Journal of the History of Biology 35 (3):569 - 593 (2002)

The sociobiology debate, in the final quarter of the twentieth century, featured many of the same issues disputed in the culture war in the humanities during this same time period. This is evident from a study of the writings of Edward O. Wilson, the best known of the sociobiologists, and from an examination of both the minutes of the meetings of the Sociobiology Study Group (SSG) and the writings of Stephen Jay Gould, the SSG's most prominent member. Many critics of sociobiology, frequently radical scientists who were attached to the lineage of the New Left, argued for the same multicultural values promoted by radical humanities professors in this period. Conversely, liberal sociobiologists defended the universalist values of the liberals in the humanities. Those scholars whose work was important before the cultural revolution in the 1960s were usually committed to a liberal universalism that emphasized the similarity between people. Younger scholars, who took faculty positions in the 1970s and after, were more likely to owe an allegiance to an ethnos-centered social vision that valued identity politics. The struggle between these two agendas, more intellectual than generational, was at the core of the culture wars both in the humanities and in the sciences. The sociobiology debate should be viewed in this light.
Keywords biological determinism  culture war  genetics  multiculturalism  Science for the People  social Darwinism  sociobiology  Sociobiology Study Group  Stephen Jay Gould  universalism  Edward O. Wilson
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DOI 10.1023/A:1021190227056
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