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The Saturday Interview: Harvard Biologist Edward Wilson
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It’s not every day, or even every few decades, that a scientist tears up the dominant interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, but two years ago that’s what the eminent biologist Edward Wilson and two of his Harvard colleagues did. In a controversial paper that made the cover of the journal Nature, they dismissed the widely accepted, half-century-old theory of “kin selection” and proposed a different explanation of the advanced social behaviour of insects to take its place – a revamped version of something that had long ago been dismissed by most biologists. (We’ll look at the details of both theories in a moment.)

The result was uproar. Almost 150 other scientists signed letters rejecting their findings and calling on others to do the same. Wilson refused to back down, and a few weeks ago published a book-length version of his argument, The Social Conquest of Earth.

The fuse of his opponents was lit once again. This time it was Richard Dawkins who exploded. In a review in Prospect magazine titled The Descent of Edward Wilson, Dawkins accused Wilson of “wanton arrogance” and recommended potential readers to throw the book aside “with great force”.

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Was Dawkins right? Is Wilson a once-great researcher who has taken a wrong turn? Has his deep concern for the environment, and desperation for a solution, made him susceptible to the idea that human co-operation is the key to our domination of the planet – which is what his theory proposes – and unable to recognise us for the selfish competitors we truly are?

Read more at the Guardian.

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