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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

The End of the Evolutionary Synthesis?

13th June 2007, 17:30 to 18:30, Van Mildert College

This is an IAS public lecture which is free and open to all.

The End of the Evolutionary Synthesis?

The 'evolutionary synthesis', namely the period of evolutionary biology between the 1930s and 1950s, is marked by the reconciliation of Darwinian natural selection and Mendelian genetics. It is the origin of neo-Darwinism, the doctrine that evolution is driven, gradually, but primarily by natural selection acting on variation supplied by mutation. Arguably, neo-Darwinism is the dominant evolutionary view today; certainly, it is the public face of evolutionary biology. However, there is a compelling challenge to the primacy of natural selection from molecular evolution. This talk traces that challenge, arguing for an end to the evolutionary synthesis.

Dr Skipper is an historian and philosopher of biology with particular interests in the origin and development of evolutionary genetics. He studied evolutionary biology and history and philosophy of science at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA and received the PhD in Philosophy in 2000. He is now Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Dr Skipper has also been a Fellow of the Charles Phelps Taft Research Center at the University of Cincinnati, where he conducted research on controversy dynamics in evolutionary biology.

Dr Skipper is known principally for his historical and philosophical work on the R. A. Fisher-Sewall Controversy, particularly his papers, "The Persistence of the R. A. Fisher-Sewall Wright Controversy" (Biology and Philosophy, 2002), "The Heuristic Role of Sewall Wright's 1932 Adaptive Landscape Diagram" (Philosophy of Science, 2004), and "Revisiting the Fisher-Wright Controversy" (Descended from Darwin, eds. J. Cain and M. Ruse, American Philosophical Society Press, in press 2007). More recently, Skipper has begun looking at the conceptual foundations of chance in evolution and is responsible for formally introducing the field of philosophy of biology to the population genetics concept of "genetic draft" in his paper, "Stochastic Evolutionary Dynamics: Drift vs. Draft" (Philosophy of Science, in press 2007). During his time with the IAS, he will work on the historical and conceptual foundations of R. A. Fisher's genetical theory of natural selection.

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