Good afternoon Reddit! I am Edward O. Wilson, this is my first AMA, and I will be answering questions from about 3:00PM - 4:30PM EST. Also, if any of you are interested, my latest book, Letters to a Young Scientist, was published two weeks ago and contains many of the lessons I've learned during my career. Here is a link for more information on that: And a link to some of my other books, if anyone is curious:


Ok, please ask away!!

EDIT: It's time for me to take a break. I will check in again tomorrow (and the rest of this week) to answer more. Thanks to all and so sorry I wasn't able to get to everyone's wonderful and learned questions.

Comments: 170 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

barkingelectron23 karma


edwardowilson32 karma

I would not have challenged the theory of inclusive fitness with my two mathematician colleagues had we not reviewed again and again the key parts of our argument. We not only examined the evidence with an editor of Nature who came to the US for this purpose, but passed it in front of other mathematicians and biological experts. We are completely confident of our challenge and the correction in theory that we have proposed. We are backed solidly by mathematicians and many other of the leading experts on social insects and plan in the near future two articles recently completed that in my judgement should close the controversy.

mar_oso13 karma

How devastating would the collapse of the bee population be to the world's ecosystem?

edwardowilson18 karma

Unless we solve the colony collapse syndrome and build up new stocks of honeybees, the result will be a severe loss to agriculture, costing as high as billions of dollars.

mar_oso5 karma

What is presumed to be behind the large losses? Pesticides? Climate change? Thanks for your answer.

edwardowilson16 karma

A recent study conducted by a team of experts could find no primary cause of the collapse syndrome. The best they could conclude was that multiple causes are at work, including pesticides and inbreeding. Obviously there is an urgency to deeper studies of the problem.

bounty8012 karma

Huge fan here. I own and have read every book and every scientific publication you have written! A big thank you for dedicating your life to the sciences and raising awareness to the importance of conservation. Your books have changed the way I live life everyday - I can't walk anywhere without my head focused on the ground looking for ants. I have a number of questions!

I had the honor of meeting Bert Hölldobler and listening to him speak and asked him the same question. I'm a amateur myrmecologist who has spent a lot of his free time dedicating himself to the observation, rearing, and collecting of ants. Yet, I am also someone who chose a career path that lead me away from the natural sciences. My question, to make it more broad, is how do amateur scientists who have not followed the traditional academic path into the fields of research get involved into making an impact in their field of study? What can we do to contribute and further advance the collective knowledge base?

What was a personal scientific theory that you were certain of early in your career that later in your career you found to be completely false or off base?

What is the broad message that you want to send to the younger generation in regards to conservation and the importance of biodiversity?

What do you say to people that think global warming is a hoax?

What was the most amazing thing you observed in all of your years spent out in the field?

What was the greatest "aha!" moment of your career?

How often do you and Hölldobler still talk?

What is the "end game" for invasive species like Linepithema humile? Recent studies are showing lower populations in Austrailia and amateurs are reporting declines in Southern California and an increase in native species populations. Your thoughts?

What is your favorite ant? :) Oecophylla smaragdina (based on the number of their photo used in your books)?

Thank you for taking the time to respond!

Edit - how come returns aren't showing?

edwardowilson26 karma

Thanks for all the kind words. I'll do my best to answer a few of these; sorry for the ones I missed!

What was a personal scientific theory that you were certain of early in your career that later in your career you found to be completely false or off base? I was convinced believer in the theory of kin selection in the 1970s and 1980s. But subsequently, with more study and new information from many directions, saw that it was fundamentally flawed. I abandoned it and with a group of mathematicians and other biologists, introduced a much more supportable of theory of multilevel selection to account for the origin of altruism and advanced social behavior. I have been called a traitor because of this and I am indeed a traitor. All major advances in science are made by treason!

how do amateur scientists who have not followed the traditional academic path into the fields of research get involved into making an impact in their field of study? without intending unduly to promote my recent book, let me refer you to its many recommendations on how to become engaged with scientific research. I worked hard myself to get these various ideas across to an audience of those who have beginning or more marginal interest in science.

What was the greatest "aha!" moment of your career? It was discovery in an experiment that lasted less than an hour, in which I found the trail pheromone of ants for the first time and discovered that the ants not only followed the trail but also started doing a lot of other complicated things. It was then that I realized that this discovery had revealed the existence of a much more complex chemical communication in these insects then had been suspected before.

Apparatii12 karma

Hi Dr. Wilson!

At extreme risk of gushing, I first read "The Ants" while doing a study abroad trip in Madagascar, which eventually led to fieldwork, a paper, and eventually the beginnings of a career in Entomology. My project was on the behavior of Pheidole longispinosa, an interesting member of my favorite Genus.

This isn't so much a question, just a thank you. If I had not been given that book by a dear friend and Myrmecologist, I likely never would have found myself in this extremely fulfilling field.

I do have one question though, ants are probably one of the most important invertebrate taxa ecologically, and they certainly deserve more recognition then they get. It is clear that ants are capable of colonizing disturbed environments more effectively than some other insect groups. Despite this talent for dealing with rough environments, do you believe that ant species richness/diversity is a particularly useful measure of forest/ecosystem health?

edwardowilson11 karma

I believe ants are wonderful indicators of ecosystem health. There are so many species in most environments, as many 300 in some tropical rainforests, each with its own specialization and requirement of a healthy environment, that even just the presence or absence of a particular species tells us a great deal about whats happening to the local environment.

paralee18 karma

How do you feel about science becoming more mainstream and having a place in what could be described as pop culture? (i.e, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, etc)

edwardowilson19 karma

I certainly do believe in more science in the popular culture, and we need many more gifted communicators to achieve it.

logically8 karma

How do you (did you) prioritize research topics?

edwardowilson14 karma

Mostly by opportunity. I worked constantly on a variety of projects dealing with ant biology and from time to time would hit on some phenomenon that I found surprising and then frequently would drop whatever else I was doing to run with it.

logically8 karma

Would you agree with Issa Asimov's quote, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That's funny...”?

edwardowilson24 karma

Asimov was a genius in science fiction with an amazingly wide-ranging imagination. However, I don't recall that he made many original discoveries in science, if any. So, if this not too presumptuous, it maybe true that the first thing that passes the mind is: "Hmmm...there is something different here" but quickly the successful scientist learns and thinks enough to say, "a-ha! I think..."

alliptera6 karma

What do you think the most interesting/promising field within ecology and/or entomology is today? Where will we be seeing breakthroughs?

What field or type of research do you think that we need more of or is currently being overlooked?

What is your outlook on the future of conservation?

edwardowilson17 karma

I believe that the greatest leaps will be in ecology. The systems are so complex, depending on mostly little known interactions of many species that we have not begun to understand how the entirety of it works. This is a great subject for young scientists to go into, both to explore the ecosystems and define new ways to analyze them.

As to you last question: I used to say regarded optimism but there is not enough interest in activity yet so I have begun to sink down into a deepening pessimism. Where are all of the activist demonstrators when you need them?

alliptera2 karma

How do you think scientists and concerned people could raise more interest?

edwardowilson8 karma

I would say by focusing on the phenomena and the activities of the scientists who discover them that have the most immediate intrinsic appeal to a majority of the people, and work off of those. This takes a lot of thought and probably extra talent, but it is so important that it needs to be given a lot more special attention.

onhumannature6 karma

Mr. EO Wilson, growing up I wanted to be an entomologist. As I grew up I forgot about my childhood dream, now as a painter I have been involved in exploring the world of ants for more than three years. One of my main sources of research for my art has been your books about ants, social societies, and their similarities to the human world. So my question for you is if you know of any way that I, as an artist could get an opportunity to explore and learn about the world of the ants from scientists in the field?

edwardowilson13 karma

I don't know about your special interest and approaches to art, but I would like to suggest that the world of the ants in its great urgency and complexity would benefit from accounts that emerge from creative thought in art.

antdude5 karma

Funny. I did too like you, but I got addicted to computers and majored in Computer Science. I still love insects especially ants (since fourth grade!) today though. :)

Colin031291 karma

Make a game or program about insects. Always thought it would be interesting to major in Computer Science and minor in Entomology and consult for game companies on how they can accurately recreate their insects in-game. I doubt game companies put forward that much energy into what would probably be a minor detail, but it would be interesting none the less.

antdude2 karma

Actually, there already have been simulation ant games like Maxis' SimAnt ( says it was inspired by Dr. E.O. Wilson) and Microid's Empire of the Ants ( ).

Colin031292 karma

I've played SimAnt but thought the structure of the game was really buggy bad. The game just wouldn't react well. Given all the advances in game technology, I think it could be time we got a new game going.

edwardowilson12 karma

I believe SimAnt was inspired by the book The Ants, by Bert Holldobler and myself. It would be great if we had more games based on the complex behavior of ant and other animal societies. I can think of no better way of engaging people in real scientific phenomena and problems.

unReduced6 karma

Do you think that species concepts are vital from a biodiversity perspective? Or should we be considering other things, like variation in populations, when talking about maintaining biodiversity?

edwardowilson8 karma

I do indeed think that species concepts are vital. They are not perfect, but are solid enough on which to base both scientific research and conversation practice.

rbsh1235 karma

Hello Mr. Wilson, I appreciate you doing this and my question is how did you start in this line of work? thank you. I wish I could buy your book but I am a poor student.

edwardowilson7 karma

I hope you will at least borrow the book in which I explain (in much greater detail) how I started at a very young age, fascinated by natural history and insects in particular and never looked back. I have always argued that passion of interest in a subject and a search for a calling by which to guide your professional life is the key to success in science.

tiddibuh4 karma

Hi Dr. Wilson, firstly thank you for doing this AMA. How do you envision the internet changing how science is conducted and results are disseminated? Do you think open-access journals will become the norm?

edwardowilson14 karma

As one of the early supporters of open-access journals, I remain very much in favor. We should have an option for publication that avoids the possibility of unreasonable obstruction from bias reviewers and editors. The outcome of the conclusions in such a paper and reputation of its author(s) will be settled through additional research and other forms of testing.

Lady_McNippleCunt4 karma

Hello Mr. Wilson, First of all, I am a massive fan of your works, and you've actually played a large role in my ambition to become a biologist. Just a couple of questions:

1) What, or who, inspired you to become a biologist? (A generic question I know)

2) I've read a little bit about your deistic beliefs (I too am a deist), and I was just wondering what drew you, or what first brought your attention, to the idea of deism? Perhaps a particular life event that caused you to "drift away from the church", or was it simply a "that makes more sense than anything else" kind of thinking?

3) What is your position on the idea of the afterlife?

Thank you in advance, both for your response, and for doing what you do; you're a true inspiration.

edwardowilson7 karma

Only have time to take one of these, so here's my response to the first: I was fortunate at fairly early age, 16, to encounter mentors who encouraged me enthusiastically to work off my own interest in insects to plan both my college career and long-term professional plans.

theENTomologist2 karma

Hi there, Dr. Wilson. I'm currently getting ready to start looking for graduate work in entomology, although I am facing a bit of a dilemma.

A lot of the work which I am most fond of involves the pursuit of alternative methods of control. I'm fascinated by tri-trophic interactions and looking at better ways to use them to provide non-chemical pest control.

Of course, in recent times, work has been harder to find in those areas- chemical controls and genetic modifications are much more profitable for producers right now, although it seems that more efforts are being made towards promoting environmental stability and endorsing these "green methods" of crop growth.

So, basically my question is this:

Do you think that these trends towards alternative control methods and more environmentally friendly practices are going to continue, creating more opportunities for people with interests like mine, or would you guess that chemical controls and genetic engineering are ultimately prove too difficult to replace?

Thanks so much for your time!

edwardowilson8 karma

Right now, we're all too much in a hurry, hungry, and greedy, to find safer and environmentally better methods of control, but they do exist and a lot more effort in the future should be made to find them.

flyingbarbershopper2 karma

Mr. Wilson, what do you think about genetic engineering and its potential impact on biodiversity?

edwardowilson10 karma

A decade ago I made a special study of genetically modified organisms, including crops, and their potential impact on the environment. I don't believe that what I concluded has changed a great deal. It is that while some risk occurs, it is not profound and it is over weighed by potential good.

patty-ice1 karma

Big fan of your writing, can you give advice on how to enter the field of Biology? I'm a very soon to be graduate from your alma mater (Roll Tide!). My major is Mechanical Engineering, but I really don't want to be an engineer. After reading "Journey to the Ants" I was inspired to make an ant habitat in my apartment and I observed the ants endlessly. I think my passion may be in biology, and I know I'll regret not trying to pursue this. So can Mechanical Engineering be applied to biology? Or would I have to start all over?

edwardowilson3 karma

Roll Tide, my friend! I believe that the potential productive connections between biology and engineering are endless and your background in the latter has great potential. It is just a matter of searching for those overlapping and potentially enormously productive hybrid research and development activities.

Britant1 karma

i am a massive fan, if you had to choose a single aspect of Myrmecology that fascinates you still to this day what would it be ?

edwardowilson10 karma

All of it, every bit. I like to use the statement of Karl Von Frisch, about his favorite insect, the honeybee. He said, "the honeybee is like a magic well. The more you draw from it, the more there is to draw."