Was the Great Scientist E. O. Wilson a Racist? NO! ...Okay, he makes a good argument that WIlson was not a racist, but this defense is unsatisfying.
On December 26, 2021, the renowned Harvard University evolutionary biologist, conservationist, and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning writer Edward O. Wilson died at the age of 92. Three days later Scientific American, for which I penned a monthly column for nearly 18 years, opined on “The Complicated Legacy of E. O. Wilson” through the voice of Monica R. McLemore, who with no engagement with any of Wilson’s scientific theories announced that “we must reckon with his and other scientists’ racist ideas if we want an equitable future.” No examples of said racism were provided. She even branded as a racist Gregor Mendel—the 19th century scientist who established the role of genetics in pea plants—although there is absolutely no evidence for this extraordinary claim, unless it is racist to demonstrate that pea color is genetically determined.
Shortly after that hit piece, the publication Science for the People, whose website self-describes as “an organization dedicated to building a social movement around progressive and radical perspectives on science and society,” declared that it has “new evidence of E. O. Wilson’s intimacy with scientific racism.” The charge is not new. In 1975 this same group accused Wilson of promoting race science and eugenics upon the publication of his book Sociobiology, which viewed all creatures—including humans—as biological beings, part of evolved life on Earth. In the final chapter Wilson argued that human capacities for culture and behavior, including aggression and xenophobia, along with altruism and love, are facilitated by biological capacities.
Yes, the SciAm attack on Wilson was offensive, but so is Shermer's tacit acceptance of this Leftist doctrine of applying political ideological purity tests to scientists, alive or dead.
Wilson was entitled to his opinions. Lots of great scientists have had goofy opinions. Some are Communists, royalists, fascists, pacifists, etc. Some have odd political beliefs. For example, Einstein belonged to Communist front organizations while Stalin was killing millions.
Future generations might say that today's scholars are morally defective because they eat meat, or pay taxes, or fly in aiplanes, or vote for Joe Biden.
I say they are all entitled to their opinions. If they are wrong, go ahead and say so, but it doesn't have anything to do with their scientific worth.
Wilson's great expertise was in ants. He occasionally made vague generalizations to human beings. I do not know why this was so upsetting to some people. He also believed in group selection and IQ measurements. Again, these are very upsetting to some people. If he is wrong, then prove him wrong. That would not detract from his work on ants.