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Empty Seats as Zoologists Hog Royal Society Stage

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Six months after announcing the November 2016 Royal Society evolution meeting on this page and a half dozen or so stories later, over one-third of the seats for the event still remain vacant -- and the tickets are free! But that's easily explained, because the zoologists ultimately decided to "hog" the show.

It didn't have to be so. A lineup of speakers who truly represent the paradigm shift underway in evolution science would have quickly filled up the house. Instead, organizers went with essentially an evo-devo reunion on plasticity and niche construction -- rehashed themes of Altenberg! from eight years ago minus most of the stars of that conference. And they made sure to exclude, for instance, experts on viruses -- the largest part of the biosphere -- at a time when Zika continues to prove it can downsize the human brain in a flash and could have done the reverse at some point in evolutionary time. So how can the November proceedings possibly be considered a credible meeting on the latest "trends" in evolutionary science?

Aside from some of the organizers and Jim Shapiro and Doug Futuyma -- there's no big-name recognition. A number of prominent scientists I've spoken with who have not been asked to present but hope to get a word in edgewise have told me they nevertheless still plan to attend.

Other irritations are that the meeting is largely another Anglo-Amercian affair and there's an absence of women who are stars in science, aside from Eva Jablonka and she's considered somewhat at the conservative end of the discussion.

I expected Evelyn Fox Keller to be the key dissector of gene jargon, however organizers have chosen to showcase lesser known female academics. There are altogether six women presenting.

Also, the hand of Templeton is all over the November event with many of the participants part of the $11M Extended Synthesis grant.

It's interesting that Massimo Pigliucci, one of the organizers of the Altenberg 16 conference -- who is not speaking at the Royal Society event -- recently gave a talk on science and fantasy at the UK philosophy & music festival at Hay. I'm beginning to wonder whether Pigliucci may finally be on to something.

Here is the lineup for the November Royal Society event, at the moment still over 100 seats left. . .

Denis Noble -- Oxford University

Nancy Cartwright -- University of Durham, UK and University of California, San Diego

Patrick Bateson -- University of Cambridge

John Dupré -- University of Exeter

Kevin Laland -- University of St. Andrews

Gerd Müller -- University of Vienna

Douglas Futuyma -- Stony Brook University

Sonia Sultan -- Wesleyan University

Russell Lande -- Center for Biodiversity Dynamics, NTNU

Tobias Uller -- Lund University

Paul Brakefield -- University of Cambridge

James Shapiro -- University of Chicago

Paul Griffiths -- University of Sydney

Eva Jablonka -- Tel-Aviv University

Greg Hurst -- University of Liverpool

Andy Gardner -- University of St. Andrews

Karola Stotz -- Macquarie University

Tim Lewens -- University of Cambridge

Agustin Fuentes -- University of Notre Dame

Andrew Whiten -- University of St. Andrews

Suzan Anton -- New York University

Melinda Zeder -- Smithsonian Institution