Endlessly energetic scholar David Sloan Wilson is best known for his work on group selection — the idea that natural selection can operate on traits that improve the success of groups rather than individuals. As well as running a cross-disciplinary evolutionary studies programme from his home institution of Binghamton University in New York and opening the Evolution Institute think tank to inform public policy, he recently began studying altruism in Binghamton neighbourhoods and is promoting the field of evolutionary religious studies. He took time to talk to Nature at a philosophy of biology conference last week in Madison, Wisconsin, where he spoke about using evolutionary thinking as a tool for good.
You wrote a book called Evolution for Everyone. Why is it important to you that the public understand evolution?
Because it is useful. The way most people understand evolution, it is not consequential, and so they don't need to believe it. The 50% figure — how many people in the US don't accept evolution — doesn't impress me. Close to 100% of people don't connect it to matters of consequence in their own lives.