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‘New Social Darwinism’ is Topic April 23

‘New Social Darwinism’ is Topic April 23


David Sloan Wilson, the author of Evolution for Everyone, will share how evolution can function as a general theoretical framework for public policy formulation in the same way that it works in the biological sciences, Thursday, April 23, at SUNY Cortland.

Sloan Wilson, a SUNY distinguished professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University whose lecture wraps up the College’s yearlong “R/Evolution” series, will present “The New Social Darwinism” at 4:30 p.m. in Old Main Brown Auditorium.

The “R/Evolution” series questions the notion that evolution represents positive change with a number of book and staged readings, film screenings and discussions. Offered by the College’s Cultural and Intellectual Climate Committee (CICC), the events are free and open to the public.

David Sloan Wilson
David Sloan Wilson

Sloan Wilson, who studies evolution in the same way that Darwin did — as a theory that applies to all aspects of humanity in addition to the biological world — asserts that evolutionary theory has transformed the biological sciences but became stigmatized in relation to human affairs early in the 20th century. 

“As a result, efforts to understand and improve the human condition are largely pre-Darwinian, as strange as that might sound,” he observed.

Although a great deal of social history must be overcome, Sloan Wilson believes that a closer relationship between biology and social policy is within reach.

His text Evolution for Everyone is a collection of essays that shows how evolution provides a basis for investigation in many disciplines.

Sloan Wilson has made foundational contributions to evolutionary theory on topics such as multilevel selection and the nature of individual differences. His research on nonhuman species examines topics as diverse as personality differences in fish and the artificial selection of whole ecosystems. His research on humans examines topics as diverse as altruism, physical attractiveness, decision-making, religion, economics and business.

Take, for example, people’s tendency to help out one another.

“Many established ideas about human altruism, including ideas that underpin social and economic policies, are either wrong or not very relevant,” Sloan Wilson noted. “When we view human nature through an evolutionary lens, we come to a new understanding of altruism and its central place in human society. This movement is already in progress and can result in new solutions to life’s problems at all scales, from individuals and small groups to the global village.” 

In January, Sloan Wilson released his most recent book, Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes and the Welfare of Others, in which he provides new answers to these critical questions about altruism, based on the latest developments in evolutionary science.

Sloan Wilson directs a number of programs in addition to his personal research:

  • EvoS expands evolutionary training beyond the biological sciences in higher education;
  • The Binghamton Neighborhood Project uses the city of Binghamton, N.Y., as a field site for basic and applied research from an evolutionary perspective;
  • This View of Life is an online magazine that reports “anything and everything” from an evolutionary perspective to the general public; and,
  • The Evolution Institute is the first think tank to formulate public policy from a modern evolutionary perspective.

His book Evolution for Everyone also is included in the series’ “common read” literature, publications that the campus and community members are invited to read on their own to prepare them for classroom and group discussions. Titles also include “Inherit the Wind,” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, a dramatic rendering of the 1925 Scopes Trial, commonly referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial; and a collection of 27 essays geared for a general audience, The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013, edited by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Sloan Wilson’s talk is co-sponsored by the SUNY Cortland Auxiliary Services Corporation and through an anonymous donation.

For more information on the lecture, contact Lisi Krall, professor of economics, or Angela Pagano, associate professor of biological sciences. For more information on the “R/Evolution” series or the common reads, contact committee co-chair Scott Moranda, associate professor of history, at 607-753-2052.