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We Accept. In a field whose rivals such as theology, Marxism, deconstructionism, and such pseudo-sciences as psychoanalysis, which are governed by an unquenchable thirst for obscure jargon and a perverse interest in counter-intuitive concepts, Alcock shows that ordinary language can be used to explicate a powerful scientific theory that can be understood by anyone ready to reject the politically correct dogmas that are so forcefully projected by the mass media and the relics of the past, such as Stephen Jay Gould. The book is well organized, and gives a clear picture of where the methods and findings of sociobiology stand today.

It covers many interesting case studies that are good examples showing how it is a scientific field, with all the trappings of fresh insights, tested hypotheses, voluminous data, clearly stated methods, and all the excitement that comes with a field progressing rapidly through the research of hundreds of honest investigators. Alcock is perhaps at his strongest when he responds to the attacks on the field in a measured and powerful cadence of common sense.

Understanding human behavior is a field that everyone believes himself to be expert in, but is unfortunately filled with a baggage of historical nonsense and politically inspired biases. It is at once "the proper study of man" and the playground of charlatans. Seeing the progress that the science of sociobiology has made in the last thirty years, generates a feeling that must be much like that experienced by the people of the late 18th century, who saw chemistry replace alchemy. What it is and isn't A short introduction to what sociobiology is the search for evolved adaptations in behavior and equally what it is not.

A useful antidote to the misrepresentations of sociobiology that abound in some areas Gould, Angier, most to the popular press. Interesting examples and up to date. Read more 3. Wilson defines sociobiology as "the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior," the central theoretical problem of which is the question of how behaviors that seemingly contradict the principles of natural selection, such as altruism, can develop.

Sociobiology: A NewSynthesis , Wilson's first attempt to outline the new field of study,was first published in and called for a fairly revolutionary update tothe so-called Modern Synthesis of evolutionary biology. Sociobiology as anew field of study demanded the active inclusion of sociology, the socialsciences, and the humanities in evolutionary theory.

Often criticized forits apparent message of "biological destiny," Sociobiology set thestage for such controversial works as Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene andWilson's own Consilience. Sociobiology defines such concepts as society, individual,population, communication, and regulation.

[PDF] E.O. Wilson and B.F. Skinner: A Dialogue Between Sociobiology and Radical Behaviorism

It attempts to explain,biologically, why groups of animals behave the way they do when findingfood or shelter, confronting enemies, or getting along with one another. Wilson seeks to explain how group selection, altruism, hierarchies, andsexual selection work in populations of animals, and to identifyevolutionary trends and sociobiological characteristics of all animalgroups, up to and including man. The insect sections of the books areparticularly interesting, given Wilson's status as the world's most famousentomologist. It is fair to say that as an ecological strategy eusocialityhas been overwhelmingly successful.

It is useful to think of an insectcolony as a diffuse organism, weighing anywhere from less than a gram to asmuch as a kilogram and possessing from about a hundred to a million or moretiny mouths. It's when Wilson starts talking about human beings that the furor starts. Feminists have been among the strongest critics of the work, arguing thathumans are not slaves to a biological destiny, forever locked in"primitive" behavior patterns without the ability to reason past ourbiochemical nature. Like TheOrigin of Species , Sociobiology has forced many biologistsand social scientists to reassess their most cherished notions of howanimals work.

Read more Customer Reviews 3 Sociobiology: The Abridged Edition I believe this is an excellent book but right now I am not ready for such a heavy book. Impressive Wilson really is one of the "twentieth centuries greatest thinkers. It covers basic concepts from altruism, selfishness, and spite; including communication, aggression, social roles, sex, and parenting from "invertebrates" to vertebrates.

Now, in , this is really more of a 'classic'. Read more 4. The author looks at the career of French-born physician and Nobel Prize winner, Alexis Carrel , as a way of understanding the popularization of eugenics through religious faith, scientific expertise, cultural despair and right-wing politics in the s and s.

Carrel was among the most prestigious experimental surgeons of his time who also held deeply illiberal views. In "Man, the Unknown" , he endorsed fascism and called for the elimination of the "unfit. In , he went into the service of the French pro-German regime of Vichy, which appointed him to head an institution of eugenics research.

His influence was remarkable, affecting radical Islamic groups as well Le Pen's Front National that celebrated him as the "founder of ecology. Read more 5. Vaulting Ambition is the first extensive and detailed evaluation of the controversial claims that sociobiologists have made about human nature and human social behavior.

Radical Behaviorism

It raises the "sociobiology debate" to a new level, moving beyond arguments about the politics of the various parties involved, the degree to which sociobiology assumes genetic determinism, or the falsifiability of the general theory. Sociobiology has made a great deal of noise in the popular intellectual culture. Vaulting Ambition cuts through the charges and counter-charges to take a hard look at the claims and analyses offered by the sociobiologists.

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It examines what the claims mean, how they relate to standard evolutionary theory, how the biological models are supposed to work, and what is wrong with the headline-grabbing proclamations of human sociobiology. In particular, it refutes the notions that humans are trapped by their evolutionary biology and history in endlessly repeating patterns of aggression, xenophobia, and deceitfulness, or that the inequities of sex, race, and class are genetically based or culturally determined.

And it takes up issues of human altruism, freedom, and ethics as well. Kitcher weighs the evidence for sociobiology, for human sociobiology, and for "the pop sociobiological view" of human nature that has engendered the controversy. He concludes that in the field of nonhuman animal studies, rigorous and methodologically sound work about the social lives of insects, birds, and mammals has been done.

But in applying the theories to human beings—where even more exacting standards of evidence are called for because of the potential social disaster inherent in adopting a working hypothesis as a basis for public policy—many of the same scientists become wildly speculative, building grand conclusions from what Kitcher shows to be shoddy analysis and flimsy argument.

While it may be possible to develop a genuine science of human behavior based on evolutionary biology, genetics, cognition, and culture, Kitcher points out that the sociobiology that has been loudly advertised in the popular and intellectual press is not it. Pop sociobiology has in fact been felled by its overambitious and overreaching creators.

B.F. Skinner and behaviorism in American culture

Read more Customer Reviews 3 Difficult to navigate. I bought this book to do a term paper containing the subject of sociobiology. I did not have time to read it page-to-page; and I was disappointed in 1 the abbreviated index very slight ; and 2 the the silly chapter names, like:"A Bicycle is Not Enough; From Nature Up; The Rules of the Games This book is very difficult to navigate.

Forget it. I do not recommend anyone purchase this; it is old and difficult. Wilson's great work Sociobiology unleashed a furor of vitriolic criticism from mainstream social scientists, who preferred purely cultural models of human behavior, and from politically progressive crusaders who believed that the appropriate socialization processes could overcome the selfishness and mean-spiritedness inculcated by the possessive individualism fostered by modern capitalism.

Both groups were deeply offended by the attempt to give biological explanations for human behavioral propensities. Philip Kitcher's Vaulting Ambition may well be the only contribution to this debate that remains of scientific interest today, although Stephen Jay Gould and Richard C. Sociobiology has come a long way since this book, however.

The important contributions ofEvolutionary Psychology were still some years away, in the form of Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby eds. Similarly, most of the great evolutionary anthropological works of the behavioral ecologists had yet to be written in For this reason, Kitcher's book is outdated. But some of its broad arguments remain cogent today, and this book is well worth reading by anyone interested in the topic. The basic critique is summed up in the Postscript p. One looks toward the social behavior of nonhuman animals.

The eyes are carefully focused, the lips pursed judiciously. Utterances are made only with caution. The other face is almost hidden behind a megaphone. With great excitement, pronouncements about human nature blare forth. There, Kitcher recognizes that evolutionary theory has had great impact. He would be much more impressed today, I suspect, since the evolutionary game-theoretic approach now dominates the field. In human sociobiology, by contrast, there were a few high-profile books that captured the attention of the public, but did not engage in the painstaking gathering of experimental and field data that would turn speculation into scientific fact.

The scientific basis for sociobiology is immeasurably advanced over its state two decades ago. While the great public debate was in progress, researchers like Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman, Boyd and Richerson, Cosmides and Tooby, Daly and Wilson, Boehm, Hawkes, Kaplan, Wiessner and many others have established the biological foundations of human behavior as a fruitful field of study.

Nevertheless, debates based on highly speculative assertions rage in the popular science press, fueled by the considerable expository skills of Robert Wright, Stephen Pinker, Mat Ridley, and others. Moreover, modern-day sociobiologists, who are more likely to call themselves "evolutionary biologists," continue to exhibit two traits which are major subjects of attack by Kitcher.


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The first is to see every human characteristic as a biological adaptation with a genetic basis, and the second is to consider biological adaptations as aspects of human nature that are basically immutable through cultural intervention. Neither of these is reasonable. On the first count, human characteristics are the product of gene-culture coevolution, not genes alone, and the cultural elements are often dominant.

For instance, in human society, increased longevity and wealth has led to a decrease in family size the so-called "demographic revolution" , which is directly fitness-reducing by definition.

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Our species is, indeed, the only known species to which the Malthusian population mechanism does not apply in full force. To call this behavior a biological adaptation is absurd. On the second count, while sociobiologists are doubtless correct in asserting that there are genetic differences between men and women that lead to consistent behavioral differences, it is likely that egalitarian institutions and gender-neutral cultural norms can promote a high degree of gender equality in modern societies.

Kitcher's critique of E. Wilson p. Kitcher notes that sociobiologists have pointed to the failure of the Israeli kibbutzim as an example of the immutability of the sexual division of labor. He suggests, quite rightly, that there are many alternatives to the kibbutz besides the patriarchal family. And so there are! There is also one extremely important difference between the politics of sociobiology today and yesteryear.

Kitcher takes it as axiomatic that sociobiology is profoundly conservative, racist, sexist, and intolerant of diverse life-styles e.


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  6. I have my doubts about this characterization of the sociobiologists of the period, but there can be no question but that this is how they were perceived by the public and their intellectual enemies. This is no longer the case. While dyed-in-the-wool Marxists still rant about the conservatism of contemporary sociobiology, by and large its proponents have shed this image and are widely appreciated for creative insights in promoting racial and gender equality, tolerance of diversity, and opposition to senseless violence.

    Kitcher asserts there is no general sociobiological theory p. This critique was doubtless correct, although I now think that gene-culture coevolutionary theory is an encompassing framework for contemporary sociobiology others believe that Evolutionary Psychology holds this position. The later chapters of the book are less successful. Kitcher's critique of the "Panglossian" tendency of sociobiology is mostly wrong, and certainly out of date. Of course, the idea that natural selection leads to optima is generally fallacious, but this has little to do with sociobiology.

    Finally, Kitcher's defense of traditional philosophical approaches to ethics altruism, free will, morality , is interesting and spirited, but I think it is just wrong. Philosophers would do well, I believe, to take an evolutionary approach to ethics, rather than the Platonic, axiomatic approach that they tend to take. A Critique of Sociobiology In a field of much debate and little substance, this is one of the most useful and cogent critiques of sociobiology of Lumsden and Wilson, with a very detailed examination of the limitations in their mathematical modelling.

    Read more 6. Wilson published Sociobiology , it generated a firestorm of criticism, mostly focused on the book's final chapter, in which Wilson applied lessons learned from animal behavior to human society. In Defenders of the Truth , Ullica Segerstrale takes a hard look at the sociobiology controversy, sorting through a hornet's nest of claims and counterclaims, moral concerns, metaphysical beliefs, political convictions, strawmen, red herrings, and much juicy gossip. The result is a fascinating look at the world of modern science. Segerstrale has interviewed all the major participants, including such eminent scientists as Stephen Jay Gould, Richard C.

    She reveals that most of the criticism of Wilson was unfair, but argues that it was not politically motivated. Instead, she sees the conflict over sociobiology as a drawn-out battle about the nature of "good science" and the social responsibility of the scientist. Behind the often nasty attacks were the very different approaches to science taken by naturalists such as Wilson and experimentalists such as Lewontin , between the "planters" and the "weeders.

    Defenders of the Truth touches on grand themes such as the unity of knowledge, human nature, and free will and determinism, and it shows how the sociobiology controversy can shed light on the more recent debates over the Human Genome Project and The Bell Curve. It will appeal to all readers of Edward O. Wilson or Stephen Jay Gould and all those who enjoy a behind-the-scenes peek at modern science.

    These questions frame the twolevels of sociologist Ullica Segerstrale's analysis of thesociobiology controversy, Defenders of the Truth.

    Wilson's publication of Sociobiology to his release of Consilience , he hasconsistently been the often-unwilling center of the vitriolic debateover human nature and its scientific study. Heavy hitters like RichardDawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, and John Maynard Smith have lined up toattack and defend the scientific, political, and moral interpretationsand implications of Wilson's synthesis, and Dr. Segerstrale tells acompelling story of their battles on multiple fronts.

    The author knowsher science, having trained extensively in biochemistry before turningto sociology. That, of course, is the heart of the contention surroundingsociobiology. The political left, well-represented among evolutionarybiologists, has long considered any genetic influence on humanbehavior anathema--such theories are believed to support racistpolicies, even in the unlikely event that they were not merelyreflections of racist attitudes.

    To their credit, many scientists heldmore complex beliefs, but some used the ideological argument as a backdoor to introduce their own neo-Darwinian scientific theories. Thestruggle for understanding has been eclipsed for some time by thestruggle for political and academic survival and dominance, andSegerstrale reports and scrutinizes both with humor, intelligence, andaplomb. The end of the controversy--if there can be one--is far off,but a careful reading of Defenders of the Truth will giveinsight into the forces influencing our scientificself-examination.

    The violent clash of egos revealed the deep chasm between the British and US scientific community. While in Great-Britain R. Dawkins science was considered as an autonomous activity only the facts , the US scientists had a scientific-cum-moral agenda no barrier between facts and values. This agenda set the ideologues R. Lewontin, S. Gould against the biologists-adaptionists E. Sociobiology Sociobiology is the systematic study of the biological basis of social behavior and the organization of societies in all kind of organisms. It considers that human sex role divisions, aggressiveness, moral concerns or religious beliefs can be linked to man's evolutionary heritage and underlying genetic disposition.

    Aim of the biologists-adaptionists E. Wilson's main aim was to force the social sciences to take biology seriously. He wanted to provide a genetically accurate and fair code of natural ethics for man, thereby showing that Christian theologians should not impose arbitrary moral codes which could generate unnecessary human suffering. Vision of the ideologues For the ideologues, scientific and political questions were inextricably linked. For them, sociobiologists tried to demonstrate that nature optimizes and that they thereby defended a social statu-quo: what exists is adaptive, what is adaptive is good, therefore what exists is good.

    The social inequalities, like race, gender, ethnicity, class, status, wealth, power, domination, are then seen as reflections of a natural order. Richard Dawkins Towering above the verbal wrestlers, Richard Dawkins stated rightly that values cannot be derived from nature. There is a fundamental distinction between science how the world is and politics how the world ought to be.

    The Lyssenko affair demonstrated clearly what happens when scientific objectivity is abandoned. Dawkins rightly insulted the postmodernists as hypocrites for their vision of science it represents only one way of knowing among others and rightly attacked viruses of the mind, like religion, which had and has the ambition to explain the same things as science. For a devastating verdict on postmodernism see G. Science and politics Contrary to what S. Luria pretends, science is very important for politicians.

    It permitted them to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The more man knows how the world works, the more he can take action to improve life for everyone.


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    8. As the great American scientist G. It is a law of nature and its immorality has to be accepted and, at least, to be thought about. Definitive Ullica Segerstrale has written the definitive account of the sociobiology debates. This book is meticulously documented, exhaustively researched, and persuasively unbiased.

      With that said, I would be remiss not to point out that it is also dryer than the sahara and goes down like tacks in tepid water. In short, this is serious and scholarly stuff. Segerstrale lays out the course of the sociobiology debates, with some deference to chronology starting with Wilson and so on , and some deference to topicality.

      Ullica believes that, sans political motives, the heart of the controversy lies in seperate conceptions of how to do science. I do not know if I agree with this hypothesis, but it is of no matter. The book is so detailed and rich that any disagrements are waves in a tea cup. One particlular amusing tidbit described by Segrastale concerns the the sociobiology study group.

      Apparently, they had invited Noam Chomsky, that preternatural freak of intelligence and left-wing street credit. The expectation was that he would produce some writing which would utterly destroy sociobiology. Well, this was the guy who had seemingly destroyed the edifice of behaviorism with his famous review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior!