extending the synthesis

I'm not going to do another long post this weekend, because we are working all weekend. In fact, this week has already been quite hectic trying to get stuff done in advance of a symposium this weekend. I'm working on grants and papers generally, they all take longer than you expect, and then you keep learning more interesting things and knowing you should read more, but then also knowing you have to stop reading and write at some points.

So the symposium is on evolution. Apparently sometime around WWII people got together and created "the new synthesis", which was kind of a simplification and reduction of all the theories of evolution that were kicking around at the time. As I've blogged before, people here are interested in a lot of the other mechanisms affecting evolution that got left out of this "standard story", some of which are more newly discovered, others of which just got overlooked. I'm not sure how complicated a story you can tell and have people keep up with it -- even the other scientists -- again as I've said before it's one of the things that kind of bothers me about science. But on the other hand, as a culture we keep getting our heads around ideas that are more and more complex, so maybe that is why we can keep moving the threshold up on more complex theories and understandings. Like when I was in college, I was taught that no one knew how to program a parallel computer, although some people had built them. Then when I did my MSc at Edinburgh 10 years later, I got to take a whole course on different programming techniques for handling concurrency. Thinking about concurrency (lots of things happening in parallel) is still pretty hard for us, but I think we are getting better at it. I hope one day that school children will build and run agent-based social simulations so they can get more of an understanding and an intuition about how some kinds of small changes in everyone's behaviour can have big consequences, while other changes just cancel each other out or have little effect.

So, anyway, this meeting runs from tonight through Monday, and then it looks like Monday is the last day I can go talk to one of the Cichlid researchers over at the KLI-Ethology for the summer. Real biologists (or at least field biologists) have this tendency to go out to study whatever they study for months at a time, so it's hard to work with them between teaching and the research trips. The same is true of some social scientists. I think I travel enough just to attend meetings!

The people here are a little nervous, because although they run symposia all the time, because this one is on a particular topic of evolution they have been getting all these phone calls and people are planning on coming who weren't invited. Hopefully the message has got out they won't be let in. We have been joking about hiring bouncers. Anyway, I am lucky to be here. I wish one of the people who has got accepted as a fellow but isn't here yet was here -- Adrianna Wozniak. It is exactly in her research topic & she'd be interesting to talk to afterwards. I missed a symposium right in my topic area by a month too -- if they had told me I would have flown out just for it! But I didn't even know about these things until after it was over.

Anyway, back to work now.