I never intended this blog to be for rants, but when I heard about what has happened to one of the world's best evolutionary biologist I had to write something. It appears that Robert Trivers (a couple of his seminal papers linked below) has been suspended by Rutgers University because he admitted to students that he was teaching a class that he knew nothing about. The University made him teach a course on 'Human Aggression' by the head of the Anthropology department, and admitted to students that he didn't know anything about the subject but would be learning along with them. I have pasted the link to the Yahoo news site below. For a University to treat any member of staff like this is appalling, it is just highlighted by the fact that he is such a pivotal figure in modern evolutionary biology. I am personally upset because my PhD was about parent-offspring conflict, an idea that he formulated. Rutgers need to be held accountable for treating a member of staff in such a bad way.
A couple of his papers:
Trivers (1974) Parent-offspring conflict. Amer. Zool., 14:249-264
When parent-offspring relations in sexually reproducing species are viewed from the standpoint of the offspring as well as the parent, conflict is seen to be an expected feature of such relations. In particular, parent and offspring are expected to disagree over how long the period of parental investment should last, over the amount of parental investment that should be given, and over the altruistic and egoistic tendencies of the offspring as these tendencies affect other relatives. In addition, under certain conditions parents and offspring are expected to disagree over the preferred sex of the potential offspring. In general, parent-offspring conflict is expected to increase during the period of parental care, and offspring are expected to employ psychological weapons in order to compete with their parents. Detailed data on mother-offspring relations in mammals are consistent with the arguments presented. Conflict in some species, including the human species, is expected to extend to the adult reproductive role of the offspring: under certain conditions parents are expected to attempt to mold an offspring, against its better interests, into a permanent nonreproductive.
Trivers & Hare (1976) Haplodiploidy and the evolution of the social insect. Science, 191:249-263
Halminton (1) was apparently the first to appreciate that the synthesis of Mendelian genetics with Darwin's theory of natural selection had profound implications for social theory. In particular, insofar as almost all social behavior is either selfish or altruistic (or has such effects), genetical reasoning suggests that an individual's social behavior should be adjusted to his or her degree of relatedness, r, to all individuals affected by the behavior. We call this theory kinship theory. The social insects provide a critical test of Hamilton's kinship theory. When such theory is combined with the sex ratio theory of Fisher (9), a body of consistent predictions emerges regarding the haplodiploid Hymenoptera. The evolution of female workers helping their mother reproduce is more likely in the Hymenoptera than in diploid groups, provided that such workers lay some of the male-producing eggs or bias the ratio of investment toward reproductive females. Once eusocial colonies appear, certain biases by sex in these colonies are expected to evolve. In general, but especially in eusocial ants, the ratio of investment should be biased in favor of females, and in it is expected to equilibrate at 1 : 3 (male to female). We present evidence from 20 species that the ratio of investment in monogynous ants is, indeed, about 1 : 3, and we subject this discovery to a series of tests. As expected, the slave-making ants produce a ratio of investment of 1 : 1, polygynoys ants produce many more males than expected on the basis of relative dry weight alone, solitary bees and wasps produce a ratio of investment near 1 : 1 (and no greater than 1 : 2), and the social bumblebees produce ratios of investment between 1 : 1 and 1 : 3. In addition, sex ratios in monogynous ants and in trapnested wasps are, as predicted by Fisher, inversely related to the relative cost in these species of producing a male instead of a female. Taken together, these data provide quantitative evidence in support of kinship theory, sex ratio theory, the assumption that the offspring is capable of acting counter to its parents' best interests, and the supposition that haplodiploidy has played a unique role in the evolution of the social insects. Finally, we outline a theory for the evolution of worker-queen conflict, a theory which explains the queen's advantage in competition over male-producing workers and the workers' advantage regarding the ratio of investment. The theory uses the asymmetries of haplodiploidy to explain how the evolved outcome of parent-offspring conflict in the social Hymenoptera is expected to be a function of certain social and life history parameters.
I am a behavioural ecologist, my main interests revolve around familial conflicts and their resolutions. However, my scientific interests are fairly broad.