a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


George Price's theorem and how scientists think


Publishing a paper with George Price
John Maynard Smith Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

He turned out to be an unemployed American who had no formal training in biology at all, who had been working in computers, I think, and had come to live in England to do theoretical biology because that's what he wanted to do, and he decided that he could live longer in England on his savings than he could in America. And he was living all by himself in this pad in Charlotte Street. And I could go on talking about George for hours, because he's a very strange character. But we did, in the end, agree that we would write a joint paper, which we did, ultimately, in fact, publish. It took about three years, it's not published until, I think, '73, for various reasons. George was a perfectionist and he wanted me to do more mathematics to show that some of the things he claimed were correct, and I had to teach myself some computer programming, because it wasn't analytically solvable, and I had to solve some of it by computer simulation. We did in the end publish it together, in '73, both defining the conditions for something to be in ESS, showing that retaliation could be - could stabilise ritualised fighting, and applying it to a number of other problems as well. But that was, I think, in a sense, the origin of the whole sort of game theory industry in biology as opposed to in economics, I should perhaps tell you a bit more about George.

[Q] Yes, I think you were generous to him if I may say so. I hadn't appreciated before that the whole importation of game theory in ESS was entirely your contribution rather than his.

The idea of introducing game theory and the definition of an ESS was mine, yes. And I think had he published his paper, which was an argument that ritualised behaviour is stable because of the dangers of retaliation - using, I think, no algebra, entirely a verbal argument - had he published that, then I think I would not have made him a joint author and I would just have quoted the paper, but he hadn't published it. He was, to put it quite brutally, a guy in much greater need of publications at that time, than I was.

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: London, USA, UK, Charlotte Street, 1973, Game Theory, George Price

Duration: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008