Edward O. Wilson, American ant scientist and founding father of sociobiology, is dead

He was nicknamed « Darwin’s heir ». The great American scientist Edward Osborne Wilson, an internationally renowned expert on ants, has died at the age of 92, the foundation that bears his name announced on Monday (December 27th).

The scientist, who died in Massachusetts on Sunday, « Dedicated his life to studying the natural world and inspiring others to care for it as he did », said the foundation. E. O. Wilson, who taught at Harvard University for a long time, has written dozens of books, two of which won him the Pulitzer Prize for the essay: the first, in 1978, for Human Nature, the second, in 1990, for The ants.

He who is considered to be the founding father of sociobiology also participated in the invention of the notion of “biodiversity”, which he introduced into common language. He thus defended the importance of preserving the diversity of species and ecosystems. In 2007, he joined more than two dozen other religious and scientific leaders in signing a declaration calling for urgent changes in values, lifestyles and public policies to avoid disastrous climate change.

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Heavily criticized for one of his theories

The magazine Time had described him as having had « One of the great science careers of the XXe century «  highlighting his work of mapping the social behavior of ants, through which he showed that their colonies communicated via a system of pheromones.

Wilson’s theories of sociobiology transformed the field of biology and reignited the debate between nature and education among scientists. He sparked a wave of criticism after suggesting, in one of his books, that the behaviors of humans were in part the result of principles written in their genes. Critics have argued that such a theory supports social injustice, including discrimination against women, by claiming that inequality is embedded in human genes.

The entomologist remains nonetheless highly respected. Scientist Steven Pinker lamented the death of a « Great scientist ». « We disagreed on some things, but that did not affect his generosity and the fact that he was willing to discuss », he tweeted.

Le Monde with AP and AFP

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