Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think : Reflections by Scientists, Writers, and Philosophers

By Alan Grafen; Mark Ridley | Go to book overview

AN EYE ON THE CORE:
DAWKINS AND SOCIOBIOLOGY

Ullica Segerstråle

SOCIOBIOLOGY' is a term that triggers different reactions in different people. For some, sociobiology simply denotes a field devoted to research in animal social behavior, a new integrative discipline that emerged during the second part of the twentieth century. For others, because of its perceived implications for humans, this term is fraught with political connotations: genetic determinism, political conservatism, racism, and sexism. As a result, many researchers, especially those in would-be 'human sociobiology' are avoiding the term, calling themselves instead behavioral ecologists, evolutionary psychologists, Darwinian anthropologists, and what have you. For a third, more militant group, sociobiology is indeed a new discipline—a new scientific way of looking at behavior, maybe even a new world view, mobilizable against all kinds of obfuscation.

What lies behind this is the memory of the sociobiology debate, starting in 1975 around Harvard zoologist Edward O. Wilson's huge, popularly written tome, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis.1 Wilson was being attacked by other scientists, including biologists from his own department, for misleading the general public and policy makers with bad and dangerous science. Over the years, the debate transformed itself into a trans-Atlantic affair and into a more scientific and less overtly political controversy (although the political undertones remained).2 One scientist who was willynilly swept up in the debate at an early point was Richard Dawkins.

There are a lot of ironies involved in the story of Dawkins' involvement in the controversy—not least the fact that Dawkins

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