Richard C. Lewontin, Eminent Geneticist With a Sharp Pen, Dies at 92

Dr. Lewontin was amazed at the harmfulness of sexism, even among his allegedly high-minded colleagues. “When speaking in front of an academic audience about the biological determination of social status, I have repeatedly tried the experiment of asking the crowd how many believe that blacks are genetically inferior to whites,” he wrote in 1994.

“Nobody ever raises a hand,” he continued. “If I then ask how many men believe that men are biologically superior to women in analytical and math skills, there will always be a few volunteers. Admitting open biological racism in public is a strict taboo, but the commitment to biological sexism is tolerated as a little stupidity. “

Dr. Lewontin also criticized the adaptionist view of evolution – the idea that everything we see in nature evolved for a reason biologists must guess. He worked with a Harvard colleague, Stephen Jay Gould, on a famous essay entitled “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Program”.

They argued that many seemingly important features could have arisen by chance, the result of other features that accompany them – just as the gussets or spaces above the arches on the dome of San Marco weren’t ornate, but because you can’t have a dome without a gusset do. Dr. However, Lewontin was eventually led by Dr. Gould disappointed for what he was called Dr. Gould’s thirst for fame.

It was Dr. Lewontin’s break with another old friend, Dr. Wilson, who turned out to be more harrowing and enduring. Dr. Lewontin attacked Dr. Wilson’s 700-page blockbuster “Sociobiology: A New Synthesis” as the work of a modern, industrial western “ideologist”. Inspired by this and similar reviews, a group of protesters poured a bucket of water over Dr. Wilson’s head.

The evil will lasted for many years, but friends said the two men recently made up with a handshake and called each other worthy opponents.

More recently, Dr. Lewontin took over the field of evolutionary psychology. “It’s a waste of time,” he said. “For me it doesn’t count as a science.” One of the chestnuts of this discipline is the idea that men naturally tend to get lost and spread their semen with as many mature young partners as they have. Dr. Lewontin, while acknowledging that the anecdote is not evidence, said he certainly did not stick to the EP’s male script. He married his high school mistress Mary Jane Christianson at the age of 18, had lunch with her every day, read poetry with her at night, held hands with her at the movies, and died just three days later.

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