The kindness of strangers

Andrew Brown has written a terrific profile of the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers. Sample:

In the early 70s, as a graduate student at Harvard with no formal training in biology, he wrote five papers that changed forever the way that evolution would be understood. He came up with the first Darwinian explanations for human cooperation, jealousy and our sense of justice that made genetic sense, and he showed how these arose from the same forces as act on all animals, from the pigeons outside his window to the fish of coral reefs. Then he analysed the reasons why, in almost all species, one sex is pickier about who it mates with than the other; then the ways in which children can be genetically programmed to demand more attention than their parents can provide. Even the way in which patterns of infanticide vary by sex and class in the Punjab is predicted by one of Trivers’s papers.

None of which persuaded Harvard to give the man a professorship, btw. Great universities can be very stupid sometimes. Think of Cambridge and FR Leavis (or William Empson, for that matter). Or Brian Josephson, who won the Nobel Prize for physics and yet hadn’t been deemed good enough for a Cambridge Chair!