E. O. Wilson, a towering figure of evolutionary and environmental biology, dies at 92

E. O. Wilson, a biologist renowned for his research in entomology, sociobiology, and biodiversity, died on December 26, 2021, at the age of 92, according to Carl Zimmer's obituary in The New York Times (December 27, 2021). Paula J. Ehrlich of the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation described Wilson in a statement as "[a] relentless synthesizer of ideas," adding, "his courageous scientific focus and poetic voice transformed our way of understanding ourselves and our planet." A voluminous writer, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction twice, for On Human Nature (1978) and The Ants (with Bert Hölldobler; 1991).

A major contributor to modern evolutionary biology, Wilson was unsurprisingly dismissive of creationism as scientifically unhelpful, writing in Consilience (1994) that "God may exist, He may be delighted with what we are up to on this minor planet, but His fine hand is not needed to explain the biosphere." Later, endorsing Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross's Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (2004), Wilson wrote, "This is the definitive work on modern creationism, an exhaustively detailed and compelling exposure of the attempt — by the well-known process in nature called by biologists 'aggressive mimicry' — to corrupt science in the service of sectarian religion." Wilson was concerned about climate change as well, though biodiversity was his primary environmental focus: in 2017, he told a gathering of scientists at the National Museum of Natural History, "Keep in mind: Climate change we can reverse if we work hard enough and get the right leadership ... But extinction is really, really forever."

Wilson was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on June 10, 1929. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in biology at the University of Alabama in 1949 and 1950 and his Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University in 1955, where he was a faculty member from 1956 to 1996. His books included The Theory of Island Biogeography (with Robert MacArthur; 1967), the controversial Sociobiology (1975), and The Creation (2006). His honors included membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the National Medal of Science in 1976, the Crafoord Prize in 1990, and the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers in 2001.

Glenn Branch
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Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.

branch@ncse.ngo

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