Joan Roughgarden

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Joan Roughgarden
Born (1946-03-13) 13 March 1946 (age 74)
Paterson, New Jersey, United States
Other namesJonathan Roughgarden
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Rochester
Known forCritiques of sexual selection, theory of social selection
Scientific career
FieldsEcology and Evolutionary Biology
InstitutionsUniversity of Massachusetts Boston
Stanford University
Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology
ThesisImplications of density dependent natural selection (1971)

Joan Roughgarden (born 13 March 1946) is an American ecologist and evolutionary biologist. She is well known for her theistic evolutionism and critical studies on Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection.


Personal life and education[edit]

Roughgarden was born as Jonathan David Roughgarden in Paterson, New Jersey, United States. She received a Bachelor of Science in biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from University of Rochester in 1968 and later a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University in 1971. In 1998, Roughgarden came out as transgender and changed her name to Joan, making a coming out post on her website on her 52nd birthday.[1]


Roughgarden worked as an instructor and Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Boston from 1970 to 1972. In 1972 she joined the faculty of the Department of Biology at Stanford University. After becoming full professor she retired in 2011, and became Emeritus Professor. She founded and directed the Earth Systems Program at Stanford and has received awards for service to undergraduate education. In 2012 she moved to Hawaii, where she became an adjunct professor at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology. In her academic career, Roughgarden advised 20 Ph.D students and 15 postdoctoral fellows.[2]

Writing and research[edit]

Roughgarden has authored books and over 180 scientific articles. In addition to a textbook on ecological and evolutionary theory in 1979, Roughgarden has carried out ecological field studies with Caribbean lizards and with barnacles and their larvae along the California coast. In her 2004 book, Evolution’s Rainbow, Joan analyzes how biology can influence sexuality and gender identity and emphasizes the substantial diversity within categories like gay, lesbian, and trans. The main point of her book is to be a critique to Darwin's theory of sexual selection.[3]

An article published by her lab on these ideas received criticism in the pages of the journal Science. Forty scientists produced ten critical letters, some of which were vitriolic.[4] However, Roughgarden, quoted as being "not altogether surprised" by the volume of dissent, argued that her team had replied to most of the criticisms.[5]

In her 2009 book The Genial Gene, the case against sexual selection theory is continued and social selection theory presented as an alternative. It lists 26 phenomena not explained by current sexual-selection theory that are better explained by social selection. According to Roughgarden, sexual selection theory derives from a view of natural behavior predicated on the selfish-gene concept, competition and deception, whereas the social-selection theory derives from teamwork, honesty, and genetic equality. As of 2012 she has continued to study if social selection as opposed to sexual selection is a more important driver of evolution for colonial species such as corals or perhaps humans.[6][7]

Roughgarden has written on the relationship between Christianity and science.[8] Her book Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist presents scripture passages that emphasize her belief that the Bible does not conflict with evolutionary biology and relates Christianity and evolution by asserting that all life is interconnected, as members of a faith community are connected. Roughgarden opposes the theories of creationism and intelligent design, but asserts her belief in God's involvement in evolution.[9] She was a speaker at the Beyond Belief symposium in 2006.[10]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Stonewall Book Award, 2005
  • Dinkelspiel Award for Undergraduate Teaching, Stanford University,[11] in 1995
  • Visiting Research Fellow at the Merton College, University of Oxford, in 1994
  • Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993
  • Fellow of Guggenheim Foundation in 1985
  • University Fellow, Stanford University in 1978

Roughgarden has served as associate editor of several academic journals, including Philosophy and Theory in Biology (since 2008), American Naturalist (1984–1989), Oecologia (1979–1982), and Theoretical Population Biology (1975–1986). She was the Vice-Chair and Chair of Theoretical Ecology Section of the Ecological Society of America during 2002–2003. She has served on the Nonprofit Organization Board for the Oceanic Society (San Francisco), the EPA Science Advisory Board Committee on Valuating the Protection of Ecological Systems and Services, and the science advisory boards of the Pacific Ocean Conservation Network (California), and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (Santa Barbara).[12]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Roughgarden, J. The Genial Gene: Deconstructing Darwinian Selfishness. Hardcover ed. University of California Press, 2009 ISBN 978-0-520-25826-6
  • Roughgarden, J. Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist. Hardcover ed. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2006. ISBN 1-59726-098-3
  • Roughgarden, J. Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People. Berkeley CA: Univ. of California Press, 2004. ISBN 0-520-24073-1
  • Roughgarden, J. Primer of Ecological Theory. 1st ed. Prentice Hall, 1997.
  • Roughgarden, J. Anolis Lizards of the Caribbean: Ecology, Evolution and Plate Tectonics. Hardcover ed. Oxford Univ. Press, 1995.
  • Roughgarden, J, May, R. M., and Levin, S. A. (eds.). Perspectives in Ecological Theory. Oxford Univ. Press, 1995.
  • Ehrlich, Paul R.; Roughgarden, Jonathan (1987). Science of Ecology. Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0023317002.
  • Roughgarden, J. Theory of Population Genetics and Evolutionary Ecology: an Introduction. 1st ed. Prentice Hall, 1979.
  • Simpson, Layne A. Gender and Society, vol. 19, no. 3, 2005, pp. 425–426. JSTOR,


  1. ^ Yoon, Carol Kaesuk (October 17, 2000). "Scientist at Work: Joan Roughgarden; A Theorist With Personal Experience Of the Divide Between the Sexes". The New York Times. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  2. ^ "Curriculum Vitae: Joan Roughgarden". Stanford University. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  3. ^ Jonah Lehrer. "The Effeminate Sheep". Seed (June/July 2006). Reprinted in Richard Preston, ed. (2007). The Best American Science and Nature Writing. New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-618-72231-0.
  4. ^ Simpson, Layne A. (2005). "Review of Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People". Gender and Society. 19 (3): 425–426. doi:10.1177/0891243204269612. ISSN 0891-2432. JSTOR 30044605.
  5. ^ Atkinson, Nick (May 5, 2006). "Sexual selection alternative slammed". The Scientist. Retrieved May 15, 2007.
  6. ^ Folse HJ, 3rd; Roughgarden, J (2010). "What is an individual organism? A multilevel selection perspective". The Quarterly Review of Biology. 85 (4): 447–72. doi:10.1086/656905. PMID 21243964.
  7. ^ Roughgarden, J. (2012). "The social selection alternative to sexual selection". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 367 (1600): 2294–2303. doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0282. PMC 3391423. PMID 22777017.
  8. ^ "First Congregational Church of Berkeley: Event Details". Archived from the original on October 8, 2007. Retrieved September 19, 2006.
  9. ^ Roughgarden, Joan. Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist. Washington D.C.: Island Press, 2006.
  10. ^ "TSN: Beyond Belief: Science, Reason, Religion & Survival". Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  11. ^ "Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Awards | Registrar's Office". Retrieved April 4, 2019.
  12. ^ "Science Matters". California Science Center. Archived from the original on July 13, 2010.

External links[edit]