Monday, November 21, 2022 - Friday, November 25, 2022 Metz, France

Racism in ecology and evolution: Lessons from E.O. Wilson’s legacy

22 November 2022
S6 16:15 > 18:15 Racism in ecology and evolution: Lessons from E.O. Wilson’s legacy Room 06

Main organizer (applicant) of the symposium:
- Philippe Huneman (IHPST, CNRS/Université Paris I Sorbonne, France,

- Emanuel A. Fronhofer (ISEM, CNRS/Université de Montpellier, France,

Session description:
Racism has been closely entangled with research in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB) since its beginnings. For instance, eugenics has plagued the birth of population genetics, and is closely entangled with major groundbreaking work, such Galton’s work on heritability or Fisher’s seminal 1930 book. While many biologists were deeply involved in the fight against racism, first of all by deconstructing the vernacular, phenotypic-based, notion of race, depriving it of any biological significance (e.g., Mayr or Dobzhansky and their contribution to the UNESCO declaration on race), a few others have consistently performed questionable investigations with a clear racist agenda. Scientific racism, intertwined first with the concepts of r-K selection, and now with behavioural genomics, keeps emerging at the margins of ecology and evolution.
Current societal movements such as #BlackLivesMatter or prominent popular scientific publications like Saini’s “Superior” have cast a new spotlight on racism (both open and systemic) in EEB. Most recently an intense discussion regarding E.O. Wilson’s legacy, sparked by McLemore’s highly debated Opinion piece in Scientific American, its answers by prominent evolutionary biologists, and papers by historians (e.g., Borello and Sepkoski in NYRB, which, in the past, has hosted heated debates about sociobiology), who documented controversial unpublished letters by E.O. Wilson, has erupted, putting racism at the center stage of various social media discussions in the EEB social media bubble.
Interestingly, this discussion, which we urgently need to have as a scientific field, has largely taken place outside of scientific societies and, at the same time, has not taken advantage of the existing competence of researchers studying research, that is, historians and philosophers of science. Our symposium is a first attempt at formalizing this discussion in order to help the EEB community face up to its racist past and pave the way for a more inclusive future.

INT100 The (at Least) Two Faces of E. O. Wilson > S. Subrena SMITH
Content : Smith, Subrena; Philosophy of biology, University of New Hampshire, USA.

E. O. Wilson claimed in a 1981 letter to Nature that, “no justification for racism is to be found in the truly scientific study of the biological basis of social behavior.” This assertion is at odds with some of the views he expressed to Rushton in private correspondence which has been much discussed since his death. Were his scientific views about human biological variation problematic? Wilson and others who seek to give accounts of human differences use terms like “truly scientific” as a defensive strategy against the charge of ideology. But a work is not devoid of ideology just because that ideology is not made explicit.
INT101 The Political Spectrum of Genetics, Evolution, and “Race”: E.O. Wilson, R.C. Lewontin or neither/both? > R. Rasmus GRØNFELDT WINTHER
Content : Rasmus Gronfeldt Winther; Philosophy of scince, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA.

As someone who has worked on the topics of genetics/genomics and statistics – and the ways these topics are historically and philosophically intertwined with discussions and actions regarding the reality (or not) of human populations, groups, or races – the recent writings of Farina and Gibbons (2022), Khan (2022), and McLemore (2021) on E.O. Wilson’s legacy should not have come as a surprise. Yet, upon just reading them as someone who has been profoundly and inextricably influenced by the brilliance, persona, and, yes, politics of Richard C. Lewontin (Winther 2021, 2022) – the political inflections of these pieces indeed seem surprising, but also interestingly and richly multi-modal and complex.
This brief talk explores the tacit answers to various overarching questions – and implicit assumptions behind those answers – adopted by different interlocutors of vastly different political persuasions in this current episode of, as it were, “genetics and ‘race’”:
1. What, if any, is or should the role of genetics and evolutionary theory be in political and social matters?
2. Why do some interlocutors speak of and worry about potentially racist politics infusing science while others are concerned with the potential of scientific truth being censured and free scientific investigation impeded?
3. Is bias, in some sense or other, a universal concern here?
In order to try to understand why opinions are so vastly discordant regarding E.O. Wilson’s legacy, and tempers so high, it would also help to “return to the source,” which I take to be R.C. Lewontin’s views (Lewontin 1972), and the ways he richly interacted with – sometimes synergistically, sometimes antagonistically – other geneticists, evolutionary theorists, and thinkers of his generation, especially A.W.F. Edwards, S.J. Gould, and E.O. Wilson.
The goal of this talk is to invite dialogue and discourse about these inordinately complex and confusing matters.
INT97 Arthur Jensen and population geneticists (1968-1980): race, genetics and the sociobiology controversy
Content : Grodwohl, Jean-Baptiste; History & Philosophy of Science, Université Paris-Diderot, France.

There is a general agreement among historians that, in the USA, debates on the genetic underpinnings of race differences resurfaced in the late 1960s as a result of the provocative statements of Berkeley education expert Arthur Jensen (1923-2012). Jensen claimed he could explain the apparent failure of compensatory education (catch-up education programs for children from poor neighborhoods developed by the Johnson administration in the Great Society agenda) in the light of his studies on IQ heritability in Black and Mexican populations. According to Jensen, compensatory programs were doomed to failure because of lower genetically-based intellectual abilities in these populations. In this talk I will consider how population geneticists reacted to Jensen's use of their tools. I will examine in closer detail contributions by R.C. Lewontin, Newton Morton and Sewall Wright, before considering the impact of this controversy on the reception of E.O. Wilson's "Sociobiology: A New Synthesis”.
INT98 Naturalization and its Discontents: Animal and Human Behavior in Historical Perspective
Content : Milam, Erika L. (via Zoom); History of Biology, Princeton University, USA.

This paper explores the history of how theories of animal behavior have been used to render natural conceptions of race, gender, and sexuality in humans. These three concepts have followed remarkably different intellectual trajectories over the course of the twentieth century, inviting both agreement and resistance depending on the politics of the moment and the concept. Taken together, the social history of naturalization in these cases shows how generalizations from animal behavior have been used to both transform and reinforce human social norms.
INT99 “Dear Fellow Fascist”: Hereditarianism, Scientific Racism and anti-Communism from Robert Cook to Edward O. Wilson
Content : Donohue, Christopher (via Zoom); History of science, National Human Genome Research Institute, USA.

American geneticists and writers using genetically deterministic arguments, until the late 1980s(!), combined a castigation of “the Left” or “Marxism” and “Lysenkoism” and “Lamarckism,” with a firm commitment to “hereditarianism”, “Mendelism” and scientific racism. Drawing from new archival sources at the Library of Congress and elsewhere, I argue that E.O Wilson’s vulgar anti-Marxism and his support of scientific racism has a long history among American geneticists after the Second World War up to the commencement of the Human Genome Project. Accordingly, the recent controversy over Wilson’s public and private support of Jensen’s scientific racism and his sociobiology must be placed in a much wider context. Significant numbers of American geneticists, and other members of ‘polite’ academic society during the Cold War, not only believed in genetic ‘differences’ between ‘races’ with ‘innate’ and ‘natural’ inequality being “inevitable,” but also considered such “natural inequality” to be essential to liberty and American democracy. Thus, Inequality for all of these scientists was an essential component of American exceptionalism.
Wilson’s sociobiology and his support of hereditarianism was but one visible instance of a tradition of American geneticists support of scientific racism and their relentlessly politization of biology for a generation from c.1950 to c.1990. Finally, I also show how in the American context, “inequality” replaced “superiority” as the new post-war language of scientific racism and eugenics, and scientists like E.O Wilson were key drivers of this rhetorical change.
Last, I underscore that among the important drivers of present-day scientific racism and support of eugenics by present-day far right identarian movements is the absence of total public reputation and refutation of the ideas and statements of, for example, James Watson, Wilson and Henry Harpending.
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