David Sloan Wilson bigraphy, stories - American biologist

David Sloan Wilson : biography

1949 -

David Sloan Wilson (born 1949) is an American evolutionary biologist and a Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He is a son of the author Sloan Wilson.


Wilson's book Darwin's Cathedral proposes that religion is a multi-level adaptation, a product of cultural evolution developed through a process of multi-level selection for more cooperative and cohesive groups. His book Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives attempts to give an introduction to evolution for a broad audience, detailing the various ways in which evolution can be applied to everyday affairs. There is also a class at Binghamton University that is called "Evolution for Everyone", and students are required to read the book as part of the class.

Wilson's latest book for a general audience is The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time, published in August 2011. Wilson has also co-edited "Pathological Altruism" published by Oxford University Press in November 2011 with Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, and Guruprasad Madhavan.

D.S. Wilson and his co-author E.O. Wilson (no relation) have become well known for the quote, "Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary." This quote appeared in their paper, "Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology."

Wilson is now a blogger for the ScienceBlogs, where he extensively discusses and defends both the theory of evolution and his multilevel selection model.

Academic career

Wilson graduated with a B.A. with high Honors in 1971 from the University of Rochester. He then completed his Ph.D. in 1975 from Michigan State University. He then worked as a Research Fellow in the Biological Laboratories at Harvard University from 1974-1975. He then held a dual position as a Research Associate in Zoology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Washington from 1975-1976. After this he was a Senior Research Officer at the South African National Research Institute for the Mathematical Sciences from 1976-1977. Wilson then moved back to the United States and held an Assistant Professorship in the Division of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Davis from 1977-1980. He then served as an Assistant and then Associate Professor at the Kellogg Biological Station and Department of Zoology of Michigan State University from 1980-1988. Wilson was then promoted to full Professor of Biological Sciences at the State University of New York, Binghamton in 1988. He was then given a joint appointment as Professor of Anthropology in 2001.

Wilson started the Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program at Binghamton University to provide a program that unifies diverse disciplines under the theory of evolution. Students in the program take evolution-themed courses in a variety of disciplines including biology, anthropology, psychology, bioengineering, philosophy, religion and the psychology of religion. There is also a required course called Current Topics in Evolutionary Studies where students attend weekly seminars with a discussion followed afterward. SUNY New Paltz has started a similar program.


Wilson is a prominent proponent of the concept of group selection (also known as multi-level selection) in evolution. He and Elliott Sober proposed a framework called multilevel selection theory, which incorporates the more orthodox approach of gene-level selection and individual selection, in their book Unto Others. This framework argues that while genes serve as the means by which organisms' designs are transmitted across generations, individuals and groups are vehicles for those genes and both are arenas for genes to act on. Indeed, genes themselves can be affected by selection, not just because of their effects on the design of their vehicle (the organism) but also because of their effect on the functioning of the DNA on which they reside. Hence, the notion of multilevel selection. Wilson has also coined the concept of a trait-group, a group of organisms linked not permanently as a group but having a shared fate due to interactions that they have.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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