|Awww, how cute!|
This finding (and we have no way or reason to question its validity) may be viewed as a refutation of the harsher Darwinian world of relentless competition, asserted by generations of deep evolutionary thinkers, many of whom were wont to popularize pared-down ideas of what is really much more complex nature. Until recently, any cooperation has been viewed as just a touchy-feely way to describe what is really competition in disguise. But now it's cooperation we have to explain.
Whether or not, or to what extent, cuddly or combative characterize the true state of Nature, we seem to be going like a pendulum from one view to another. Each leads to its set of cover stories, each touted as a major discovery. Each the Truth du Jour.
Of course, Nature is a business and a very successful one at that. But if they were more about science rather than sales, perhaps the pendular nature of science would itself be the story, rather than the position of the pendulum at any given time.
As we repeatedly comment on, a similar oscillatory Truth-O-Meter is routine in biomedical and other aspects of genetic research, where every story is the Big Story and is paradigm-shifting. This partly reflects the careerist and other rather venal interests of our time, but it also reveals the realities of the kinds of data we have available to us today, that is, the state of the science itself.
What the real story is, and what the best science should be about
The actual story that should be getting our attention is what one might call the 'meta-story', the story about the stories being published every day. That story is the fact that we have new Truths du Jour every day. If science were what we scientists tend to blare so confidently that it is, then we should not be reversing our views every few days. The pendulum should come to a near-stop.
The fact that we can shift from the view that all life is driven by Hamilton's rule (be nice, but only selfishly), to the latest Wilson (EO and David Sloan) view (that cooperation is what life's about), or that coffee prevents, or coffee causes disease, and so much else like it--that changeability itself is the story. When our knowledge is so fickle, supposedly each time supported by funded (and presumably well-designed) and ever-larger technically sophisticated studies, then there is something rotten in the state of Science.
We obviously do not have an adequate understanding--an adequate theory--of the nature of life. The main job of science is, at least as we teach to our students, to understand the truth of nature--the laws of nature, not just to teach the current fads of scientists. If truth is our aim, we will never get all the way as there's always more to learn that we don't yet know. But we should at least have a firm grasp on seemingly simple questions such as whether our mission in life is to kill or cuddle. Or whether coffee, eggs, or a daily drink are good or bad for your health. Or which gene raises and which reduce your risk of being a great athlete or getting colon cancer.
Instead of boasting of each new ephemeral finding and assigning cosmic import to it, we should be worried that we're throwing money and intellectual energy away on routine, if technically sophisticated, incremental but far off the mark research. The push to find what amount to superficial answers, in the huge operation that is modern science, should be changed to a strong push to bypass the superficial and instead to find and understand the deeper truths. Many of us, perhaps especially those of us who are more senior, tend to blame the tenure and research-funding pressures, as being materialistically short-sighted. We may just be reactionary cranks, but whatever the reason, a greater stress on the basic epistemology, our most general and strongest ways of understanding living nature, should be a primary objective, and what we stress to our students.
Perhaps one might think some exception would be in order, for applied fields like medicine. But the see-saw patterns in medicine show that even there, where the idea that research is not about abstract theoretical generalities but how to stop a specific disease, requires a much deeper basic understanding, and less reliance on sampling and statistical analysis, than we have now.