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Science for the People[edit | edit source]

E. O. Wilson, a biologist and entomology professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University wrote that "the political objections forcefully made by the Sociobiology Study Group of Science for the People in particular took me by surprise." Wilson stated:

I had been blindsided by the attack. Having expected some frontal fire from social scientists on primarily evidential grounds, I had received instead a political enfilade from the flank. A few observers were surprised that I was surprised. John Maynard Smith, a senior British evolutionary biologist and former Marxist, said that he disliked the last chapter of Sociobiology himself and "it was also absolutely obvious to me--I cannot believe Wilson didn't know--that this was going to provoke great hostility from American Marxists, and Marxists everywhere." But it was true that I didn't know. I was unprepared perhaps because, as Maynard Smith further observed, I am an American rather than a European. In 1975 I was a political naive: I knew almost nothing about Marxism as either a political belief or a mode of analysis; I had paid little attention to the dynamism of the activist Left, and I had never heard of Science for the People. I was not an intellectual in the European or New York/Cambridge sense. ... After the Sociobiology Study Group exposed me as a counterrevolutionary adventurist, and as they intensified their attacks in articles and teach-ins, other radical activists in the Boston area, including the violence-prone International Committee against Racism, conducted a campaign of leaflets and teach-ins of their own to oppose human sociobiology. As this activity spread through the winter and spring of 1975-76, I grew fearful that it might reach a level embarrassing to my family and the university. I briefly considered offers of professorships from three universities--in case, their representatives said, I wished to leave the physical center of the controversy. But the pressure was tolerable, since I was a senior professor with tenure, with a reputation based on other discoveries, and in any case could not bear to leave Harvard's ant collection, the world's largest and best. For a few days a protester in Harvard Square used a bullhorn to call for my dismissal. Two students from the University of Michigan invaded my class on evolutionary biology one day to shout slogans and deliver antisociobiology monologues. I withdrew from department meetings for a year to avoid embarrassment arising from my notoriety, especially with key members of Science for the People present at these meetings. In 1979 I was doused with water by a group of protestors at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, possibly the only incident in recent history that a scientist was physically attacked, however mildly, for the expression of an idea. In 1982 I went to the Science Center at Harvard University under police escort to deliver a public lecture, because of the gathering of a crowd of protestors around the entrance, angered because of the title of my talk: "The coevolution of biology and culture."


See also