'My aim in this book is to take the reader along toward a deeper understanding of the sociobiology controversy, and through it, the world of science in general. I am interested in what Peter Medawar once called "a view through the keyhole". Controversies, where scientists attack one another's scientific worldviews and justify their own, may well be some of the best keyholes we have.'
In the summer of 1975 the distinguished Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson published his Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. In the book, Wilson defined sociobiology as a new discipline devoted to 'the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior.' He explicitly included our own species Homo sapiens, and devoted his final chapter to humans, suggesting that human sex role divisions, aggressiveness, moral concerns, religious beliefs, and much more, have a genetic basis. The book came under intense fire from a group of critics and battle lines were drawn. In one notable incident, some three years after the book's publication, Wilson, about to speak at a symposium sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, had a jug of water poured over his head by a group of hecklers. The sociobiology controversy was in full swing.
Defenders of the Truth is the definitive account of the controversy, a fascinating tale involving clashes of convictions about science and its social role. But Segerstrale's canvas is on an altogether grander scale. Here is an engrossing insight into the world of science and the scientists who inhabit it. Here, too, are important scientific, moral, and political issues, and perennial themes such as the objectivity of science, the social use of scientific knowledge, human nature, and free will. Some of these themes have recently resurfaced in conjunction with the Human Genome project and the so-called Science Wars.
The key participants described have all been interviewed and studied by the author, at the time when the controversy was at its height, and more recently. They include Edward O. Wilson, Richard Lewontin, and Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard scientists at the heart of the controversy when it first erupted, and, from the 'British connection', John Maynard Smith and Richard Dawkins. 'The characters in my story', writes Ullica Segerstrale, 'are all defenders of the truth - it is just that they have different conceptions of where the truth lies.'