John Maynard Smith

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John Maynard Smith, wiki "who has died aged 84 [in 2004], was emeritus professor of biology at the University of Sussex and one of the world's greatest evolutionary biologists...

"In 1962, Sussex University was established, and three years later JMS became the founding dean of its School of Biological Sciences. He held the post for an amazing seven years, until 1972, only to be re-elected in the early 1980s.

JMS helped to illuminate so many areas in biology that it is hard to know where to begin. By introducing mathematical models from game theory into the study of behaviour, he showed that the success of an individual's behaviour often depends on what other individuals do. He introduced the idea of an "evolutionarily stable strategy": a strategy that, once common, cannot be bettered by alternatives. This work has completely revolutionised the way biologists think about behavioural evolution, and game theory is now one of the most commonly used tools in evolutionary thinking.

"JMS also tackled one of the most vexed - but superficially least obvious - conundrums of evolutionary biology: why has sex evolved? His book The Evolution Of Sex (1978) pointed out "the twofold cost of sex". One way to understand this cost is to notice that sexually reproducing organisms must produce both female and male offspring, whereas asexual, or clonal, organisms need only produce females. Since in most sexual populations around half the offspring produced are male, an asexual population with the same fecundity will produce twice as many daughters. This advantage applies generation after generation, seemingly providing a huge evolutionary advantage to clonal reproduction. Thus the problem is: why do we see so much sex in the world?

"Like his mentor, Haldane, JMS was deeply committed to making evolutionary ideas accessible to a wide audience. His "little Penguin", The Theory Of Evolution (1958, 1966, 1975, 1993), inspired many leading researchers to become biologists...

"Unsurprisingly, JMS was showered with honours. These included the 1999 Crafoord Prize (awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences to scientists in fields not eligible for Nobel prizes) and the 2001 Kyoto Prize, Japan's highest private award for lifetime achievement." [1]

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  1. John Maynard Smith, The Guardian, accessed December 5, 2008.