Punk Rocker Tells All about Evolutionary Biology

Greg Graffin, the front man for the 1980s punk band Bad Religion, has written a book. There’s a little about sex, a little about drugs, and a little about rock ‘n’ roll. But mostly it’s about how the ecological interactions among species that compete for biotic and abiotic resources can lead to evolutionary resource partitioning and other cooperative arrangements, rather than direct competitive exclusion.

Wait, what?

Bad Religion has been one of the most successful acts of the 1980s punk scene, selling more than five millions records to date. Although their biggest commercial success was 1994’s Stranger than Fiction, they continue to tour every summer and released their sixteenth studio album in 2013. Another is expected in 2016.

Punk Rocker Tells All about Evolutionary Biology - Clapway

Although the lineup has experienced some changes, Graffin has always been at the helm. Along the way, he did something most would consider entirely un-punk: he completed a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from Cornell University.

In Graffin’s first book, Anarchy Evolution, Graffin makes a passionate defense of why his devotion to biology, natural history, and environmental stewardship is the culmination of, not in conflict, with the values of punk. Graffin is powerfully anti-establishment and in age where scientific principles are routine ignored, mocked, and even manipulated, preaching about science is indeed subversive.

Showing how seamlessly he lives his rockstar-turned-biologist lifestyle, Graffin will merge his book tour for Population Wars with Bad Religion’s tour dates this fall before returning to lecture on evolutionary biology at Cornell in the spring.

Punk Rocker Tells All about Evolutionary Biology - Clapway

Population Wars is a look at the various ways in which species interact, particularly when they are pitted against each other for limited resources. This is a ubiquitous feature of nature but, according to Graffin, both the public and professional biologists have focused too much on the competition that occurs between species, rather than how those conflicts tend to resolve themselves.

Telling tales of bacteria, California lawns, hot springs, and German cathedrals, Graffin drives home his point that to survive is to adapt, to win is to compromise. A war can never really be won anyway. The deny this is to conceal the truth, both about our past, and about the way forward.

Because humanity is facing such perilous times in terms of resources, habitat, climate, and struggle, never have the lessons of Population Wars been more urgent, a point not lost on Graffin. At times whimsical, at times deeply philosophical, Graffin weaves a tale with emotional complexity. Although he can be seem quite morose at times, one is left with the unmistakable impression that, at heart, Graffin harbors a content optimism that the future will be brighter than the past.

Click here for a full review of Population Wars by Greg Graffin.




Nathan H. Lents is a Professor of Molecular Biology at John Jay College of the City University of New York. He also maintains The Human Evolution Blog and is the author of the upcoming book, "Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals" (Columbia University Press, 2016). When he's not writing, his lab studies the bacteria that feast on dead humans (no, really) and forensic botany.