How (not) to review papers on inclusive fitness

Hamilton’s Rule

There are few evolutionary concepts as polarizing as Hamilton’s rule. Some researchers feel that there is no mathematical grounding for it, while others beg to differ. Yet empirical evidence in support of Hamilton’s rule is scarce (but check out this recent review).

Peter Nonacs and Miriam Richards’ recent call to arms in TREE suggests that this dearth of support is partially due to two things:

1) To some reviewers, Hamilton’s rule is on par with He Who Shall Not Be Named. (Well, more specifically, reviewers never agree on the correct best way to test it, so nothing gets published). Or, as Nonacs and Richards write:

“Our proposed solution is a simple admonition to reviewers: ‘Reflective, not reflexive critique, please!’”

2) Researchers don’t always assess the costs AND benefits of Hamilton’s rule. Moreover, they don’t publish all of the accompanying data so that reviewers (and readers) can come to their own conclusions.

In sum, we need reviewers to stop acting like their favorite stick-in-the-mud and authors to be transparent in presenting and analyzing their data.

Clearly more work is needed to generate a consensus about the correct way to both calculate inclusive fitness and advance our understanding of the diversity in social evolution. We urge reviewers to be constructive, not obstructive, in this process.

REFERENCES
Nonacs P & Richards MH (2015) How (not) to review papers on inclusive fitness. Trends Ecol. Evol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2015.02.007

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About Noah Snyder-Mackler

I'm a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University. Broadly, I study non-human primate genetics and genomics. More specifically, I'm interested in the interaction between behavior, genotype, and gene expression in response to social stress.
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