Nicknamed “Darwin’s heir”, the great American scientist EO Wilson, internationally renowned expert on ants and defender of biodiversity, has died at the age of 92.
Edward Osborne Wilson, who taught at Harvard University for a long time, has written dozens of books, two of which have won him Pulitzer Prizes: the first for “The Human Nature” (published in 1978), the second for “The Ants “(1990), co-written with Bert Hölldobler.
The scientist, who died in Massachusetts on Sunday, “dedicated his life to studying the natural world and inspiring others to care for it as he did,” said the foundation that bears his name.
Time magazine described him as having had “one of the great careers in science of the 20th century” by highlighting his work of mapping the social behavior of ants, through which he showed that their colonies communicated via a system of pheromones.
But the one who is considered the founding father of sociobiology has also sparked a wave of criticism after suggesting in one of his books that the idea of a biological basis for behavior in animals could be extended to humans.
He was accused of genetic determinism and of justifying injustices. The controversy was such that in 1978, demonstrators came to protest against him at a conference, knocking a pitcher of ice water over his head.
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The entomologist, described as a “superstar” of science, remains highly respected.
Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker lamented the death of a “great scientist” on Monday.
“We disagreed on some things, but that didn’t affect his generosity and his willingness to chat,” he tweeted.
EO Wilson is also known for his relentless calls to defend Earth’s ecosystems.
“If we do not act quickly to protect global biodiversity, we will soon lose most of the species that make up life on Earth,” said the scientist, quoted on the foundation’s website.
The biologist said he had developed “a special link” with Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, which he helped to save and where a laboratory bearing his name has been opened to study and protect the region’s biodiversity.
EO Wilson also struck a chord by proposing to dedicate half of the Earth’s surface to nature (the “Half-Earth” project) to avoid the extinction of species, including our own.
“I know it sounds radical,” he admitted in 2016 on the PBS NewsHour show. But “it’s easier to do than you think.”
“And who are we, we who are only one species, to wipe out the majority of the remaining species that live with us on this planet (…) for our selfish needs”? He said.