Dear John: The 'Kin Selection' Controversy


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We examine the fractured relationship between evolutionary biologists William D Hamilton and John Maynard Smith

Who first proposed the evolutionary theory of kin selection? Undercurrent Theatre bring the 1964 dispute between William D Hamilton and John Maynard Smith to life, alongside a discussion led by Helen Piel.

In July 1964 the biologist William D Hamilton published a paper that was to eventually revolutionise the field of evolutionary biology, on the concept of 'kin selection'. The problem was that in March of the same year, in a letter to the scientific journal Nature, the biologist John Maynard Smith had already introduced the idea – and Maynard Smith had been the referee for Hamilton’s paper.

Join us as we explore the issue of priority (the credit given to the individual or group of individuals who first make a discovery or propose a theory) in ‘kin selection’ through performance and discussion. PhD candidate Helen Piel will explain the origins of the dispute, piecing together correspondence and articles that show how the timeline to the controversy developed, while dramatic readings of the correspondence of Hamilton, Maynard Smith and their colleague George Price by Undercurrent Theatre will bring the dispute to life. 

The event is presented by Undercurrent Theatre, the first Associate Theatre Company of the British Library, funded by Arts Council England. In 2016 Undercurrent partnered with the British Library for their sell-out theatre production Calculating Kindness which was inspired by the George Price and William Hamilton archives held at the British Library. Helen Piel is currently a completing PhD on the History of Science co-supervised by the University of Leeds and the British Library.

Image: Calculating Kindness © Richard Davenport


Name: Dear John: The 'Kin Selection' Controversy
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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When: -
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546