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The Genial Gene: Deconstructing Darwinian Selfishness Paperback – June 15, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (June 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520265939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520265936
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,219,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“The arguments and counterarguments will most certainly generate a good deal of heat, but also, let’s hope,. . . . even more light.”
(The American Scholar 2009-03-05)

“Roughgarden's new theory is likely to end up an important extension to existing thought.”
(New Scientist 2009-04-29)

“Succeeds in re-opening issues long thought closed.. . . .(Challenging) what we thought we already know.”
(Nature 2009-04-30)

“Argues that. . . . sexual selection as a form of self-seeking improvement on the part of each beast is a myth.”
(New Yorker 2009-05-11)

From the Inside Flap

"Roughgarden's unique and forceful vision issues a timely, cogent challenge to the predominant world view that selfishness and conflict are the norm in adaptive evolution."—Michael J. Wade, coauthor of Mating Systems and Strategies

"No other book offers such a sustained argument against sexual selection theory and provides such a compelling alternative—substantively important and exciting."—Jonathan Kaplan, coauthor of Making Sense of Evolution

"This may be the most important book, philosophically speaking, on evolutionary theory in a decade. If Roughgarden is right, males and females evolved as allies, not enemies, and evolutionary theory needs a rethink because competition evolves in a cooperative world, not the other way around."—James Griesemer, President of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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Customer Reviews

As a literary Darwinist, I welcomed this book.
Eloi
Instead, organisms choose mates to be good team players in maximizing offspring reared.
J. Griesemer
The writing is easy to follow, often entertaining, and very informative.
Josh

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Josh on May 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Joan Roughgarden's 2009 book, The Genial Gene, focuses on the present limitations of sexual selection theory. At present, we might all think that such a stance is rubbish. We've seen nature documentaries and been taught in school why such species as the peacock have such great, bright, colorful, and costly displays. In natural selection, the most fit survive, yet having to haul massive tail feathers can leave a bird much more prone to predation. Even more, only the males have the bright displays. Sexual selection teaches us that these bright feathers attract females so that, while costly in one sense, guarantee more mates and those more offspring, who will then themselves have bright massive tail feathers.
Ironically, a 2008 study has found that the tail feathers offer no mating advantage. In this case, the theory is wrong.
Roughgarden cites this study and many more, debunking case after case of what one previously assumed would fall easily under the sexual selection banner. Notable authors in the field will also concede that the definition of sexual selection isn't even clear, and when cases such as the peacock fail, the theory is expanded.
Roughgarden, after showing the difficulty with present theory, offers another approach: social selection. Here, cooperation replaces competition. Birds work as a team to produce chicks. Sperm and egg develop in such a manner as to provide the greatest chance of fertilization. As yet, the theory is untested. However, it has been developed to match existing data and knowledge and easily provides better explanation for natural phenomena than does the current definition of sexual selection.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By David C. Belden on October 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I wrote a longish review of the book in Tikkun, the magazine I work on (here: [...]), but thought I would post some conclusions from that review here to encourage nonscientists to buy the book. I was very impressed by Dawkins's 'The Selfish Gene' when it came out and have been a critical enthusiast for sociobiology ever since: believing in its potential, but troubled by its biases. I never imagined that sexual selection itself might be so riven by a bias towards male/female conflict, rather than cooperation, as to skew the scientific research and interpretation to a point of becoming something closer to pure ideology than science. Roughgarden's book argues this brilliantly, and for the most part very clearly for interested lay people. It was a revelation to me as a non-biologist.

Darwin saw two major forces in evolution: natural selection and sexual selection. Roughgarden proposes replacing the latter with a theory she calls social selection. Here are the conclusions from my review:

At the end of the book she presents a table of twenty-six assumptions or hypotheses in sexual selection theory that are contradicted by equivalents in social selection theory. All of these can potentially be resolved, as to their truth or falsity, by field and experimental research. Roughgarden already presents enough data to show that social selection must be taken very seriously, and will likely prevail. This would be a huge paradigm shift. She finds widespread and deep resistance even to testing the theories.

Let me be clear. Roughgarden's is not an argument against sociobiology, and whatever explanations and descriptions of a universal human nature it can establish. Her beef is only with a vision of sexual and social relations based in selfish, as opposed to genial, genes.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. Griesemer on March 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This may be the most important book, philosophically speaking, on evolutionary theory in a decade. Not everyone will be persuaded by Roughgarden's critique of sexual selection or her insistence that one must choose between it and her alternative, social selection. Nevertheless, her social selection theory offers an intriguing alternative to the assumption that sex dimorphisms evolve because superior males win choosy, coy females. Instead, organisms choose mates to be good team players in maximizing offspring reared. If Roughgarden is right, males and females evolved as allies, not enemies, and evolutionary theory needs a rethink because competition evolves in a cooperative world, not the other way around.

The book is engagingly written, well organized and provides entry points to the technical literature, making it accessible to scientific specialists and a general audience alike. The book includes sections on cooperation and teamwork, genetic and social systems for sex, and concludes with point by point comparisions of the virtues and limitations of sexual selection and social selection theories.

Social selection theory is a "two tier" theory which holds genes "at arms length" from the behaviors that structure social interactions and the dynamics of evolutionary games between organisms that form teams to pursue reproductive goals. It is particularly valuable for introducing to a wide audience Nash bargaining solutions from game theory. These form part of the cooperative basis for Roughgarden's alternative to Nash competitive equilibrium theory that has supported many of the arguments favoring sexual selection theory.
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