I wrote this essay a few years ago as part one of a two-part article that would illustrate some parallels between intellectual authoritarianism in neo-Darwinism and in neoclassical economics. In some ways my response to Paul Krugman’s response to me was Part Two. But, wanting to quote this essay in another essay I’m working on – “Disciplines as institutions” I’m publishing it now in all it’s unfinishment.?
I. Denis Noble on what’s wrong with gene centred Neo-Darwinism
A few weeks ago?I finished reading Denis Noble’s very intriguing and provocative Dance to the Tune of Life, a comprehensive take-down of Neo-Darwinism and excessive reductionism in science.?Noble was one of Richard Dawkins’ PhD examiners and?used to identify with the?Neo-Darwinist mainstream – of which more in a moment. But, through his work in mathematical physiology gradually became aware of mounting problems with certain doctrinal foundations of Neo-Darwinism.
Often he shows us recent work that seems to debunk very important Neo-Darwinist doctrines at the same time as showing us that those heterodox ideas have been around for many many decades – sometimes over a century – but that they’ve been marginalised by the Neo-Darwinist consensus. And that consensus has been enforced by a Neo-Darwinist ‘political correctness’ police in which Richard Dawkins takes pride of place. My purpose in this essay is to delineate some intellectual roots of this political correctness and also to show strong parallels with the way ‘scientific rigour’ is policed in another discipline – economics – with similar disastrous results.?
Fittingly enough, cross-fertilisation between economics and biology has been common. Since economics first threatened to become little more than a branch of applied mathematics as the marginal revolution took hold, numerous economists of note have insisted that economics should be more like biology. In fact the cross fertilisation goes right back to the beginning of modern evolution. When Darwin read Malthus’s political economy, particularly his famous Essay on the Principle of Population it turned his mind toward every creature’s and every species’ struggle for survival.? The rest was history – well biology actually, but you get my meaning.