Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate” as Want to Read:
Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  65 ratings  ·  13 reviews
When Edward O. Wilson published Sociobiology, it generated a firestorm of criticism, mostly focused on the book's final chapter, in which Wilson applied lessons learned from animal behavior to human society. In Defenders of the Truth, Ullica Segerstrale takes a hard look at the sociobiology controversy, sorting through a hornet's nest of claims and counterclaims, moral con ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published May 31st 2001 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2000)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Defenders of the Truth, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Defenders of the Truth

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  65 ratings  ·  13 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate
Richard Diehm
This book is still fairly useful for someone interested in the history of the "science wars" but its usefulness is severely hampered by the fact that it is strongly biased toward one "side" (that of E.O. Wilson, Dawkins et al) and routinely derides, misrepresents, and even personally insults the critics of sociobiology, biological determinism etc.

A tiresome amount of space in the book is devoted to gossip or just insults about Lewontin et al from both their colleagues and the author herself (wh
Bruce Nappi
Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The classic book Sociobiology by E.O. Wilson provides deep explanations for human behavior in groups. But mainstream pressures against any "scientific" attempt to "understand" human behavior in a way that might suggest modifying it, turned against Wilson just as they have on the population limitation activists. They effectively made the term "social evolution" a taboo in the scientific community from the publication of Sociobiology through the end of the last century. A new academic society, the ...more
Jun 26, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

Before starting this I thought this would be an unabashedly partisan book — in favour of sociobiology, it being the "Truth" that some were defending — than it actually was; I was surprised to find that the title referred to both sides defending their own "Truth", i.e. what to them counted as "good science". That was a pleasant surprise. I still think though that she had more understanding for what the sociobiologists tried to do than for what the critics tried to do, all things conside
Feb 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, sociology
Segerstrale's "Defenders of the Truth" looks at the debates and polemics growing out of E.O. Wilson's "Sociobiology" in 1975 and fought out across the mid-1980s. The book itself derives from Segerstrale's PhD thesis, and she had amazingly free access to key players in the debates--- E.O. Wilson, Richard Lewontin, John Maynard Smith, et al. ----many of whom gave her substantial interviews.

The stakes in the debate were, at least in the popular press, about whether Wilson was guilty of promoting a
Jan 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an overall wonderful book. Not only are the (sometimes very intense) debates between all the major players (Wilson, Dawkins, Gould, Lewontin, etc.) fleshed out impeccably, but the work manages to touch upon deeper issues such as the role of values in science, the differentiation between "good" and "bad" science, the search for a "correct" scientific ontology, and the scientist's placement in a broader social context, among other things. There's general history of science here, but it's a ...more
Dec 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biology, politics
The sociobiological debate centres on the conflict of the traditional (objective) scientist seeking to find out the truth about the genetic influence on animal behaviours and the Marxists who refuses to accept the reality. Two camps are created: the Wilson camp and Lewinton camp who debate about whether studying evolutionary genetics is, well, moral.

Wilson and his proponents (Dawkins, Jensen, Hamilton etc) were accused of being "racist", "reductionist", "immoral", "nazi", etc for their work, the
Kevin Arthur
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate by Ullica Segerstrale is a comprehensive (exhaustive might be the better word) analysis from a sociologist of the actions and motivations behind the parties in the "Sociobiology Debate," which began with the publications of E.O. Wilson's book, Sociobiology, in the 1970s. Wilson basically proposed that "the genes hold culture on a leash." Other parties include Richard Dawkins (also of the genetic determinism bent, though he later denied it), and, in ...more
Divya Ramesh
Jul 11, 2015 rated it liked it
A first-hand account of the age-old still-somehow-lingering debate and discussion on sociobiology. What I found most interesting was how influential politics and ego were in spurning the entire thing, or how at least we could be misguided into thinking that the debate was politically motivated (the author argues it was not). The author develops through the book the notions of 'good' and 'bad' science, and how everyone was actually fighting for their version of the truth. I skipped entire chunks ...more
Eric Hines
Sep 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book is rightly celebrated as THE place to go to to learn about the socio-biological (and related) disputes of the last quarter of the twentieth century. Segerstrale had an uncommon degree of access to the central figures in the debate, and also an uncommon degree of access to those less-famous working scientists who largely pass judgement on these sorts of debate.[return][return]The big weaknesses of the book are its small but decided bias in favor of EO Wilson, whom the author obviously l ...more
John Roberson
Dec 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
(4.5 stars) Wonderful exposition of the sociobiology debate (basically, how to explain human sociality within the matrix of evolutionary theory). Of particular interest to me was the central significance of non-experimental factors in the debate; human sociality was playing out right before them! Politics, intrigue, argument, corruption, ethics, and more: it's all there! ...more
Jul 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A great comprehensive survey of the opinions of key voices in the debate over the application of evolutionary biology to human behaviour. Comprehensive set of references and interviews with key players mean it's an excellent survey. It is possibly a little one-sided, on the side of sociobiologists/evo-psych, but there's enough coverage that you can make up your own mind. ...more
Susanne Bard
Jan 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding, in-depth review of the misunderstanding of Hume's struggle between "is" and "ought". ...more
Rachel C.
Definitely a useful reference book and was helpful in writing a paper on Nature vs. Nurture, and Wilson vs. Gould ideas.
rated it it was amazing
Feb 25, 2014
Brian Dash
rated it liked it
Feb 02, 2018
rated it liked it
Oct 14, 2008
rated it it was amazing
Dec 15, 2019
rated it really liked it
Jan 09, 2012
Nate Johnson
rated it really liked it
Mar 08, 2009
rated it really liked it
Feb 16, 2011
Razib Khan
rated it it was amazing
Apr 02, 2013
rated it liked it
Mar 17, 2008
Michael Connolly
rated it liked it
Sep 15, 2017
rated it it was amazing
Dec 26, 2013
rated it liked it
Sep 02, 2017
rated it liked it
Apr 30, 2008
rated it it was amazing
Jul 14, 2013
Alvaro Rivera-Rei
rated it really liked it
Mar 04, 2015
Peter Geyer
rated it really liked it
Jan 07, 2016
Chris Fusco
rated it really liked it
Dec 11, 2018
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody
  • Objective: Bajor (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, #15)
  • Fallen Heroes (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #5)
  • Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe
  • The Decline and Rise of Democracy: A Global History from Antiquity to Today
  • Shah of Shahs
  • The New Class - An Analysis Of The Communist System
  • Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism
  • Vasemmistoliiton synty
  • Unpacking Queer Politics: A Lesbian Feminist Perspective
  • Survival in Auschwitz
  • The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason
  • The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
  • Travels with Herodotus
  • Modernism and Eugenics
  • The Illustrated Man
  • Superior: The Return of Race Science
  • On Rape
See similar books…
See top shelves…

Related Articles

Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
118 likes · 20 comments