The George C. Williams Prize
In 2015, the International Society for Evolution, Medicine and Public Health announced the launch of the $5,000 George C. Williams Prize. This $5,000 Prize will be awarded to the author of the most significant article published in the preceding year in the Society’s flagship journal, Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.
The George C. Williams Prize recognizes the contributions of George C. Williams to evolutionary medicine, and aims to encourage and highlight important research in this growing field. In a seminal 1957 paper, Williams initiated work on several problems central to medicine, including an evolutionary theory of aging and life history traits including menopause. He did important work on the problem of why sex exists. Perhaps his most lasting contribution is his 1966 book Adaptation and Natural Selection, a critique of group selection that transformed how biologists think about the evolution of sociality. In the 1990's he collaborated with Randolph Nesse on a series of papers and a book that inspired much ongoing work on how evolutionary biology can help us understand disease and improve human health.
The Society’s Publications Committee, chaired by Andrew Read, will appoint the Prize Committee which will interpret the criterion of “most significant article” with attention to the focus on major unanswered questions that characterized the work of George C. Williams. Articles by members of the Prize Committee and their students and close colleagues are not eligible for the prize. Members of the Publications Committee and their students and close colleagues are eligible with special restrictions.
Winner of the 2016 prize
The 2016 Committee, Gillian Bentley, David Haig and Andrew Read (Chair), award the George C. Williams prize to the paper “Adaptive learning can result in a failure to profit from good conditions: implications for understanding depression” by Pete C. Trimmer, Andrew D. Higginson, Tim W. Fawcett, John M. McNamara, and Alasdair I. Houston.
This paper postulates that depression is maladaptive for the depressed person but is an unavoidable side effect of learning rules that are themselves adaptive and so have been favored by natural selection. The idea that many cases of depression are a reaction of an essentially healthy and well-evolved brain to a definable set of experiences makes strong, testable predictions. If confirmed, novel therapeutic and preventive interventions can be envisaged.
Read the winning paper here.