Although Haldane apparently understood the principle of kin selection, it was a further 30 years before another English evolutionary biologist, W D Hamilton, nailed the mathematics of the theory in The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour (1964), one of the most important works in the field of evolution since its inception. The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins, and many other popular science books, were based on kin selection theory, which exposed the selfish machinations and calculations inherent in apparently altruistic behaviour.
So why hadn’t Haldane — a brilliant and inventive biologist — taken the idea of kin selection to its natural conclusion? In a startlingly honest interview for the Web of Stories website in 1997, the eminent evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith, a former student of Haldane’s, said that this failure was partly political:
I have to put it down, to some extent, to political and ideological commitment… We were, I think, very reluctant, as Marxists would be, to admit that anything genetic might influence human behaviour. And I think that we didn’t say consciously to ourselves that this would be un-Marxist so we won’t do it, that’s not the way that the mind works; but it was a path that our minds were not, so to speak, prepared to go down, in quite an unconscious sense, whereas Bill [Hamilton] was very prepared to go down it... to make big breaks in science, which Hamilton did, it’s not enough to have the technical understanding of some technical point, it’s got to fit in with your world view that you should pursue this road.