The Triple Helix by Richard Lewontin
Gene, Organism, and Environment

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One of our most brilliant evolutionary biologists, Richard Lewontin has also been a leading critic of those--scientists and non-scientists alike--who would misuse the science to which he has contributed so much. In The Triple Helix, Lewontin the scientist and Lewontin the critic come together to provide a concise, accessible account of what his work has taught him about biology and about its relevance to human affairs. In the process, he exposes some of the common and troubling misconceptions that misdirect and stall our understanding of biology and evolution.

The central message of this book is that we will never fully understand living things if we continue to think of genes, organisms, and environments as separate entities, each with its distinct role to play in the history and operation of organic processes. Here Lewontin shows that an organism is a unique consequence of both genes and environment, of both internal and external features. Rejecting the notion that genes determine the organism, which then adapts to the environment, he explains that organisms, influenced in their development by their circumstances, in turn create, modify, and choose the environment in which they live.

The Triple Helix is vintage Lewontin: brilliant, eloquent, passionate, and deeply critical. But it is neither a manifesto for a radical new methodology nor a brief for a new theory. It is instead a primer on the complexity of biological processes, a reminder to all of us that living things are never as simple as they may seem.


About Richard Lewontin

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Richard Lewontin is Alexander Agassiz Research Professor at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. His many books includeBiology and Ideology, Not in Our Genes, andHuman Diversity.
Published April 15, 2000 by Harvard University Press. 144 pages
Genres: Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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Looking only at the big picture works no better than reductionism: ""Obscurantist holism is both fruitless and wrong as a description of the world."" An integrative approach is what is needed, but, Lewontin laments, our technical ability to manipulate DNA has seduced scientists to such an extent ...

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Project MUSE

Lewontin concludes that "the organism is not determined by its genes, nor by its environment, nor even by the interaction between them, but bears a significant mark of random processes" (38).

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Project MUSE

If niches do not preexist organisms but come into existence as a consequence of the nature of the organisms themselves, then we will not have the faintest idea of what Martian niches will be until we have seen some Martian organisms in action.

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Project MUSE

Descartes' metaphor and Darwin's theory, according to Lewontin, result in a simplistic understanding of the developing organism and are inconsistent with available evidence that the "ontogeny [development] of an organism is the consequence of a unique interaction between the genes it carries, the .

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