I’m pretty jaded about a lot of journalism, mostly due to the incentives in the industry driven by consumers and clicks. But Quanta Magazine has a really good piece out, Theorists Debate How ‘Neutral’ Evolution Really Is. It hits all the right notes (you can listen to one of the researchers quoted, Matt Hahn, on an episode of my podcast from last spring).
As someone who is old enough to remember reading about the ‘controversy’ more than 20 years ago, it’s interesting to see how things have changed and how they haven’t. We have so much more data today, so the arguments are really concrete and substantive, instead of shadow-boxing with strawmen. And yet still so much of the disagreement seems to hinge on semantic shadings and understandings even now.
But, as Richard McElreath suggested on Twitter part of the issue is that ultimately Neutral Theory might not even be wrong. It simply tries to shoehorn too many different things into a simple and seductively elegant null model when real biology is probably more complicated than that. With more data (well, exponentially more data) and computational power biologists don’t need to collapse all the complexity of evolutionary process across the tree of life into one general model, so they aren’t.
Let me finish with a quote from Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, commenting on the suffocation of the Classical religious rites of Late Antiquity:
It is undoubtedly true that no age is too late to learn. Let that old age blush which cannot amend itself. Not the old age of years is worthy of praise but that of character. There is no shame in passing to better things.