It was the spring semester of 1969 and the population geneticist Richard Lewontin had come to Harvard to deliver a talk on a new methodology that promised to revolutionize the field of population genetics. Lewontin was then at nearly the height of his powers, and 250 people, myself included, were crammed into a lecture hall to hear his eagerly anticipated talk. It was my devout wish that he would fall flat on his face.
The reason for this is that I had just been introduced to him by E. O. Wilson, Harvard's fabulous social insect man, at the tea preceding his talk. Lewontin had at once proceeded to dump on me, a mere first-year graduate student. The previous fall I had written a very negative paper attacking the work of two theoretical ecologists, Robert MacArthur and Richard Levins, and Lewontin was a personal friend of Levins at the University of Chicago. A fellow graduate student had carried the manuscript to a conference and allowed someone to make a photocopy, and like a true pathogen it had spread rapidly around the globe. I even received a glowing letter from a well-known Australian ecologist. When I realized the manuscript had gone public I sent copies to MacArthur and Levins. MacArthur wrote a very nice letter in return; Levins did not deign to reply. Lewontin began by saying, “Oh yes, you're the fellow that wrote that wrong-headed paper on MacArthur and Levins, ” and dismissed it in a few sentences. He pointed to some equations on the board that he had apparently shown to Ed Wilson and told me that one of my criticism was easily handled if you used these equations. As Wilson squinted myopically toward the board (and with only one good eye at that!) I thought I could see at a glance that Lewontin had merely complexified the problem—thereby hiding the error more deeply—but that the same problem remained in his formulation as in the work of Levins himself. I have learned in my life that my memory of what I regard as odious