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Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  62 ratings  ·  12 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)
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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
Jun 26, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

Before starting this I thought this would be an abashedly 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 considere
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
Sylvester Kuo
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!
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.
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".
Rachel C.
Definitely a useful reference book and was helpful in writing a paper on Nature vs. Nurture, and Wilson vs. Gould ideas.
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