email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
A Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Mind So RareA Natural History of RapeAcquiring GenomesAdapting MindsAgeing, Health and CareAlas, Poor DarwinAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAncient Bodies, Modern LivesAnimal ArchitectsAping MankindAre We Hardwired?Bang!BehavingBeyond EvolutionBeyond GeneticsBlood MattersBody BazaarBoneBrain Evolution and CognitionBrain StormBrave New BrainBrave New WorldsChoosing ChildrenCloneCloningConceptual Issues in Evolutionary BiologyConsciousness EvolvingContemporary Debates in Philosophy of BiologyControlling Our DestiniesCooperation and Its EvolutionCreatures of AccidentDarwin Loves YouDarwin's Brave New WorldDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin's UniverseDarwin's WormsDarwinian ConservatismDarwinian PsychiatryDarwinism and its DiscontentsDarwinism as ReligionDebating DesignDecoding DarknessDefenders of the TruthDo We Still Need Doctors?Doubting Darwin?Early WarningEngineering the Human GermlineEnhancing EvolutionEnoughEntwined LivesEthical Issues in Human CloningEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEvil GenesEvolutionEvolutionEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorEvolution and LearningEvolution and ReligionEvolution and the Human MindEvolution in MindEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolution: The Modern SynthesisEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Origins of MoralityEvolutionary PsychiatryEvolutionary PsychologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolutionary Psychology as Maladapted PsychologyExploding the Gene MythFaces of Huntington'sFlesh of My FleshFrom Chance to ChoiceFrom Darwin to HitlerGenesGenes in ConflictGenes on the CouchGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Women, EqualityGenetic Nature/CultureGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetic SecretsGenetics of Criminal and Antisocial BehaviourGenetics of Mental DisordersGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenomeGenomeGenome: Updated EditionGenomes and What to Make of ThemGlowing GenesHow Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So StoriesHuman CloningHuman Evolution, Reproduction, and MoralityImproving Nature?In Our Own ImageIn Pursuit of the GeneIn the Name of GodIngenious GenesInheritanceInside the Human GenomeInside the O'BriensIntegrating Evolution and DevelopmentIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIs Human Nature Obsolete?Language OriginsLess Than HumanLiberal EugenicsLiving with Our GenesMaking Genes, Making WavesMaking Sense of EvolutionMan As The PrayerMean GenesMenMood GenesMoral OriginsMothers and OthersNature Via NurtureNever Let Me GoNot By Genes AloneOf Flies, Mice, and MenOn the Origin of StoriesOrigin of MindOrigins of Human NatureOrigins of PsychopathologyOur Posthuman FuturePhilosophy of BiologyPlaying God?Playing God?Portraits of Huntington'sPrimates and PhilosophersPromiscuityPsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsPsychologyQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRe-creating MedicineRedesigning HumansResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsResponsible GeneticsResponsible GeneticsScience, Seeds and CyborgsSex and WarSociological Perspectives on the New GeneticsStrange BedfellowsStrange BehaviorSubjects of the WorldSubordination and DefeatThe Age of EmpathyThe Agile GeneThe Ape and the Sushi MasterThe Biotech CenturyThe Blank SlateThe Book of LifeThe Bridge to HumanityThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Century of the GeneThe Common ThreadThe Concept of the Gene in Development and EvolutionThe Debated MindThe Double-Edged HelixThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Ethics of Human CloningThe Evolution of CooperationThe Evolution of MindThe Evolution of MindThe Evolved ApprenticeThe Evolving WorldThe Fact of EvolutionThe Folly of FoolsThe Future of Human NatureThe God GeneThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Impact of the GeneThe Innate MindThe Innate MindThe Innate Mind: Volume 3The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic ResearchThe Lives of the BrainThe Maladapted MindThe Meme MachineThe Misunderstood GeneThe Moral, Social, and Commercial Imperatives of Genetic Testing and ScreeningThe Most Dangerous AnimalThe New Genetic MedicineThe Nurture AssumptionThe Origin and Evolution of CulturesThe Origins of FairnessThe Paradoxical PrimateThe Perfect BabyThe Robot's RebellionThe Shape of ThoughtThe Shattered SelfThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Story WithinThe Stuff of LifeThe Talking ApeThe Temperamental ThreadThe Terrible GiftThe Theory of OptionsThe Top 10 Myths About EvolutionThe Triple HelixThe Triumph of SociobiologyThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaTwinsUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding the GenomeUnnatural SelectionUnto OthersUp From DragonsWar Against the WeakWhat Genes Can't DoWhat It Means to Be 98 Percent ChimpanzeeWho Owns YouWhose View of Life?Why Evolution Is TrueWhy Think? WondergenesWrestling with Behavioral GeneticsYour Genetic Destiny
Defenders of the Truth is truly an epic tale of intrigue, passion, adventure, and the pursuit of knowledge. The author has meticulously presented an intricate plot, and has included a huge cast of incredibly vivid characters, all of them struggling heroically against relentless adversaries.
While this introduction could indeed describe a very good novel of fiction, this particular story is actual history -- a very detailed history of the birth, death, transformation and rebirth of sociobiology into the new and perhaps even broader field of evolutionary psychology. In its telling, this tale encompasses territory, and shows a great deal about how the frontiers of science are actually won.
Sociobiology was a term coined in the 1970s by biologist E.O. Wilson to define a branch of study that would look at the biological underpinnings of animal behavior - - including human behavior. Rather unexpectedly in some quarters, it seems, Wilson's work sparked an avalanche of outrage not only from academics but from politically minded groups as well. The idea that humans might come with genetically imprinted behavioral tendencies, however tenuous and modifiable, was anathema to intellectuals on the sociopolitical left, whose beliefs required that humans be born tabula rasa, without any troubling biological vestiges that might impede their advance toward the creation of truly egalitarian societies.
To discredit sociobiology, these critics dragged out pejorative terms like "social Darwinism" in an attempt to link this theory to racism, sexism, and even the evil social and political aims of the Nazis. In addition, they attacked Wilson on theoretical and methodological grounds. The group of critics was large (as would be expected considering the spirit of the times) and included such well-known public figures as Stephen J. Gould and Richard C. Lewontin.
But the battle referred to in the subtitle of this book is not, strictly speaking, a struggle just about science, but rather a battle over which topics are even appropriate for scientists to study. When E.O. Wilson published his book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, in 1975, he brought to light an academic world in which the line between political belief and scientific pursuit had become blurred. Some academics believed that there are directions in science that are simply too dangerous to pursue, and that it is better not to ask questions for which the answers might be unpalatable. Thus, this book is not just about an obscure disagreement among academicians and scientists over technical details, but is, more broadly, about a debate over how science should be pursued. Further, this book is about scientists and academicians as people.
Segestrale, a professor of sociology, knows whereof she writes - - she was both a witness to and a participant in the early days of the debate. Segestrale argues in her book that for the most part, scientists and academicians on both sides of the debate have honorable intentions and are true to what they see as the requirements of good science. However, the reader is repeatedly disheartened by the actions and tactics of some of the characters . . . specifically those of the anti-sociobiology forces. The search for truth often seems to have been obscured by the desire to dissuade by any method, and the allegiance to political principles (specifically Marxism) seems to have often overwhelmed serious scientific debate.
One example of a particularly unsavory tactic used by the opponents of sociobiology was an on-stage attack at a conference in 1978, in which a pitcher of ice water was literally poured over Wilson, who was presenting at the time. Another example was the creation of a fictitious persona, purportedly an academic, under whose name letters of criticism were submitted for publication in a well-known journal. These are not strategies that would be approved by most scientists, and their use speaks to the energies unleashed by this particular subject.
The debate over what science should study brings up the fundamental issue of political correctness. Scientists who work in areas that are politically unpopular can pay a significant price for their boldness. At the least, these researchers will spend a large part of their energies and resources defending themselves and answering their critics. Even their careers and personal lives may be affected. For a quarter century now, sociobiologists have been underdogs. Although rapid advances in genetics and in empirical psychology have stimulated fresh debate, the question of whether their work will in the end be justified remains to be settled.
Although, as pointed out above, this book is as much about the scientific method as it is about the specifics of sociobiology, it will likely appeal most to those readers interested in, and already somewhat familiar with, the areas of biology, sociology, and evolutionary psychology. Keith Harris, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and supervisor of Victor Valley Behavioral Health Center in San Bernardino county, California. Hisinterests include clinical supervision, the empirical basis forpsychotherapy research (and its design), human decision-making processes,and the shaping of human nature by evolutionary forces.