Bryan Caplan  

Sociobiology's Sucker Punch

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A revelatory passage in Robert Wright's The Moral Animal:
The various revolutionaries [of Darwinian social science] stubbornly refuse to call themselves by a single, simple name... They once had a name - "sociobiology," Wilson's apt and useful term.  But Wilson's book drew so much fire, provoked so many charges of malign political intent, so much caricature of sociobiology's substance, that the word became tainted... People sometimes ask: What ever happened to sociobiology?  The answer is that it went underground, where it has been eating away at the foundations of academic orthodoxy.

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Don Boudreaux writes:

I love that book by Wright.

Fabio Rojas writes:

This was true, maybe, in the 1980s. Yes, sociology banished the biological wing. But it's now simply wrong. Evidence:

- The chair at Northwestern University is Jeremy Freese. His dissertation won the ASA best dissertation award in 2003 or so arguing that evolutionary theory should be part of sociology. He has published numerous articles on the topic, including a review article in the Annual Review of Sociology.

- At UNC, Gang Guo has published multiple articles in leading journals on the topic (such as the flagship ASR) on genetic markers and criminal behavior and race. UNC is a leading soc program.

- Richard Udry's 2000 article in the ASR on genetic limits to social construction is highly cited and widely discussed.

- Satoshi Kanazawa got a job at Cornell doing evolutionary theory. His work on biological and evolutionary topics has been widely published.

- There is now a section of the ASA dedicated solely to research from an evolutionary perspective.

Bio-sociology is not popular, but it's also wrong to say that it isn't getting a fair hearing. It's in leading journals and scholars at leading departments do it. Definitely not the mainstream, but it's not secretly eating away at the academic orthodoxy. It's getting its due, however slowly.

GU writes:

To be fair to Wright, his book was published in 1994, when I'm guessing this statement was a lot more accurate. To be fair to Rojas, Caplan's citation makes the statement sound contemporary.

Anonymous writes:

I don't think sociobiology's name change was a sucker punch. It was a defensive reaction to avoid being destroyed.

Fabio's examples are interesting, but my limited experience with sociologists indicates that many hold the strong prejudice that nothing biological is interesting. It is almost laughable but that is what they say.

Steve Sailer writes:

The term "evolutionary psychology" was introduced around 1992 by Tooby and Cosmides. It's like sociobiology with the sex differences and and with the skepticism about social engineering but minus any openness to the idea of ancestral (i.e., racial) hereditary differences.

It has had problems in academia from entrenched feminist interests, but has been quite successful in the general intellectual world. Outside of academia, almost nobody takes feminism theory terribly seriously anymore as an empirically accurate description of humanity.

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