23 February 1999
For immediate release
Sussex scientist John Maynard Smith has been awarded the Crafoord Prize by the Swedish Academy of Sciences for his fundamental contribution to evolutionary biology. Widely recognised as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the Crafoord Prize is awarded annually to scientists working in fields not covered by the Nobel Foundation. Professor Maynard Smith is being honoured particularly for his revolutionary work on game theory.
As part of a career in evolutionary biology spanning over fifty years, Professor Maynard Smith has been credited with introducing the concept of 'game theory' to biology in the 1970s. Game theory was established within economics in the 1940s as a mathematical way of analysing situations where competition arises between individuals. Applying a concept born in economics to the subject of animal behaviour was a radical step, but game theory has now become "part of the toolkit of every field biologist," according to the Professor.
The inspiration to use game theory hit Professor Maynard Smith when he observed animals' fighting patterns. "They may make a lot of fuss over the fight, but there is rarely much blood on the carpet. This suggests that the whole affair is very ritualised. Rituals can be mapped mathematically, and game theory is a way of doing that," he says.
Professor Maynard Smith is a champion of the application of mathematics to biology, claiming that "You can't be vague with mathematics, you have to be precise. The great thing about maths is that it forces you to say exactly what you mean." In this way, games involving conflict and communication can be mapped out in mathematical terms to predict precisely how animals will behave.
The Professor is delighted at being awarded the prestigious 1999 Crafoord Prize, saying "It is obviously a great honour." The prize will be awarded to Professor Maynard Smith jointly with fellow biologists Ernst Mayr of Harvard and George C Williams of State University, New York. They will be presented with gold medals and a shared prize of $500,000 at a special ceremony to be held in Sweden in September.
For further information please contact Sally Hall, Information Office, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 678335, email firstname.lastname@example.org .