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Robert Trivers on Gould, Lewontin, William Hamilton, and Others
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I’m extremely pleased to announce the original publication of a 6,000 word article by Prof. Robert Trivers, one of the most influential evolutionary theorists of the last few decades. He provides a series of fascinating personal vignettes describing some of the famous evolutionary biologists he has known over the last half century, including such celebrated figures as William Hamilton, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Lewontin. (the text is under copyright by The Biosocial Research Foundation).

As I have mentioned over the years, my strong interest in evolutionary matters goes back at least to the 1970s, and I remember telling all my friends that Richard Dawkins’ newly published The Selfish Gene was some of the most important books of the decade. That was also where I first encountered Trivers, whom Dawkins had solicited to write the introduction to his book, helping to lend him the academic credibility he needed for his controversial ideas. Given my personal history, I am obviously very proud to now be publishing an original article by a theorist of such longstanding stature.

In rereading that 1976 introduction, I noticed the following statement by Prof. Trivers:

The recent progress in social theory has been substantial enough to have generated a minor flurry of counter-revolutionary activity. It has been alleged, for example, that the recent progress is, in fact, part of a cyclical conspiracy to impede social advancement by making such advancement appear to be genetically impossible.

This is surely a reference to the notorious activities of Profs. Gould and Lewontin, and the other Marxist denizens of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who formed The Sociobiology Study Group of Science for the People to denounce and vilify the emerging science of evolutionary psychology. Their supporters later went so far as to physically attack Harvard’s E.O. Wilson, a founder of the field, at a Washington, D.C. meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, while they themselves, in good Lysenkoist tradition, spent years doing their best to purge their intellectual opponents from our top academic institutions.

In corrupt societies, bad deeds frequently go rewarded, and in the years that followed, Gould, a notorious academic fraud, was provided the platform of some of America’s most prestigious media outlets—The New York Review of Books and Natural History magazine to promote his scientific opinions, many of which were incorrect, nonsensical, or dishonest; his books, such as The Mismeasure of Man, became widely assigned texts in college courses, thereby serving to misinform entire generations of students. And by an amusing irony of fate, the noisy attacks on mainstream evolutionary theory by this self-proclaimed Marxist eventually caused him to become a leading inspiration for ignorant religious Creationists, who gleefully used his arguments in their long but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to expel Darwinism from our public schools during the 1980s and 1990s.

Meanwhile, the campaign of public vilification against evolutionary biology by Gould, Lewontin, and their numerous academic allies, such as Steven Rose and Leon Kamin, often sought to tarnish their opponents as ideologically-motivated advocates of “fascism” or “racism.” Indeed, when their activist supporters physically attacked Wilson, they did so while shouting “Racist Wilson you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” But these harsh slurs, so widely propagated in the media at the time, were almost totally absurd. Among the leading evolutionary biologists, William Hamilton seems to have been generally apolitical, while E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins were mainstream academic liberals, as are most of today’s prominent theorists, such as Harvard’s Steven Pinker.

But the most amusing example of the total dishonesty of the Gould/Lewontin charges comes in the person of Robert Trivers himself, who was probably ranked among the leftmost of academic radicals. Not only did he eventually become the only white member of the Black Panther Party, but his views seem to have changed little over the decades, with his most recent book, The Folly of Fools, being dedicated to the memory of his closest friend, Huey Newton. By contrast, Gould seems to have been a notorious “limousine leftist” and a remarkably money-hungry self-promoting careerist, annually earning hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in public speaking fees and many additional millions in book contracts.

Aside from a short year or two working under E.O. Wilson in college, I did not personally know any of these prominent scholars, who have played such an important role, for good or for ill, in shaping modern evolutionary theory, probably the most important scientific field of the last half-century. Therefore, I found Trivers’ candid descriptions of their personality and activities reaching back into the 1960s a fascinating insight into our intellectual history, and I hope that many readers of The Review will have the same reaction. Certainly historians of science should pay close attention to this account, written as it is from the inside. And I believe this original publication represents an important milestone for our small webzine.


On a different matter, nearly two years ago I published a highly controversial article that closed with the following penultimate paragraph:

Consider that over one-quarter of all the urban black males in America have vanished from our society, a loss-ratio approaching that experienced by Europeans during the Black Death of the Middle Ages. Yet these astonishing statistics have largely remained unreported by our major media and hence unrecognized by the general American public. Should the medieval scribes of the Fourteenth Century have ignored the annihilating impact of the bubonic plague all around them and merely confined their writings to more pleasant news?

I am now pleased to report that The New York Times, our national newspaper of record, has finally broken this embargo of silence with a major front-page story a few days ago followed by a lead editorial on Sunday. However, for whatever reason, they chose to avoid focusing on the urban numbers, thereby headlining the remarkable “disappearance” of one-sixth of all black men, instead of the even more astonishing one-quarter within urban areas. Indeed, for the three cities with the largest black populations—New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia—the actual figure is greater than one in three.

Finally, our webzine appears on track for another record-breaking month of comments and total traffic, spearheaded as usual by the taboo-shattering posts of our star blogger, Steve Sailer.

• Category: History, Science 
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  1. Clay says:

    I first heard about Trivers from reading The Moral Animal, a book that really opened my eyes after picking it off of my dad’s bookshelf as a teenager (that still being years after publication). Trivers is the superstar of that book and his concepts (as they were portrayed) made a big impact on me. Look forward to reading this one.

  2. “Finally, our webzine appears on track for another record-breaking month of comments and total traffic, spearheaded as usual by the taboo-shattering posts of our star blogger, Steve Sailer.”

    Ron, let’s not hope this post gets “accidentally deleted” around the time Steve comes up for his annual review with Unz Inc!

  3. There is considerable, high-quality, evidence in the book The Biology of Plagues that the black death was not caused by Bubonic Plague.

    That is not to say that there were not outbreaks of bubonic plague at times in parts of (mostly Southern) Europe.

    However, that book is worth reading, even if only to prevent you from making mistakes.

    • Replies: @gcochran
  4. “Not only did he eventually become the only white member of the Black Panther Party,”

    That statement is not entirely accurate. Public intellectual David Horowitz was a member during the late 60′s of the Black Panther Party and even wrote articles on their behalf. The word “eventually” is a bit confusing, to say the least. If it were not for whites in friendly places, the BPP would not have received the notoriety that it did for a time.

  5. Ron, thanks so much for making Trivers’ very interesting set of observations available.

    I really do think that in the future history of social science your website will occupy a place of honor as one uniquely committed to publishing true but uncomfortable social and political insights. I can’t think of another venue with such a wide set of opinions made available — opinions which fall within the Overton window only by accident.

  6. Roger says: • Website

    I never liked Gould, but “self-proclaimed Marxist”? I think I remember him saying that his parents taught him Marxism, and his views seem consistent with Marxism, but he always seemed to avoid saying whether he was a Marxist, Atheist, Democrat, or whatever.

    • Replies: @Roger Sweeny
  7. Dahlia says:

    On the missing black men…

    With the discussion of Harpending and Frost’s theory that capital punishment caused a reduction in the crime rate by eliminating the most violent among us, I kept thinking that if one could better understand why there has been a drastic reduction in black men in the modern era, it would go a long way toward understanding the reduction in violence over the centuries.

  8. As says:

    Is there a reason why trivers needs to start his otherwise substantive critique of Gould with the entirely irrelevant and malicious aside that Goulds field was primarily useful for oil interests, followed by the rather unfortunate association with his being Jewish? And how is all this relevant??? What a pity that such intelligent people still resort to such tactics…

    • Replies: @anon
    , @candid_observer
  9. anon • Disclaimer says:

    Black panther, UC Santa Cruz, the man was a hard leftist at best. That’s what they do.

  10. @As

    You seem to be implying that there was in that paragraph some connection between the fact that the area of Gould’s specialty was mostly of interest to those pursuing oil and the fact that Gould was Jewish. That connection is entirely in your own head.

    The obvious point of the passage was that Gould’s specialty was a backwater from an intellectual point of view, being pursued mostly for practical reasons by non-intellectuals, and that in this sort of non-competitive setting, it would be very easy for a very articulate guy like Gould to go far.

    You see the anti-Semitism you want to see.

    • Replies: @AS
    , @AS
  11. @Roger

    Gould once wrote that he “learned Marxism at my father’s knee.” When he was asked about that later, he said something like, “but that doesn’t mean I believe it.”

  12. AS says:

    for a very articulate Jewish guy, as the author felt the need to add. I like how you change from ‘oil interests’ to ‘practical reasons’ and ‘non-competitive’ fields, entirely missing the overtones and nuances of language. I am also sure that it was important, or even relevant, to point out that he was Jewish just after the fact that he pointed out that he was pursuing a field dominated by ‘oil interests.’ Yes, its all in my head.
    Or perhaps its all in Trivers’ head. And of course, phrased in a way that he can maintain ‘plausible deniability,’ as nothing is stated explicitly.
    By the way, Trivers’ account of Gould’s ‘punctuated equilibrium’ is inaccurate. But at least there he makes relevant and substantive claims.

  13. By the way, Trivers’ account of Gould’s ‘punctuated equilibrium’ is inaccurate. But at least there he makes relevant and substantive claims.

    Unless I missed it, you forgot to mention in what way it was inaccurate.

  14. AS says:

    leave aside the oil,

    “New York City Jewish bright, verbiage pouring from his mouth at the slightest provocation, he would surely make a mark here.”

    wow, new york city Jewish bright gets you far in backwaters of academia, because I presume NY City Jews are clever clouds of verbal energy lacking in substance? would NY City Jewish bright, say, be successful in theoretical physics, or just backwater parts of biology? Maybe Gould wasnt into sociobiology, because the whole enterprise is so misguided. people are altruists, I’ve got an answer for that, Scandinavians possess (relative) equality between men and women, the Taliban don’t, I can show how biology can explain that too, some religious people are saintly, others are nuts, well the biology of religious belief can explain that too. mountains upon mountains based on very few real biological universals (well, we can’t fly, we die, list 10 or so other ones). many sociobiolgical claims are unfalsifiable and therefore don’t rise to the level of science, at least not the science of the “Jewish” bright…

    oh, and Trivers was a Black Panther, Im sure his relative tolerance of the violence inherent in our biological selves is entirely unrelated to his politics. (see, I said “unrelated” so any connection that you think Im making is entirely in your head…)

  15. Art says:

    Gould, Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon Kamin — all Jews.

    Where they trying to displace and knock down the great Gentile mind – Charles Darwin?

    Sure they where!

    • Replies: @AS
  16. AS says:

    if your comment is satire, my apologies and you can disregard the below…

    but if you mean it, you don;t right?, you know that you are utilizing (outdated) psycho-analytic theories and terms created by…and resurrected in a literary context by Harold Bloom…well, in any event, no one went after or tried to replace Darwin, thats not going to happen, sociobiology and its over-simplistic application of evolution to explain human values, societies and behaviors was always the target…

  17. Julian says:

    Great stuff, keep up the excellent work Mr Unz. Like commentator Clay above, I also first came across Trivers’ work via the excellent ‘Moral Animal’ by Robert Wright.

  18. gcochran says:
    @Bad memories

    Probably that bubonic plague DNA found in those skeletons from mass burial pits circa 1348, was placed there by aliens, just to tease.

    • Replies: @Bad memories
  19. I’d like to praise Ron Unz for putting this forum together. If there’s anything else like it anywhere on the internet, I’m not aware of it. I would particularly like to see more Left-Right engagement. The mainstream conversation is more-or-less Left-Far Left and the PC-Approved Right. Most Leftists know that they control the reigns and police the boundaries of what’s permissible to say in public–which they do with all the means at their disposal, from simple shaming to career destruction–so there is little incentive for them to actually engage the arguments of the Right (the real Right) and thus they have the luxury to caricature, ridicule or, most often and easiest, to simple ignore them.

  20. @gcochran

    That was a useful criticism of my comment. Lead to PLOS Pathogens …

    • Replies: @Bad memories
  21. @Bad memories

    I wonder how many people actually benefit from Greg’s acerbic responses.

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