‘Modern-day Darwin’ who fell victim to peers

‘Modern-day Darwin’ who fell victim to peers. By Claire Lehmann.

On Boxing Day Edward O. Wilson, a pioneer of the field of evolutionary biology, died aged 92. …

E.O. Wilson, scientist and hero

The winner of two Pulitzer prizes and many science prizes, Wilson also suffered a campaign of vicious vilification in his lifetime and was physically attacked for his work — an early precursor of today’s cancel culture.

The story of Wilson’s vilification remains a cautionary tale for brilliant scientists looking to find a home in academe, as the ideological attacks on scholarship that he was subjected to in the 1970s have not dissipated; in many ways they have persisted and intensified. …

The most insidious and undermining attacks on open inquiry in the field have come from the far left, and they have emerged from inside the academy, from activists embedded in the disciplines.

In 1975, after the publication of his groundbreaking book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Wilson was targeted by a group of his peers in what was perhaps the first episode of academic cancel culture. …

Wilson’s crime had been to suggest that the principles of evolution be applied to the study of human nature. The denunciatory letter did not bother to quote Wilson or his book once, it simply smeared him based on a distorted interpretation of his work.

The author of the letter was purported to be Elizabeth Allen, a pre-med student, but it was co-signed by eminent Harvard biologists Richard C. Lewontin, and Stephen Jay Gould, who were Wilson’s peers and who shared office space with him. These scholars were respected within their fields and had public profiles, publishing prolifically in scientific journals as well as popular magazines while also organising students in openly activist coalitions. Both were sympathetic to Marxism and were openly radical in their political views.

In 1978, a member of the International Committee Against Racism physically attacked Wilson while he was on stage for an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, pouring ice water over his head while chanting “Wilson, you are wet”. …

Stephen Jay Gould, Marxist propagandist

Wilson turned out to be right:

In the decades since Gould’s opposition to sociobiology, however, scientists have discovered that genes indeed affect human behaviour, putting to bed some of his arguments about unfalsifiable “just so stories”.

In a meta-analysis (a study of studies) of 50 years of twin studies, published in Nature in 2015, a group of scientists concluded that across almost all measurable human traits, heritability could be estimated to be about 50 per cent.

Of course, this will not come as a surprise to a non-academic audience. Any parent of more than one child will tell you human nature is real and is not infinitely malleable. Anyone who has spent time around boys and girls will tell you their preferences in play differ, in the aggregate, and this cannot simply be explained by elaborate theories of socialisation.

In hindsight it seems remarkable that a scientist was vilified for merely suggesting that biology and evolution might play a role in human behaviour. We do not find it morally offensive to suggest that evolution has influenced the behaviour of chimpanzees, or bees, or great white sharks. …

The job of modern scientists is to manufacture talking points for the narrative (or else the bureaucrats don’t fund them).

Sadly, the politicisation of science continues today, and the denial of human nature is taking on increasingly bizarre forms. In an attempt to minimise or deny biology altogether, the distinctions between male and female as distinct biological categories are being collapsed.

Some scientists (or, rather, activists in scientists’ clothing) have argued that biological sex is a spectrum and that gender fluidity is a valid scientific construct.

In reality, while intersex conditions do exist, biological sex is not defined by statistical outliers or subjective identity, or even by secondary sex characteristics, such as genitalia. In biology, sex is defined by gametes, and in homo sapiens there are only two sexes: those who produce sperm and those who produce eggs.

Don’t fall for the “believe the science” trick.