A Champion of Science & the Natural World – E.O. Wilson
E.O. Wilson’s long and remarkable career had small beginnings; much smaller than most. Starting from a young age, Wilson was fascinated by insects, and the miniature world whose comings and goings took place largely unnoticed amidst the undergrowth of Alabama, where Wilson grew up. It was the study of ants that became his biological specialty, and for 40 years he worked as an ant taxonomist at the University of Harvard, becoming the world’s leading authority on the subject.
It was Wilson’s intimate knowledge of ant societies that led him, ultimately, to be described as “the father of sociobiology”. This scientific field aims to examine and explain social behavior in terms of evolution, and was brought onto the international stage by Wilson’s 1975 book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Working from initial analyses of ant species, Wilson argued that the social behavior of all other animals – including humans – could be understood as a result of biological processes, environmental stimuli and past experiences.
Wilson is a scientist first and foremost, but attaching just one label to the man belies his sweeping influence. He has not only transcended fields of study, but created entirely new ones. Ask him any question about ants and he is likely to know the answer, but his name resonates too through discussions of biodiversity, human behavior, humanism, environmentalism, and island biogeography, to name but a few subjects. He is the recipient of a laundry list of awards, including everything from the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement to the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction (not just once, but twice), and he stands, above all else, as a paragon for our understanding and appreciation of the natural world.
Since his official retirement from Harvard in 1996, Wilson has published over 15 books and continues to work towards a better world as part of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, whose mission statement is to “foster a knowing stewardship of our world through biodiversity research and education initiatives that promote and inform worldwide preservation of our biological heritage”. He also continues to hold the positions of University Research Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator in Entomology at Harvard.