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The problem of sex and group selection


Evolutionary Psychology: The son of Sociobiology
John Maynard Smith Scientist
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[Q] Do you think that what is now called evolutionary psychology is the same thing as sociobiology?

Yes, I mean, I think of it as son of sociobiology. And I think that people working in the field would agree with that characterisation. It does differ, I think, in the sense that some of the early socio-biologists came from biology, which is no sin, but really did feel that they could do it without learning anything about sociology of psychology. The present generation seem to me to be technically qualified anthropologists or sociologists or psychologists, and really, you know, they have the proper background in their own discipline. I still have reservations about where it's going. The difficulty at the moment is that there are lots of interesting ideas around but very hard to come to really convincing evidence to support the ideas. There are a few really admirable pieces of work where one really does feel that the Darwinian explanation of something is being well backed up by good data. But there seems to be an awful lot of cases where, you know, you'd like some data but it isn't quite there. So I think the subject has got a lot of hard work to do yet.

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: evolutionary psychology, biology, psychology, anthropologists

Duration: 1 minute, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008