Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, May 12, 2012

‘The Social Conquest of Earth,’ by Edward O. Wilson

E.O. Wilson's Social Conquest of Earth "offers a detailed reconstruction of what we know about the evolutionary histories of these two very different conquerors [insects & humans]. Wilson’s careful and clear analysis reminds us that scientific accounts of our origins aren’t just more accurate than religious stories; they are also a lot more interesting." ‘The Social Conquest of Earth,’ by Edward O. Wilson - NYTimes.com:


  1. Something about Harris's always witty and entertaining narrative regarding the arrogance of religious certainty never seemed to ring true. I don't know if I can wholly defend a people-are-people argument here but this in an interesting anecdote. Here's Harris's quote in context:

    "Harris counsels that those wary of the arrogance, and the potential dangers, of the desire to perfect the biological evolution of the species should observe the behavior of scientists at their professional meetings: 'arrogance is about as common at a scientific conference as nudity.' Scientists, in Harris’s telling, are the saints of circumspection."

    Here, in the above piece about Edward O. Wilson, scientific debate seems to have taken a less charitable tone:

    "His “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis,” a landmark attempt to use evolutionary theory to explain human behavior, was published in 1975. Those were strange times, and Wilson was smeared as a racist and fascist, attacked by some of his Harvard colleagues and doused with water at the podium of a major scientific conference. But Wilson’s days as a pariah are long over. An evolutionary approach to psychology is now mainstream, and Wilson is broadly respected for his scientific accomplishments, his environmental activism, and the scope and productivity of his work, which includes an autobiography and a best-selling novel, ­“Anthill.”

    Kinda makes me want to re-watch "Grand Rapids."

  2. Well, the infamous dousing incident was not actually perpetrated by colleagues but (I believe) by students. Still, Sam overstates the case. Arrogance and incivility are not unheard of in scientific debate.

    I don't know Grand Rapids, but I'll check it out.

  3. Wikipedia:
    In one incident, a member of the International Committee Against Racism poured a pitcher of water on Wilson's head and chanted "Wilson, you're all wet" at an AAAS conference in November 1978.[33] Wilson later spoke of the incident as a source of pride: "I believe...I was the only scientist in modern times to be physically attacked for an idea."

    As for the civil and dispassionate tone of scientific discourse, here's Wilson on S.J. Gould:

    “I believe Gould was a charlatan. I believe that he was... seeking reputation and credibility as a scientist and writer, and he did it consistently by distorting what other scientists were saying and devising arguments based upon that distortion.”