Wednesday, May 27, 2015

[tt] Pierre van den Berghe: Social Darwinism

Bad article. Major flaw is his insistence that evolutionary theory is
circular. This article, Mary B. Williams, "The Logical Status of the
Theory of Natural Selection and Other Evolutionary Controversies," in
Mario Bunge, ed., _The Methodological Unity of Science_ (Dordrecht,
Holland: D. Reidel, 1973) clears up this error by merely saying that
scientific theories must refer to the world, in this case, fitness.

I place it after van den Berge's. Please also read Cynthia Eagle Russett's
Darwin in America, for an objective treatment. The very term "social
Darwinism" is a "social construction" of 20th century intellectuals. No
one called himself one.

Pierre van den Berghe: Social Darwinism
pp. 768-769, in Adam and Jessica Kupper, edd. The Social Science
Encyclopedia. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 916 pp., $75. H41.S63 1985

Social Darwinism refers loosely to various late nineteenth-century
applications (mostly misapplications) of ideas of biological evolution
associated (often erroneously) with Darwin, to human societies. Though
often associated with conservatism, laissez-faire capitalism, fascism and
racism, Social Darwinism was, in fact, a pervasive doctrine of the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially in Britain and in
North America, and its influence covered the entire political spectrum,
including, for example, British Fabian socialism.

Its two leading intellectual proponents were Herbert Spencer in Britain
(to whom we owe the phrase 'survival of the fittest'), and William Graham
Sumner, a professor of anthropology at Yale University in the United
States. To Spencer, we owe the misleading analogy that a society is like
an organism (hence, the term 'organicism' sometimes used to describe his
theories). Just as an organism is composed of interdependent organs and
cells, a human society is made up of specialized and complementary
institutions and individuals, all belonging to an organic whole.

Spencer himself was never very clear about his analogy: he claimed both
that society was 'like an organism', and that it was a 'super-organism'.
His central notion, however, was that the whole (organism-society) was
made up of functionally specialized, complementary and interdependent
parts. Thus, he is also considered to be one of the main fathers of
sociological functionalism.

Sumner's concept of mores (his term, by the way), and his turgid
disquisitions on morality are his most lasting contributions. What his
writings have to do with Darwinism is questionable. 'Bad mores are those
which are not well fitted to the conditions and needs of the society at
the time .... The taboos constitute morality or a moral system which, in
higher civilization restrains passion and appetite, and curbs the will'
(Sumner, 1906). Sumner uses terms such as 'evolution' and 'fitness' to be
sure, but his moralistic pronouncements and his repeated emphasis on the
'needs of the society' are the very antithesis of Darwin's thinking.
Spencer was also prone to inject ethics into evolution, seeing an
'inherent tendency of things towards good'. Darwin, on the other hand, saw
evolution as a random process devoid of ethical goals or trends, and
natural selection as a blind mechanism discriminating between individual
organisms on the basis of their differential reproductive success.

Another central theme in Sumner is that 'stateways cannot change
folkways', meaning that state action is powerless to change the underlying
mores. This certainly made him an apostle of laissez-faire. Indeed, he
went so far as to contradict himself and suggest that state intervention
is worse than useless; it is noxious. These propositions probably form the
core of the doctrine associated with social Darwinism, namely, that the
existing social order with its inequalities reflects a natural process of
evolution in which the 'fitter' rise to the top and the 'unfit' sink to
the bottom. Any attempt, through social welfare, for example, to reduce
inequalities is seen as noxious because it allows the unfit to 'breed like
rabbits'. Indeed Spencer, as a good Victorian puritan, believed that
intelligence and reproduction were inversely related. Overproduction of
sperm, he thought, leads first to headaches, then to stupidity, then to
imbecility, 'ending occasionally in insanity' (1852).

Again, these ideas are quite antithetical to those of
Darwinian-evolutionary theory. If the lower classes reproduce faster than
the upper classes, it means they are fitter, since, in evolutionary
theory, the ultimate measure of fitness is reproductive success. To say
that the unfit breed like rabbits is a contradiction in terms.

Social Darwinism, in short, is a discredited moral philosophy that bears
only a superficial terminological resemblance to the Darwinian theory of
evolution, and is only of historical interest.

Pierre van den Berghe
University of Washington


Spencer, H. (1852), 'A theory of population deduced from the general law
of animal fertility', Westminster Review, 1.

Spencer, H. (1864), Principles of Biology, London.

Spencer, H. (1873--85), Descriptive Sociology, London.

Sumner, W. G. (1906), Folkways, Boston.

Further Reading

Hofstadter, R. (1959), Social Darwinism in American Thought, New York.

Ruse, M. (1982), Darwinism Defended, Reading, Mass.

See also: evolution; evolutionism and progress; Spencer.


Meme 209: Mary B. Williams: The Logical Status of the Theory of Natural
Selection and Other Evolutionary Controversies
sent 10.10.20

This paper instantly made me reject the selfish gene idea and embrace
multi-level selection, as a matter of logic. It was David Sloan Wilson who
showed that group selection is factually important. She argues two things.
First, there must be terms in any scientific theory about that world that
refer to something in the world (often called "correspondence rules" (or
in the book editor, Mario Bunge's, words, "semantic assumptions." Fitness
cannot be internally defined, otherwise the fabulously well-known charge
that evolutionary theory is tautological and circular: "that which
survives survives."


I started beating a drum for group selection on various Internet
discussions groups as soon as I got a home connection, which was 1995
January. I kept getting met with arguments that group selection is
impossible because, in the long run, individual altruists, while their
altruistic acts would indeed benefit the group, they would not pass on
their genes.

I've heard this before: economics is drenched with babble about "long-run
equilibrium." Now when certain conditions are postulated, such as an
infinite number of actors, costless information, identical products, and
so many more that they have not all been unearthed (Premise Checked), then
one can deploy mathematical formulae and show that the resulting "long-run
equilibrium" has striking properties, the main one being that no change
can take place without harming some one. And since economists cannot,
officially, compare utilities of different people, the resultant
equilibrium is called one of "Pareto optimality." This has had disasterous
consequences, since the theorem is true under rarified conditions called
"perfect competition," not the actual *process* of competition in reality.
And so, the theory mandates that reality is "imperfect" and that
institutions must be made to conform to those of what can generate endless
papers using calculus and called "perfect competition." This is the basis
for "antitrust policy," and is merrily embraced by supposedly free-market
economists of the Chicago School, even if the scholars there often argue
against trust busting. It is the principle that have been given away.

Now in biology, this same long run has been invoked to say that group
selection is "impossible" is to deal in the putative "long run," in which
the genes of individual altruists finally disappear. By the same token, in
the "long run" selfish groups (insufficiently altruistic) also disappear.
You see, in the "long run," you can divide by zero and get away with it.
So which is it, the disappearance of individuals with altruistic genes or
the disappearance of selfish groups.

I repeatedly brought this on various Internet forums and was told that the
writer himself never invoked any "long run." But it was easy for me,
attuned to similar invocations in economics, to zero in on a phrase in his
posting that did indeed invoke a long run. And answer came there none.

The author is first to admit that she has not given a full, formal set of
axioms of a Darwinian process that meets the rigor of mathematical
logicians. She promises to do so, but I have found no trace of her later
efforts, nor of other biologists. Perhaps you know of one. Meanwhile, this
paper should be quite convincing. But consult Martin Mahner and Mario
Bunge, Foundations of Biophilosophy (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1997. Bunge,
at age 91, is no longer producing original ideas, while Mahner is quite
active.) The book, however, rejects group selection, not on putative logic
grounds, but mostly it seems on empirical grounds that no instance of it
has been shown to be powerful enough. I must add that, since multiple
Darwinian processes can be at work at the same time, it is not the case
that group selection must be more powerful than the selection of organisms
(or genes: authors are often unclear) for group selection be unimportant.
After all gravity is weaker by something like 40 or 50 powers of ten than
the other three (or is it now just two, the electro-magnetic force having
been reduced to the weak nuclear force?). So gravity counts for
nothing--except the grand structure of the universe.

Read the paper carefully and prayerfully.

Mary B. Williams: The Logical Status of the Theory of Natural Selection
and Other Evolutionay Controversies
Biomathematics Program, Department of Statistics, North Carolina State

in Mario Bunge (ed.). The Methodological Unity of Science (Dordrecht: D.
Reidel, 1973), pp. 84-102.

Abstract. This paper shows that the theory of natural selection is not
tautologous and that the belief that it is stems from formulations of the
theory which attempt to defy logical impossibility by defining all the
words used in the theory. The correct method is to treat some of them as
primitives characterized by axioms. The axiomatization used to resolve
this controversy also resolves controversies about the units of evolution
and the target of selection. The concatenation of the axiomatization,
revealing the fundamental structure of the theory, and the controversies
arising in the preaxiomatic theory gives insight into the structure
underlying controversies about other preaxiomatic theories.

The phrase 'survival of the fittest' is a source of nagging embarrassment
to evolutionists. On the one hand it is clearly ambiguous, purportedly
tautologous, and (so far) impossible to translate into a statement that is
non-tautologous, non-ambiguous, and also captures the essence of natural
selection; but on the other hand it is so evocative of the essence of the
principle of natural selection that even those who believe that it is
tautologous and therefore completely meaningless find themselves using it,
albeit with many *caveats*, when teaching novices. The arguments about
this phrase and the many suggested replacements are reflected in Lerner's
comment ([21], p. 180): "with all of the knowledge now acquired on the
process of selection in nature, its logical status in evolution is still
uncertain and undoubtedly controversial." This controversy is settled by
axiomatization of the theory of natural selection (given in [21]), but it
will not disappear until the fallacy underlying the belief that it is
tautologous is exposed. The purpose of this paper is to expose that
fallacy and to provide a non-ambiguous non-tautologous translation of
'survival of the fittest'.

[21] Williams, M. B., 'Deducing the Consequences of Evolution: A
Mathematical Model', J. Theoret. Biol. 29 (1970), 343-385.

To give an understanding of the term that is the referent of this phrase
it is necessary (and, with the aid of the axiomatization, easy) to resolve
the controversies about the units of evolution and the primary target of
selection. The paper therefore resolves these controversies and exposes
the fallacy which underlies them.


The axiomatization presented in [21] is a naive axiomatization, closer in
style to the axiomatizations of Euclid and Newton than to the formal
axiomatizations of the Russell-Whitehead school. In this section I will
present the main points of the axiomatization even more informally;
because definition of the technical terms used in the later axioms would
require an inordinate amount of space, the later axioms will be stated in
informal 'translations' which do not render their full meaning. These
translations should be sufficient, however, to provide the necessary
insights into the phrase 'survival of the fittest'.

[21] Williams, M. B., 'Deducing the Consequences of Evolution: A
Mathematical Model', J. Theoret. Biol. 29 (1970), 343-385.

There are two sets of axioms. The first set delineates properties of the
set B of reproducing organisms on which natural selection works. The
primitive terms introduced in this first set are *biological entity* and
[parent of]. [parent of A] is an asymmetric, irreflexive, and
non-transitive relation between biological entities and should be read 'is
a parent of'. Some possible interpretations for biological entity are:
organism, gene, chromosome, and population.

Axiom Bl: For any b1 in B, ~(b1[parent of b1). (I.e., '[parent of]' is

The following defines another relation, [ancestor of], or 'is an ancestor

Definition Bl: bl[ancestor of]b2 if and only if b1[parent of]b2 or there
exists a finite nonempty set of biological entities, {b3, b4,... bk), such
that b1[parent of]b3[parent of]b4...[parent of]bk[parent of]b2.

Axiom B2: For any b1 and b2 in B, if b1[ancestor of]b2 then ~(b2[ancestor
of]bl). (i.e., [ancestor of] is asymmetric.)

A set B with a relation [parent of] satisfying these axioms[fn1] will be
called a *biocosm*. From these axioms it can be proved that [ancestor of]
is irreflexive and transitive and that [parent of] is asymmetric. [parent
of] is not transitive, although in special cases b1[parent of]b2,
b2[parent of]b3 and b1[parent of]b3 may all be true; e.g., let bl be
Jocasta, b2 be Oedipus, and b3 be Antigone.

fn1 Axiom Bl is really a theorem, since it can be proved from Definition
Bl and Axiom B2.

The primary purpose for stating these axioms is to enable the concepts of
*clan* and *subclan* to be rigorously defined. A clan is a temporally
extended (over many generations) set of related organisms. (In this
description I will, for clarity, usually use the 'organism' interpretation
of 'biological entity'.)

Translation of Definition B7: The clan of a set S is the set containing S
and all of its descendants.

A crucial biological phenomenon occurs when a part of a clan becomes
isolated from the rest of the clan (perhaps by an earthquake) and is
subjected for many generations to different selective pressures until
ultimately the organisms in one part of the clan are so different from
their contemporaries in the other part that they would be described as
different species; this is a situation of great interest for evolutionary
theory, so it is clearly important to have a word for some particular
kinds of parts of a clan. The first one I introduce is a *subclan*, which,
roughly speaking, is either a whole clan or a clan with one or several
branches removed; a subclan is an organized chunk of a clan, not just a
set of isolated descendants.

Translation of Definition B9: C1 is a subclan of C if and only if C1 is
contained in C and for every organism b1 in C1 there exists a lineage (or
line of descent) from an organism in the first generation of C to b1 such
that every biological entity in that lineage is in C1.

Translation of Definition B10: C1 is the subclan of C derived from C1(j)
if and only if C1 contains all of the descendants of C1(j) and all the
ancestors of C1(j) which are in C.

Now I can introduce the second set of axioms. This set uses two new
primitive terms, *Darwinian subclan* and *fitness*. The following
quotation from [21] gives an intuitive introduction to the meaning of the
concept of Darwinian *subclan*:

[21] Williams, M. B., 'Deducing the Consequences of Evolution: A
Mathematical Model', J. Theoret. Biol. 29 (1970), 343-385.

"Using an imperfect but intuitively useful analogy, we may think of
selection as a force which is pushing a subclan in a certain direction
(e.g. toward longer necks, or toward an optimum proportion of different
forms in a polymorphic population). The direction and strength of this
force is always an average over the differing forces on different
individuals of the subclan, but, as long as cohesive forces (e.g.,
interbreeding, same environment) hold the subclan together, it is
meaningful to speak of selection pushing the subclan as a whole in some
direction. If, on the other hand, the subclan consists of two parts which
are isolated from each other and subject to different selective forces
(e.g. one favoring longer necks and the other favoring shorter necks), it
is not very meaningful to speak of selection pushing this subclan in one
direction; it is pushing it in two opposite directions and the average of
the two directions would be a mathematical abstraction which would only
serve to conceal the interesting biological phenomenon. Clearly I need a
term to denote a subclan which is held together by cohesive forces so that
it acts as a unit with respect to selection; I shall call such a subclan a
*Darwinian subclan*.

"Darwinian subclan is a primitive term but, unlike the other primitive
terms, it does not correspond closely to any familiar intuitive concept. A
Darwinian subclan may be an entire clan from which no descendants have
been separated; it may be an interbreeding population; it may be an entire
species. It cannot be a species which is splitting into two species; such
a species will consist of two Darwinian subclans."

Although a Darwinian subclan is a set of biological entities it cannot be
defined solely in terms of properties definable within the biocosm; it is
determined both by properties of the parent relation among biological
entities and by properties of the relationship between a set of biological
entities and their environment.

Fitness is introduced as a real valued function on the set of biological
entities; [phi](b1) is a real number expressing the fitness of the
biological entity b1 in the environment in which it lives. The following
quotation from [21] is an intuitive introduction to the concept of

[21] Williams, M. B., 'Deducing the Consequences of Evolution: A
Mathematical Model', J. Theoret. Biol. 29 (1970), 343-385.

"fitness is a measure of the quality of the relationship between an
organism and its environment, where the environment of an organism is the
set of all external factors which have influenced it during its life....
This relationship is determined by such factors as fertility, ability to
get food, ability to avoid dangers, etc."

Fitter organisms have a better chance of surviving long enough to leave
descendants, but a fitter organism does not necessarily leave more
descendants than its less fit brother.

Translation of Axiom Dl: Every Darwinian subclan is a subclan of a clan in
some biocosm.

Translation of Axiom D2: There is an upper limit to the number of
organisms in any generation of a Darwinian subclan. (This limit is
important in inducing the 'severe struggle for life' which Darwin noted.)

Translation of Axiom D3: For each organism, bu there is a positive real
number, [phi](b1), which describes its fitness in its environment.

Before giving the next axiom we must introduce another term denoting a
particular type of subclan. Suppose that at a particular point in time the
Darwinian subclan D contains a subset of organisms with a hereditary trait
that gives them a selective advantage over their contemporaries, and
suppose that this trait continues to give a selective advantage for many
generations. Then members of this subset will, on average, have more
offspring than their contemporaries, and if we consider the sub-subclan
derived from this set of organisms (call it Dt), then in the offspring
generation the proportion of the members of D which are in Dt will be
larger than it was in the parent generation. Similarly, since this trait
continues to give a selective advantage, the proportion of Dx will
continue to increase in subsequent generations. It is by this increase in
the proportion of organisms with particular traits that characteristics of
populations (and species) are changed over lime. It is the increase of the
fitter sub-subclan which causes descent with adaptive modification. This
sub-subclan is the referent of 'survival of the fittest'. It will be
called a *subcland*.[fn2]

fn2 Biocosm, biological entity, [parent of], [ancestor of], subclan,
Darwinian subclan, and subcland are all terms that I have coined.

Translation of Definition D2: Let D1(j) be a set of biological entities in
the jth generation of the Darwinian subclan D. Then Dy is the subcland
derived from Dv(j) if and only if Dl = DnCp where Q is the subclan derived
from Dt (j).

Translation of Axiom D4: Consider a subcland D1 of D. If Dx is superior in
fitness to the rest of D for sufficiently many generation (where how many
is 'sufficiently many' is determined by how much superior Dt is and how
large Dx is), then the proportion of Dx in D will increase during these

The final axiom asserts the existence of sufficiently hereditary fitness

Translation of Axiom D5: In every generation m of a Darwinian subclan D
which is not on the verge of extinction, there is a subcland Dx such that:
Dy is superior to the rest of D for long enough to ensure that Dt will
increase relative to D; and as long as D contains biological entities that
are not in Dx, Dx retains sufficient superiority to ensure further
increases relative to D.

The full formal translation of the law of the survival of the fittest is
contained in these axioms, and in particular in Axiom D4. This axiom could
be called the 'survival of the fittest' axiom; but an even better informal
descriptive phrase would be the 'expansion of the fitter subcland' axiom.


Let us first examine the attempts to translate 'fittest'. The fundamental
cause of the problems associated with these attempts is the acceptance, by
essentially all biologists, of the metaphysical doctrine that all words
used in a scientific theory should be defined. It is these problems which
have been central in creating the belief that the theory of natural
selection is circular and is, therefore, a linguistic epiphenomenon which
can be shown by close examination to have no real meaning. (In this
controversy the theory is usually accused of being tautological, but
'tautological' is always used in these accusations in the sense of
'circular and therefore vacuous'. Since there are other meanings of
'tautological' which are scientifically respectable, I shall use the term
'circular'.) In this paper I am concerned not so much with proving that
the theory is not circular as with exposing the fallacious reasoning which
led to the accusations of circularity.[fn3]

fn3 There are two ways of showing that a theory is not circular. The
first is by axiomatizing the theory; this I have done in [21]. The second
is by exhibiting falsifiable predictions of the theory; this I have done
in [22].

[21] Williams, M. B., 'Deducing the Consequences of Evolution: A
Mathematical Model', J. Theoret. Biol. 29 (1970), 343-385.

[22] Williams, M. B., 'Falsifiable Predictions of Evolutionary Theory',

The best introduction to the dilemma is to look at it through the eyes of
Ernest Mayr (p. 182 in [15]), one of the most powerful opponents of the
idea that Darwin's reasoning is circular:

Darwin...has therefore been accused of tautological (circular) reasoning:
'What will survive? The fittest. What are the fittest? Those that
survive.' To say that this is the essence of natural selection is
nonsense! To be sure, those individuals that have the most offspring are
by definition (Lerner, 1959) the fittest ones. However, this fitness is
determined (statistically) by their genetic constitution.... A superior
genotype has a greater probability of leaving offspring than has an
inferior one. Natural selection, simply, is the differential perpetuation
of genotypes.

[15] Mayr, E., Animal Species and Evolution, Harvard University Press,
Boston, 1963.

In the last sentence Mayr is simply repeating the usual contemporary
description of natural selection. (The virtually complete acceptance by
biologists of this description is due to the fact that it does capture the
essence of *one* of the Darwinian insights, and possibly also to the
compelling, though fallacious, argument: without differential perpetuation
natural selection could not occur; therefore natural selection *is*
differential perpetuation.) But the context shows that Mayr does not
really believe that natural selection is *nothing more than* the
differential perpetuation of genotypes; he believes that it is the
differential perpetuation of *superior* genotypes. It is essential to his
(and Darwin's) conception of natural selection that over the long run the
adaptively superior genotypes have more offspring; without some such
adjective the important Darwinian insight that the environment has
something to do with which genotypes have more offspring is lost. But
'superior', 'adaptively superior', 'adaptively complex' (Maynard Smith
[18]), 'greater ability of phenotypes to obtain representation in the next
generation' (Bossert and Wilson [2]) 'adaptedness' (Dobzhansky [5]), etc.
are all simply disguised ways of saying 'fitter'. How do we know that a
superior genotype has a greater probability of leaving offspring? What is
superior? In this context 'superior' has the same intuitive meaning as
'fitter' had to Darwin. Therefore, if we accept Lerner's definition of
fitness as a true rendition of the meaning of fitness in the Darwinian
phrase, we should define 'superior' in the same way; the superior
genotypes are the genotypes that have more offspring. Once this is done,
of course, 'differential perpetuation of superior genotypes' is just as
circular as 'survival of the fittest'. The real source of the dilemma is
that this definition is not a true rendition of Darwin's meaning.[fn4]
Lerner's unfortunately all too true comment ([12], p. 176) about this
definition is:

[2] Bossert, W. H. and Wilson, E. O., A Primer of Population Biology,
Sinauer Associates, Inc., Stanford, Conn., 1971.

[5] Dobzhansky, T., 'On Some Fundamental Concepts of Darwinian Biology',
Evolutionary Biology, vol. 2 (ed. by T. Dobzhansky, M. K. Hecht, and W. C.
Steere), Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1968.

[12] Lerner, I. M., 'The Concept of Natural Selection: A Centennial View',
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 103 (1959), 173-182.

[18] Smith, J. M., 'The Status of Neo-Darwinism', Towards a Theoretical
Biology (ed. by C. H. Waddington), Aldine, Chicago, 1969.

If there is one thing upon which the most factious partisans of various
currents of evolutionary thought agree, it is that fitness of an
individual, in the context of the natural selection principle, can mean
*only* the extent to which the organism is represented by descendants in
succeeding generations. (italics mine)

fn4 The situation is made more confusing by the fact that the concept
denoted by this definition is *called* 'Darwinian fitness'! I hope that
the users of this term follow Humpty Dumpty's example and pay it extra
when it comes round for its wages Saturday night.

This definition of fitness makes no reference to the fact that fitness is
a property of the relationship between the organism and its environment;
it states by omission that the environment is irrelevant to fitness. It is
not surprising that the acceptance of this definition has led to
statements that the theory is vacuous, for the fact that fitness is
related to the environment is absolutely essential for the Darwinian
insight. With this definition Darwinian theory is reduced to 'differential
perpetuation of genotypes', that is, to a theory which implies that the
properties (e.g., morphological characters) of the organisms will change
over the generations but gives no indication that this change is
systematically related to the environment. (It would be possible for the
geneticists to retain the Darwinian insight by stating a new law that
differential perpetuation is systematically related to the environment.
But the statement of such a law would inevitably require a theoretical
term with the same objectionable qualities that 'fitness' has.) Some
sternly ascetic geneticists actually do restrict themselves to this
reduced version of the theory of natural selection; most evolutionists,
however, while using this definition of'fitness', sneak in a new term
(superior, adaptedness, etc.) to take the place of 'fitness' in order to
retain as a part of the theory the important Darwinian insight that
changes in the properties of species are systematically related to the
environment. The controversy, then, is between those who, relying on the
deep intuitive knowledge that Darwinian theory is far from being vacuous,
save the Darwinian insight by reintroducing a term equivalent to fitness
without explicitly defining the new term, and those who, relying on
logical reasoning from the accepted definition of fitness, throw away the
Darwinian insight. This definition of fitness has put both parties to the
controversy into untenable positions; the only way to resolve the
controversy is to throw out this definition of fitness.

Both parties to the controversy would probably respond to this statement
by stating that they cannot throw out this definition until a suitable
replacement is available. And this reveals the deeper source of the
controversy: the fallacious doctrine that all words used in a scientific
theory can, at least in principle, and should be defined. (In practice
this means that definitions are not insisted on for those theoretical
terms which (like organism) are close enough to experience that scientists
rarely have difficulty deciding what they mean in specific situations,
while definitions are demanded for those theoretical terms which (like
fitness) are so abstract that scientists frequently must struggle to find
an adequate interpretation.) Now it is a simple logical fact that it is
impossible to define all words of a theory in terms of other words of the
theory without introducing a circularity into the theory. Since the
doctrine in question would not allow a definition in terms of words from
another theory which themselves ultimately depend on undefined terms, no
non-circular theoretical definition of fitness will be acceptable.

The scientist hopes to avoid this problem by using operational definitions
for his basic words and defining the rest in terms of them. Theories which
contain only terms denoting concepts which are close to experience appear
to be stated in simple, operationally defined (or, at least, definable),
terms, and it is this appearance which gives rise to the belief that any
theory can be so stated. (Also, of course, this belief comes from the
reasoning that since the theoretical terms have their ultimate origin in
experience, they must be statable in terms of experience. But this is the
same as reasoning that since scientific laws have their ultimate origin in
observation statements, they must be statable as some conjunction of
observation statements. The problem of induction is clearly as much a
problem with regard to general concepts as with regard to general laws.)
As Hempel has shown ([9], p. 129), there are difficulties which prevent
theoretically satisfactory operational definitions of even simple concepts
like 'length', but these are not the difficulties that ambush attempts to
define 'fitness'. Scientists are generally willing to accept as
operational any definition stated in terms of (potentially) directly
observable results of manipulations, where what is to count as directly
observable is decided not by philosophical analysis but by consensus.[fn5]
The difficulty that ambushes fitness is that abstract terms which are not
close to experience (i.e., to direct observation) are not amenable to
definition in terms of direct observation. As Einstein pointed out,
theories which have been rigorously stated meet this difficulty by "the
application of complicated logical processes in order to reach conclusions
from the premises that can be confronted with observation", (p. 5 in [6])
though even this philosophically acceptable technique causes "an almost
irresistible feeling of aversion [to arise] in people who are
inexperienced in epistemological analysis", (ibid.) Since evolutionary
theory had not been stated sufficiently rigorously to allow the
application of complicated logical processes, this way of validating the
concept of fitness was not available. Therefore the evolutionists could
not, for the full Darwinian meaning of the concept, satisfy the demands of
this metaphysical doctrine by using either direct or indirect operational

fn5 Hull's discussion of operationism in [10] provides a useful view of
what has been accepted by various groups of biologists as operational.

[6] Einstein, A., 'On the Generalized Theory', Scientific American (April,
1950), Reprint 209; W. H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco, 1950.

[9] Hempel, C. G, Aspects of Scientific Explanation, The Free Press, New
York, 1965.

[10] Hull, D. L., 'The Operational Imperative: Sense and Nonsense in
Operationism', Systematic Zoology 17 (1968), 438-457.

Faced with this impasse the evolutionist defined fitness in terms of its
most important known property; he defined 'the fittest' as 'those that
survive'. This was disastrous for two reasons: (1) Because the law of the
survival of the fittest had not itself been explicitly stated, the
definition enshrined an extremely impoverished version of this important
property. (2) When an axiom is used as a definition of one of its terms it
is no longer an axiom; the theory remaining after that axiom has been
removed will obviously be less powerful, and, when the axiom that was
removed expressed the most important insight of the theory, its removal
makes the theory virtually meaningless. (Of course, in a formally stated
theory it can be seen that *calling* an axiom a definition does not make
it one; it will be a creative definition, and therefore really an axiom.
But in an intuitively stated theory once you convert the axiom into a
definition you are forced to admit that it is purely circular and gives no
power to the theory; no one can save you by proving it is a creative
definition.) Thus this definition of fitness weakened the theory both by
replacing the intuitive definition, which recognized that fitness is
related to the environment, with a definition that ignores this
relationship and by removing from the theory its most important law. It is
this replacement of an important law by an (apparently) circular
definition that is responsible for the belief that Darwinian theory is

The belief that all (non-obvious) terms must be defined is common among
scientists. Since the most important explicitly known property of an
abstract term is the property stated in the deepest law containing the
term, it will always be very tempting to respond to the demand for a
definition of the term by using that property as a definition. It is
probably because of this that we so frequently see theories accused of
being circular on the ground that their most important insights are merely
definitions, or of being meaningless on the ground that their most central
concepts cannot be defined. Recall, for example, the reductio ad absurdum:
What is intelligence? Intelligence is what is measured by intelligence
tests. Or consider the accusations in the ecological literature that the
exclusion principle of Gause, which says that two species cannot coexist
in the same niche, is circular because this is the defining property of
the niche. Anyone familiar with the 'soft' sciences can give more
examples. But an example from a 'hard' science will strengthen our
understanding of the theoretical structure which underlies these
problematic definitions. Consider the following quotations from Newton's
Principia (pp. 2, 13 in [17]).

[17] Newton, I., Principia, 1686 (Quotations from Motte's translation
revised by Cajori), University of California Press, Berkeley, 1966.

Definition IV: An impressed force is an action exerted upon a body, in
order to change its state, either of rest, or of uniform motion in a right

Law I: Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in
a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces
impressed upon it.

Let us subject the concept of force to the catechism used in the quotation
from Mayr for the concept of fitness. "What will change the state of rest
or of uniform motion of a body? An impressed force. What is an impressed
force? Something that will change the state of rest or of uniform motion
of a body." Clearly Newton's theory of mechanics is just as circular as
Darwin's theory of natural selection. (More so, in fact, since Darwin at
least didn't give that definition of fitness.)

Fitness is a theoretical term which cannot be explicitly defined. That
such terms exist in any axiomatized theory is well known; they are the
primitive terms of the theory. That such terms must exist also in the
intuitively stated precursor of an axiomatized theory is obvious. In any
deep theory some of the terms will be so abstract that the lack of
adequate definitions will be painfully obvious. But until the theory is
rigorously stated it is impossible to experimentally validate such an
abstract concept. If it is a primitive term, only an axiomatization of the
theory will allow a full and explicit statement of its meaning in the
theory, for its meaning in the theory is completely given by the
statements that the theory makes about it. After the theory has been
axiomatized, the various successful interpretations of the primitive term
give the most comprehensive possible statement about its meaning in the
real world. Thus only an axiomatization can provide a final resolution of
the problems stemming from the need to specify the meanings of abstract
concepts. But during the preaxiomatic stages of a theory it is important
simply to recognize that these problems are caused by a fallacious
metaphysical doctrine and do not indicate that the theory is worthless; in
fact, they indicate that the theory is deep.


The major source of the controversy surrounding the phrase 'survival of
the fittest' is that dealt with in the preceding section. But to
understand the referent of this phrase we must first use the
axiomatization to resolve controversies arising from the following
questions: What is the fundamental unit of selection? What is the primary
target of selection? Both spring from the fact that our analytic
metaphysics leads us to (incorrectly) assume that there is *one*
fundamental entity which is the object of selection and which is such that
all results of selection can, and should, be described with reference only
to that fundamental entity. (For example, in the argument about whether
the target of selection is the gene or the organism, the argument is about
which is the fundamental entity with reference to which the basic theory
of selection should be stated and all other entities which undergo
selection should be described.) This assumption has led to confusion
because the world that the evolutionist is trying to describe contains
several important independent fundamental entities.

All of these different fundamental entities are physically parts of one
another. With respect to the theory of natural selection, they fall into
two categories: (1) those that cannot be defined in terms of one another
because they correspond to different primitive terms of the theory; and
(2) those that are independent of one another because they appear in
different models of the theory.

(1) Different Ontological levels: My primary plan in this section is to
discuss the problem on a relatively intuitive biological level in order to
give insight into the way things look at an intuitive (preaxiomatic) stage
when the underlying theoretical structure is such that one of the entities
being discussed is a collection of entities but cannot be defined as a set
of these entities. Since the assertion that the entities under discussion
are of this kind is a very strong assertion, I will first point out that
the axiomatization makes a rigorous proof of this assertion possible.
Because this assertion is equivalent to the assertion that *Darwinian
subclan* is indpendent of the remaining primitive terms of the theory, it
can be proved by using Padoa's Principle.fn6

fn6 Padoa's principle states that to prove that a given primitive term,
D, is independent of the other primitives it is sufficient to find two
different interpretations of the axioms in which D has different
interpretations while the other primitives have the same interpretations.
I have a sketch of the necessary proof, but because it relies on an
understanding of some rather complex biological situations, it would be
inappropriate to present it here.

First let us try to get some insight into why the theory needs two types
of entity. Natural selection changes the characteristics of populations by
depriving individuals of offspring (either by ensuring an untimely death
for the individual or by interfering with the reproductive process). Thus
it acts on individuals to change the characteristics of populations. This
is a strange kind of force, since the forces we usually deal with change
the characteristics of the objects they act on; for example, an impressed
force changes the state of motion of the billiard ball it acts on.
Selection is a force which changes hereditary characteristics, but this
change does not take place in individuals. Selection cannot change the
inherited characteristics of an individual; it may, so to speak, punish
the individual for his bad characteristics by preventing him from having
offspring; but it is powerless to change his characteristics once he is
there. (The insight that selection could change the characteristics of a
population without changing the characteristics of any individual was one
of Darwin's most valuable contributions.) It is clear that, while the
forces of mechanics could be described with reference to a single type of
entity which is both acted upon and changed, the forces of selection must
be described with reference to two types of entity, one of which is acted
on and the other of which is changed. (This is partly an artefact of our
human sized viewpoint; we could, theoretically, completely ignore the
existence of individuals and consider the killing of an individual as an
action on the population of which that individual is a component, just as
we consider a knife wound as an action on the organism rather than as an
action on the cells that were actually killed. But, because we *do* have a
human sized viewpoint and *do* see the individual deaths rather than the
wound in the population, it is necessary for the theory to deal with the
relationship between the actions on the individual and the results on the
population.) This is the reason that in the axiomatization there are two
primitive terms referring to types of entities; the biological entity is
the thing selection acts on and the Darwinian subclan is the thing whose
characteristics are changed. Let us consider now the effect that this
undefinability has had on the definitions used in biology, remembering
that biologists have simply assumed that since a species is a collection
of organisms it can be defined in terms of the properties of the organisms
it contains. Since a species is a Darwinian subclan and an organism is a
biological entity we would expect that any attempt to define species in
terms of organisms would be doomed to failure. And it is exactly this
failure that Beckner has analyzed so beautifully in [1], where he shows
that in the definitions used in systematics the definiens is typically a
set of neither severally necessary nor jointly sufficient properties of
the entities contained in the taxa being defined. From the point of view
of normal logic such definitions are clearly not legitimate definitions.
(Beckner concluded that the concept of definition should be expanded to
include these polytypic definitions. Although, as I have argued elsewhere
[22], definitions in the usual logical formare possible once the theory
has been sufficiently rigorously stated to make clear what the defining
properties are properties of, polytypic definitions probably do have a
legitimate role in the pre-axiomatic stages of theories.)

[1] Beckner, M.,The Biological Way of Thought, University of California
Press, Berkeley, 1968.

[22] Williams, M. B., 'Falsifiable Predictions of Evolutionary Theory',

And finally let us look at how these two types of entities appear in
arguments about the fundamental units of selection. Consider the following

"The primary focus of evolution by natural selection is the individual."
([13], p. 7)

[13] Lewontin, R. C, 'The Units of Selection', Annual Review of Ecology
and Systematics, vol. 1 (ed. by R. F. Johnston, P. W. Frank, and C. D.
Michener), Annual Reviews Inc., Palo Alto, California, 1970.

"Selection is primarily concerned with genotypes." ([12], p. 178)

[12] Lerner, I. M., 'The Concept of Natural Selection: A Centennial View',
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 103 (1959), 173-182.

"Mendelian populations, rather than individuals, are the units of natural
selection." ([4], p. 79)

[4] Dobzhansky, T., Genetics and the Origin of Species, Columbia
University Press, New York, 1937.

"The species are the real units of evolution." ([15], p. 621)

[15] Mayr, E., Animal Species and Evolution, Harvard University Press,
Boston, 1963.

The first two of these statements are concerned with fundamental entities
corresponding to the biological entity--the entity which is acted on. The
second two statements are concerned with fundamental entities
corresponding to the Darwinian subclan--the entities which are changed.
These statements are not contradictory: the first two are appropriate in
discussions on micro-evolution (i.e., the processes occurring in the short
term which will, after many short terms, result in significant
evolutionary change), while the last two are appropriate in discussions of
macro-evolution (i.e., significant changes in characteristics of
populations). These statements were, in fact, used in the appropriate
contexts, but, as the phrases 'the *real* units' and 'rather than
individuals' indicate, the assumption that there is *one* fundamental
entity (and that that one is the smallest of the entities under
consideration) forces biologists to fight for the appropriate recognition
of the Darwinian subclan-type entity.

(2) Different Levels of Selection. It has long been recognized that
natural selection operates on the levels of the gene, the chromosome, the
gamete, the organism, and the population, but it is usually assumed that
one of these levels is primary and the others subsidiary. Thus:

Asserting the primacy of the organism:

"To consider genes independent units is ... meaningless from the
evolutionary viewpoint because the individual as a whole ..., not
individual genes, is the target of selection." ([16], p. 162. See also
[8], p. 230; [3], p. 173; [13], p. 7, etc.)

[3] Crow, J. F. and Kimura, M., An Introduction To Population Genetics
Theory, Harper and Row, New York, 1970.

[8] Grant, V., The Origin of Adaptations, Columbia University Press, New
York, 1963.

[13] Lewontin, R. C, 'The Units of Selection', Annual Review of Ecology
and Systematics, vol. 1 (ed. by R. F. Johnston, P. W. Frank, and C. D.
Michener), Annual Reviews Inc., Palo Alto, California, 1970.

[16] Mayr, E., Populations, Species, and Evolution, Harvard University
Press, Boston, 1970.

Asserting the primacy of the gene:

"In its ultimate essence the theory of natural selection deals with a
cybernetic abstraction, the gene, and a statistical abstraction, mean
phenotypic fitness." ([20], p. 33).

[20] Williams, G. C, Adaptation and Natural Selection, Princeton
University Press, Princeton, 1966.

Asserting the primacy of the chromosome over the gene:

"The selection of the chromosome as a whole is the overriding determiner
of allelic frequencies." ([7], p. 725).

[7] Franklin, I. and Lewontin, R. C, 'Is the Gene the Unit of Selection?',
Genetics 65 (1970), 707-734.

Asserting the primacy, in at least some circumstance, of the population:

"Unless extinction of populations, species, and higher taxa occurs
randomly, group selection occurs ... [for the evolution of dispersal] it
seems to be important." ([19], p. 596).

[19] Van Valen, Leigh, 'Group Selection and the Evolution of Diversity',
Evolution 25 (1971), 591-598.

Such assertions of primacy are sometimes assertions that selection on a
particular level is the primary form determining the evolution of certain
types of phenomena, but in other cases (e.g., the first and second
assertions given above) they represent a real clash between scientists
each of whom thinks that he is speaking of the fundamental level of
selection in terms of which all other levels of selection should, and
ultimately will, be expressed.

The question is: What is the relationship between the different levels of
selection? There are two important ways of answering this question. One is
to answer it not as a question about the theory of natural selection but
as a question about the relationship between genes, chromosomes, gametes,
organisms, and populations; this answer would state that all phenomena at
each level are caused by phenomena at the lowest level. (At present, of
course, this is merely an assertion of a philosophical commitment to
reductionism; we are nowhere near being able to specify the chain of
causal mechanisms.) But when we are trying to decide whether statements
about selection at the gene level *should* be expressed in terms of
selection at the organsim level, or vice versa, it is more important to
ask it as a question about the theory of natural selection. Does the
process at each of these different levels actually follow the laws of the
theory, or are the laws of the theory truly applicable only to one level?
Formally, this question is asking whether: (1) the different levels of
selection are different models of the theory; or (2) only one of the
levels is a model of the theory. By substituting gene, chromosome, gamete,
organism, and population for *biological entity* in the axioms, we find
that these different levels of selection are different models of the
theory of natural selection. The levels of selection, being different
models of one theory, are analogs of one another. One level of selection
may be more suitable than the other for studying a particular phenomenon,
and the organism level may seem primus inter pares because we are more
familiar with the phenomena for which it is most suitable, but *no* level
of selection has absolute primacy over the others.

It has been difficult to identify the referent of 'survival of the
fittest' because it appears to have different forms in the different
levels of selection. To understand this difficulty let us consider what
subclands look like in two different models. With the organism
interpretation a subcland is the set of all organisms which are in the
Darwinian subclan and are descended from (or ancestral to--but we can
ignore that part at present) a particular founder set of organisms; for
the present discussion we can consider the founder set to be a set of
contemporaneous organisms with a particular advantageous hereditary trait;
some of the offspring of the founder organisms will have this trait and
some will not; it is natural when discussing selection on this trait to
ignore the ones that do not have it. But this should not be done:
biological traits are affected by many different genes and even if a
particular offspring does not have the trait it may have many of the genes
which positively affect the trait; thus the fact that it does not have the
trait is not an indication that its success in leaving descendants is
irrelevant to the selection for the trait. By including all descendants we
may include some which are irrelevant, but this causes less difficulty
than the assumption that the expression of the trait is all that counts.
(For some traits, those that are controlled by a single gene, this
argument does not hold. But these are traits whose selective fate should
be analyzed with the gene interpretation.) Notice that one cannot define
the subcland simply in terms of the morphological properties of its

With the gene interpretation, the Darwinian subclan frequently used in
discussions of selection is the set of all alleles occupying a particular
chromosomal locus. (An *allele* is "one of two or more alternate forms of
a gene occupying the same locus on a chromosome." E.g., the gene for
hemoglobin has several alleles: a normal hemoglobin allele, a sickle cell
anemia allele, a thallassemia allele, etc.; each of these alleles has a
different molecular structure.) 'The sickle allele' denotes the set of all
molecules (or, rather, of all portions of DNA molecules) with a particular
molecular structure. In this usage the sickle allele is, barring
mutations, exactly the same as the subcland derived from the set of all
sickle alleles existing in 1800 A.D. Thus to say that selection is
increasing the frequency of the sickle allele is the same as to say that
selection is increasing the frequency of this sublcand. Note how much
easier it is to visualize the subcland on the gene level than on the
organism level; a definition in terms of the molecular structure[fn7] of
the gene includes virtually all members of the subcland while a definition
in terms of the morphological structure of the organisms includes only
scattered portions of the subcland. This is why 'differential perpetuation
of genotypes', which expresses the referent in the terminology of the gene
level, is used even by organism level biologists.

fn7 It can be seen from this analysis that those who believe the organism
level to be the fundamental one need not be anti-reductionists. They are
not denying that laws may some day be found which are expressed in terms
of the lowest level and from which all higher level phenomena can be
deduced. They are denying that the *Darwinian* laws are applicable on the
lower levels.

We saw, in the section on fitness, that the fallacious metaphysical
doctrine about definitions led many biologists into the inconsistent
position of advocating that all terms be defined while sneaking in
undefined terms. Similarly the fallacious metaphysical doctrine that there
is one fundamental level has led many biologists into the inconsistent
position of asserting that the organism level is *the* level while working
solely on the gene level. (Although evolutionary geneticists work as if
the gene level could be studied independently, it is very difficult to
find one who disagrees with the statement that the organism level is the
primary focus of selection. But, as Mayr frequently points out (e.g., in
[14]), if this statement is true then most of the work in evolutionary
genetics is worthless.) The axiomatization has shown us that in both cases
the inconsistency lies not within the theory but between generally
accepted metaphysical assumptions and the theory.

[14] Mayr, E., 'Where Are We?", Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on
Quantitative Biology, vol. 24, The Biological Laboratory, Cold Spring
Harbor, New York, 1959.


I have shown in this paper that the controversies about the logical status
of evolutionary theory and about the fundamental entity of the theory
arise from the following two fallacious metaphysical doctrines: (1) All
words used in a scientific theory should be defined. (2) When a theory
deals with entities which are physically parts of one another, one of
those entities is the fundamental entity of the theory and all results of
the theory can, and should, be expressed in terms of that fundamental

The first of these doctrines is fallacious because it is inconsistent with
our logical system; it is logically impossible to define all words used.
The attempt to defy this logical impossibility led to definitions which
created the impression that the theory of natural selection is

The second of these doctrines is fallacious because it denies the
possibility that a theory may have two primitive terms denoting entities
which are such that one is contained within the other, and because it
denies the possibility that a theory may have two distinct, but physically
related, models in the real world.

The axiomatization, and in particular Axiom D4, provides a
non-tautologous, non-ambiguous translation of 'survival of the fittest'. A
brief phrase which captures the essence of this translation is 'expansion
of the fitter subcland'.

This work was supported by MSF Grant GU 1590.


[1] Beckner, M.,The Biological Way of Thought, University of California
Press, Berkeley, 1968.

[2] Bossert, W. H. and Wilson, E. O., A Primer of Population Biology,
Sinauer Associates, Inc., Stanford, Conn., 1971.

[3] Crow, J. F. and Kimura, M., An Introduction To Population Genetics
Theory, Harper and Row, New York, 1970.

[4] Dobzhansky, T., Genetics and the Origin of Species, Columbia
University Press, New York, 1937.

[5] Dobzhansky, T., 'On Some Fundamental Concepts of Darwinian Biology',
Evolutionary Biology, vol. 2 (ed. by T. Dobzhansky, M. K. Hecht, and W. C.
Steere), Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1968.

[6] Einstein, A., 'On the Generalized Theory', Scientific American (April,
1950), Reprint 209; W. H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco, 1950.

[7] Franklin, I. and Lewontin, R. C, 'Is the Gene the Unit of Selection?',
Genetics 65 (1970), 707-734.

[8] Grant, V., The Origin of Adaptations, Columbia University Press, New
York, 1963.

[9] Hempel, C. G, Aspects of Scientific Explanation, The Free Press, New
York, 1965.

[10] Hull, D. L., 'The Operational Imperative: Sense and Nonsense in
Operationism', Systematic Zoology 17 (1968), 438-457.

[11] Hull, D. L., Philosophy of Biological Science, Prentice Hall, Inc.,
Englewood Cliffs, N.J., in press.
Apparently, no mention in text.

[12] Lerner, I. M., 'The Concept of Natural Selection: A Centennial View',
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 103 (1959), 173-182.

[13] Lewontin, R. C, 'The Units of Selection', Annual Review of Ecology
and Systematics, vol. 1 (ed. by R. F. Johnston, P. W. Frank, and C. D.
Michener), Annual Reviews Inc., Palo Alto, California, 1970.

[14] Mayr, E., 'Where Are We?", Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on
Quantitative Biology, vol. 24, The Biological Laboratory, Cold Spring
Harbor, New York, 1959.

[15] Mayr, E., Animal Species and Evolution, Harvard University Press,
Boston, 1963.

[16] Mayr, E., Populations, Species, and Evolution, Harvard University
Press, Boston, 1970.

[17] Newton, I., Principia, 1686 (Quotations from Motte's translation
revised by Cajori), University of California Press, Berkeley, 1966.

[18] Smith, J. M., 'The Status of Neo-Darwinism', Towards a Theoretical
Biology (ed. by C. H. Waddington), Aldine, Chicago, 1969.

[19] Van Valen, Leigh, 'Group Selection and the Evolution of Diversity',
Evolution 25 (1971), 591-598.

[20] Williams, G. C, Adaptation and Natural Selection, Princeton
University Press, Princeton, 1966.

[21] Williams, M. B., 'Deducing the Consequences of Evolution: A
Mathematical Model', J. Theoret. Biol. 29 (1970), 343-385.

[22] Williams, M. B., 'Falsifiable Predictions of Evolutionary Theory',

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

[tt] NYT: Nature's Waste Management Crews

Please send analogies, esp. polticians, pundits, and speechifiers of all

Nature's Waste Management Crews


One of the biggest mistakes my husband made as a new father was to tell me
he thought his diaper-changing technique was better than mine. From then
on, guess who assumed the lion's share of diaper patrol in our household?

Or rather, the northern flicker's share. According to a new report in the
journal Animal Behaviour on the sanitation habits of these tawny, 12-inch
woodpeckers with downcurving bills, male flickers are more industrious
housekeepers than their mates.

Researchers already knew that flickers, like many woodpeckers, are a
so-called sex role reversed species, the fathers spending comparatively
more time incubating the eggs and feeding the young than do the mothers.
Now scientists have found that the males' parental zeal also extends to
the less sentimental realm of nest hygiene: When a chick makes waste, Dad,
more readily than Mom, is the one who makes haste, plucking up the
unwanted presentation and disposing of it far from home.

"It takes away microbes, removes smells that might alert predators, and
makes the whole nest much cleaner," said Elizabeth Gow, a postdoctoral
fellow at the University of British Columbia and an author on the new
report. "It's an important aspect of parental care that we often forget

The new work reflects a growing interest in what might be called animal
sanitation studies--the exploration of how, why and under what
conditions different species will seek to stay clean, stave off decay and
disrepair, and formally dispose of the excreted and expired. Nature may be
wild, but that doesn't mean anything goes anywhere, and many animals
follow strict rules for separating metabolic ingress and egress, and
avoiding sources of contamination.

Researchers have identified honeybee undertakers that specialize in
removing corpses from the hive, and they have located dedicated
underground toilet chambers to which African mole rats reliably repair to
perform their elaborate ablutions.

Among chimpanzees, hygiene often serves as a major driver of cultural
evolution, and primatologists have found that different populations of the
ape are marked by distinctive grooming styles. The chimpanzees in the Tai
Forest of Ivory Coast, for example, will extract a tick or other parasite
from a companion's fur with their fingers and then squash the offending
pest against their own forearms.

Chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest of Uganda prefer to daintily place the
fruits of grooming on a leaf for inspection, to decide whether the
dislodged bloodsuckers are safe to eat, or should simply be smashed and
tossed. Budongo males, those fastidious charmers, will also use leaves as
"napkins," to wipe their penises clean after sex.

Leaves may grow on trees, but serious sanitation work can be costly, as
the new study of flickers revealed. Baby woodpeckers, like many nestlings,
deposit their waste in the reasonably manageable form of fecal sacs, the
mess contained in a gelatinous outer coating "like a water balloon," Dr.
Gow said. "It makes for easier removal from the nest."

Ah, but what prodigious sac factories the little birds can be. Whereas
human parents may change a daunting 50 to 80 diapers a week, flicker
parents remove the same number of fecal sacs a day, each time venturing
some 100 yards from the nest and risking exposure to predators like hawks.

Dr. Gow determined that father flickers performed about 60 percent of the
sanitation runs, spent up to an hour a day on the task, and, in the event
of the untimely death of a mate, were happy to let the sacs stack up.
"When they're really strained," Dr. Gow said, "and the options are, remove
fecal sacs or feed the kids, they'll feed the kids."

Good hygiene is a matter of context. Luigi Pontieri of the Centre for
Social Evolution at Copenhagen University and his colleagues study the
pharaoh ant, a tiny, highly successful invasive species that originated in
Southeast Asia but in three centuries of piggybacking on human activity
has managed to colonize the world.

Unlike most ants, pharaoh ants don't build structured nests or defend
territory. "They'll live wherever they can, in places other ants avoid,"
Dr. Pontieri said. "They'll live in trash, in layers of old food, in
electric plugs, between the pages of books. You can even find a colony
inside a mealworm, which they ate their way into."

Sometimes, Dr. Pontieri said, "it can be really disgusting to work with
these ants."

Delving into the secrets of the ants' capacity to stay healthy no matter
where they roam, the researchers discovered that the insects seemed to
resist disease in part through a kind of vaccination program. As the
researchers reported in the journal PLOS One, when the ants were given a
choice between nesting in clean soil or soil littered with the corpses of
pharaoh ants killed by fungal disease, the living ants chose to nest with
the fouled fallen.

Uninfected cadavers didn't hold the same appeal; the pharaoh ants wanted
dead comrades with spores.

"We think the ants were actively seeking small doses of the pathogen," Dr.
Pontieri said. "It might be a way of getting immunized against a disease
that could kill them."

Yet stable property can have its benefits. Gene E. Robinson, a professor
of neurology and entomology at the University of Illinois, said that when
formerly free-living honeybees first "took the show indoors" by
constructing thermally controlled hives, they gained the power to coddle
their young but faced new challenges of hygiene.

"Dead bees that once dropped harmlessly to the ground could now accumulate
in the hive," Dr. Robinson said. The social insects solved the problem by
establishing a tiny corps of undertakers: bees in late middle age and of a
particular genotype that has yet to be decoded.

The undertakers tirelessly patrol the honeycomb corridors, lift up any
newly deceased bees they encounter, totter off with a payload fourfold
heavier than the average pack of pollen, and then dump the bodies some 20
feet from the hive, anywhere from 25 to 100 times a day.

Bees are also careful not to soil the hive with personal droppings, and
some species even engage in "cleansing flights." Hundreds or thousands of
hive members swarm out to evacuate en masse--a practice that more than
30 years ago prompted Alexander M. Haig Jr., who was the secretary of
state, to mistake the yellow-brown showers in Laos as an act of chemical

African mole rats, the mammalian equivalent of social insects, cannot risk
venturing outdoors to avoid sullying their elaborate underground housing
complexes, so they build dedicated lavatories instead. When one toilet
chamber is too full, said Chris G. Faulkes of Queen Mary University of
London, a leading expert in the evolutionary ecology of African mole rats,
the workers will "backfill it, seal it up and make a new one."

"They keep the burrows very tidy," he added.

Like its human equivalent, a mole rat toilet chamber is also a place to
primp, and a freshly relieved animal will spend time energetically
grooming its head, flanks and belly, before marking its recent visit with
just a touch of anogenital fluid daubed on the bathroom floor.
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[tt] NYT: Students Measure Space Dust as New Horizons Heads for Pluto

Students Measure Space Dust as New Horizons Heads for Pluto


In the nine years that NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has spent zooming
toward Pluto, most of the seven instruments aboard the piano-size probe
have been in hibernation, waiting for their chance to plumb the mysteries
of our solar system. One, however, has been collecting and pinging back
data all this time, a tireless worker with a taste for dust.

The instrument, known as the Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter, was
created at the University of Colorado, Boulder, by a small group of
students in physics, mechanical engineering, aeronautics and astrophysical
sciences. At the time of launch, it was the only student-led instrument on
any interplanetary mission, and it has gone farther from Earth than any
other. Its purpose aboard New Horizons is to measure the amount and
density of space dust encountered on the journey to the dwarf planet,
analyzing the remnants of colliding objects like asteroids, comets and
expired planets. With this information, scientists will be able to
understand more about activity in the Kuiper Belt, a ring of icy debris
just beyond the orbit of Neptune.

The instrument was first proposed by Mihaly Horanyi, a physics professor
at the university, as part of the school's pitch to NASA to piggyback on a
mission to Pluto. While the university's Laboratory for Atmospheric and
Space Physics, where Dr. Horanyi is a research associate, was not chosen
to lead the mission, New Horizons' eventual principal investigator, Alan
Stern, from the Southwest Research Institute, wanted a dust instrument on
the spacecraft. So Dr. Horanyi put in a second proposal, this time for an
instrument built and run entirely by students, and in 2003 NASA approved
the Student Dust Counter.

"There is a strong scientific rationale to have a dust instrument
onboard," Dr. Horanyi said. "Dust measurements beyond Pluto will give
estimates on the density and size distributions of the Kuiper Belt
objects. These measurements are critical to compare our own dust disk--
the Zodiacal dust cloud--to the dust disks observed around many other

The project started with three students Dr. Horanyi had recruited from his
own faculty. Soon, word spread around campus that a professor was looking
for students to work on a NASA-led mission to Pluto. "In a matter of
months, we had 20 or so students on the team," Dr. Horanyi said. Though it
was an academic project, the Student Dust Counter had to adhere to the
same NASA standards as the other instruments on New Horizons, which meant
regular reviews in front of panels of visiting NASA engineers. (Dr.
Horanyi remembers it more as an "interrogation.") In the two years it took
to build the dust counter, many students graduated and moved on, replaced
by a new batch of undergraduates. Of the original team, four students are
still at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in some capacity; two
graduated, but eventually returned to work on the Student Dust Counter.

Tiffany Finley came onboard as the project manager in 2002, while she was
a graduate student. She was responsible for seeing the instrument all the
way through, from design to construction to calibration. "I'd just been
looking for something cool to work on, and suddenly it was like, wait, you
guys are going to Pluto? Sign me up," she said. After graduating, Ms.
Finley worked as an aerospace engineer before landing a job at the
Southwest Research Institute, first with the NASA Juno mission to Jupiter
and then with New Horizons. She is now responsible for command sequencing
on the Student Dust Counter--creating a series of orders that tell the
instrument what to do and when to do it. (Dr. Horanyi joked that Ms.
Finley started out as his student and is now his boss.)

Similarly, David James began work on the dust counter in 2003 for his
physics Ph.D., with Dr. Horanyi as his adviser. His work looked at the
polyvinylidene fluoride detectors that make up the dust counter, which
generate a charge when hit with a dust particle. The detectors are
composed of a plastic film and coated with a thin layer of metal; when a
dust particle hits the detectors, the charges rearrange themselves,
creating an electronic signal. The Student Dust Counter measures this
signal and sends the information back to Earth for analysis.

Dr. James, too, left the university for a few years after graduating, but
returned after realizing that the dust counter was a unique opportunity.
"New Horizons is one of the greatest missions in space history," Dr. James
said. "To continue to be part of that, especially on a project you started
working on as a student, is too exciting to pass up." Dr. James is now
overseeing the latest batch of Colorado students recruited to work with
the instrument as New Horizons gears up for its flyby of Pluto in July.

Dr. James and Ms. Finley have fond memories of summers spent in the lab
working on the dust counter, despite the sleepless nights spent worrying
about the NASA review panels. Dr. James recalls one long week testing the
instrument in various temperatures to make sure it could survive the
journey to Pluto. The students worked in 24-hour shifts, juggling classes
and other obligations, to document the procedure.

"We were driven by the knowledge that if our little instrument broke while
up in space, it would damage the entire craft and put the whole mission in
jeopardy," Dr. James said. "We were solving problems students aren't
normally required to solve, and that proved to be invaluable experience."

Dr. Horanyi and his team have been steadily collecting data from the
Student Dust Counter during its nine-year trip, publishing a number of
research papers. However, the dust counter's big moment is yet to come.
After the Pluto flyby, New Horizons is scheduled to keep flying away from
the sun, with enough power to continue comfortably for another 20 to 25
years, exploring unfamiliar parts of the solar system.

"If you were an alien world looking into our solar system and saw all the
dust, what you'd really be looking at is the footprints of our planets,"
Dr. James said. "Similarly, if we look at other solar systems, we can do
the same. That's why these tiny particles of dust are so important. They
can tell us what used to be there."

Last year, Dr. Stern at the Southwest Research Institute organized a
reunion for the 30 or so students who had worked on the Student Dust
Counter. For Dr. Horanyi, it was an emotional moment.

"That's 14 years' worth of people on the same project," he said. "To see
that so many people still care deeply about it was an incredible thing to
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[tt] NYT: Even Einstein's Research Can Take Time to Matter

What was in the 1935 paper? Wasn't Einstein opposed to the objective
randomness which is part of quanturm mechanics?

Even Einstein's Research Can Take Time to Matter


In science, a "sleeping beauty" refers to a research paper whose
importance is not recognized until many years after it is published. A new
analysis of 22 million studies, published over more than a century, finds
that sleeping beauties are common.

"We followed the history of these papers from the moment they were
published to the moment they received maximum citations in other papers,"
said Alessandro Flammini, an associate professor of informatics and
computing at Indiana University and one of the study's authors.

One prominent example: a paper published in 1935 by Albert Einstein and
his colleagues on quantum mechanics. It was only in 1994 that this study
started being widely cited by other scientists, Dr. Flammini said.

Many statistical studies from the 1930s are also sleeping beauties, Dr.
Flammini and his colleagues found. "A lot of important work was done in
statistics then, but large data sets were not available at the time to use
the statistical tools they describe," Dr. Flammini said.

The new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, suggests that scholars should not be judged by the immediate
success or failure of a publication.

The next step is to understand more about how and why some old papers
suddenly become popular among scientists.

In other words, what wakens a sleeping beauty?
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[tt] NYT: Making LED Light Bulbs Less Attractive to Insects

Making LED Light Bulbs Less Attractive to Insects


Making LED light bulbs give off less blue light might help protect people
from insect-borne diseases, according to a scientist who specializes in
the environmental effects of artificial light.

The scientist, Travis Longcore, a professor of spatial sciences at the
University of Southern California, is working with Royal Philips, a Dutch
electronics company, to develop bulbs less attractive to insects.

He took experimental Philips LED bulbs whose mix of red, blue, green and
white could be "tuned" and tested them against off-the-shelf LEDs and
compact fluorescent bulbs--all suspended at night over traps of soapy
water in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Dr. Longcore's study, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal
Society B in March, showed that the fluorescents attracted by far the most
bugs, and the tunable LEDs could be adjusted to attract about 20 percent
fewer than standard LEDs did. LEDs, which use even less power than
fluorescents and last even longer, are still relatively expensive. But
prices are falling rapidly, and they will presumably become popular in
poor countries, just as fluorescents replaced power-hogging incandescent

Mosquitoes, sandflies and the kissing bugs that transmit malaria,
leishmaniasis, Chagas and other diseases are attracted to the blue
wavelengths of the oldest and cheapest LED bulbs, which were created by
putting a phosphor coating on a blue diode, Dr. Longcore said.
(Fluorescents also emit violet and ultraviolet, which are even more
attractive, he added.)

Because many humans find bluish LED light "cold" and unflattering, the
electronics industry is developing "warmer" bulbs more like incandescents.

The ideal, Dr. Longcore said, would be "an energy-efficient bulb that has
a comfortable color temperature and minimizes insect attraction, solving
all of these problems together."
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[tt] NYT: John Markoff: Relax, the Terminator Is Far Away

John Markoff: Relax, the Terminator Is Far Away

In glossy sci-fi movies like "Ex Machina" and "Chappie," robots move with
impressive--and frequently malevolent--dexterity. They appear to
confirm the worst fears of prominent technologists and scientists like
Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates, who have all recently voiced
alarm over the possible emergence of self-aware machines out to do harm to
the human race.

"I don't understand why some people are not concerned," Mr. Gates said in
an interview on Reddit.

"I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence," Mr.
Musk said during an interview at M.I.T. "If I had to guess at what our
biggest existential threat is, it's probably that," he added. He has also
said that artificial intelligence would "summon the demon."

And Mr. Hawking told the BBC that "the development of full artificial
intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

Not so fast. Next month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a
Pentagon research arm, will hold the final competition in its Robotics
Challenge in Pomona, Calif. With $2 million in prize money for the robot
that performs best in a series of rescue-oriented tasks in under an hour,
the event will offer what engineers refer to as the "ground truth"--a
reality check on the state of the art in the field of mobile robotics.

A preview of their work suggests that nobody needs to worry about a
Terminator creating havoc anytime soon. Given a year and a half to improve
their machines, the roboticists, who shared details about their work in
interviews before the contest in June, appear to have made limited

In the previous contest in Florida in December 2013, the robots, which
were protected from falling by tethers, were glacially slow in
accomplishing tasks such as opening doors and entering rooms, clearing
debris, climbing ladders and driving through an obstacle course. (The
robots had to be placed in the vehicles by human minders.)

Reporters who covered the event resorted to such analogies as "watching
paint dry" and "watching grass grow."

This year, the robots will have an hour to complete a set of eight tasks
that would probably take a human less than 10 minutes. And the robots are
likely to fail at many. This time they will compete without belays, so
some falls may be inevitable. And they will still need help climbing into
the driver's seat of a rescue vehicle.

Twenty-five teams are expected to enter the competition. Most of their
robots will be two-legged, but many will have four legs, several will have
wheels, and one "transformer" is designed to roll on four legs or two.
That robot, named Chimp by its designers at Carnegie Mellon University,
will weigh 443 pounds.

None of the robots will be autonomous. Human operators will guide the
machines via wireless networks that will occasionally slow to just a
trickle of data, to simulate intermittent communications during a crisis.
This will give an edge to machines that can act semi-autonomously, for
example, automatically walking on uneven terrain or grabbing and turning a
door handle to open a door. But the machines will remain largely helpless
without human supervisors.

"The extraordinary thing that has happened in the last five years is that
we have seemed to make extradorinary progress in machine perception," said
Gill Pratt, the Darpa program manager in charge of the Robotics Challenge.

Pattern recognition hardware and software has made it possible for
computers to make dramatic progress in computer vision and speech
understanding. In contrast, Dr. Pratt said, little headway has been made
in "cognition," the higher-level humanlike processes required for robot
planning and true autonomy. As a result, both in the Darpa contest and in
the field of robotics more broadly, there has been a re-emphasis on the
idea of human-machine partnerships.

"It is extremely important to remember that the Darpa Robotics Challenge
is about a team of humans and machines working together," he said.
"Without the person, these machines could hardly do anything at all."

In fact, the steep challenge in making progress toward mobile robots that
can mimic human capabilities is causing robotics researchers worldwide to
rethink their goals. Now, instead of trying to build completely autonomous
robots, many researchers have begun to think instead of creating ensembles
of humans and robots, an approach they describe as co-robots or "cloud

Ken Goldberg, a University of California, Berkeley, roboticist, has called
on the computing world to drop its obsession with singularity, the
much-ballyhooed time when computers are predicted to surpass their human
designers. Rather, he has proposed a concept he calls "multiplicity," with
diverse groups of humans and machines solving problems through

For decades, artificial-intelligence researchers have noted that the
simplest tasks for humans, such as reaching into a pocket to retrieve a
quarter, are the most challenging for machines.

"The intuitive idea is that the more money you spend on a robot, the more
autonomy you will be able to design into it," said Rodney Brooks, an
M.I.T. roboticist and co-founder two early companies, iRobot and Rethink
Robotics. "The fact is actually the opposite is true: The cheaper the
robot, the more autonomy it has."

For example, iRobot's Roomba robot is autonomous, but the vacuuming task
it performs by wandering around rooms is extremely simple. By contrast,
the company's Packbot is more expensive, designed for defusing bombs, and
must be teleoperated or controlled wirelessly by people.

The first Darpa challenge more than a decade ago had a big effect on the
perception of robots. It also helped spark greater interest in the
artificial intelligence and robotics industries.

A Woodstock for Robots

At the Robotics Challenge 2013 Trials in Homestead, Fla., teams that built
rescue robots competed for a chance at a $2 million prize next year.
By Aubrey Aden-Buie on Publish Date December 22, 2013.

During the initial Darpa challenge in 2004, none of the robotic vehicles
was able to complete more than seven of the 150 miles that the course
covered. However, during the 2005 challenge, a $2 million prize was
claimed by a group of artificial-intelligence researchers from Stanford
University whose vehicle defeated a Carnegie Mellon entrant in a tight

The contest led to Google's decision to begin a self-driving-car project,
which in turn spurred the automotive industry to invest heavily in
autonomous vehicle technology.

Developing a car to drive on an unobstructed road was a far simpler task
than the current Darpa Robotics Challenge, which requires robots to drive
and, while they're walking, navigate around obstacles, remove debris, use
vision and grasp with dexterity, and perform tasks with tools.

"We had a relatively easy task," said Sebastian Thrun, a roboticist who
led the Stanford team in 2005 and later started the Google
self-driving-car project. "Today they're doing the hard stuff."

His view about the relationship between humans and robots has been shaped
by the two contests. "I'm a big believer that technology progresses by
complementing people rather than replacing them," he said.

Most of the Robotics Challenge teams receive university and corporate
financing, and in some cases use a Darpa-funded, 6-foot-2 Atlas robot that
weighs 380 pounds. (All of the competitors must design their own software
and controls.)

But one team of hobbyists will bring a homegrown robot financed with
credit cards and the help of family members.

"We're not a big company," said Karl Castleton, an assistant professor of
computer science at Colorado Mesa University and the leader of Grit
Robotics, which has constructed a robot that rolls slowly on four wheels.
"We're just some guys who have a lot of love for what we're doing."
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[tt] NYT: Maligned Study on Gay Unions Is Shaking Trust

This article is short on substance. Why are the study's conclusions
apparently so wicked?

Maligned Study on Gay Unions Is Shaking Trust


He was a graduate student who seemingly had it all: drive, a big idea and
the financial backing to pay for a sprawling study to test it.

In 2012, as same-sex marriage advocates were working to build support in
California, Michael LaCour, a political science researcher at the
University of California, Los Angeles, asked a critical question: Can
canvassers with a personal stake in an issue--in this case, gay men and
women--actually sway voters' opinions in a lasting way?

He would need an influential partner to help frame, interpret and place
into context his findings--to produce an authoritative scientific
answer. And he went to one of the giants in the field, Donald P. Green, a
Columbia University professor and co-author of a widely used text on field

"I thought it was a very ambitious idea, so ambitious that it might not be
suitable for a graduate student," said Dr. Green, who signed on as a
co-author of Mr. LaCour's study in 2013. "But it's such an important
question, and he was very passionate about it."

Last week, their finding that gay canvassers were in fact powerfully
persuasive with people who had voted against same-sex marriage--
published in December in Science, one of the world's leading scientific
journals--collapsed amid accusations that Mr. LaCour had misrepresented
his study methods and lacked the evidence to back up his findings.

On Tuesday, Dr. Green asked the journal to retract the study because of
Mr. LaCour's failure to produce his original data. Mr. LaCour declined to
be interviewed, but has said in statements that he stands by the findings.

The case has shaken not only the community of political scientists but
also public trust in the way the scientific establishment vets new
findings. It raises broad questions about the rigor of rules that guide a
leading academic's oversight of a graduate student's research and of the
peer review conducted of that research by Science.

New, previously unreported details have emerged that suggest serious
lapses in the supervision of Mr. LaCour's work. For example, Dr. Green
said he had never asked Mr. LaCour to detail who was funding their
research, and Mr. LaCour's lawyer has told Science that Mr. LaCour did not
pay participants in the study the fees he had claimed.

Dr. Green, who never saw the raw data on which the study was based, said
he had repeatedly asked Mr. LaCour to post the data in a protected
databank at the University of Michigan, where they could be examined later
if needed. But Mr. LaCour did not.

"It's a very delicate situation when a senior scholar makes a move to look
at a junior scholar's data set," Dr. Green said. "This is his career, and
if I reach in and grab it, it may seem like I'm boxing him out."

But Dr. Ivan Oransky, A co-founder of "Retraction Watch," which first
published news of the allegations and Dr. Green's retraction request,
said, "At the end of the day he decided to trust LaCour, which was, in his
own words, a mistake."

Many of the most contentious particulars of how the study was conducted
are not yet known, and Mr. LaCour said he would produce a "definitive"
accounting by the end of next week. Science has published an expression of
concern about the study and is considering retracting it, said Marcia
McNutt, editor in chief.

"Given the negative publicity that has now surrounded this paper and the
concerns that have been raised about its irreproducibility, I think it
would be in Michael LaCour's best interest to agree to a retraction of the
paper as swiftly as possible," she said in an interview on Friday. "Right
now he's going to have such a black cloud over his head that it's going to
haunt him for the rest of his days."

Only three months ago he posted on Facebook that he would soon be moving
across country for his "dream job" as a professor at Princeton. That
future could now be in doubt. A Princeton spokesman, Martin Mbugua, noting
that Mr. LaCour was not yet an employee there, said, "We will review all
available information and determine the next steps."

Critics said the intense competition by graduate students to be published
in prestigious journals, weak oversight by academic advisers and the rush
by journals to publish studies that will attract attention too often led
to sloppy and even unethical research methods. The now disputed study was
covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street
Journal, among others.

"You don't get a faculty position at Princeton by publishing something in
the Journal Nobody-Ever-Heard-Of," Dr. Oransky said. Is being lead author
on a big study published in Science "enough to get a position in a
prestigious university?" he asked, then answered: "They don't care how
well you taught. They don't care about your peer reviews. They don't care
about your collegiality. They care about how many papers you publish in
major journals."

The details that have emerged about the flaws in the research have
prompted heated debate among scientists and policy makers about how to
reform the current system of review and publication. This is far from the
first such case.

The scientific community's system for vetting new findings, built on
trust, is poorly equipped to detect deliberate misrepresentations. Faculty
advisers monitor students' work, but there are no standard guidelines
governing the working relationship between senior and junior co-authors.

The reviewers at journals may raise questions about a study's methodology
or data analysis, but rarely have access to the raw data itself, experts
said. They do not have time; they are juggling the demands of their own
work, and reviewing is typically unpaid.

In cases like this one--with the authors on opposite sides of the
country--that trust allowed Mr. LaCour to work with little supervision.

"It is simply unacceptable for science to continue with people publishing
on data they do not share with others," said Uri Simonsohn, an associate
professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
"Journals, funding agencies and universities must begin requiring that
data be publicly available."

Mr. LaCour met Dr. Green at a summer workshop on research methods in Ann
Arbor, Mich., that is part education, part pilgrimage for young
scientists. Dr. Green is a co-author of the textbook "Field Experiments:
Design, Analysis and Interpretation." He has published more than 100
papers, on topics like campaign finance and party affiliation, and is one
of the most respected proponents of rigorous analysis and data
transparency in social science.

He is also known to offer younger researchers a hand up.

"If it is an interesting question, Don is interested," said Brian Nosek, a
professor of psychology at the University of Virginia who has collaborated
with Dr. Green.

Mr. LaCour, whose résumé mentions a stint as the University of Texas
Longhorns' mascot "Hook Em" as well as an impressive list of academic
honors, approached Dr. Green after class at the workshop one day with his

His proposal was intriguing. Previous work had found that standard
campaign tactics--ads, pamphleteering, conventional canvassing--did
not alter core beliefs in a lasting way. Mr. LaCour wanted to test
canvassing done by people who would personally be affected by the outcome
of the vote.

His timing was perfect. The Los Angeles LGBT Center, after losing the
fight over Proposition 8, which barred same-sex marriage in California,
was doing just this sort of work in conservative parts of the county and
wanted to see if it was effective. Dave Fleischer, director of the
center's leadership lab, knew Dr. Green and had told him of the center's
innovative canvassing methods.

"Don said we were in luck because there was a Ph.D. candidate named Mike
LaCour who was interested in doing an experiment," Mr. Fleischer said.

Money seemed ample for the undertaking--and Dr. Green did not ask where
exactly it was coming from.

"Michael said he had hundreds of thousands in grant money, and, yes, in
retrospect, I could have asked about that," Dr. Green said. "But it's a
delicate matter to ask another scholar the exact method through which
they're paying for their work."

Dr. McNutt said that for Dr. Green to be "in a situation where he's so
distant from the student that he would have so little opportunity to
really keep tabs on what was happening with him and with this data set--
it's just not a good situation."

The canvassing was done rigorously, Mr. Fleischer said. The LGBT Center
sent people into neighborhoods that had voted against same-sex marriage,
including Boyle Heights, South Central and East Los Angeles. The voters
were randomly assigned to either gay or straight canvassers, who were
trained to engage them respectfully in conversation.

Mr. LaCour's job was to track those voters' attitudes toward same-sex
marriage multiple times, over nine months, using a survey tool called the
"feeling thermometer," intended to pick up subtle shifts. He reported a
response rate of the participants who completed surveys, 12 percent, that
was so high that Dr. Green insisted the work be replicated to make sure it
held up.

Mr. LaCour told Dr. Green that the response rate was high because he was
paying respondents to participate, a common and accepted practice. After
he told that Dr. Green a second run of the experiment had produced similar
results, Dr. Green signed on.

Mr. Fleischer said that sometime during the project, "Mike had the strong
opinion that we would find that the gay canvassers were doing much

Mr. Fleischer said he was doubtful that would be the result, noting that
same-sex marriage advocates differ on whether gay or straight people are
better at persuading opponents.

The LaCour-Green findings electrified some in the field. Joshua Kalla, a
Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, saw the study
presented before it was published.

"It was very exciting, and partly because it wasn't just theoretical, it
was something that could be applied in campaigns," he said.

He and a fellow student, David Broockman, who will soon be an assistant
professor at Stanford, decided to test the very same approach on another
political issue, also working with the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Mr.
Fleischer of the center said the issue was transgender equality in
Florida. Mr. Kalla and Dr. Broockman paid participants as they thought Mr.
LaCour had, but their response rate was only 3 percent.

"We started to wonder, 'What are we doing wrong?' " Mr. Kalla said. "Our
response rate was so low, compared to his."

There are now serious questions about whether Mr. LaCour achieved the high
response rate he claimed. He has acknowledged that he did not pay
participants as he had claimed, according to Dr. Green and Dr. McNutt, the
Science editor in chief.

In a letter that he sent through his lawyer, Dr. McNutt said, Mr. LaCour
said he had instead allowed participants the chance to win an iPad, saying
"that was incentive enough." Dr. McNutt said the supposed payments had
convinced the reviewers that the response rate was as high as the study

Dr. Green asked Mr. LaCour for the raw data after the study came under
fire. Mr. LaCour said in the letter to Dr. McNutt that he erased the raw
data months ago, "to protect those who answered the survey," Dr. McNutt

She said that it was possible some voters had responded to some surveys,
but that it was most likely that too few had done so to provide enough
data to reach persuasive conclusions.

Survey data comes in many forms, and the form that journal peer-reviewers
see and that appears with the published paper is the "cleaned" and
analyzed data. These are the charts, tables, and graphs that extract
meaning from the raw material--piles of questionnaires, transcripts of
conversations, "screen grabs" of online forms. Many study co-authors never
see the raw material.

Mr. Kalla, trying to find out why he and Dr. Broockman were getting such a
low response rate, called the survey company that had been working with
Mr. LaCour. The company, which he declined to name, denied any knowledge
of the project, he said.

"We were over at Dave's place, and he was listening to my side of the
conversation, and when I hung up," we just looked at each other, he said.
"Then we went right back into the data, because we're nerdy data guys and
that's what we do."

On Saturday, they quickly found several other anomalies in Mr. LaCour's
analysis and called their former instructor, Dr. Green. Over the weekend,
the three of them, with the help of an assistant professor at Yale, Peter
Aronow, discovered that statistical manipulations could easily have
accounted for the findings. Dr. Green called Mr. LaCour's academic
adviser, Lynn Vavreck, an associate professor, who confronted Mr. LaCour.

Dr. McNutt of Science said editors there were still grappling with a
decision on retracting.

"This has just hit us," she said. "There will be a lot of time for lessons
learned. We're definitely going to be thinking a lot about this and what
could have been done to prevent this from happening."