Paper of the week: social insect sex ratios

This week’s Paper of the Week is Andrew Bourke’s concise critique of recent ideas from Ed Wilson and Martin Nowak concerning sex allocation in social insects (Andrew generously uses the word “theory” to cover these ideas). The paper demolishes the approach of Wilson & Nowak, showing – remarkably – that their ideas fail in the simplest of terms, namely by failing to satisfy the basic conditions of Fisherian sex allocation. (The Wilson-Nowak theory also fails to explain split sex ratios amongst other things.) The paper also implicitly raises two other very important points, especially for early-stage researchers. First, don’t believe everything you read, just because of the author. The great and the good can make mistakes, sometime big ones, and we all have to keep our wits and logic about us. Second, arguments often have to be re-made, even when we think that key theoretical constructs have been “settled”. So be prepared to re-make those arguments. Andrew Bourke has done us a real service by writing this paper, even if there is nothing “new” in it as such, just a clear re-statement of basic theory.

The paper is open access and can be found here.

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