How well does evolution explain endogenous retroviruses?—A Lakatosian assessment

Ruben N. Jorritsma*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


One of the most sophisticated philosophies of science is the methodology of scientific research programmes (MSRP), developed by Imre Lakatos. According to MSRP, scientists are working within so-called research programmes, consisting of a hard core of fixed convictions and a flexible protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses. Anomalies are accommodated by changes to the protective belt that do not affect the hard core. Under MSRP, research programmes are appraised as ‘progressive’ if they successfully predict novel facts but are judged as ‘degenerative’ if they merely offer ad hoc solutions to anomalies. This paper applies these criteria to the evolutionary research programme as it has performed during half a century of ERV research. It describes the early history of the field and the emergence of the endogenization-amplification theory on the origins of retroviral-like sequences. It then discusses various predictions and postdictions that were generated by the programme, regarding orthologous ERVs in different species, the presence of target site duplications and the divergence of long terminal repeats, and appraises how the programme has dealt with data that did not conform to initial expectations. It is concluded that the evolutionary research programme has been progressive with regard to the issues here examined.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Endogenization-amplification theory (EAT)
  • Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs)
  • Evolution
  • Evolutionary research programme
  • Long terminal repeats (LTRs)
  • Methodology of scientific research programmes (MSRP)
  • Phylogenetics


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