Nature vs. nurture? Both are important, anthropologist argues

May 19, 2016 by William G. Gilroy, University of Notre Dame

Evolutionary science stresses the contributions biology makes to our behavior. Some anthropologists try to understand how societies and histories construct our identities, and others ask about how genes and the environment do the same thing. Which is the better approach? Both are needed, argues Agustin Fuentes, University of Notre Dame biological anthropologist.

"Seeing bodies and evolutionary histories as things that can be measured separate from the human cultural experience is a poor approach and bad science," Fuentes said. "Seeing cultural perceptions and the human experience as unconnected to biology and is equally misguided. Data from a vast array of sources tell us that we need an integrative approach to best understand what it means to become and be human."

In a forthcoming paper in the journal Current Anthropology, Fuentes builds on the extended evolutionary synthesis of biologist Kevin Laland of the University of St. Andrews and colleagues.

"The extended evolutionary synthesis is basically an update of what we know about how evolution works," Fuentes said. "Most people think 'survival of the fittest' is all that happens in evolution and that DNA and genes are all that really matters. Both counts are wrong. Evolution is an awesome mix of bodies, ecologies, behaviors, chemistry and history. We know more about how life works, and the range of systems that impact it, than ever before. Organisms are constructed in development, not simply 'programmed' to develop by genes. Things don't 'evolve' to fit into environments. They co-construct and co-evolve with their environments."

Fuentes argues in the paper that anthropologists can, and should, combine , cultural analysis and ethnographic research.

"In the extended , what we think, feel and do can be as relevant as our DNA, the shape of our bones and the density of muscles … Many of those things are connected," he said. "This makes evolution approaches to why humans do what they do more exciting and more accessible to a wide range of researchers, but it also makes our jobs a lot harder.

"We need more collaboration across areas in anthropology, more interaction with those outside anthropology and the development of more complex, but much better, answers about being human."

Explore further: Anthropologist researches evolution of Darwin’s theory

More information: Agustin Fuentes. The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, Ethnography, and the Human Niche: Toward an Integrated Anthropology, Current Anthropology (2016). DOI: 10.1086/685684

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torbjorn_b_g_larsson
5 / 5 (3) May 19, 2016
No biologist would claim that either nature or nurture would predict human behavior. This is from the corners of not-consensus chicken'shit crackpotism, or as evolutionary biologist Coyne says "... there are biologists more muddled than these ... some .... are good biologists; I'd call them instead "largely misguided"".

"Most of the phenomena that were supposed to reboot the SET were described in a series of papers that came from the well known "Altenberg 16" conference in 2008, papers collected in a book published two years later: Evolution, The Extended Synthesis, edited by Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd Müller. I was asked to review that book, but declined after I read it. It was almost completely devoid of real biological examples, and was heavily larded with complex speculation, so the value of the "extensions" was not demonstrated."

[ https://whyevolut...biology/ ]
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
5 / 5 (2) May 19, 2016
To show how infected EES has become, they are taking religious grant money:

"Templeton wastes $11 million in attempt to change evolutionary biology"

"But I agree that directing the $11 million in this way is a big mistake. The annual budget of the National Science Foundation for evolutionary biology is only about $7.5 million, and the Templeton funding far exceeds that. I can only imagine how much more progress we'd see if that $11 million were given to the NSF instead of to a group of self-promoting researchers who will spend it and—or so I predict—not find much of interest.

So be it. These people have their money now. It's time for them to put up or shut up. Let's see if they can produce some real progress in understanding evolution over the next few years."

Notably, Phys.org floats a press release of Fuentes -09, after the initial conference, and now, after the grant. Yeah, real steady progress in that science program...
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) May 19, 2016
Soundin' a little cynical there, TBGL...:-)
Mark Thomas
5 / 5 (1) May 23, 2016
TBGL, you sound like I feel when I think about how much time and money the management at ITER has wasted since 2006. I feel your pain on this. It is not good to have people actively trying to pull us backwards because they have an alternative agenda.

We should be firing up ITER right now, not still pouring concrete, by the way.

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