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John Maynard Smith 6 January 1920–19 April 2004

Gadagkar, Raghavendra (2004) John Maynard Smith 6 January 1920–19 April 2004. In: Journal of Bioscience, 29 (2). pp. 139-141.


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I first met John Maynard Smith in 1979 when he came to India to participate in the Mahabaleshwar Seminar on Modern Biology (figure 1). The theme of the Seminar that year was ‘Evolution of Social Behaviour’. It was an extraordinarily lively meeting, held just when the sociobiology debates were hotting up. I still remember his talk vividly. He spoke on Group Selection and the fallacy of Wynne-Edwards’s approach, which depended on the existence of adaptations that were advantageous to the group but disadvantageous to the individual. Mahabaleshwar is a picturesque hill resort and no one who goes there can forget the loud, periodic, synchronous calls of hundreds of cicadas. Right in the middle of Maynard Smith’s lecture, just when he was describing Wynne-Edwards’s theory, there erupted a burst of cicada singing. In an impressively rapid reaction, Maynard Smith said something along the following lines: If Wynne-Edwards were here he would surely have argued that the cicadas are singing in unison in order to assess their population density. Then they would adjust their rate of reproduction so that the habitat would not be over-exploited and the species would not run the risk of going extinct. David Lack and George C Williams had done much in the 1960s to discipline biologists against making such naive group selectionist arguments. But it was the publication of two brief letters to Nature, one by Maynard Smith and the other by Christopher Perrins, that really began to clarify the issues of levels of selection – an issue that has been central to evolutionary biology ever since. It is due to this clarification that we recognize today the power of individual selection, recognize the need for kin selection to explain bona fide examples of altruism and are prepared to consider cases of genuine group selection

Item Type: Journal Article
Additional Information: Copyright of this artlce belongs to Indian Academy of Sciences.
Department/Centre: Division of Biological Sciences > Centre for Ecological Sciences
Depositing User: Sumana K
Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2008
Last Modified: 19 Sep 2010 04:34
URI: http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/9536

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