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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Other Nobel Prize:
And the Crafoord Goes To … Dr. Robert L. Trivers For Sociobiology!

The Nobel Prize is widely acknowledged as the Big Banana for scientists, but Nobels are only awarded in the fields of chemistry, literature, peace, medicine or physiology, and economics. There is, however, the Crafoord Prize, which has essentially the same status as a Nobel, for other scientists. Crafoord Prizes are awarded in the fields of mathematics, geoscience, bioscience (particularly in relation to ecology and evolution), and astronomy.

This year, the Crafoord Prize was awarded to Dr. Robert L. Trivers, who was one of the pioneers in the field of sociobiology. While Darwin discussed some aspects of sociobiology in his seminal books on evolution, most of these concepts lay dormant as biologists pursued the minutiae of the descent of man and fruit flies. Trivers and his colleagues, however, picked up the gauntlet that Darwin threw down and used it to expand our understanding of why humans and animals behave the way we do.

Sociobiology is based on the idea that behavior that is determined by genes can be adaptive and passed from generation to generation. The most controversial behaviors studied are aggression and antisocial behaviors. Some people don’t like the idea that there is a biological basis for murder and evil. It’s anathema that Satan isn’t in your soul, he’s in your DNA.

Trivers's current research follows a group of Jamaican children and attempts to correlate their degree of symmetry (both behavioral and physical, i.e., genetic blessedness and developmental physiology) with attractiveness, dancing ability, aggressiveness, number of friends, health status, growth rate, academic achievement, and athletic ability. He also studies genetic components in deceit and self-deception. He proposed the theories of reciprocal altruism (1971,) parental investment (1972,) and parent-offspring conflict (1974.)

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