About David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson (born 1949) is an American evolutionary biologist and a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He is a son of the author Sloan Wilson, and co-founder of the Evolution Institute, and co-founder of the recent spinoff nonprofit Prosocial World

Academic career

Wilson graduated with a B.A. with high honors in 1971 from the University of Rochester. He completed his Ph.D. in 1975 at Michigan State University. Wilson then worked as a Research Fellow in the Biological Laboratories at Harvard University from 1974-1975. He held a dual position as Research Associate in Zoology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Washington from 1975 to 1976. After this he was a Senior Research Officer at the South African National Research Institute for the Mathematical Sciences from 1976 to 1977.

Wilson moved back to the United States and held an Assistant Professorship in the Division of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Davis, from 1977 to 1980. He served as an Assistant and then Associate Professor at the Kellogg Biological Station and Department of Zoology of Michigan State University from 1980 to 1988. Wilson was promoted to full Professor of Biological Sciences at the State University of New York, Binghamton, in 1988. He was given a joint appointment as Professor of Anthropology in 2001 and retired in 2019.

David Sloan Wilson and Tom Stoppard. Photograph: Lauren Atherton
David Sloan Wilson and Tom Stoppard. Photograph: Lauren Atherton

Wilson started the Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program at Binghamton University to unify diverse disciplines under the theory of evolution. Students in the program take evolution-themed courses in a variety of disciplines including biology, anthropology, psychology, bioengineering, philosophy, religion and the psychology of religion. There is also a required “Current Topics in Evolutionary Studies” weekly seminar and discussion. Several other universities, including SUNY New Paltz have started a similar program.


Wilson is a prominent proponent of the concept of group selection (also known as multi-level selection) in evolution. He and Elliott Sober proposed a framework called multilevel selection theory, which challenges the more orthodox approach of gene-level selection and individual selection, in their book Unto Others. This framework argues that natural selection operates on a nested hierarchy of units, such as between genes within individuals, between individuals within groups, between groups within a multi-group population, and even between ecosystems (such as microbiomes) in multi-ecosystem populations. Each level of selection results in adaptations at that level and tends to be undermined by selection at lower levels. Hence the notion of multilevel selection.

Wilson has also coined the concept of a trait-group, a group of organisms linked not permanently as a group but having a shared fate due to interactions that they have.

Wilson has described himself as an “enthusiastic proponent” of the extended evolutionary synthesis.

Article republished with permission of Wikipedia. Original found here.