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27.04.2004

john maynard smith—obituary

At a Royal Society conference some time after his 80th birthday John Maynard Smith rose to rebuke a speaker who had alleged that "neo-Darwinian orthodoxy" said something or other. "It doesn’t, and I know this because I am the voice of neo-Darwinian orthodoxy," he claimed - and it was perfectly true. He deserved his position as the grand old man of evolutionary biology, not just because of the important work he had done in his prime, but because he never for a moment lost his love of, nor his interest in, it. At scientific conferences Maynard Smith spent as little time as possible over the formalities, and as” much time as possible interrogating younger scientists in the bar about the details of their work and their theories. He had a hand in the discovery or shaping of some of the most influential theories of late-20th-century biology.

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.”


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