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Full of genes

A new generation of scientists and writers is returning to biology to find explanations for human behaviour. Focusing on the gene, the sociobiologists have generated hypotheses about everything from altruism through mate selection to the near universal fondness for open spaces, trees and lakes. But does their popular appeal mask flaws in their methodology? Geoff Mulgan investigates

By Geoff Mulgan   October 1995

When a new set of theories comes along which purports to explain everything from inner city violence to adultery, from charitable giving to child abuse, the world has to take note. In the 1990s, not for the first time, a group of scientists claim to have uncovered the inner workings of societies. They can loosely be labelled “sociobiologists,” a term coined by the American zoologist Edward Wilson-although some of them now prefer the title “evolutionary psychologists.” Their great insight is to explain not just how the human mind works, but how it has been shaped by evolution.

The result is…

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