History Professors David Sepkoski (UIUC) and Mark Borello (Minnesota) recently co-wrote “Ideology as Biology” for The New York Review, in which they challenge the late renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson’s legacy, calling attention to his development and application of “sociobiology.”
In Wilson’s 1975 treatise, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Wilson takes his primary focus on nonhuman animals and extends his sociobiological analysis to humans to suggest an evolutionary and genetic basis for “the behavioral qualities that underlie the variations between cultures” and “marked racial differences in locomotion, posture, muscular tone, and emotional response that cannot be reasonably explained a the result of training or even conditioning within the womb.”
Sepkoski and Borello track the treatise’s reception, highlighting the campus protests and charges of racism and sexism from scientists and commentators. To read more about Wilson’s problematic legacy, see “Ideology as Biology,” in The New York Review.
David Sepkoski is the Thomas M. Siebel Chair in History of Science at the University of Illinois and specializes in transnational history of biological, environmental, and information sciences in cultural context.
Mark Borello is Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota and a historian of biology with interests in evolutionary theory, genetics, behavior and the environment. His research explores the varied interpretations and applications of evolutionary theory from the late 19th century to the present.