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”.
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.