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Edward Osborne Wilson

E. O. Wilson, or Edward Osborne Wilson, was born 1929 in Birmingham, Alabama, and is an entomologist and biologist known for his work on evolution and sociobiology. He received his PhD from Harvard. Wilson's specialty is ants, in particular their use of pheromones for communication. He is also famous for starting the sociobiology debate when he wrote Sociobiology: The New Synthesis in 1975.

Wilson has argued that the preservation of the gene, rather than the individual, is the focus of evolution (a theme explored in more detail by Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene). Wilson has also studied the mass extinctions of the 20th century and their relationship to modern society.

Wilson explains, "Now when you cut a forest, an ancient forest in particular, you are not just removing a lot of big trees and a few birds fluttering around in the canopy. You are drastically imperiling a vast array of species within a few square miles of you. The number of these species may go to tens of thousands. Many of them are still unknown to science, and science has not yet discovered the key role undoubtedly played in the maintenance of that ecosystem, as in the case of fungi, microorganisms, and many of the insects."

Wilson adds, "Let us get rid immediately of the notion that all you have to do is keep a little patch of the old growth somewhere, and then you can do whatever you want with the rest. That is a very dangerous and false notion."

Wilson inadvertantly created one of the greatest scientific controversies of the late 20th century when he came up with the idea of sociobiology. Sociobiology suggests that animal, and by extention human, behaviour can be studied using an evolutionary framework. Many critics accused Wilson of racism and he was even physically attacked for his views. However, Wilson had never intended to suggest that human nature was static and independent of the environment. Nor had he intended to apply a 'survival of the fittest' model on human society as had been true of social darwinists. The controversy caused a great deal of personal grief for Wilson; many of his colleagues at Harvard, such as Stephen Jay Gould were vehemently opposed to his ideas.

Wilson has received many awards for his works, most notably National Medal of Science, Crafoord Prize and twice the Pulitzer Prize (category non fiction).

His main works are:

See also: