Science - February 14, 2013

Biologists stand up for evolution theory

'There are good explanations for the evolution of sex.'



Wageningen biologists and colleagues elsewhere have lambasted a thesis from VU University Amsterdam which attacks evolution theory. In his thesis, PhD student Joris van Rossum claims that evolution theory cannot explain the existence of sexual selection. Rubbish, came the retort in Dutch biology magazine Bionieuws from a group of evolution biologists including  Rolf Hoekstra, Duur Aanen and Arjan de Visser of Evolution Studies. There are perfectly good explanations for the evolution of sex, they say. What is more, they consider the thesis scientifically shaky and say Van Rossum made 'little and selective' use of the relevant scientific literature.
In a response, VU rector Lex Bouter admits that neither of the two supervisors have any background in biology. That is not a desirable situation but nor is it against the rules at the VU: 'It is up to the prospective supervisor to decide whether a subject is within his field of expertise.' He concedes that it would have been 'advisable to include an evolution biologist on the supervision team.'
According to the rector it was no problem officially that the examiners did not pass the thesis unanimously; a majority was enough. Bouter does think it is a pity the criticisms were not used to make improvements. The VU is going to use the case to make improvements to the PhD regulations. Beyond that, the rector declines to comment. Further discussion belongs in the scientific press, in his view. Van Rossum himself resolutely rejects all criticism. Even before the official response from the VU, he dismissed the criticisms in the newspaper Reformatorische Dagblad as 'a series of inaccuracies and wrong interpretations.' 
 

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