important question. You can build up a perfectly sound and detailed understanding of evolution without ever bothering to wonder what its "unit" might be, and yet the question keeps cropping up, like some quaint tradition. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:01, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

Redirect from "Evolutionary Theory"[edit]

I question redirecting "Evolutionary Theory" to this article. The modern synthesis is questioned by an increasing number of scientists who believe it should be extended or expanded. The MS does not incorporate evolutionary developmental biology, for example. A redirect suggests that the present article describes the current state of evolutionary theory, which it does not. It would be desirable to have a separate article on evolutionary theory, eliminating the need for a redirect.CHW100 (talk) 23:02, 19 September 2009 (UTC)

Whilst the MES may not be the state-of-the-art in terms of where science is at, AFAIK, it's the most modern version of the theory that has a name. Therefore it would seem to be the most logical target for the redirect. HrafnTalkStalk(P) 23:33, 19 September 2009 (UTC)
I agree, until the idea of incorporating all the various threads of evolutionary biology into one seamless theoretical framework has been realised, this is evolutionary theory. Tim Vickers (talk) 00:41, 20 September 2009 (UTC)
The name modern evolutionary theory (which is currently a redirect to evolution) is sometimes used as being synonymous with the MES, but is also used to refer to state of the art thinking:[2][3][4] Indeed, the MES has been described as "the underpinnings of modern evolutionary theory".[5] It might be clearer to make MET a separate article dealing with current interpretation of the MES. Alternatively, the lead to this article could be more explicit that, with additions and modifications, MES is "Modern Evolutionary Theory". . . dave souza, talk 10:15, 20 September 2009 (UTC)
The initial comment above "The modern synthesis is questioned by an increasing number of scientists..." has a 1970s/80s feel about it. It presupposes that most of the criticisms made then have been accepted at face value, but this is not so. Some issues (such as the so-called species selection) are unresolved; others such as punctuated equilibrium are accepted in some form, without fundamental damage to the synthesis.
In principle, the redirect could go either to Evolution or to MES. In favour of MES is the intro comment: "The synthesis is still, to a large extent, the current paradigm in evolutionary biology".[1] and the section After the synthesis, which illustrates what a huge range of post-WWII discoveries the synthesis has survived and incorporated. It's still called a synthesis because it is still a unification of many different techniques and sources of information. A separate article would create a false dichotomy, and would have to repeat large parts of Evolution and MES. Macdonald-ross (talk) 14:16, 21 September 2009 (UTC)
This is rather misleading (see History of Evolutionary Thought#Evolutionary Developmental Biology), but is typical ("...has a 1970s/80s feel about it") of the way sclerotic intellectual frameworks are enforced and newer views are held at bay. The issue is not replacement of the incrementalist, adaptationist MS, but recognition that it is just part of the story, in many cases a very small part.CHW100 (talk) 02:25, 22 September 2009 (UTC)
Part of what story? Your assertions appear to be debated even within evo-devo, are you thinking of another context? . . . dave souza, talk 10:45, 25 September 2009 (UTC)
Part of the story of how organisms evolve. Isn't that what evolutionary theory, which redirects here, is about? The MES holds that complex phenotypes emerge gradually by changes in genes of small effect. But sometimes the phenotype precedes the genotype:
Palmer, A. R., 2004. Symmetry breaking and the evolution of development. Science. 306, 828-33:
The MES asserts that morphological evolution is not saltational. But sometimes it is:
Minelli, A., Chagas-Junior, A., Edgecombe, G. D., 2009. Saltational evolution of trunk segment number in centipedes. Evol Dev. 11, 318-22.
The MES states that traits acquired during an individual's lifetime do not contribute to the evolution of its lineage. But they can:
Badyaev, A. V., 2009. Evolutionary significance of phenotypic accommodation in novel environments: an empirical test of the Baldwin effect. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 364, 1125-41. (talk) 19:38, 25 September 2009 (UTC)
All interesting publications, but the models they support are not anywhere close to being generally-accepted and are a focus of a very vigorous debate. Therefore I think it would be misleading to describe them as "theory", which is a body of ideas that are widely-accepted and generally uncontentious, since they have passed multiple rigorous tests. Some of these ideas such as phenotypic plasticity, canalization and "saltational" developmental changes might turn out to be correct, but I can't see how you can describe them as theories. Tim Vickers (talk) 19:52, 25 September 2009 (UTC)
There is an emerging body of theory that extends and complements the MES. See, for example, the books Developmental Plasticity and Evolution. Oxford University Press, New York, 2003, ISBN 978-0195122350, by Mary Jane West-Eberhard and the multi-authored Origination of Organismal Form .CHW100 (talk) 20:21, 25 September 2009 (UTC)
By emerging, you presumably mean that it hasn't yet emerged as a fully accepted part of modern evolutionary theory. We do note in this article that the MES had been developed and refined. WP:NOTCRYSTAL. . dave souza, talk 20:40, 25 September 2009 (UTC) tweaked 20:43, 25 September 2009 (UTC)
Perhaps it is verging on semantics, but I don't think it is unreasonable to describe this cutting-edge science as exciting and provocative models that have gained a great deal of attention. However, as you say, this field is still emerging science, so hasn't really (in my opinion) reached the same kind of level of wide acceptance as the MES. However, this doesn't mean we can't describe these ideas in Modern_evolutionary_synthesis#Evo-devo, since they will probably become part of the synthesis in the future. As an aside, if you were to write an article about the new evolutionary theory that you seem to be arguing has now replaced the MES, what is this theory called? Tim Vickers (talk) 21:00, 25 September 2009 (UTC)
I notice the article Evolutionary developmental biology, does not seem to make all these claims, and CHW100 does not seem to be a leading contributor to it. There's really little in EDB to suggest this present article is out of line. What we have, yet again, is a contributor pushing a line which is very far from being a consensus. If anything, the sequence of work linking the genetics of the homeobox to evodevo is another good example of the evolutionary synthesis working well. Macdonald-ross (talk) 22:01, 25 September 2009 (UTC)

NAS source[edit]

The citation supporting the first sentences, from p. 28 of Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition (1999), has a couple of problems. It's superseded by the 2008 third edition, freely downloadable here. And the chapter concerned makes no mention of the MES, simply stating "The scientific consensus around evolution is overwhelming." The third edition doesn't make that bald statement, but includes more nuanced statements such as "The theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and experiments that the overwhelming majority of scientists no longer question whether evolution has occurred and continues to occur and instead investigate the processes of evolution. Scientists are confident that the basic components of evolution will continue to be supported by new evidence, as they have been for the past 150 years." (p. 3) and "many scientific explanations have been so thoroughly tested that they are very unlikely to change in substantial ways as new observations are made or new experiments are analyzed. These explanations are accepted by scientists as being true and factual descriptions of the natural world. The atomic structure of matter, the genetic basis of heredity, the circulation of blood, gravitation and planetary motion, and the process of biological evolution by natural selection are just a few examples of a very large number of scientific explanations that have been overwhelmingly substantiated." (p. 12). It doesn't use the term Modern Evolutionary Synthesis. The principle that modern evolutionary theory is overwhelmingly accepted in science is well supported, but in my opinion a better reference is needed, making specific reference to Modern Evolutionary Synthesis. . . dave souza, talk 10:45, 25 September 2009 (UTC)


The following is not good history:

"This debate between the biometricians and the Mendelians continued for some 20 years and the dichotomy was ultimately proven irrelevant by the detailed discovery of genes and DNA base pairs as the digital implementation of the information."

This is bad on two scores: 1. Mutations with big effects do occur at both chromosome and gene level, and this is elementary, known long before DNA. 2. Historically, the DNA and base pair stuff played no part at all in refuting the saltation school. So I'll change the above clause.

The end of the debate is accurately represented in the section which follows on Population genetics.

Macdonald-ross (talk) 12:33, 9 October 2009 (UTC)

Regarding "The synthesis is still, to a large extent, the current paradigm in evolutionary biology." This statement is incorrect. That fact that it is referenced to Mayr is suspect. First, the word “still” is misleading and not representative of the dominance of modern evolutionary synthesis in biology not just evolutionary biology. “Still” implies that there is a competing theory or theories. There is no competing theory. In fact, to assert that there is even the possibility of a theory that would to any extent contradict the modern evolutionary synthesis is akin to stating that a theoretical development in physics that provides grand unification of quantum and gravitational theory will in any way contradict the essential explanatory power of the General Theory of Relativity or Quantum Mechanics. Second, the modern evolutionary synthesis is not the dominant paradigm in evolutionary biology; it is the only paradigm in evolutionary biology. Creationism and biosemiotics are not theories of evolutionary biology, they are not even science. Finally, how is “to a large extent” supposed to be interpreted in light of the first two comments? Is this sentence supposed to pander to the lowest common denominator of Wikipedia readers or simply a political tact to avoid pissing off the scientifically illiterate? Strike this sentence from this entry; it is shameful and misrepresentative. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:33, 3 November 2009 (UTC)

I think you are overreacting. The editors have acknowledged the notion, more important to some than to others, that Modern Synthesis refers primarily to the state of the art at the mid-20th century. Insights into epigenetics, evo-devo, and all that are of course quite compatible with the basic framework. Sensu lato we might understand Modern Synthesis as an ongoing assimilation of the latest insights into the fundamental theory. In that sense you are quite right. You are worried that the hedging is a bow to creationism and ID, but I don't think it is anything as sinister as that. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:16, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

Questionable edit[edit]

I noticed this edit was made by a WP:SPA who's only edits have been adding references to papers published by one author which IMO is WP:CITESPAM. In this case it does add some content, but in light of this, this edit should be scrutinised. I'm not particularly knowledgdable in the field so can't do this myself. Smartse (talk) 12:16, 29 September 2010 (UTC)

you are right, this is almost certainly spam, supportyou if you take it outCinnamon colbert (talk) 15:28, 16 November 2010 (UTC)

I think it's Edmund B. Wilson, not Edwin B. Wilson, who wrote, "The Cell". Please correct this if I'm right. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:44, 16 January 2013 (UTC)

Yes indeed. Fixed. Sminthopsis84 (talk) 10:59, 16 January 2013 (UTC)

request for better intro[edit]

The intro's main point is that the modern syn is the name given to the current model for evolution, and that the MS arose by combining ideas from disparate parts of biology. Fair enough, but the length of the intro sounds defensive; just say, MS is the current dominant theory of evolution, accepted by most scientists; all the other stuff is kind of defensive fighting of academic wars like cladistics. Also, I don't think the article really lists what it is that the MS replaced; it is sort of there, in a diffuse fashion; what it needs is almost a list - here are 5 ideas that people had, that got swept away.Cinnamon colbert (talk) 02:33, 27 October 2010 (UTC)

What's the relevance of 'After the Synthesis'?[edit]

This is a hodgepodge section of evolutionary news. I don't see their relevance for the *theory* explained there (such as confirmation or falsification). (talk) 20:00, 21 January 2011 (UTC)

Essentially, the synthesis was developed as a population-genetics-centric, and therefore strongly gradualist, view. Most of the mentioned items seem to challenge at least strong gradualism. Looking at the six points the article uses, 1 is too vague to really tell, but doesn't seem changed much; 2 is at least reduced (evolution is a lot less gradualist than was thought in the 50s); 3 is probably still true; 4 still seems true; 5 is mostly true (though polyploid events and hybrid speciation may create individual exceptions); 6 is true, though with the caveat that real leaps do sometimes happen (eg in some hybrid speciation).
The issue is not that the synthesis 'isn't true' -- it mostly is, explaining most evolutionary change, with the *possible* exception of the gradualism bit, and that is still debated. It's more that we've learned of a lot of edge cases that don't quite fit. Some, like hybrid speciation, are probably not very crucial to the history of life as a whole, but endosymbiosis does seem so. (Endosymbiosis, along with paleopolyploid events, causes major trouble for the strongest forms of a gene-centered view of evolution -- at the very least, even if selection is mostly gene-level, the *creation of variation* isn't.)
However, we could probably lose the geology news section and some of the fossil stuff (the dino-bird stuff etc. doesn't affect our ideas of how evolution happened, just what evolved from what). Though some recent fossils have been relevant -- eg Darwinopterus as a near-perfect case of modular evolution. Which really needs to be mentioned, alongside punctuated equilibrium Vultur (talk) 09:15, 22 February 2011 (UTC)
The section 'After the synthesis' is there because several experienced editors wanted it there. The article is not just an essay in history; as several have said, it is still the prevailing paradigm, with various adjustments.
I have to say that I think the stub Modular evolution is incoherent and probably a mistaken attempt to say what has been said better by the adequately referenced Mosaic evolution. The case of Darwinopterus is quite clearly an example of mosaic evolution, even if the authors used a different term. The term and the meaning of mosaic evolution has been used (to my knowledge) since the 1950s, and is in standard reference works such as the Dictionary of Genetics. The relevance of mosaic evolution is that all characters do not change at the same rate, which is what we see in cases like Darwinopterus.
I think the flatfish example, and palaeontology in general, is especialy needed. First, because so many prominent palaeontologists fought against Darwinian evolution for so long; and second because it raises issues of macro or mega-evolution which it is unwise to avoid.
There probably are other modern topics we should mention. One thought was about the extraordinary number of sibling species which have been found. But since we only have a bare three lines on that page, it seems we're not ready to introduce that! Horizontal gene transfer is another possible. Much that we know about prokaryotes was not known at the time of the synthesis.
Last word: it's important not to be too up-to-date! Macdonald-ross (talk) 14:10, 22 February 2011 (UTC)
Horizontal gene transfer needs to be in there, yes; there's a sort of passing reference in the 'tree of life' bit where it looks like the article is going to introduce HGT & reticulate evolution but doesn't.
Our article on mosaic evolution may be adequately referenced, but is at least as incomprehensible as modular evolution. "When a creature is advanced in size, it may develop at a smaller size" or "Almost of human features, when compared with proximal apes were from this nature, not implying a lot of change in structural genes, as classically was considered". I will try to fix it, but some I'm not even sure what it should be changed TO. Vultur (talk) 10:50, 23 February 2011 (UTC)
Oh, OK, it looks like modular evolution is half the same thing as mosaic evolution and half some weird RNA thing that doesn't line up with the other use at all. I added the Darwinopterus stuff to mosaic evolution -- maybe the modular article should just be merged in (possibly dumping the RNA stuff) and redirect-ified? Vultur (talk) 11:00, 23 February 2011 (UTC)
I've upgraded Mosaic evol with refs, definition and examples, and left a question on the talk page. I will insert a short piece on HGT into this article in the useful 'After the synthesis' section. Macdonald-ross (talk) 04:57, 24 February 2011 (UTC)

Including link on Parallel Genome Assembly in the See Also section[edit]

More and more research is pointing out that conventional evolutionary theories including Modern Evolutionary Synthesis is fundamentally flawed and is not supported by current genomic data. Research by scientists such as Koonin, Martin, Lynch, Senapathy etc all point that conventional evolutionary mechanisms may be flawed. More importantly it is being said that possibly conventional theories only explain micro evolution, and do not fully explain the origin of life or its diversity. In this context, there are a few theories, among them, Parallel Genome Assembly which offer an alternate explanation to Modern Evolutionary Synthesis. Especially, when the field is requiring a new theory to come up and when there is one arguing the same and is being widely discussed among the scientific fraternity, it is important from an objective and independent point of view, we present all sides of the story to the readers. In this case, it is only a link in the See Also section, instead of a line or section in the main article. Some of the scientific literature that say that modern synthesis does not work, in light of the modern genome data, and the genome structure that is revealed by comparative genomics:

  • The frailty of adaptive hypotheses for the origins of organismal complexity - Michael Lynch - PNAS - 2007
  • Darwinian evolution in the light of genomics - Eugene Koonin - NAR - 2009
  • The tree of one percent - Tal Dagan and William Martin - Genome Biology - 2006
  • The new biology - Beyond the Modern Synthesis - Michael Rose and Todd Oakley - Biol Direct - 2007

The many articles published supporting Parallel Genome Assembly have been referenced in that article itself, so I am not pasting them here. So please explain why this link should not be put up in the See Also section Rahul R (talk) 22:53, 22 March 2011 (IST)

  1. The article gives a sound and verifiable account of what the evolutionary synthesis was and is.
  2. The ideas you list are not at the moment the majority mainstream view.
  3. Much of what you write above is just soapboxing.
We are not here to try and pack every idea anyone has ever thought of into one short article. We are here to do what is says on the box, namely, to tell the reader about the evolutionary synthesis. Macdonald-ross (talk) 20:38, 22 March 2011 (UTC)
Hear, hear. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:19, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

I think much of what you have written above are simply baseless allegations, and I would prefer some other editor to go through this and take an independent view. I think your opinions are colored by your own biases and since you have contributed major sections of the article, you are blinded by your own point of view. Let me quote some very recent research and why it is important to at least put a link to an alternative hypothesis

  • Eugene Koonin, in his research paper, titled "Darwinian evolution in the light of genomics", published 12 Feb 2009, says and I quote "Now, 50 years after the consolidation of the Modern Synthesis, evolutionary biology undoubtedly faces a new major challenge and, at the same time, the prospect of a new conceptual breakthrough"....."By contrast, the insistence on adaptation being the primary mode of evolution that is apparent in the Origin, but especially in the Modern Synthesis, became deeply suspicious if not outright obsolete, making room for a new worldview that gives much more prominence to non-adaptive processes"......"Collectively, the developments in evolutionary genomics and systems biology outlined here seem to suggest that, although at present only isolated elements of a new, ‘postmodern’ synthesis of evolutionary biology are starting to be formulated, such a synthesis is indeed feasible. Moreover, it is likely to assume definitive shape long before Darwin’s 250th anniversary"
  • Michael R Rose and Todd H Oakley, in their research paper, titled "The new biology: beyond the Modern Synthesis" published on 24 November 2007, have written that The last third of the 20th Century featured an accumulation of research findings that severely challenged the assumptions of the "Modern Synthesis" which provided the foundations for most biological research during that century. The foundations of that "Modernist" biology had thus largely crumbled by the start of the 21st Century. This in turn raises the question of foundations for biology in the 21st Century"
  • Micheal Lynch in a 2007 note, writes "The vast majority of biologists engaged in evolutionary studies interpret virtually every aspect of biodiversity in adaptive terms. This narrow view of evolution has become untenable in light of recent observations from genomic sequencing and population genetic theory"
  • Eric Bapteste and William Martin in 2009 have written that "The prokaryotic tree of life is dead".

And I can quote several research papers, between 2007 and 2009 all pointing out that the basic tenets of Modern Evolutionary Synthesis need to be revisited. Esteemed researchers, like the ones quoted above have gone to the extent and said that this theory is all but dead. My major contention is that this article does not incorporate any of the recent developments, especially when all research papers during the last 2-3 years point to something else. Thats I believe is because of the dogma of the original contributor to this article. Instead of simply using phrases such as "The ideas you list are not at the moment the majority mainstream view" without having any facts at disposal, I would recommend that you use data to point out as to why such a link should not be allowed. Considering that several researchers are pointing out that a new hypothesis is required, and when there is one in that direction, I think at least a link should be allowed. Rahul R (talk) 22:23, 23 March 2011 (IST)

It is not Wikipedia's role to expound the truth regarding this topic (which is the modern evolutionary synthesis), and the burden is not on editors to explain in detail why an item is not helpful in this article. Rather, an editor wanting to add something needs to use reliable sources to indicate why that addition helps this article. All arguments, of course, need to be policy based. Johnuniq (talk) 23:36, 23 March 2011 (UTC)
Oh, Rahul, you are young and naive, and yet to learn a few things about these "esteemed researchers" and their habit of grossly overstating the novelty and profoundness of their opinions in order to clamber up the greasy pole. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:22, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

Mega-Evolution? What is that?[edit]

I've have studied biology and chemistry for over a decade and work in the engineering field, I have never heard of mega-evolution before. I don't have access to the cited sources, do they actually reference mega-evolution? Would anyone be kind enough to link me to a scientific definition for "megaevolution"? A google search for megaevolution returns mostly websites about the Pokemon cartoon. The only related website would be a link to the simple english wikipedia entry titled "Megaevolution"[2]. The link within this article to a general wikipedia page is to a non-article stating no page exists[3]. I've searched a few science journals and I can only find three scientific papers which references "megaevolution" and unfortunately I don't have access to the actual paper and can only review the abstracts[4]. Given the extreme limited use of this term, does it make sense to mention it in an article discussing the modern evolutionary synthesis? I personally think it does not. Pubmed/NCBI returns just 3 results for "megaevolution", in comparison; macroevolution returns 368 results, microevolution returns 604 results and evolution returns 386,962 results. I suggest removing the term megaevolution as it is not a general term commonly used in science. TY (talk) 16:14, 17 October 2014 (UTC) SevenPatch


Since no one has offered any supporting citations for the scientific definition of "Megaevolution", I will remove the reference to it in the "Understanding of Earth history" section.

"Our present knowledge of earth history strongly suggests that large-scale geophysical events influenced macroevolution and megaevolution."

Will be changed to:

"Our present knowledge of earth history strongly suggests that large-scale geophysical events influenced macroevolution."

Thank you. Sevenpatch (talk) 21:09, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

I also updated the following sentance to say "Macroevolution refers" instead of "These terms refer". Sevenpatch (talk) 21:15, 24 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Megaevolution refers to major events in evolution like endosymbiosis and the very ancient branches in the phylogenetic tree. A search in just gave 909 hits. There seem to be different hits that can be found with a search for "mega evolution". Sminthopsis84 (talk) 00:39, 29 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Thank you for pointing out the problem. I've now copied the Megaevolution page here from Sminthopsis84 (talk) 13:38, 30 October 2014 (UTC)

Cite needed tag[edit]

I asked for a cite that the synthesis is widely accepted in modern biology, a ref that evolution is widely accepted is sourcing something different, I don't doubt that evolution is widely accepted, I am challenging the claim that the synthesis is also widely accepted. So I have restored the cite tag, please only remove it with refs that relate specifically to the synthesis. ♫ RichardWeiss talk contribs 16:38, 28 September 2015 (UTC)

I have now removed both the cite tag and the claim. The issue is NOT about creationists, whose fringe views have no place here, it is some modern biologists who don't believe the neo-darwinist view due to issues such as mutations. I have provided one ref citing how the fat the mutations are not now universally seen as random by biologists, hence the synthesis is not universally accepted, as the ref states. ♫ RichardWeiss talk contribs 16:52, 28 September 2015 (UTC)

Coatrack? "Modern" = 1940s[edit]

I'm starting to think this article is seriously unbalanced by the inclusion of a lengthy section tellingly called "After the synthesis". It's 27k long, a third of the article, and as its name correctly indicates, it is off-topic. The "modern synthesis" of the 1940s was indeed an important stage in the history of biology, but that was separated by a whole generation from the next stage of synthesis which created evo-devo, involving gene manipulation techniques undreamed of in the 1940s and the molecular understanding of embryology.

The confusion, of course, derives from the 1940s use of words like "new" and "modern", which are inevitably hostages to fortune. They do not refer to work done after the deaths of most of the early 20th century protagonists, and nor should the article.

I suggest, therefore, that we cut the "After the synthesis" down to a single paragraph, pointing to what happened after 1977 as a separate topic. Chiswick Chap (talk) 09:47, 5 November 2016 (UTC)

I've bitten the bullet on this one and boldly refocussed the article on its mid-20th century theme. What happened afterwards is covered in numerous articles including evolution, evolutionary biology and evolutionary developmental biology, and these are I hope now suitably linked. Chiswick Chap (talk) 09:25, 6 November 2016 (UTC)

Page move[edit]

This page was recently moved from "Modern evolutionary synthesis" to "Modern synthesis" without discussion. I would like to see that move reverted. The previous page title had a pleasing clarity, as well as the advantage that people seeking the rock album didn't have to explicitly type the capitalized version Modern_Synthesis. Sminthopsis84 (talk) 20:25, 14 January 2017 (UTC)

The old title was more explanatory; the middle word, while often used, is to some extent a gloss on the original title. Personally I found the old title more helpful but can live with either. Chiswick Chap (talk) 20:43, 14 January 2017 (UTC)
The previous page title was confusing, because (1) Modern Synthesis (with either capitalisation) is how the period is referred to by academics in the field, (2) is the title of the book that coined the term, and (3) the random insertion of the term "evolutionary" apparently helps some people to confuse it with other syntheses in evolutionary biology that came later. And I'm sure you've realised by now that the existence of a rock album of the same name is a really poor reason for anything to do with the term's use in biology. Samsara 04:00, 16 January 2017 (UTC)
When academics are talking about evolution, the term "evolutionary" is not required. Biology doesn't own wikipedia, so disambiguation for people coming from whatever direction is installed in order to help them find whatever they are looking for, even if that thing is something that you happen to deprecate. Summarily reducing clarity is not a good way to go about building an encyclopedia for every reader. Sminthopsis84 (talk) 23:43, 16 January 2017 (UTC)
It doesn't work that way. We call things what they are called. There is no "special physical relativity" or "chemical Aufbau principle". What you are doing is WP:SYNTHesising a name onto this article that was hardly used outside of Wikipedia. Call it what it is, it's the modern synthesis, as per Huxley who coined the term. It is not difficult. Samsara 01:58, 17 January 2017 (UTC)
On the whole I'm in favour of "Modern Synthesis", but the grounds for that are principally usage. Both historically, where Huxley and crucially many other biologists in the 1940s, 50s and 60s used that term, and now, where Google gives it some 267,000 hits. In contrast, "modern evolutionary synthesis" gets some 41,800 hits. So, both point to "Modern Synthesis" as the better choice. If the other term had had far more hits we would have had to discuss in detail whether to prefer a historical or a current usage perspective, and I think we'd still have favoured the historical given the period nature of the term, but we now needn't have that discussion as it's all one way. The point is that either way, we would be making a judgement on the evidence. Chiswick Chap (talk) 07:36, 17 January 2017 (UTC)

Sexual selection[edit]

Could be something on how sexual selection was basically left out of the modern synthesis, partly because it couldn't be handled mathematically by the methods available at the time... AnonMoos (talk) 23:03, 22 February 2017 (UTC)

Good idea. I've added a brief mention of Fisher ... without naming Julian Huxley directly. Chiswick Chap (talk) 23:56, 22 February 2017 (UTC)