Edward O. Wilson
Free Library of Philadelphia, February 7, 2002
Tonight I have the honor of introducing one of the world’s most influential scholars, Professor Edward Osborne Wilson. I say this, not because of the notes Elliot Shelkrot sent me, but because I’ve known and written about him for 30 years, as Dr. Wilson knows. And that may be the only reason I can think of that justifies the honor to perform this task.
The ideas of Ed Wilson were introduced to me by Nobelist Joshua Lederberg, President Emeritus of Rockefeller University. This led to my earliest quotation of Wilson – a selection from his 1978 article on "The attempt to suppress human behavioral genetics."
A decade earlier he published one of several books that have become Citation Classics, and this brought us into contact when he graciously wrote personal commentaries on these works for Current Contents. His Theory of Island Biogeography, co-authored with Robert H. MacArthur, published in 1967, has been cited in over 3,600 papers and monographs. Four years later in 1971, he published The Insect Societies, cited over 2,500 times.
While others suffer from the seven-year itch, Ed Wilson has a four-year cycle. In 1975, he published Sociobiology: The New Synthesis which has been cited in over 4,000 papers and countless books. The 25th anniversary edition was issued in March 2000! And he has helped spawn numerous journals I won’t bother to mention.
Far from lessening, his pace then increased. Three years later, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1978 book On Human Nature, cited "only" 1,000 times. He won another Pulitzer for his 1990 book The Ants(cited over 4,500 times) which he co-authored with Bert Hölldobler. The Pulitzer Prizes indicate a public impact that goes far beyond the research community. An earlier reflection of this influence was expressed when President Jimmy Carter presented him with the National Medal of Science in 1977. And his international acclaim was emphasized again in 1990 when he received the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the equivalent to the Nobel for environmental science.
In 1995, Dr. Wilson was named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people in America. Last year, Richard A. Posner, in his book Public Intellectuals identified him as one of the top 25 public intellectuals. He based that opinion in part on his rank as a citation super-star (p. 212). These bibliometric arguments bring him in consilience with those of us who call ourselves information scientists. Dr. Wilson sealed that connection when he published Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge about three years ago. That term was originally coined by William Whewell in 1840 in his Philosophy of Inductive Sciences. Whewell said "The Consilience of Inductions takes place when an Induction, obtained from one class of facts, coincides with an induction, obtained from another different class." Or, as Wilson says, "Consilience is the interlocking of causal explanation across disciplines." In a nutshell, consilience captures the very essence of the field of information science. And remarkably that book has already been cited hundreds of times in just a few years. It has inspired informationists like my colleague Henry Small, who is with us today, and many others. Time does not permit me to elaborate on that theme further.
In conclusion, tonight we celebrate his most recent book, The Future of Life, on which Katherine Fuller, the President of the World Wildlife Fund, asserts:
"E. O. Wilson delivers an impassioned plea for a new human ethic based on a wiser, more careful stewardship of our vanishing natural world. Wilson invites us to share his optimism that we still have an opportunity to save the living things and wild places that sustain us and give us hope."
1. Garfield E. “High Impact Science and the Case of Arthur Jensen,” Current Contents No. 41, pages 5-15 (October 9, 1978). Reprinted in Essays of an Information Scientist, Volume 3, pages 652-662. Philadelphia: ISI Press (1980) http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/essays/v3p652y1977-78.pdf
2. Wilson EO. “The attempt to suppress human behavioral genetics,” Journal of General Education, 29 (4):277-287 (1978)
3. MacArthur RH and Wilson EO, The Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967. 203p.
4. Wilson EO. The Insect Societies Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1971, 548 p.
5. Wilson EO. Sociobiology. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1975, 697 p.
6. Wilson EO. On Human Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988, 260 p.
7. Hölldobler B and Wilson EO. The Ants. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990, 752 p.
8. Posner RA, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001, 408 p.
9. Wilson EO. Consilience : The Unity of Knowledge with On Human Nature. New York: Knopf, April 1998, 332 p.
10. Small H. “Citations and Consilience in Science,” Scientometrics 43(1):143-148 (1998)
11. Garfield, E. "Observations on Consilience in Abstracting and Indexing," Comments at NFAIS Panel, February 22, 1999, Philadelphia. http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/papers/observationonconsillience.html