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Bill Hamilton


The move to Sussex University
John Maynard Smith Scientist
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I came here, in Sussex, in '65. It's clear that... It was Peter Medawar that got me the job, I think it's clear. He was one of the advisors... scientific advisors to the university, which was a new university, and I was given the job of being the first Dean of Biology here.

[Q] That was big promotion for you, wasn't it?

Oh yes. But it did mean that I was going to have to spend at least some time administering and running things, and so on, which I'd never bothered to do before, and it did therefore mean some sort of interruption to my science. And I was a bit reluctant to do that, I'm not a good administrator, I hate running things. On the other hand, I was very impatient with the way that biology was being taught at University College, and indeed, in most British universities. It was still dominated by departments of zoology and botany and genetics and biochemistry who never talked to one another. And it seemed to me very nineteenth century stuff, a lot that we were teaching. And it did give me an opportunity of starting a department in which biology was a unified science and in which it was, sort of, taught in a modern way. So I couldn't easily refuse. But I think Peter suggested to them that they might offer me the job... I know he did.

The late British biologist John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) is famous for applying game theory to the study of natural selection. At Eton College, inspired by the work of old Etonian JBS Haldane, Maynard Smith developed an interest in Darwinian evolutionary theory and mathematics. Then he entered University College London (UCL) to study fruit fly genetics under Haldane. In 1973 Maynard Smith formalised a central concept in game theory called the evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS). His ideas, presented in books such as 'Evolution and the Theory of Games', were enormously influential and led to a more rigorous scientific analysis and understanding of interactions between living things.

Listeners: Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins was educated at Oxford University and has taught zoology at the universities of California and Oxford. He is a fellow of New College, Oxford and the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Dawkins is one of the leading thinkers in modern evolutionary biology. He is also one of the best read and most popular writers on the subject: his books about evolution and science include "The Selfish Gene", "The Extended Phenotype", "The Blind Watchmaker", "River Out of Eden", "Climbing Mount Improbable", and most recently, "Unweaving the Rainbow".

Tags: Sussex University, Sussex, 1965, University College, Oxford, Peter Medawar

Duration: 1 minute, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008