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A Masterful Historical and Interpretive Success,
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This review is from: Defenders of the Truth: The Battle for Science in the Sociobiology Debate and Beyond (Hardcover)
This is a dense but well-written history of the sociobiology debates between E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, John Maynard Smith and others on one side, and Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, and Science for the People on the other. Most of the authors material was gather for her 1983 Ph.D. dissertation, but there is plenty of material from the mid to late 1990's as well.
Despite the length and degree of detail of the book, I found it difficult to skip even a page, so well is it written and so engaging is the author. It is hard to believe that she could still inject new insights in to the analysis 300 pages in to the book, but this she does, and repeatedly so.
The author has deep respect for the anti-sociobiologists, but she is clearly on the side of their critics. In this I believe she is correct. While my personal history is closer to that of the opponents (I was a Marxist and an anti-racist activist at the same time Gould, Lewontin, et al. were) I never had the slightest sympathy for their critique of E. O. Wilson (I read Sociobiology when it first came out and didn't even mind the infamous last chapter, though I though it was wrong---and it is), and their treatment of Maynard Smith, Dawkins, and more recently evolutionary psychology, is to mind simply silly and ignorant---the opponents may be great biologists, but they are third rate amateurs at understanding social theory and human sociality, in my opinion.
I'm sure there are lessons to be learned from this intellectual saga, but I must report that the greatest pleasure for me was to see great minds battle it out in public. Of course, behind the scenes scientists were slowly and patiently working out the real issues, and we are measurable better informed now that when this battle began in the mid-1970's. The sociobiologists and behavioral ecologists won the scientific war, though the enemy is still sniping away around the perimeter.