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John Maynard Smith dies

Evolutionary biologist applied game theory to evolution, defended neo-Darwinism

Catherine Brahic(catherine@catherinebrahic.plus.com)

One of the most renowned and influential evolutionary biologists of his generation, John Maynard Smith, died of lung cancer on April 19, at the age of 84.

Maynard Smith was probably most widely known for applying game theory to evolutionary biology. Originally developed in 1944 by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgentern, game theory is a mathematical model used by economists to study the outcomes of interactions between “collaborators” and “enemies” in situations in which neither can entirely predict the actions of the other, but can adapt their behavior according to what they see the other doing.

Maynard Smith applied game theory to interactions between competing individuals of the same species that use different stratagems for survival.

Imagine combat in which each individual must decide whether or not to escalate the fight without knowing his opponent's decision. Maynard Smith showed, with George Price, that the interests of both combatants...

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