What E. O. Wilson got right, what confused him, and what he disrespected


The brilliant conservation and ant biologist E. O. Wilson wrote a bizarre piece for the Wall Street Journal recently. It is modified from an upcoming book of advice for young students. It has inspired an intense flurry of highly negative comments that have mostly focused on a tiny piece of his argument, so I think it might be worthwhile here to first summarize what he says.

1. Students drop out of science because they fear math, which is a shame.
2. Strong math skills are unnecessary to become a brilliant scientist.
3. E. O. Wilson himself has weak math skills.
4. Strong math is needed in few areas of science, like some physics.
5. The ability “to form concepts…by intuition” is far more important.
6. Dreams and fantasies “ramped up and disciplined,” are the basis of creative thinking.
7. Discoveries do not come from pure mathematics.
8. Ideas also need…

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