Evolution for Everyone

My new book, The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time, was published by Little, Brown last Wednesday and featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition today.

My main objective in writing the book is to show how evolutionary science can be used to improve our lives in a practical sense, at scales both small and large. This has been the thrust of my own research over the past five years, both locally in my hometown of Binghamton, New York, and globally through the formation of the Evolution Institute, the first think tank for formulating public policy from an evolutionary perspective.

I use my personal odyssey as a narrative vehicle, but The Neighborhood Project is written as much for my academic colleagues as for the general public. Some of the foundational issues that I address include rethinking evolutionary psychology, cultural change as an evolutionary process, evolution as a new paradigm for economic policy, and how the meaning systems of the future can combine the best of current-day science and religion.

The trade-off between basic and applied science is typically imagined to be negative, as if the most interesting research isn’t very practical over the short term and the most practical research isn’t very interesting. I have discovered that for human-related evolutionary science, the trade-off is positive: The best basic scientific research is on people from all walks of life, as they go about their daily lives, which is also most relevant for solving real-world problems.

Putting evolution to work in the real world might even cause more people in America to accept it. Science is accepted when it becomes engineering. The reason that everyone accepts physics and chemistry is not because they are supported by more facts than evolution, but because we use these sciences on a daily basis. We can’t build the physical infrastructure of our society without them. Once we realize the utility of evolutionary science for improving our personal and social infrastructures, it will be accepted just as easily. This is not just an optimistic wish but my experience on a daily basis. When I sit around a table with others to solve a practical problem in my city of Binghamton, we don’t care about each other’s religious or political beliefs. We care about our commitment to solving the problem and the resources that we bring to the table. My business card reads “Evolutionist” and most people are happy to have me sit at the table, because I’m committed to helping out and bring useful tools for the job.


  1. #1 Paulino
    August 30, 2011

    Evolution has already been engineering for some millennia now, but it is not seen as such. Artificial selection is a misnomer.

  2. #2 David Wade
    August 30, 2011

    Hi David, Could you list an example of how evolution actually made a difference in Binghamton?

  3. #3 Michael Blume
    August 31, 2011

    Hi David, I just read the book – and loved it! That’s not “only” well-presented science, that’s literature! I plan to review it on my German and my English scilog, hoping that more people will see the chance in reading it.

  4. #4 diana nelson jones
    August 31, 2011

    as a reporter who covers city neighborhoods, i can’t wait to read this book. in case this is not covered, david, i was hoping to learn something about how this science could be applied to the plague of young men shooting each other in city neighborhoods that are trying to overcome.

  5. #5 Martin Knox
    September 9, 2011

    I have read with much interest David Sloan Wilson’s controversial collectable guide Evolution Of Selfless Behaviour, in the New Scientist, 6 August 2011. The actionable implications seem to match my predictions for living in Australia 250 years in the future, in my novel The Grass Is Always Browner. My protagonist is an Aboriginal with a mutant gene for sharing who becomes Prime Minister. He dedicates his life to propagating “selfish altruism”, sustaining yourself first and afterwards giving work and resources to the community. More information is on my two blogs grassisbrowner.wordpress.com and martinknox.wordpress.com I am not an evolutionary biologist but will endeavour to reconcile my forecast of commune living in Australia with David’s publication The Neighbourhood Project. I expect drastic changes to gradually occur.

  6. #6 kidnitro
    September 9, 2011

    Hi david my name is kayell i am 16 and still in highschool, I love science and tech and I wanted to know how long it would take for technology to advance far enough for virtual projection in 3 dimension, without the use of any platform

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