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Lala Kevin | Fellow Visitor
2023-06-03 - 2023-07-21 | Research area: EvoDevo
Promoting a Progressive Vision of Evolutionary Science

The field of evolutionary biology is changing. New ideas are flooding into it from evolutionary developmental biology, epigenetics, ecology, genomics, the human sciences, and many other disciplines. According to leading evolutionary biologist, Stevan Arnold (2014) “to synthesize this information we need diverse perspectives, and bridges between them”. One such novel perspective is the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, or EES (Pigluicci & Müller, 2010; Laland et al 2014, 2015; Müller, 2017, 2021). Central to this perspective is the idea that knowledge of how organisms develop, grow, and interact with their environments helps researchers to account for both adaptation and the diversity of life. Inspired by developments in evo devo and eco evo devo, in recent years the EES has consolidated into a research program in its own right, lending impetus to a number of topics including developmental bias/constraint, epigenetic inheritance, animal culture, plasticity-led evolution and niche construction.

What is required now are accessible synthetic resources that pull these novel findings together and make a coherent case for conceptual change within evolutionary biology. These resources potentially take many forms. Most obviously, books are of central importance. To be compelling, any such summary requires a detailed review of new findings, explanations for how they support new ways of thinking, but must also address philosophical and historical issues, rebutt counterarguments, and spell out practical implications. Only book-length treatments can achieve this aim. The EES conceptual papers (e.g., Laland et al 2014 Nature; Laland et al 2015 Proc R Soc B) are very well-cited (>800 and >1000 cites, respectively); however, there is a limit to what can be achieved in the brief format of a scientific article. The “message” is too complex and multifaceted to be effectively transmitted in paper format. While edited volumes and other published books are making an important contribution to this debate (e.g., Jablonka & Lamb, 2005; Pigluicci & Müller, 2010; Noble 2017; Nuno de la Rosa & Müller, 2021), they typically lack the coherence and readability, and/or are pitched at a more technical level, to have a broad impact. Scientific books that are comprehensible to a wider audience are now required, as are tools for their promotion.

Completion of the Third Edition of ‘Sense & Nonsense’ book 
Laland and Brown have written a highly successful monograph together, entitled Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour, currently in its second edition (published in 2011). This book has received considerable acclaim, has become a core text for >60 undergraduate and postgraduate courses around the world, was translated into three languages, has sold well over 10,000 copies, and has been cited >1300 times. Oxford University Press have commissioned a third edition, which the applicants have been working on for a number of years, but always struggling to find time to complete in the face of the intensive demands of academic life. This book can be found in the KLI library, from which we infer that its merits are to some degree already appreciated by the KLI!

The second edition was published prior to the recent upswell of interest in the EES but nonetheless incorporated various core EES themes and foci, including an emphasis on constructive development, niche construction and plasticity-led evolution. In early drafts and plans for the third edition, the EES is discussed explicitly and sympathetically, presenting it as a framework that can unite the evolutionary human sciences. Given that multiple courses are already based on this book, publication of the third edition, with its overt endorsement of the EES, could have an immediate impact. A fellowship would provide Laland and Brown with the time, and supportive intellectual environment, to complete this project. As it is agreed that the third will be a Brown & Laland edition (i.e., reversal of authorship), this second project will be led by Brown, with Laland in a supporting role.