Trivers’ Pursuit


Matthew Hutson in Psychology Today:

To call Robert Trivers an acclaimed biologist is an understatement akin to calling the late Richard Feynman a popular professor of physics. As a young man in the 1970s, Trivers gave biology a jolt, hatching idea after idea that illuminated how evolution shaped the behavior of all species, including fidelity, romantic bonds, and willingness to cooperate among humans. Today, at 72, he continues to spawn ideas. And if awards were given for such things, he certainly would be on the short list for America’s most colorful academic.

He was a member of the Black Panthers and collaborated with the group’s founder. He was arrested for assault after breaking up a domestic dispute. He faced machete-wielding burglers who broke into his home and stabbed one in the neck. He was imprisoned for 10 days over a contested hotel charge. And two men once held guns to his head in a Caribbean club that doubled as a brothel.

Fisticuffs aside, what propelled Trivers into the academic limelight were five papers he wrote as a young academic at Harvard—including research on altruism, sex differences, and parent-offspring conflict. This work won him the 2007 Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Crafoord Prize in Biosciences, the Nobel for evolutionary theory. The award came with half a million dollars and a ceremony attended by the queen.

More here. [Thanks to Ali Minai and Omar Ali.]