105 thoughts on “Do We Need “Evolutionary Medicine”?

  1. Geoff says:

    I’m sorry you just don’t “get it” Harriet, you might just be too old and stuck in your ways to see innovation when it’s dropped on your head like an anvil. I can’t speak to any of the conclusions of the book reviewed in this article, as I haven’t read it, but the theory of evolution is the unifying theory of biology, and nothing makes sense outside of the context of evolution. If an evolutionary explanation is not the basis of a null hypothesis, then that null hypothesis is not the null. If you can’t understand that, then you are permanently gone.

    1. Harriet Hall says:


      “but the theory of evolution is the unifying theory of biology, and nothing makes sense outside of the context of evolution.”

      Please read my article again. I clearly said evolution was an essential element of all biology. It was precisely because of that that I was questioning whether a separate discipline called “Darwinian medicine” is necessary. I don’t question the worth of evolutionary thinking; I just think it is often mis-applied and over-rated.

  2. Patrick says:

    Geoff: I think you should apologize to Dr. Hall for your rude and unsubstantiated comments. Evolutionary
    theory is not being called into question here, nor does Dr. Hall maintain that evolutionary theory in medicine is
    entirely worthless—she was just critical of the branch conceptualized by the late George C. Williams, and Dr. Nesse.
    In fact, she was quite welcoming to the ideas laid out by Marlene Zuk, Phd, and evolutionary biologist at the University of California. Verbatim:

    ……..“Last month I wrote about a book on evolutionary medicine that I could not recommend. Now I’ve found one I can recommend. Marlene Zuk, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Riverside, has written a delightful book entitled Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are. She describes how our parasites and diseases co-evolved with us: as we developed better defenses, they developed better weapons. ‘We do not choose to have them, but our lives are unimaginable without them, and for better or worse, they have made us who we are.’ Parasites have altered our bodies in ways that science fiction filmmakers could never have imagined. She even suggests that we can thank parasites for the fact that we reproduce sexually rather than asexually.”

    It is important to understand that there are different schools of thought within Darwinian medicine. In fact, I have always been a champion of evolutionary medicine as envisioned by Williams and Nesse, but I always found something fishy regarding Dr. Meller’s book “Evolution Rx: A Physician’s Guide to Harnessing Our Innate Capacity for Health and Healing,” but I could not quite put my finger on it until I read Dr. Hall’s sharp criticism of that book: it is really more of a sales pitch of his product rather than an empirically validated framework. In light of this, I wanted to know Dr. Hall’s perspective on a more scholarly treatment of this subject by two heavyweight evolutionary biologists. After all, she is a physician and a skeptic too, so her views are much-needed and more worthy than many criticisms of evolutionary medicine.

    Finally, just read the title of this post: “Do We (Need) ‘Evolutionary Medicine’”; this should give a pretty good idea of what the content of this post, and it says nothing about it being worthless!

  3. RE: Science-based Medicine vs Evolutionary (neo-Darwinist) Medicine!?

    Kudos to the Evidence or Science-based Medicine (ESM) — and — to Harriet Hall, for her beginning to query into the neccessity of the rhetoric-ridden “Evolutionary (neo-Darwinist) Medicine” (EDM) currently proliferating in the biomedical litterature and in the general readership!

    By modern definition — unlike ESM — EDM is a neo-Darwinist extended “Evolutionism” that has since modeled on the popularly rhetoric-driven pseudoscientific “Reductionism in Biology and Humanity” issues, issues including culture, psychology, biomedicine, psychiatry, etc, that has had been indelibly punctuated in the 2 fundamentally most reductionist and sophist books of the 20th century past: The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawikins, and On Human Nature (1979) by E.O. Wilson; in which, they each have had attempted to reduce or “Darwinize” rhetorically, and advance uncritically, nor scientifically, their each respective misinterpretating of Mendelian genetics as “Evolutionary Geneticism” in one extremism: or that organisms including humans are nothing more than a carrier of genes, genes to be reproduced by selective kinship or “Kin Selectionism” — and — mischaracterizing of human nature or our biology and culture, as nothing more than “Evolutionary Sociobiologism” in the other extremism: or that human behaviorism especially “Altruism” has had evolved or originated in the “Eusocial” organisms, such as ants, bees, termites, etc through “Group Selectionism” (see Wilson’s 1975 book “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis”).

    It was no surprise that the subsequent (1994) evolutionary pseudo-biomedical book “Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine” (by Randolph M. Nesse, MD and George C. Williams, PhD) has had gotten rave reviews and accolades from its preeminent neo-Darwinists, reductionists, and prolific pop-science-turned-evolutionary dogma writers, like Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson, as clearly observed by Hall above!

    As far as I could review: ESM was initially formaulated so as to debunk any unscrupulous or untested “Alternative Medicine” (particularly, homeopathy, snake oils, unproven herbal medicine, etc) — while little or no attention at all, has had been paid on the fact that EDM or the neo-Darwinist “Alternative Explanation of Medicine by Rhetoric and Evolutionism” has had crept into our current biomedical lexicon and litterature, since the 1990s, as Hall and the ESM readers have keenly noticed above — and — which was instantly defended by Nesse himself above [] by announcing that he and his fervent neo-Darwinist colleagues are launching a new Oxford Press journal, entitled “Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health” issues. Whereas by reviewing the journal title themes alone: it seems that it would not be advancing the EDM alone or “The New Science of Darwinian Medicine” after all!?

    Since 2009 — especially after the great naturalist-cum-geologist (not a geneticist, nor a neurologist, nor a physician, nor a psychologist) Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday celebration and reflection — I have had begun to warn strongly against the unsrupulous, uncritical, nor scientific, applications of neo-Darwinist thinking or evolutionism in our modern biology and genetics, biosciences including biomedicine, psychiatry, psychology, etc. As an example, see one of my comments here — — “The Evolutionary Calculus of Depression — RE: Let’s not dictate Psychiatry by neo-Darwinism — Evolutionary geneticism vs. Clinical diagnosis, alleviation, of Depression (distresses mental, spiritual, or otherwise)!?” (PsychiatricTimesUSA; June 3, 2010).
    Whereas given the benefit of the doubt: I thought the new journal — as being assembled by Nesse, et al, above — shall not be exempted from the critical ESM and its keen readers, practitioners, or critics close scrutiny, in future times to come!?

    Indeed as Robert Darnton, a cultural historian at Harvard, had once professed in a column written in 1999 that “After a century of grand theory [eg, the reductionist "neo-Darwinism" since Thomas Huxley (1825-95) to our contemporaries Richard Dawkins (of geneticism, memeism, kin selectionism fame, etc) and E.O. Wilson of the sociobiologism, group selectionism fame, etc -- Mong's edits in square parenthesis], from Marxism and social Darwinism to structuralism and postmodernism, most historians [and philosophers of science, as well as practical scientists, biomedical practitioners, etc] have abandoned the belief in general laws,” the theorectical laws (developed in prior to the 20th-century discovery of quantum physics, and the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics) the general laws that have had been otherwise mainly derived from the prevailing 19th-century physical or materialist naturalism or generally natural phenomenology: including Darwinism of the “Natural Selection” fame, of course, that have had since the 1970s been misconceived; inappropriately extrapolated and applied in and by generations of neo-Darwinists, selectionists, reductionists, and sophists alike since Thomas Huxley; and thus have culminated in the current “Group Selectionism vs Kin Selectionism” battle of the century between Dawkins and Wilson: On whose neo-Darwinist thinking or “Evolutionism” shall inherit and thus belong to the true Darwin’s indigenous evolutionary thinking and legacy on Earth — especially the legacy that is inherent in the naturalist masterpiece treatise On The Origin of Species (1859) on Earth!?

    My short answer to the previous query is None: as neo-Darwinism is not an extended or inherited theory of Darwinism at all! Thus, should the EDM (as pursued by Nesse and Williams since 1994) follow the same pseudoscientific course and fallacy of neo-Darwinism past, EDM would no doubt be heading into its own self-defeating end — just as neo-Darwinism had shown, and wasted, in the 20th century past!?

    Best wishes, Mong 8/4/12usct6:12p; practical science-philosophy critic; author “Decoding Scientism” and “Consciousness & the Subconscious” (works in progress since July 2007), “Gods, Genes, Conscience” (iUniverse; 2006 — ) and “Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now” (blogging avidly since 2006 — ).

  4. Patrick says:

    To Mong H Tan – PhD: it is really difficult trying to decipher your main point other than you are “skeptical” of “neo-Darwinism” on the grounds that it is excessively reductionist. It appears that you, and many others, are still a bit dismayed by the fact that humans are (a part) of nature and the animal kingdom rather than (apart) from her rules; dead are the days of lofty contentions that humans are endowed with unique properties that completely separate us from all organisms on earth and, ultimately, our unity with the cosmos.

    So let me ask you a question: is evolution a fact or do you maintain the contrary?

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