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Kimura and King: Neutral theory of molecular evolution


Experiencing feminism in science
John Maynard Smith Scientist
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I actually attended a meeting of feminists in biology, in America, about two years ago, and I think it's fair to say... I mean, first of all, they were courteous and gentle people, I mean, I wasn't attacked, I might have been disagreed with. But, more important than that, I realised that feminism - I should have known anyway, but I have to be educated - that feminism is an incredibly broad church. I mean, it spread all the way from women who held the view that, first of all, women were getting a somewhat unfair deal in science in promotion, in getting jobs, in coping with the interruptions in their careers through having children and so on, and who felt that something should be done about this. And also, since a number of people were working in the field of animal behaviour, held the view that it was very possible that if women looked at the behaviour of baboons or bluebirds or whatever, they might actually notice different things to what men noticed. And I'm sure both these things are true, and I had absolutely no disagreement with such people. But the people at the conference went all the way from that kind of what appears to me to be rational and desirable opinion, right across to the view that science is a male construct, and the only thing to do with it is to throw it away and start again.

[Q] Newton's Principia is a rape manual.

Well, I hadn't heard that phrase, but I mean, essentially that is the position. Now, that really does seem to me to be crazy, and I don't understand why people who believe that expect the light to turn on when they press the switch. And I certainly don't understand how they risk going up in aeroplanes and generally living in modern society, which is totally dependent upon this male construct. So... and there were a number of different sort of stations in between these extremes, and I felt a lot in common with the women at one end and very little in common with the women at the other.

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: USA, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica

Duration: 1 minute, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008