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Profiles-Richard Lewontin

Richard LewontinRichard C. Lewontin is an evolutionary geneticist, philosopher of science, and social critic. He is best known among biologists for his role in the development of molecular population genetics in the 1960s and 1970s, especially the use of electrophoresis to study the evolutionary implications of enzyme polymorphisms. The two 1966 papers that he co-authored with J.L. Hubby on this topic are considered to be classics in the field. His 1972 article on "The Apportionment of Human Diversity," in which he argues that genetic variation is greater within "races" than between them, is considered a landmark paper in human genetics and is still frequently cited. Further, his classic 1974 work, The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change, is still required reading both aspiring population geneticists and philosophers of evolutionary biology.

Lewontin received his A.B. from Harvard College in 1951 and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1954, where he was a student of Theodosius Dobzhansky. After professorships at North Carolina State University, University of Rochester and University of Chicago (where he served as Chairman of the Program in Evolutionary Biology from 1968-1973), Lewontin moved to Harvard University in 1973, where he has been ever since. He is currently Alexander Agassiz Research Professor there.

Lewontin's reputation, however, is not based simply on his many scientific and academic accomplishments. Over the past 30 years, he has turned his critical gaze toward the ways that biology is done and the place of science in society. In numerous books and articles, including Biology as Ideology, Not in Our Genes, and The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment, he has challenged molecular biologists and geneticists to think about the living world more holistically than is currently fashionable. Lewontin is well-known for his scathing critiques of the rhetoric used by scientists to gain public support and funding for the Human Genome Project. Additionally, he has been concerned for many years with questions about the genetic and non-genetic variables that influence behavioral traits like intelligence and temperament.

Selected Bibliography:

  • R.C. Lewontin, "The effects of population density and composition on viability in Drosophila melanogaster," Evolution 9 (1955): 27-41.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "A general method for investigating the equilibrium of gene frequency in a population," Genetics 43 (1958): 419-434.
  • R.C. Lewontin and C.C. Cockerham, "The goodness-of-fit test for detecting natural selection in random mating populations," Evolution 13 (1959): 561-564.
  • R.C. Lewontin and L.C. Dunn, "The evolutionary dynamics of a polymorphism in the house mouse," Genetics 45 (1960): 705-722.
  • R.C. Lewontin and K.I. Kojima, "The evolutionary dynamics of complex polymorphisms," Evolution 14 (1960): 458-472.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Models, mathematics, and metaphors," Synthese 15 (1963): 222-244.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "The interactions of selection and linkage. I. General considerations; heterotic models," Genetics 49 (1964): 49-67.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "The new gospel of genetics? Essay review of F. Stahl, The Mechanisms of Inheritance," Science 145 (1964): 525.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Selection in and of populations," in J.A. Moore (ed.), Ideas in Modern Biology (New York: Natural History Press, 1965), pp. 292-311.
  • R. C. Lewontin and J. L. Hubby, "A Molecular Approach to the Study of Genic Heterozygosity in Natural Populations. II. Amount of Variation and Degree of Heterozygosity in Natural Populations of Drosophila pseudoobscura," Genetics 54 (1966): 595-609.
  • J. L. Hubby and R. C. Lewontin, "A Molecular Approach to the Study of Genic Heterozygosity in Natural Populations. I. The Number of Alleles at Different Loci in Drosophila pseudoobscura," Genetics 54 (1966): 546-595.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Population Genetics," Annual Review of Genetics 1 (1967): 37-70.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "The effects of differential viability on the population dynamics of t alleles in the house mouse," Evolution 22 (1968): 262-273.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "The bases of conflict in biological explanation," Journal of the History of Biology 2 (1969): 34-45.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Race and Intelligence," Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 26 (March 1970): 2-8.
  • R.C. Lewontin and I. Franklin, "Is the gene the unit of selection?," Genetics 65 (1970): 707-734.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Units of Selection," Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 1 (1970): 1-18.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "The apportionment of human diversity," Evolutionary Biology 6 (1972): 381-398.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Testing the theory of natural selection," Nature 236 (1972): 181-182.
  • R.C. Lewontin and G.L. Stebbins, "Comparative evolution at the levels of molecules, organisms, and populations," Proc. VI Berkeley Symp. on Math, Stats., and Probability 5 (1972): 23-42.
  • R.C. Lewontin, The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974).
  • R.C. Lewontin, "The analysis of variance and the analysis of causes," American Journal of Human Genetics 26 (1974): 400-411.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Population genetics," Annual Reveiw of Genetics 7 (1974): 1-17.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "The problem of genetic diversity," Harvey Lecture Series 70 (1975): 1-20.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Genetic aspects of intelligence," Annual Review of Genetics 9 (1976): 382-405.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Race and Intelligence," in N.J. Block and G. Dworkin (eds.), The IQ Controversy (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976), pp. 107-112.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "The Fallacy of Biological Determinism," The Sciences 16 (1976): 6-10.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Adaptation," Scientific American 293 (1978): 212-228.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Sociobiology as an adaptationist paradigm," Behavioral Science 24 (1979): 5-14.
  • R.C. Lewontin, J. Coyne and W. Eanes, "The genetics of electrophoretic variation," Genetics 92 (1979): 353-361.
  • R.C. Lewontin and S.J. Gould, "The Spandrels of San Marcos and the Panglossian Paradigm: a critique of the adaptationist program," Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 205 (1979): 581-598.
  • R.C. Lewontin, et. al., "Gene flow and the geographical distribution of a molecular polymorphism in Drosophila pseudoobscura," Genetics 198 (1981): 157-178.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Theoretical population genetics in the evolutionary synthesis," in E. Mayr and W. Provine (eds.), The Evolutionary Synthesis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), pp. ??-??.
  • R.C. Lewontin, et. al., Dobzhansky's Genetics of Natural Populations I-XLIII (New York: Columbia University Press, (1981).
  • R.C. Lewontin and E. Sober, "Artifact, cause and genic selection," Philosophy of Science 49 (1982): 157-180.
  • R.C. Lewontin, Human Diversity (Redding, CT: Scientific American and W.H. Freeman, 1982 [1995]).
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Biological determinism," Tanner Lectures on Human Values 4 (1983): 147-183.
  • R.C. Lewontin, S. Rose, and L. Kamin, Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology and Human Nature (New York: Pantheon, 1984).
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Population Genetics," Annual Review of Genetics 19 (1985): 81-102.
  • R. Levins and R.C. Lewontin, The Dialectical Biologist (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).
  • J.P. Berlan and R.C. Lewontin, "The political economy of hybrid corn," Monthly Review 38 (1986): 35-47.
  • M. Schiff and R.C. Lewontin, Education and Class (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).
  • J.P. Berlan and R.C. Lewontin, "Breeder's rights and the patenting of life forms," Nature 322 (1986): 785-788.
  • R.C. Lewontin, Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA (New York: Harper Collins, 1991).
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Perspectives: 25 years ago in genetics: Electrophoresis in the development of evolutionary genetics: milestone or millstone?," Genetics 128 (1991): 657-662.
  • R.C. Lewontin and D.L. Hartl, "Population genetic problems in forensic DNA typing," Science 254 (1991): 1745-1750.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Facts and the factitiousin natural sciences," in J. Chandler, et. al. (eds.), Questions of Evidence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 478-491; and rejoinder 504-509.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Evolution as Engineering," in J. Collado, et. al. (eds.), Integrative Approaches to Molecular Biology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).
  • R.C. Lewontin, "Population Genetic Issues in the forensic use of DNA," in D. Faigman, et. al. (eds.), West Companion to Scientific Evidence (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1996), pp. 673-696.
  • R.C. Lewontin, "What do population geneticists know and how do they know it?," in R. Creath and J. Maienschen (eds.), Biology and Epistemology (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 191-214.
  • R.C. Lewontin, It Ain't Necessarily So: The Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions (New York: New York Review of Books, 2000).
  • R.C. Lewontin, The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).

For a complete list of Lewontin's publications, see two essay collections recently published in his honor:

  • R.S. Singh and C.S. Crimbas, Evolutionary Genetics: From Molecules to Morphology (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000). [The focus of this collection is primarily scientific.]
  • R.S. Singh, C.S. Crimbas, D.B. Paul and J. Beatty, Thinking About Evolution: Historical, Philosophical, and Political Perspectives (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

This page was written by Jay Aronson on August 28, 2001