E. O. Wilson

Edward Osborne Wilson (born June 10, 1929), usually cited as E. O. Wilson, is an American biologist, theorist, naturalist and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, the study of ants, on which he has been called the world's leading expert.[3][4]

Wilson has been called "the father of sociobiology" and "the father of biodiversity[5] for his environmental advocacy, and his secular-humanist and deist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters.[6] Among his greatest contributions to ecological theory is the theory of island biogeography, which he developed in collaboration with the mathematical ecologist Robert MacArthur. This theory served as the foundation of the field of conservation area design, as well as the unified neutral theory of biodiversity of Stephen Hubbell.

Wilson is the Pellegrino University Research Professor, Emeritus in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, a lecturer at Duke University,[7] and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.[8][9] He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction (for On Human Nature in 1979, and The Ants in 1991) and a New York Times bestselling author for The Social Conquest of Earth,[10] Letters to a Young Scientist,[10] and The Meaning of Human Existence.

E. O. Wilson
Plos wilson
Wilson in February 2003
Edward Osborne Wilson

June 10, 1929 (age 90)
Birmingham, Alabama, United States
Alma materUniversity of Alabama
Harvard University
Known forPopularizing sociobiology
Epic of Evolution
Character displacement
Island biogeography
Scientific career
InstitutionsHarvard University
Duke University
ThesisA Monographic Revision of the Ant Genus Lasius (1955)
Doctoral advisorFrank M. Carpenter
Doctoral studentsStuart A. Altmann (1960)
Alastair M. Stuart (1961)
William H. Bossert (1963)
Robert W. Taylor (1964)
Brian A. Hazlett (1964)
Daniel S. Simberloff (1969)
Donald J. Farish (1970)
William B. Kerfoot (1970)
Robert L. Jeanne (1971)
Nancy K. Lind (1971)
Robert E. Silberglied (1973)
Robert A. Metcalf (1975)
James D. Weinrich (1976)
Roger B. Swain (1977)
Adrian B. Forsyth (1978)
Herbert E. Nipson (1978)
Barbara L. Thorne (1983)
Norman E. Woodley (1983)
Margaret K. Thayer (1985)
Scott E. Miller (1986)
Mark W. Moffett (1987)
David R. Maddison (1990)
Dan Louis Perlman (1992)
Leeanne E. Tennant (1994)
John E. Tobin (1996)
Gabña Chavarna-Villasenor (1996)
Aniruddh D. Patel (1996)
William Piel (1997)
InfluencesWilliam Morton Wheeler[2]

Early life

Wilson was born in Birmingham, Alabama. According to his autobiography Naturalist, he grew up mostly around Washington, D.C. and in the countryside around Mobile, Alabama.[11] From an early age, he was interested in natural history. His parents, Edward and Inez Wilson, divorced when he was seven. The young naturalist grew up in several cities and towns, moving around with his father and his stepmother.

In the same year that his parents divorced, Wilson blinded himself in one eye in a fishing accident. He suffered for hours, but he continued fishing.[11] He did not complain because he was anxious to stay outdoors. He did not seek medical treatment.[11] Several months later, his right pupil clouded over with a cataract.[11] He was admitted to Pensacola Hospital to have the lens removed.[11] Wilson writes, in his autobiography, that the "surgery was a terrifying [19th] century ordeal".[11] Wilson was left with full sight in his left eye, with a vision of 20/10.[11] The 20/10 vision prompted him to focus on "little things": "I noticed butterflies and ants more than other kids did, and took an interest in them automatically."[12]

Although he had lost his stereoscopic vision, he could still see fine print and the hairs on the bodies of small insects.[11] His reduced ability to observe mammals and birds led him to concentrate on insects.

At nine, Wilson undertook his first expeditions at the Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC. He began to collect insects and he gained a passion for butterflies. He would capture them using nets made with brooms, coat hangers, and cheesecloth bags.[11] Going on these expeditions led to Wilson's fascination with ants. He describes in his autobiography how one day he pulled the bark of a rotting tree away and discovered citronella ants underneath.[11] The worker ants he found were "short, fat, brilliant yellow, and emitted a strong lemony odor".[11] Wilson said the event left a "vivid and lasting impression on [him]".[11] He also earned the Eagle Scout award and served as Nature Director of his Boy Scout summer camp. At the age of 18, intent on becoming an entomologist, he began by collecting flies, but the shortage of insect pins caused by World War II caused him to switch to ants, which could be stored in vials. With the encouragement of Marion R. Smith, a myrmecologist from the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, Wilson began a survey of all the ants of Alabama. This study led him to report the first colony of fire ants in the US, near the port of Mobile.[13]


Concerned that he might not be able to afford to go to a university, Wilson tried to enlist in the United States Army. He planned to earn U.S. government financial support for his education, but failed the Army medical examination due to his impaired eyesight. Wilson was able to afford to enroll in the University of Alabama after all, earning his B.S. and M.S. degrees in biology there in 1950. In 1952 he transferred to Harvard University.

Appointed to the Harvard Society of Fellows, he could travel on overseas expeditions, collecting ant species of Cuba and Mexico and travel the South Pacific, including Australia, New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia and Sri Lanka. In 1955, he received his Ph.D. and married Irene Kelley.[14]


From 1956 until 1996 Wilson was part of the faculty of Harvard. He began as an ant taxonomist and worked on understanding their evolution, how they developed into new species by escaping environmental disadvantages and moving into new habitats. He developed a theory of the "taxon cycle".[14]

Just after completing his PhD in 1955, Wilson started supervising Stuart A. Altmann on the social behavior of rhesus macaques, which gave Wilson a first impetus to imagine sociobiology as a global theory of animal social behavior.[15]

He collaborated with mathematician William Bossert, and discovered the chemical nature of ant communication, via pheromones. In the 1960s he collaborated with mathematician and ecologist Robert MacArthur. Together, they tested the theory of species equilibrium on a tiny island in the Florida Keys. He eradicated all insect species and observed the re-population by new species. A book The Theory of Island Biogeography about this experiment became a standard ecology text.[14]

In 1971, he published the book The Insect Societies about the biology of social insects like ants, bees, wasps and termites. In 1973, Wilson was appointed 'Curator of Insects' at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. In 1975, he published the book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis applying his theories of insect behavior to vertebrates, and in the last chapter, humans. He speculated that evolved and inherited tendencies were responsible for hierarchical social organisation among humans. In 1978 he published On Human Nature, which dealt with the role of biology in the evolution of human culture and won a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.[14]

In 1981 after collaborating with Charles Lumsden, he published Genes, Mind and Culture, a theory of gene-culture coevolution. In 1990 he published The Ants, co-written with Bert Hölldobler, his second Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.[14]

In the 1990s, he published The Diversity of Life (1992), an autobiography: Naturalist (1994), and Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998) about the unity of the natural and social sciences.[14]


In 1996, Wilson officially retired from Harvard University, where he continues to hold the positions of Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator in Entomology. He founded the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, which finances the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award and is an "independent foundation" at the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University. Wilson became a special lecturer at Duke University as part of the agreement.[16]

Wilson has published the following books during the 21st century:

  • The Future of Life, 2002
  • Pheidole in the New World: A Dominant, Hyperdiverse Ant Genus, 2003
  • From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books, 2005
  • The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, September 2006
  • Nature Revealed: Selected Writings, 1949–2006
  • The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies, 2009
  • Anthill: A Novel, April 2010
  • Kingdom of Ants: Jose Celestino Mutis and the Dawn of Natural History in the New World, 2010
  • The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct, 2011
  • The Social Conquest of Earth, 2012
  • Letters to a Young Scientist, 2014
  • A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park, 2014
  • The Meaning of Human Existence, 2014
  • Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life, 2016

Wilson and his wife, Irene, reside in Lexington, Massachusetts. His daughter, Catherine, and her husband, Jonathan, reside in nearby Stow, Massachusetts.[14]


Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, 1975

Wilson used sociobiology and evolutionary principles to explain the behavior of social insects and then to understand the social behavior of other animals, including humans, thus established sociobiology as a new scientific field. He argued that all animal behavior, including that of humans, is the product of heredity, environmental stimuli, and past experiences, and that free will is an illusion. He has referred to the biological basis of behaviour as the "genetic leash".[17]:127–128 The sociobiological view is that all animal social behavior is governed by epigenetic rules worked out by the laws of evolution. This theory and research proved to be seminal, controversial, and influential.[18]:210ff

Wilson has argued that the unit of selection is a gene, the basic element of heredity. The target of selection is normally the individual who carries an ensemble of genes of certain kinds. With regard to the use of kin selection in explaining the behavior of eusocial insects, the "new view that I'm proposing is that it was group selection all along, an idea first roughly formulated by Darwin."[19]

Sociobiological research was at the time particularly controversial with regard to its application to humans.[20] The theory established a scientific argument for rejecting the common doctrine of tabula rasa, which holds that human beings are born without any innate mental content and that culture functions to increase human knowledge and aid in survival and success.[21] In the final chapter of the book Sociobiology Wilson argues that the human mind is shaped as much by genetic inheritance as it is by culture if not more. There are, Wilson suggests in the chapter, limits on just how much influence social and environmental factors can have in altering human behavior.[22]


Sociobiology was initially met with substantial criticism. Several of Wilson's colleagues at Harvard,[23] such as Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould, were strongly opposed to his ideas regarding sociobiology. Gould, Lewontin, and others from the Sociobiology Study Group from the Boston area wrote "Against 'Sociobiology'" in an open letter criticizing Wilson's "deterministic view of human society and human action".[24] Although attributed to members of the Sociobiology Study Group, it seems that Lewontin was the main author.[11] In a 2011 interview, Wilson said, "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."[25]

Marshall Sahlins's 1976 work The Use and Abuse of Biology was a direct criticism of Wilson's theories.[26]

There was also political opposition. Sociobiology re-ignited the nature and nurture debate. Wilson was accused of racism, misogyny, and sympathy to eugenics.[27] In one incident in November 1978, his lecture was attacked by the International Committee Against Racism, a front group of the Marxist Progressive Labor Party, where one member poured a pitcher of water on Wilson's head and chanted "Wilson, you're all wet" at an AAAS conference.[28] 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."[29]

Objections from evangelical Christians included those of Paul E. Rothrock in 1987: "... sociobiology has the potential of becoming a religion of scientific materialism."[30] Philosopher Mary Midgley encountered Sociobiology in the process of writing Beast and Man (1996) [31] and significantly rewrote the book to offer a critique of Wilson's views. Midgley praised the book for the study of animal behavior, clarity, scholarship, and encyclopedic scope, but extensively critiqued Wilson for conceptual confusion, scientism, and anthropomorphism of genetics.[32]

The book and its reception were mentioned in Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind.[33]

On Human Nature, 1978

Wilson wrote in his 1978 book On Human Nature, "The evolutionary epic is probably the best myth we will ever have." Wilson's use of the word "myth" provides people with meaningful placement in time celebrating shared heritage.[34] Wilson's fame prompted use of the morphed phrase epic of evolution.[6] The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979.[35]

The Ants, 1990

Wilson, along with Bert Hölldobler, carried out a systematic study of ants and ant behavior,[36] culminating in the 1990 encyclopedic work The Ants. Because much self-sacrificing behavior on the part of individual ants can be explained on the basis of their genetic interests in the survival of the sisters, with whom they share 75% of their genes (though the actual case is some species' queens mate with multiple males and therefore some workers in a colony would only be 25% related), Wilson argued for a sociobiological explanation for all social behavior on the model of the behavior of the social insects.

Wilson has said in reference to ants "Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species".[37] He meant that while ants and other eusocial species appear to live in communist-like societies, they only do so because they are forced to do so from their basic biology, as they lack reproductive independence: worker ants, being sterile, need their ant-queen in order to survive as a colony and a species, and individual ants cannot reproduce without a queen and are thus forced to live in centralised societies. Humans, however, do possess reproductive independence so they can give birth to offspring without the need of a "queen", and in fact humans enjoy their maximum level of Darwinian fitness only when they look after themselves and their offspring, while finding innovative ways to use the societies they live in for their own benefit.[38]

Consilience, 1998

In his 1998 book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, Wilson discussed methods that have been used to unite the sciences, and might be able to unite the sciences with the humanities. Wilson used the term "consilience" to describe the synthesis of knowledge from different specialized fields of human endeavor. He defined human nature as a collection of epigenetic rules, the genetic patterns of mental development. He argued that culture and rituals are products, not parts, of human nature. He said art is not part of human nature, but our appreciation of art is. He suggested that concepts such as art appreciation, fear of snakes, or the incest taboo (Westermarck effect) could be studied by scientific methods of the natural sciences and be part of interdisciplinary research.

The book was mentioned in Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind.[33]

Spiritual and political beliefs

Scientific humanism

Wilson coined the phrase scientific humanism as "the only worldview compatible with science's growing knowledge of the real world and the laws of nature".[39] Wilson argued that it is best suited to improve the human condition. In 2003, he was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto.[40]

God and religion

On the question of God, Wilson has described his position as provisional deism[41] and explicitly denied the label of "atheist", preferring "agnostic".[42] He has explained his faith as a trajectory away from traditional beliefs: "I drifted away from the church, not definitively agnostic or atheistic, just Baptist & Christian no more."[17] Wilson argues that the belief in God and rituals of religion are products of evolution.[43] He argues that they should not be rejected or dismissed, but further investigated by science to better understand their significance to human nature. In his book The Creation, Wilson suggests that scientists ought to "offer the hand of friendship" to religious leaders and build an alliance with them, stating that "Science and religion are two of the most potent forces on Earth and they should come together to save the creation."[44]

Wilson made an appeal to the religious community on the lecture circuit at Midland College, Texas, for example, and that "the appeal received a 'massive reply'", that a covenant had been written and that a "partnership will work to a substantial degree as time goes on".[45]

In a New Scientist interview published on 21 January 2015, Wilson said that "Religion 'is dragging us down' and must be eliminated 'for the sake of human progress'", and "So I would say that for the sake of human progress, the best thing we could possibly do would be to diminish, to the point of eliminating, religious faiths."[46][47]


Wilson has said that, if he could start his life over he would work in microbial ecology, when discussing the reinvigoration of his original fields of study since the 1960s.[48] He studied the mass extinctions of the 20th century and their relationship to modern society, and in 1998 argued for an ecological approach at the Capitol:

Now when you cut a forest, an ancient forest in particular, you are not just removing a lot of big trees and a few birds fluttering around in the canopy. You are drastically imperiling a vast array of species within a few square miles of you. The number of these species may go to tens of thousands. ... Many of them are still unknown to science, and science has not yet discovered the key role undoubtedly played in the maintenance of that ecosystem, as in the case of fungi, microorganisms, and many of the insects.[49]

Wilson has been part of the international conservation movement, as a consultant to Columbia University's Earth Institute, as a director of the American Museum of Natural History, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund.[14]

Understanding the scale of the extinction crisis has led him to advocate for forest protection,[49] including the "Act to Save America's Forests", first introduced in 1998, until 2008, but never passed.[50] The Forests Now Declaration calls for new markets-based mechanisms to protect tropical forests.[51] In 2014, Wilson called for setting aside 50% of the earth's surface for other species to thrive in as the only possible strategy to solve the extinction crisis.[52]

Awards and honors

E. O. Wilson sitting, October 16, 2007
Wilson at a "fireside chat" during which he received the Addison Emery Verrill Medal in 2007
Wilson addresses the audience at the dedication of the Biophilia Center named for him at Nokuse Plantation in Walton County, Florida.

Wilson's scientific and conservation honors include:

Main works

  • "Character displacement". Systematic Zoology. 5 (2): 49–64. 1956. doi:10.2307/2411924. JSTOR 2411924., coauthored with William Brown Jr.; paper honored in 1986 as a Science Citation Classic, i.e., as one of the most frequently cited scientific papers of all time.[65]
  • The Theory of Island Biogeography, 1967, Princeton University Press (2001 reprint), ISBN 0-691-08836-5, with Robert H. MacArthur
  • The Insect Societies, 1971, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-45490-1
  • Sociobiology: The New Synthesis 1975, Harvard University Press, (Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition, 2000 ISBN 0-674-00089-7)
  • On Human Nature, 1979, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-01638-6, winner of the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.
  • Genes, Mind and Culture: The Coevolutionary Process, 1981, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-34475-8
  • Promethean Fire: Reflections on the Origin of Mind, 1983, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-71445-8
  • Biophilia, 1984, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-07441-6
  • Success and Dominance in Ecosystems: The Case of the Social Insects, 1990, Inter-Research, ISSN 0932-2205
  • The Ants, 1990, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-04075-9, Winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize, with Bert Hölldobler
  • The Diversity of Life, 1992, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-21298-3, The Diversity of Life: Special Edition, ISBN 0-674-21299-1
  • The Biophilia Hypothesis, 1993, Shearwater Books, ISBN 1-55963-148-1, with Stephen R. Kellert
  • Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration, 1994, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-48525-4, with Bert Hölldobler
  • Naturalist, 1994, Shearwater Books, ISBN 1-55963-288-7
  • In Search of Nature, 1996, Shearwater Books, ISBN 1-55963-215-1, with Laura Simonds Southworth
  • Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998, Knopf, ISBN 0-679-45077-7
  • The Future of Life, 2002, Knopf, ISBN 0-679-45078-5
  • Pheidole in the New World: A Dominant, Hyperdiverse Ant Genus, 2003, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-00293-8
  • The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, September 2006, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-06217-5
  • Nature Revealed: Selected Writings 1949–2006, ISBN 0-8018-8329-6
  • The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies, 2009, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-06704-0, with Bert Hölldobler
  • Anthill: A Novel, April 2010, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-07119-1
  • Kingdom of Ants: Jose Celestino Mutis and the Dawn of Natural History in the New World, 2010, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, with José María Gómez Durán
  • The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct, 2011, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-33868-3, with Bert Hölldobler
  • The Social Conquest of Earth, 2012, Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York, ISBN 0871403633
  • Letters to a Young Scientist, 2014, Liveright, ISBN 0871403854
  • A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park, 2014, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 1476747415
  • The Meaning of Human Existence, 2014, Liveright, ISBN 0871401002
  • Half-Earth, 2016, Liveright, ISBN 978-1-63149-082-8
  • The Origins of Creativity, 2017, Liveright, ISBN 978-1-63149-318-8
  • Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies, 2019, Liveright; ISBN 1-63149-554-2

Edited works

  • From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books, edited with introductions by Edward O. Wilson (2010 W.W. Norton)


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  64. ^ "Chicago Humanities Festival". chicagohumanities.org.
  65. ^ "William L Brown, Jr. Obituary". Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

External links

American Society of Naturalists

The American Society of Naturalists was founded in 1883 and is one of the oldest professional societies dedicated to the biological sciences in North America. The purpose of the Society is "to advance and diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences."

Founded in Massachusetts with Alpheus Spring Packard Jr. as its first president, it was called the Society of Naturalists of the Eastern United States until 1886.The scientific journal The American Naturalist is published on behalf of the society, which also holds an annual meeting with a scientific program of symposia and contributed papers and posters. It also confers a number of awards for achievement in evolutionary biology and/or ecology, including the Sewall Wright Award (named in honor of Sewall Wright) for senior researchers making "fundamental contributions ... to the conceptual unification of the biological sciences", the E. O. Wilson award for "significant contributions" from naturalists in mid-career, the Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigators Award for promising scientists early in their careers, and also the Ruth Patrick Student Poster Award.

Bert Hölldobler

Berthold Karl Hölldobler (born 25 June 1936) is a German sociobiologist and evolutionary biologist who studies evolution and social organization in ants. He is the author of several books, including The Ants, for which he and his co-author, E. O. Wilson received the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction writing in 1991.

Biological determinism

Biological determinism, also known as genetic determinism is the belief that human behaviour is controlled by an individual's genes or some component of their physiology, generally at the expense of the role of the environment, whether in embryonic development or in learning. Genetic reductionism is a similar concept, but it is distinct from genetic determinism in that the former refers to the level of understanding, while the latter refers to the supposedly causal role of genes. It has been associated with movements in science and society including eugenics, scientific racism, the debate around the heritability of IQ, the biological basis for gender roles, and the sociobiology debate.

In 1892 August Weismann proposed in his germ plasm theory that heritable information is transmitted only via germ cells, which he thought contained determinants (genes). Francis Galton, supposing that undesirable traits such as club foot and criminality were inherited, advocated eugenics, aiming to prevent supposedly defective people from breeding. Samuel George Morton and Paul Broca attempted to relate the cranial capacity (internal skull volume) to skin colour, intending to show that white people were superior. Other workers such as H. H. Goddard, and Robert Yerkes attempted to measure people's intelligence and to show that the resulting scores were heritable, again to demonstrate the supposed superiority of people with white skin.Galton popularized the phrase nature and nurture, later often used to characterize the heated debate over whether genes or the environment determined human behavior. Scientists such as ecologists and behavioural geneticists now see it as obvious that both factors are essential, and that they are intertwined.Late in the 20th century, the determinism of gender roles was debated by geneticists and others. Biologists such as John Money and Anke Ehrhardt attempted to describe femininity and homosexuality according to then-current social standards; against this, the evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin and others argued that clothing and other preferences vary in different societies. The biologist E. O. Wilson founded the discipline of sociobiology, founded on observations of animals such as social insects, controversially suggesting that its explanations of social behaviour might apply to humans.

Charles C. Mann

Charles C. Mann (born 1955) is an American journalist and author, specializing in scientific topics. His book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus won the National Academies Communication Award for best book of the year. He is the coauthor of four books, and contributing editor for Science, The Atlantic Monthly, and Wired.

Mann has also written for Fortune, The New York Times, Smithsonian, Technology Review, Vanity Fair, and The Washington Post. In 2005 he wrote 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, followed in 2011 by 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. He served as a judge for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award in 2012.He is a three-time National Magazine Award finalist and a recipient of writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with his wife and children.In 2018, Mann published The Wizard and the Prophet, which details two competing theories about the future of agriculture, population, and the environment. The titular "wizard" Mann refers to is Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize winner credited with developing the Green Revolution and saving 1 billion people from starvation. Mann refers to William Vogt, an early proponent of population control, as the "prophet."

Consilience (book)

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge is a 1998 book by biologist E. O. Wilson, in which the author discusses methods that have been used to unite the sciences and might in the future unite them with the humanities. Wilson uses the term consilience to describe the synthesis of knowledge from different specialized fields of human endeavor.


Culturgen is a term coined in 1980 by two American scientists, the biomathematician Charles J. Lumsden and the

sociobiologist E. O. Wilson, to denote a hypothetical 'unit' of culture, in their controversial attempt to analyse cultural evolution by using techniques borrowed from population genetics, and to infer a theory of evolution of the human mind. It effectively means much the same as the older term "cultural trait" used by anthropologists, and offers similar difficulties of identification and definition. The fullest exposition of their theory appeared in their book Genes, Mind, and Culture: the coevolutionary process (1981), which received many reviews in the scientific press, many of them highly negative; it was re-issued in 2005 with a review of subsequent developments. The term has declined in popularity, and the older term meme (coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene (1976)) is now used in its stead almost universally (even by Wilson in his later writings).

For a discussion of the concept, see Meme.

David Quammen

David Quammen (born February 1948) is an American science, nature and travel writer and the author of fifteen books. He wrote a column called "Natural Acts" for Outside magazine for fifteen years. His articles have also appeared in National Geographic, Harper's, Rolling Stone, the New York Times Book Review and other periodicals. In 2013, Quammen's book Spillover was shortlisted for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

Group selection

Group selection is a proposed mechanism of evolution in which natural selection acts at the level of the group, instead of at the more conventional level of the individual.

Early authors such as V. C. Wynne-Edwards and Konrad Lorenz argued that the behavior of animals could affect their survival and reproduction as groups, speaking for instance of actions for the good of the species. In the 1930s, R.A. Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane proposed the concept of kin selection, arguing that animals should sacrifice for their relatives, and thereby implying that they should not sacrifice for non-relatives; Haldane even jokingly introduced a mathematical basis for familial altruism, suggesting that he would die for two siblings or eight cousins. From the mid 1960s, evolutionary biologists such as John Maynard Smith argued that natural selection acted primarily at the level of the individual. They argued on the basis of mathematical models that individuals would not altruistically sacrifice fitness for the sake of a group. They persuaded the majority of biologists that group selection did not occur, other than in special situations such as the haplodiploid social insects like honeybees (in the Hymenoptera), where kin selection was possible.

In 1994 David Sloan Wilson and Elliott Sober argued for multi-level selection, including group selection, on the grounds that groups, like individuals, could compete. In 2010 three authors including E. O. Wilson, known for his work on social insects especially ants, again revisited the arguments for group selection. They argued that group selection can occur when competition between two or more groups, some containing altruistic individuals who act cooperatively together, is more important for survival than competition between individuals within each group. Howard Rachlin, William M. Baum, and Carsta Simon have proposed group selection of behavioral patterns during ontogeny parallel to group selection during phylogeny. Their proposals provoked a strong rebuttal from a large group of evolutionary biologists and behavior analysts.

Harvard University Press

Harvard University Press (HUP) is a publishing house established on January 13, 1913, as a division of Harvard University, and focused on academic publishing. It is a member of the Association of American University Presses. After the retirement of William P. Sisler in 2017, the university appointed as Director George Andreou.The press maintains offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts near Harvard Square, and in London, England. The press co-founded the distributor TriLiteral LLC with MIT Press and Yale University Press. TriLiteral was sold to LSC Communications in 2018.Notable authors published by HUP include Eudora Welty, Walter Benjamin, E. O. Wilson, John Rawls, Emily Dickinson, Stephen Jay Gould, Helen Vendler, Carol Gilligan, Amartya Sen, David Blight, Martha Nussbaum, and Thomas Piketty.

The Display Room in Harvard Square, dedicated to selling HUP publications, closed on June 17, 2009.

Insular biogeography

Insular biogeography or island biogeography is a field within biogeography that examines the factors that affect the species richness and diversification of isolated natural communities. The theory was originally developed to explain the pattern of the species–area relationship occurring in oceanic islands. Under either name it is now used in reference to any ecosystem (present or past) that is isolated due to being surrounded by unlike ecosystems, and has been extended to mountain peaks, seamounts, oases, fragmented forests, and even natural habitats isolated by human land development. The field was started in the 1960s by the ecologists Robert H. MacArthur and E. O. Wilson, who coined the term island biogeography in their inaugural contribution to Princeton's Monograph in Population Biology series, which attempted to predict the number of species that would exist on a newly created island.

On Human Nature

On Human Nature (1978; second edition 2004) is a book by Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson, in which the author attempts to explain human nature and society through sociobiology. Wilson argues that evolution has left its traces on characteristics such as generosity, self-sacrifice, worship and the use of sex for pleasure, and proposes a sociobiological explanation of homosexuality. He attempts to complete the Darwinian revolution by bringing biological thought into social sciences and humanities. Wilson describes On Human Nature as a sequel to his earlier books The Insect Societies (1971) and Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975).

The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979.

Orion (magazine)

Orion is a quarterly, advertisement-free, nonprofit magazine focused on nature, culture, and place addressing environmental and societal issues.

It has published such authors as Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams, Michael Pollan, Mark Kurlansky, Derrick Jensen, Sandra Steingraber, Gretel Ehrlich, Bill McKibben, Barbara Kingsolver, Rebecca Solnit, Cormac Cullinan, Erik Reece, James Howard Kunstler and E. O. Wilson.

In 2010, Orion was the recipient of Utne Reader magazine's Utne Independent Press Award for General Excellence.

PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

The PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award is awarded by the PEN American Center (Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists) for writing that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of physical and biological sciences. The award includes a cash prize of $10,000.The award was founded by scientist and author Dr. Edward O. Wilson, activist and actor Harrison Ford, and the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The award was inaugurated in 2011.Examples of published works that exemplify the quality of writing the award is designed to acknowledge include Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) and James Watson's The Double Helix (1969), which contribute 'to the public’s understanding of scientific principles at work in the world today.'The award is one of many PEN awards sponsored by International PEN affiliates in over 145 PEN centers around the world. The PEN American Center awards have been characterized as being among the "major" American literary prizes.

R/K selection theory

In ecology, r/K selection theory relates to the selection of combinations of traits in an organism that trade off between quantity and quality of offspring. The focus on either an increased quantity of offspring at the expense of individual parental investment of r-strategists, or on a reduced quantity of offspring with a corresponding increased parental investment of K-strategists, varies widely, seemingly to promote success in particular environments.

The terminology of r/K-selection was coined by the ecologists Robert MacArthur and E. O. Wilson in 1967 based on their work on island biogeography; although the concept of the evolution of life history strategies has a longer history (see e.g. plant strategies).

The theory was popular in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was used as a heuristic device, but lost importance in the early 1990s, when it was criticized by several empirical studies. A life-history paradigm has replaced the r/K selection paradigm but continues to incorporate many of its important themes.

Seed (magazine)

Seed (subtitled Science Is Culture; originally Beneath the Surface) was an online science magazine published by Seed Media Group. The magazine looked at big ideas in science, important issues at the intersection of science and society, and the people driving global science culture. Seed was founded in Montreal by Adam Bly and the magazine was then headquartered in New York with bureaus around the world. May/June 2009 (Issue No. 22) was the last print issue. Content continued to be published on the website until its demise.

Seed was a finalist for two National Magazine Awards in 2007 in the categories of Design and General Excellence (100,000 to 250,000), was the recipient of the Utne Independent Press Award, and was included in the 2006 Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology published by Houghton Mifflin and edited by Brian Greene.

The magazine published original writing from scientists and science journalists. Scientists who contributed to the magazine include: James D. Watson, Freeman Dyson, Lisa Randall, Martin Rees, Steven Pinker, E.O. Wilson, and Daniel Dennett. Seed's design direction was created by Stefan Sagmeister. Jonah Lehrer also contributed features to Seed.

Social evolution

Social evolution is a subdiscipline of evolutionary biology that is concerned with social behaviors that have fitness consequences for individuals other than the actor. It is also a subdiscipline of sociology that studies evolution of social systems.


Sociobiology is a field of biology that aims to examine and explain social behavior in terms of evolution. It draws from disciplines including ethology, anthropology, evolution, zoology, archaeology, and population genetics. Within the study of human societies, sociobiology is closely allied to Darwinian anthropology, human behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology.

Sociobiology investigates social behaviors such as mating patterns, territorial fights, pack hunting, and the hive society of social insects. It argues that just as selection pressure led to animals evolving useful ways of interacting with the natural environment, so also it led to the genetic evolution of advantageous social behavior.

While the term "sociobiology" originated at least as early as the 1940s, the concept did not gain major recognition until the publication of E. O. Wilson's book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis in 1975. The new field quickly became the subject of controversy. Critics, led by Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould, argued that genes played a role in human behavior, but that traits such as aggressiveness could be explained by social environment rather than by biology. Sociobiologists responded by pointing to the complex relationship between nature and nurture.

The Ants

The Ants is a zoology textbook by the German entomologist Bert Hölldobler and the American entomologist E. O. Wilson, first published in 1990. It won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1991.

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