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Evolutionary Psychology: The son of Sociobiology


The University of Sussex: mixing the arts and sciences
John Maynard Smith Scientist
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Let me tell you about the history at the University of Sussex, which I greatly regret. When we started, in 1965, it was agreed that every science student should have to do at least one course taught by a faculty in the arts, and every art student should have to take some course taught by a faculty in the sciences. And when we opened biology, as part of this, we offered a course in human genetics, which was taught entirely by seminar. And the people in... on the arts side strongly recommended all the social psychologists and sociologists to enrol for this seminar course. And about six or seven of us, sort of... on the biology school, each took a seminar of some 10 or so students. And I think it was thoroughly successful. And the students liked it, and they learned all sorts of things about genetics that they wouldn't otherwise have learnt. And then I was just told that the sociology and the arts side had decided they no longer wanted their students to go to this course. And I said, 'Why not?' And they said, 'Well, genetics simply isn't relevant.' And it stopped. It wasn't our decision to stop it, it wasn't the students' decision they didn't want to go, it was just that the sociologists at the university decided that genetics was simply not relevant to their students. I think it's disgraceful, but that's what happened.

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: University of Sussex, 1965

Duration: 1 minute, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008