LONDON – John Maynard Smith, a leading evolutionary biologist widely credited with taking the radical step of applying game theory to the subject, has died at the age of 84.
Maynard Smith taught at the University of Sussex, where he became founding dean of the School of Biological Sciences in 1965, and remained active in research until his death on April 19. He died peacefully at his home in Lewes, southern England, the university said, without giving a cause of death.
Educated at Eton College and Cambridge University, Maynard Smith introduced the concept of game theory to biology in the 1970s. Established within economics in the 1940s as a means of studying situations where competition arises between individuals, game theory allowed biologists to map out patterns of animal behavior, including rituals of conflict and communication.
The inspiration to use game theory came to Maynard Smith from observing animals’ fighting patterns.
“They may make a lot of fuss over the fight, but there is rarely much blood on the carpet,” he said. “This suggests that the whole affair is very ritualized. Rituals can be mapped mathematically, and game theory is a way of doing that.”
Maynard Smith won the 1999 Crafoord Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for work not covered by the Nobel prizes, and received Japan’s prestigious Kyoto Prize in 2001. He was married with three children.
Funeral details were not immediately available.