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The Sociobiology controversy: The Marxist reaction


The extreme reaction of EO Wilson's colleagues
John Maynard Smith Scientist
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I think that the... the article in the Science of the People... sorry, by the Science for the People, people in, I think, the New York Review of Books, of which I think both [Richard] Lewontin and [Stephen Jay] Gould were signatures of this, was disgraceful, because it didn't... the point is, you can disagree with people, you can disagree with your colleagues as passionately as you like, but you can't go around calling them Fascists and enemies and so on. You have to treat it as an intellectual disagreement. And so I think that the whole of that business, leading up to pouring water over him at the... at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I think all this was... was ridiculous. But it was predictable.

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: Science for the People, New York Review of Books, American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, EO Wilson, Richard Lewontin, Stephen Jay Gould

Duration: 55 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008