Can Darwinism Improve Binghamton?

Jerry A. Coyne in the New York Times Book Review:

ScreenHunter_02 Sep. 12 09.21 My undergraduate students, especially those bound for medical school, often ask why they have to study evolution. It won’t cure disease, and really, how useful is evolution to the average person? My response is that while evolutionary biology can explain, for example, the origin of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, we shouldn’t see evolution as a cure for human woes. Its value is explanatory: to tell us how, when and why we got here (by “we,” I mean “every organism”) and to show us how all species are related. In the end, evolution is the greatest tale of all, for it’s true.

David Sloan Wilson, on the other hand, sees evolutionary biology as a panacea for the world’s ills. By understanding “human nature” — that is, the behaviors and attitudes instilled in our ancestors by natural selection — we will, he claims, finally be able to solve problems like poor education, dysfunctional cities, bad economics, mental illness and ethnic cleansing. “Evolutionary science,” Wilson argues, “will eventually prove so useful on a daily basis that we will wonder how we survived without it. I’m here to make that day come sooner rather than later, starting with my own city of Binghamton.” “The Neighborhood Project” describes Wilson’s ambitious proposal for using evolutionary biology to raise up Binghamton, a down-at-the heels town of about 50,000 in upstate New York. An evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York there, Wilson formerly worked on toads and mites, but has now adopted his own town as a study organism.

More here.