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Professor Alan Grafen

Roles and subjects

Honorary Fellow

Alan Grafen FRS is an evolutionary biologist who applies mathematical and logical theory to problems in evolution. He has improved our understanding of how signals function in nature, successfully producing a mathematical model of Zahavi’s handicap principle, which states that characteristics that at first may appear to impede — such as the peacock’s tail — can actually signal genetic superiority to a potential mate and therefore be of benefit.

Alan applies mathematics and logic to areas in evolution that include animal signals, sexual selection, kin selection and kin recognition. He leads the Formal Darwinism Project at the University of Oxford, aiming to capture Darwin’s central argument concerning the role of natural selection in evolution within a mathematical framework.

He is also a Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and Tutorial Fellow in Quantative Biology at St John’s College Oxford

The ultimate goal of Alan’s current work is to develop an overarching theory justifying fitness optimisation — or maximising genetic potential — as a central biological concept. As well as many academic papers, Alan has published two well-received books: the textbook Modern Statistics for the Life Sciences (2002) and a 2006 book honouring the work of fellow evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.