Robert Trivers wins the Crafoord Prize

By Razib Khan | January 20, 2007 11:54 am

A reader just informed me that Bob Trivers just won the Crafoord Prize in bioscience! For those who would like to become more familiar with Trivers’ work, I highly recommend Natural Selection and Social Theory. Genes in Conflict is also a good read if you want some molecular level evolutionary exposition. Finally, Trivers looms large in both Mother Nature and Defenders of the Truth. If you don’t know anyting about Trivers, I suggest this Edge Special Event.
Robert Trivers introduced concepts such as reciprocal altruism in the 1970s which revolutionized social theory, and serve as the atomic units upon which higher order explanations of animal (and human) behavior often build. In Defenders of the Truth Ullica Segerstrale chronicles how Trivers was in many ways the “mad genius” (literally, he has bipolar disorder) behind E.O. Wilson leading up the publication of Sociobiology. In many ways Trivers’ approach in evolutionary biology is that of a neoclassical economist, reductionistic, logical and couched in simplifying formalisms. Of course this has its draw backs, but, I believe it is an essential base on which other models and paradigms may be scaffolded.

  • Harold Kassel

    I am a clinical psychologist. I think evolutionary psychology is fascinating, but I could not explain behavior with it now. For example, there may be an evolutionary basis for detecting cheating, but it doesn’t function in our complex society. OCD may be an evolutionary cautiousness gone awry, but I couldn’t treat a patient knowing that. I hope evolutionary psychologist don’t become like behaviorist were and think any other approach is foolish.

  • sasha

    He is a great scientist and a very good friend and know one deserves it more than him.

  • eris

    He won the prize, then soils it by writing this uncollegial screed in the WSJ actually threatening another academic:

    Wall Street Journal
    Letters to the Editor
    Wednesday, May 23, 2007
    In regard to Alan Dershowitz’s commentary “Finkelstein’s Bigotry” (editorial page, May 4): In it he asserts that “He [Norman Finkelstein] has encouraged radical goons to email threatening messages; ‘Look forward to a visit from me,’ reads one. “Nazis like [you] need to be confronted directly.” (that’s a scientist?)
    But all of this is untrue. I wrote the letter in question (April 15, 2007), but without Prof. Finkelstein’s knowledge, interest or approval. The key sentences had nothing to do with Prof. Finkelstein: ‘Regarding your rationalization of Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians, let me just say that if there is a repeat of Israeli butchery toward Lebanon and if you decide once again to rationalize it publicly, look forward to a visit from me. Nazis – and Nazi-like apologists such as yourself – need to be confronted directly.
    As for being an academic goon: I am late responding because I was in Europe lecturing after receiving the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
    Robert Trivers
    Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences
    Rutgers University
    Somerset, NJ

    According to Wikipedia:

    Robert L. Trivers, (born 19 February 1943) is an American evolutionary biologist and sociobiologist…Trivers originally went to Harvard to study mathematics, but wound up studying U.S. history in preparation to become a lawyer. He took a psychology class after suffering a breakdown, and was very unimpressed with the state of psychology. He was prevented from getting into Yale law school by his breakdown, and wound up with a job writing social science textbooks for children (never published, due in part to presenting evolution by natural selection as fact). This exposure to evolutionary theory led him to graduate work with Ernst Mayr at Harvard 1968-1972 (he never got a bachelor’s degree anywhere). He was on faculty at Harvard 1973-1978, then moved to UC Santa Cruz.
    He met Huey P. Newton, Chairman of the Black Panther Party, in 1978 when Newton applied (while in prison) to do a reading course with him as part of a graduate degree in History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz. Trivers and Newton became close friends, Newton was godfather to one of Trivers’ daughters. Trivers joined the Black Panther Party in 1979. Trivers and Newton published an analysis of the role of self-deception by the flight crew in the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 (Trivers, R.L. & Newton, H.P. Science Digest ‘The crash of flight 90: doomed by self-deception?’ November 1982, pp 66,67,111).

    The Black Panthers bit show really bad judgment. The failure to get into Yale law makes me wonder if the guy is jealous of Dershowitz, the famous Harvard lawyer.
    In any case, with scientists conducting themselves like this, it’s no wonder the public has lost its trust.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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