Looking at genes through a human lens

Why it's okay for biologists to anthropomorphize

We are told to be wary of looking at the natural world through a human lens. From projecting human intentions onto animals or using language that suggests natural processes have purpose, scientists are taught to avoid “anthropomorphising”. Yet, this kind of thinking can have significant explanatory power – think of Richard Dawkins’ famous “selfish genes”. In this article, Arvid Ågren mounts a defence of the gene's eye view of evolution and argues that if we are rigorous with our anthropomorphic thinking, we can see nature in a new light.

 

One of the first things you are taught as a biology student is to not anthropomorphize. To assign human emotions and intentions to plants and animals is something kids do, not proper scientists. Yet, we biologists anthropomorphize all the time.

Many of my colleagues consider this habit a bit of an embarrassment. Take, for example, the plant scientist David Hanke who lamented that

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