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Tuatara: Volume 26,Issue 2, November 1983

Reply to Dr Hewitt

Reply to Dr Hewitt

We can appreciate Dr Hewitt's concern with our view that population genetics deserves little if any time in the classroom. We cannot agree with Hewitt's criticism of our view of “the nature of population genetics”, and certainly we did not alter “the views of notable scientists out of context”.

In the first instance our description of population genetics was embedded in our statement that “population geneticists purport to deal with evolutionary problems”. Certainly that is no different than Hewitt's statement that population geneticists “want to describe what is happening to genes and chromosomes in populations” … so people … “will know both what to expect next and how things got to their present state.” Clearly we and Hewitt are talking about population genetics in the context of enhancing our understanding of evolution. Whether population genetics is recognized as a component of ecology or genetics, or of anatomy or embryology, is of concern to Dr Hewitt, but in reality has no bearing on the utility of population genetics in helping us to understand evolutionary mechanisms. We have little interest about which discipline population genetics is assigned to. We are concerned with the simple question of its utility in evolutionary studies.

We agree with Hewitt that since Lewontin (1974), Roughgarden (1979), and Spiess (1977) took the time to write their books on population genetics, they could not be expected to declare the subject useless. It is curious though, that each of these authors notes the lack of achievement of population genetics in learning anything of significance about evolutionary mechanisms. Perhaps they feel as does Hewitt that since population genetic theory has yet to explain evolution, we should try harder. We on the other hand feel that, inasmuch as there have been no results in the 53 years since Fisher's (1930) Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, it is now time to look elsewhere for answers.

Edward I. Saiff

Norman Macbeth

Ramapo College, Mahwah, New Jersey, U.S.A.