Over my time as a dilettante observer of the science blogging community, I have noticed a certain frisson of controversy over the idea of random genetic drift. Sewall Wright, who with Ronald Fisher and J. B. S. Haldane (Bill Bryson’s observations on Haldane’s research into diving and decompression are entertaining) established the science of population genetics, is credited with coining the phrase in 1929. Thanks to Professor Joe Felsenstein for pointing out his seminal paper.
Will Provine has written a much admired biography of Sewall Wright, Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology, and yet has expressed doubt about the significance of genetic drift, culminating in his recent work, The “Random Genetic Drift” Fallacy, available as an E book here. This has caused a storm of comment on the internet. At the ID-friendly blog currently run by lawyer Barry Arrington, there was a portentous post by “News” which generated immense interest and four comments that I failed to notice and it was only when Larry Moran criticized Provine’s book recently at The Sandwalk that I became aware of its existence.
In ignorance of Provine’s doubts, I’ve recently expressed my own inability to grasp the significance of the effect for evolution. Allan Miller has been very gentle and patient with me and OM’s computer simulation was most helpful. In the commments, Joe Felsenstein links to his 1971 paper which should give the mathematically inclined food for thought. It just made my head spin!
So I’m hoping that someone can gently take me by the hand and lead me to the promised land where the effects of random genetic drift are clear to all. I have purchased Provine’s book. At less than three dollars and only 180 pages, why would I not?