June 06, 2007

Ecological economics, complexity and other buzzwords

Michael Lynch takes issue with some currently fashionable concepts in evolutionary science in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA:
Four of the major buzzwords in biology today are complexity, modularity, evolvability, and robustness, and it is often claimed that ill-defined mechanisms not previously appreciated by evolutionary biologists must be invoked to explain the existence of emergent properties that putatively enhance the long-term success of extant taxa. This stance is not very different from the intelligent-design philosophy of invoking unknown mechanisms to explain biodiversity. Although those who promote the concept of the adaptive evolution of the above features are by no means intelligent-design advocates, the burden of evidence for invoking an all-powerful guiding hand of natural selection should be no less stringent than one would demand of a creationist. If evolutionary science is to move forward, the standards of the field should be set no lower than in any other area of inquiry.
The same sort of criticism applies to ecological economics, resilience science and their buzzwords.

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