PBS just finished airing a three-part documentary based on paleontologist Neil Shubin’s book Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, which he hosted. For anyone interested in evolution and how humans are related to the rest of the animal world, this is a must-see. It’s very well done, visually and with content. You can watch each of the episodes through the PBS website, Shubin tells me, for up to two weeks following the air date for each episode (thus, 4/24 for episode 1, May 1 for episode 2, and May 8 for episode 3. It’s April 25th today, and as of early this morning PST, episode 1 was still viewable. Just click on any of the three images below to view an episode!
Sara Levine, Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons (Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Group, 2013), 32 pp. Illustrated by T.S Spookytooth.
What animal would you be if your finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet? Or what if you had no leg bones but kept your arm bones? This picture book will keep you guessing as you read about how human skeletons are like—and unlike—those of other animals.
Although this book does not discuss evolutionary relationships (homology, common descent), it is a fun introduction to comparative anatomy for elementary students!
Yesterday I headed to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, sans wife and child, to see the exhibit Body Worlds & the Brain (which opened on October 20th for a limited engagement). From Gunther von Hagens, the exhibit “includes more than 200 authentic human specimens and highlights neuroscience, brain development and performance. Through respectful, aesthetic displays, this all-new exhibition invites intensive study and profound reflection on the power, beauty, and fragility of the human body” (more info). The displays are shown along with large text panels discussing many aspects of being human, from anatomy and development to intelligence and emotions.
I have always wanted to see one of these exhibits of plastinated cadavers, as I have heard from other people about what they liked about it or did not. Given that the bodies are obtained from individuals knowingly providing themselves for these artistic and didactic displays, there is not much I can complain about (much effort is made in getting this point across in the exhibit). Body Worlds is simply wondrous. My initial impression is amazement, but I am sure over the next few weeks I will think about certain aspects of the exhibit (I should see if the Portland libraries have this book: The Anatomy of Body Worlds: Critical Essays on the Plastinated Cadavers of Gunther von Hagens).
One text panel had the following words, which I think sums up such an endeavor: “The creative process generates the new by seeing the known in an unusual way. It is founded on a sense of wonder and fed by the ability to pursue an idea simply to satisfy our curiosity.” A truly visceral experience. I highly encourage folks in the Portland region to visit OMSI and peruse Body Worlds, especially the dynamic poses of many of the bodies and the various organs shown in stages of disease. How often does one get the opportunity to get so close and personal to what is – and could be – inside all of us?
Enjoy the photos, which I was given permission to take and post for media purposes.
This guest post by Eric Michael Johnson is part of his Primate Diaries in Exile blog tour. Johnson is a PhD student in the history of evolutionary biology at UBC (he received his masters degree in primate behavior). You can follow other stops on his tour through his RSS feed, The Primate Diaries on Facebook, or by following him on Twitter.
His critics accused him of claiming that “Might is Right,” but did the founder of modern biology campaign to defend the least among us?
Oil painting by Emile-Edouard Mouchy, 1832. (Wellcome Library, London.)
According to the British Medical Journal it resembled a crucifixion. The dogs were strapped to boards, backs down, and with their legs cinched outwards. In the stifling August heat their heavy panting was made only more intense by a suffocating fear. The accused was described as wearing a white apron “that was afterwards covered with blood” as he approached one of the struggling animals. His mouth was tied shut but when the blade entered the thin, pink flesh of his inner thigh the animal’s cries of agony were too much to bear.
Experienced medical men in attendance, including some of the nineteenth century’s top surgeons, were outraged and demanded that the animal’s torture cease. Thomas Joliffe Tufnell, President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, denounced the demonstration as a “cruel proceeding” and stormed to the operating table to cut the animal loose. Other physiologists objected to the interruption with one insisting, “That dog is insensible; he is not suffering anything.” But Tufnell held firm, “The dog is struggling hard to get free. I am a sportsman as well as a surgeon, and I will never see a dog bullied.” However, a vote was taken among the assembled members of the British Medical Association and the demonstration was allowed to continue.
A tube was then forced into the conscious animal’s femoral artery, the white hair of his belly stained red as the arterial pressure caused blood to spurt from the incision. Into the tube the accused injected pure alcohol. The result, continued the Journal, “was an immediate struggle, which almost immediately subsided. The animal became dead drunk.”
“Now, you see he’s insensible,” a physician snidely remarked to Tufnell.
“Yes,” Tufnell replied, “and he’ll never be sensible again, for he will die.”
Spattered with gore from the comatose animal, the accused, Dr. Eugene Magnan of Paris, insisted he would be quite well by that evening. The dog soon died. Magnan then turned to the second animal, opening the same artery as before but injecting absinthe into the wound. According to witnesses:
The animal struggled much, cried as far as it was able, showed other symptoms of great suffering, and ultimately–not long after the injection–had a fit of epilepsy.
This had been the point of Magnan’s August 13, 1874 demonstration: the physiological effects of alcohol and absinthe on the animal nervous system. It had been made possible by four physicians based in Norwich, England, all of whom now stood trial for actions taken that did “unlawfully illtreat, abuse, and torture certain animals.” Dr. Eugene Magnan, also listed as a defendant, was not present in the courtroom since he had fled the country back to France. Because it could not be proven that the four English physicians had been actively involved in the demonstration the charges were ultimately dismissed, though the court ruled that the case against them was proper and required them to pay all legal costs. However, in the court of public opinion they were guilty as charged.
Animal experimentation, or vivisection as it was known in the nineteenth century, had already been practiced for centuries (William Harvey’s famous dissections of deer in the 1620s had revealed the heart’s role in the circulatory system) but with the rise of scientific medicine more animal subjects were being “put to the blade” in the name of science. The physician George Hoggan described his own experience taking part in some of these dissections with dogs:
Hundreds of times I have seen when an animal writhed in pain, and thereby deranged the tissues, during a deliberate dissection; instead of being soothed, it would receive a slap and an angry order to be quiet and behave itself. . . Even when roughly grasped and thrown on the torture-trough, a low, complaining whine at such treatment would be all the protest made, and they would continue to lick the hand which bound them till their mouths were fixed in the gag.
Charles Darwin was well aware that these kinds of experiments took place, even using a similar example in his 1871 book The Descent of Man:
[E]veryone has heard of the dog suffering under vivisection who licked the hand of the operator; this man, unless he had a heart of stone, must have felt remorse to the last hour of his life.
As one of the most celebrated biologists in England Darwin was both a supporter of experimental physiology and was passionate about protecting animals from cruelty. As a local magistrate he regularly came across cases of cruelty to farm animals and, according to his biographer Janet Browne, “was inexorable in imposing fines and punishment.” In 1853 he waged a “private vendetta” against a Mr. Ainslie for cruelty to his carthorses, threatening to “have him up before a magistrate & his ploughman also.” According to his son, Francis Darwin, the man who many saw as advocating “might is right” was as disgusted by animal cruelty as he was by the human cruelty he experienced in slave holding societies:
The remembrance of screams, or other sounds heard in Brazil, when he was powerless to interfere with what he believed to be the torture of a slave, haunted him for years, especially at night. In smaller matters, where he could interfere, he did so vigorously. He returned one day from his walk pale and faint from having seen a horse ill-used, and from the agitation of violently remonstrating with the man. On another occasion he saw a horse-breaker teaching his son to ride, the little boy was frightened and the man was rough; my father stopped, and jumping out of the carriage reproved the man in no measured terms.
This sympathy extended to animals used in experimentation, as Darwin wrote to the Oxford zoologist Ray Lankester in 1871:
You ask about my opinion on vivisection. I quite agree that it is justifiable for real investigations on physiology; but not for mere damnable and detestable curiosity. It is a subject which makes me sick with horror, so I will not say another word about it, else I shall not sleep to-night.
However, Darwin did not take his own advice and, after the media uproar following Magnan’s demonstration and the ensuing court case, the notoriously reclusive naturalist spearheaded a campaign to regulate how vivisection was conducted in England.
The year 1875 was a milestone for British animal rights activism. Building off the popular outrage over Magnan, the author, feminist, and animal rights campaigner Frances Power Cobbe formed the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection (and, later, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, which continues to this day). With the assistance of sympathetic members of Parliament, Cobbe drafted a bill that would require regular inspections of physiological labs engaged in vivisection. Darwin heard of this activity through his daughter, Henrietta Litchfield, who was passionate about animal rights and had sent her father Cobbe’s petition to sign. Her letter had Darwin contemplating the issue “for some hours” and he delivered a considered and thoughtful response:
I conclude, if (as is likely) some experiments have been tried too often, or anesthetics have not been used when they could have been, the cure must be in the improvement of humanitarian feelings. Under this point of view I have rejoiced at the present agitation.
However, despite his conflicts over vivisection, Darwin’s opinion of the bill was that it would do little to protect animals and, at the same time, would result in a chilling effect on science:
[I]f such laws are passed, the result will assuredly be that physiology, which has been until within the last few years at a standstill in England, will languish or quite cease. . . I cannot at present see my way to sign any petition, without hearing what physiologists thought would be its effect, and then judging for myself.
Four months later Darwin, who rarely took any active role in politics, was in the midst of a political campaign to introduce his own bill to Parliament. As he wrote to his close friend Joseph Hooker, then-President of the Royal Society, “I worked all the time in London on the vivisection question . . . The object is to protect animals, and at the same time not to injure Physiology,” and he had already enlisted the support of “some half-dozen eminent scientific men.”
While the interest in protecting the scientific enterprise was an important aspect of what became known as the Playfair bill (after Dr. Lyon Playfair, the liberal member of Parliament who introduced the legislation) Darwin’s personal background advocating against animal cruelty and the fact that his son-in-law Robert Litchfield (Henrietta’s husband) was the one who helped Darwin write the bill suggests that animal rights was just as much a part of Darwin’s concern. In fact, the Playfair bill went beyond Cobbe’s in the protection of animals by including the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) guidelines that required anesthetic in all experiments, including for teaching purposes. As historian David Allen Feller wrote last year in his account of the 1875 antivivisection controversy:
Under the BAAS guidelines, not only was anesthesia required in experiments whenever possible, but an entire class of experiments, those conducted for mere demonstration purposes without any new scientific discovery in mind, were outlawed. This was not so under the [Cobbe] bill, which did not distinguish between classroom and purely scientific experiments. Inclusion of this provision of the BAAS guidelines was clearly intended by Darwin from the outset of his work on the bill. Darwin wrote to Burdon Sanderson and Huxley that he thought the BAAS guidelines would be the best compromise, and Darwin specifically noted the inclusion of a ban on the use of live animals for the purpose of demonstrative teaching.
Darwin is widely known for never taking part in any public discussions or debates on his theory of natural selection (leaving that to trusted friends such as Thomas Henry Huxley). His poor health and hatred of travel kept him at his estate in the countryside throughout most of his life. And yet, on the question of vivisection, Darwin not only traveled to London to help draft the Playfair bill, he returned when asked to testify by the Royal Commission when investigating the use of vivisection. During the questioning Darwin again insisted that experimentation on animals was important for the development of medical science. However, on the question of experiments carried out without anesthetic or ones inflicting pain unnecessarily, Darwin stated unequivocally that, “It deserves detestation and abhorrence.”
Those words became the basis upon which the Royal Commission recommended that vivisection be regulated. After quoting Darwin’s view in their report to the Queen, they went on to state:
This principle is accepted generally by the very highly educated men whose lives are devoted either to scientific investigation and education, or to the mitigation or the removal of the sufferings of their fellow creatures.
The following year The Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 was passed by Parliament and signed into law.
Charles Darwin’s advocacy for animal rights has more than mere historical interest. Today it is commonplace for scientists, particularly those who work with animal models in their research, to oppose animal rights legislation as being fundamentally anti-science. However, as Darwin himself has demonstrated, it is possible (even necessary) for the pro-science position to be concerned with animal welfare. Being pro-science does not mean being pro-cruelty. There are currently some very good laws in place throughout England, Europe, and the United States that protect animals from unnecessary suffering in the pursuit of medical knowledge. However, the differences between countries continue to raise concerns about how much suffering should be permitted in animal research. This year saw the use of chimpanzees in medical experimentation banned throughout the European Union. At the same time, there are nearly 1,000 chimps used by federal researchers in the United States for vaccine, hepatitis C, and HIV research. Year after year legislation to ban the practice fails to gain support in Congress.
Ironically enough, many of the worst abusers of animals in the nineteenth century came from continental Europe, a region that is now the leader in animal rights legislation. If there is any justice in Eugene Magnan escaping prosecution for his actions 135 years ago, it may be that public outrage over his “demonstration” sparked a movement that, today, would provide him with no safe haven. There is little doubt that animal experimentation has resulted in some necessary medical breakthroughs. But, as in the nineteenth century controversy, Darwin’s own struggles with this research is something we would do well to remember.
“Prosecution At Norwich. Experiments On Animals,” The British Medical Journal Vol. 2, No. 728 (Dec. 12, 1874), pp. 751-754.
Browne, J. (2002). Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. New York: D. Appleton & Co.
Feller, D. (2009). Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 40 (4), 265-271 DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2009.09.004
From the journal Archives of Ophthalmology (Sept. 2010):
Charles Darwin was curious about the workings of the eye and corresponded with William Bowman and Cornelis Donders about its structure and function. In his On the Origin of Species in 1859, he took care to make the case that even such a complex organ as the eye could arise by natural selection. In other contexts, Darwin also gave particular weight to observations that revealed imperfections in development of organic features. It was exactly this line of inquiry that was so telling against the creationist credo of supernatural design. Darwin made a point of this in the second edition of his The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1874) in which he made special reference to the views of Hermann Helmholtz about the imperfections of the eye.
Monday, 13 July 2009
Following a visit to the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge, Richard and I headed over to the Whipple Museum of the History of Science to see the exhibit featuring Darwin’s microscope. On the way there, we checked out the Cambridge University Press Bookshop and spotted some interesting history of science spots:
At the bookshop, Richard went crazy and spent a deal on some Darwin books, including the not-so-cheap Charles Darwin’s Notebooks from the Voyage of the Beagle, edited by Gordon Chancellor and John van Wyhe. I bought one book, Charles Darwin: The Beagle Letters.
The Whipple Museum, which is in the same building that houses the Department of History and Philosophy of Science:
The exhibit Darwin’s Microscope (much more than a microscope was on display):
In the same display case as the compound microscope were a bunch of evolutionary books and an older compound microscope similar to one Darwin had at Cambridge in the 1830s:
This image is not from the correspondence project, but from Richard, who, the day before leaving for Cambridge, ordered the new volume from his local bookshop, not realizing that he would be visiting the Cambridge University Press’s bookshop. Oh well.
One display in the exhibit showcased in drawers a wide variety of Darwin memorabilia:
The caricature print in the image above I discussed in a post on my other blog, Transcribing Tyndall.
Another display showed late nineteenth-century responses to Darwin:
The caricature print above was also featured in the same post on Transcribing Tyndall.
Various posters and wall hangings:
Some shots from the rest of the museum:
After the Whipple Museum, we weren’t sure what to do next. Around the corner from the museum we ran into John van Wyhe, one of the Darwin historians I met at the conference (and owner of a Darwin groupie bike), as he was headed to his office at the building where the Whipple Museum is:
Although it was Monday and Darwin’s room at Christ’s College was not open to the public, he quickly treated Richard and I to a look (other pictures from Christ’s I posted here). John was, after all, in charge of the restoration. Richard was also delighted to get his Beagle notebook signed by one of its editors. I will share photos from Darwin’s room in the next post.
PREVIOUS: Cambridge Trip #7: Beetles, Finches and Barnacles at the University Museum of Zoology; Cambridge Trip #6: Darwin the Geologist at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences; Cambridge Trip #5: Darwin Groupies Explore Cambridge; Cambridge Trip #4: Darwin in the Field Conference, Pt. 2; Cambridge Trip #3: Darwin in the Field Conference; Cambridge Trip #2: Finding My Way; Cambridge Trip #1: Traveling
Richard Owen: Biology Without Darwin by Nicolaas A. Rupke (July 2009 from Univ. of Chicago Press):
In continuation of earlier research into the life and work of Richard Owen, non-Darwinian theories about the origin of life and of species are being explored. Current emphasis is on early-nineteenth century representatives of “Neither creation nor evolution, but the third way in thinking about the origin of species.” [info]
Owen’s Ape and Darwin’s Bulldog: Beyond Darwinism and Creationism by Christopher E. Cosans (February 2009 from Indiana University Press):
With the debate between Richard Owen and Thomas Huxley on the differences between the ape and human brains as its focus, this book explores some of the ways in which philosophical ideas and scientific practice influenced the discussion of evolution in the years before and after Darwin’s publication of “Origin of Species” in 1859. It also shows how this episode can shed light on current philosophical notions of scientific practice and how they in turn influence our understanding of the history of science. The book advances the current historical discussion of the Owen-Huxley debate by making clear that Owen’s anatomical claims had much more support than most historians and philosophers of science assume.
Other Owen books from the University of Chicago Press:
On the Nature of Limbs: A Discourse
The Hunterian Lectures in Comparative Anatomy, May and June 1837
From Today in Science History:
Elliott Coues (Born 9 Sep 1842; died 25 Dec 1899). American army surgeon and ornithologist whose Key to North American Birds (1872) was the first work of its kind to present a taxonomic classification of birds according to an artificial key and promoted the systematic study of North American [birds]. Beginning the U.S. army as a medical cadet during the Civil War (1862), he became an assistant surgeon (1864-81). His interest in the study of birds began while a boy. He met many naturalists at the Smithsonian Institution and published his first technical paper at age 19. As his army assignments took him to various locations throughout the West, he continued studying the bird life in each new area, and found new species. He also did valuable work in mammalogy and wrote a book, Fur-Bearing Animals (1877).
Joseph Leidy (Born 9 Sep 1823; died 30 Apr 1891). American zoologist, who made significant contributions in a remarkably wide range of earth and natural science disciplines, including comparative anatomy, parasitology, and paleontology. As the Father of American Vert[e]brate Paleontology, he described not only the first relatively complete dinosaur skeleton, but the diversity of fossil finds in the American West. His knowledge of comparative anatomy enabled him to make sense of even fragmentary fossil remains. He was also a competant microscopist, scientific illustrator, and published papers in human biology and medicine. His microscopic examination of parasite cysts in cooked ham and microorganisms in housefly mouthparts enabled him to improve public heath.
William Lonsdale (Born 9 Sep 1794; died 11 Nov 1871). English geologist and paleontologist whose study of coral fossils found in Devon, suggested (1837) certain of them were intermediate between those typical of the older Silurian System (408 to 438 million years old) and those of the later Carboniferous System (286 to 360 million years old). Geologists Roderick Murchison and Adam Sedgwick agreed. They named (1839) this new geologic system after its locale – the Devonian System. Lonsdale’s early career was as an army officer (1812-15) and later he became curator and librarian of the Geological Society of London (1829-42). He recognised that fossils showed how species changed over time, and more primitive organisms are found in lower strata. Darwin used this to support his evolution theory.
Andreas Franz Wilhelm Schimper (Died 9 Sep 1901; born 12 May 1856). German botanist whose Pflanzentogeographie (1898) was one of the first and finest mapping of the floral regions of the continents. He coined (1885) the term chloroplasts (the organelles in plant cells that conduct photosynthesis), and distinguished them from chromatophores (pigment-containing cells found in many marine animals). In 1880, he proved that starch is the source of stored energy for plants. His explorations included Florida, the West Indies, South America, and Indonesia. On the Valdivia expedition (1898) he studied the oceanic plankton of numerous oceanic islands and coastal Africa. His father, Wilhelm Philipp Schimper was an expert on mosses and whose cousin Karl Friedrich Schimper studied plant morphology.
From Today in Science History:
Georges Cuvier (Born 23 Aug 1769; died 13 May 1832). (Baron) French zoologist and statesman, who established the sciences of comparative anatomy and paleontology.
Philip Henry Gosse (Died 23 Aug 1888; born 6 Apr 1810). English popular science writer and naturalist who wrote books illustrating such topics as Jamaican wildlife and marine zoology. Stephen Jay Gould called Gosse the “David Attenborough of his day.” However, he did not accept the theory of evolution, and in his best-known book, Omphalos, he attempted to apply biblical literalism in a way still consistent with uniformitarianism. His premise in the book was criticized by both sides of the debate. He invented the institutional aquarium when on 21 May 1853, he opened the Aquatic Vivarium, the world’s first public aquarium in Regent’s Park, London
Alexander Wilson (Died 23 Aug 1813; born 6 Jul 1766). Scottish-born ornithologist and poet who left his homeland in 1794, aged 27, in search of a better life in America. Naturalist William Bartram sparked his interest in birds. By 1802, Wilson had resolved to author a book illustrating every North American bird. He travelled extensively to make paintings of the birds he observed. This pioneering work on North American birds grew to nine volumes of American Ornithology, published between 1808 and 1814, with illustrations of 268 species, of which 26 were new. As a founder of American ornithology he became one of the leading naturalists who also made the first census of breeding birds, corrected errors of taxonomy, and may have inspired Audubon’s later work when they met in 1810.
From Today in Science History:
John Torrey (Born 15 Aug 1796; died 10 Mar 1873). American botanist and chemist known for his extensive studies of North American flora. The first professional botanist in the New World, Torrey published extensively on the North American flora, advocated the “natural system” of classification that was replacing Linnaeus’ artifical system, and collaborated for many years with his student Asa Gray (who was to become an important botanist). Torrey never was able to make a living from botany and worked (among other things) as a freelance chemical analyst. Unidentified plants collected on government expeditions to the western states were sent to him for study, however, as a foremost authority of his time. A genus of evergreen trees, Torreya, is named for him.
Elias Fries (Born 15 Aug 1794; died 8 Feb 1878). Elias (Magnus) Fries was a Swedish botanist, one of the fathers of mycology, who developed the first system used to classify fungi, which had been an area of difficulty and confusion in the pre-Darwin era. His interest in the subject began as a school-boy. His three-volume work, Systema mycologicum (1821-32) remains an important source for nomenclature. The major taxonomic characteristics he applied were spore color and arrangement of the hymenophore (such as smooth surfaces, lamellae, folds, tubes, or toothlike). He also investigated algae and lichens, and published works to educate lay persons.
Sir Edwin Ray Lankester (Died 15 Aug 1929; born 15 May 1847). British zoologist whose interests embraced comparative anatomy, protozoology, parasitology, embryology and anthropology. He was one of the first to describe protozoan parasites found in the blood of vertebrates. Lankestrella (a parasite related to the causative agent of malaria) carries his name. His work contributed to an understanding of the disease. Based on his investigation into the comparative anatomy of the embryology of invertebrates, Lankester endorsed Darwin’s theory of evolution, In anthropology, his activities included the discovery of flint implements, evidence of early man, in Pliocene sediments, Suffolk. He was Director of the British Museum of Natural History (1898-1907).
William Buckland (Died 15 Aug 1856; born 12 Mar 1784). English pioneer geologist and minister, known for his effort to reconcile geological discoveries with the Bible and anti-evolutionary theories.
A few weeks ago, on a hike to History Rock in Hyalite Canyon just south of Bozeman, I noticed this rock in the trail. I said to my friend who was with me that it looked like a whale, and she replied that it could also look like a fish. I thought that little exchange ironic considering that I was near finishing D. Graham Burnett’s Trying Leviathan(Princeton, 2007), a book that revolves around a historical investigation of the question, “Is a Whale a Fish?” It took me a while to read this interesting (but densely erudite!) book – mostly 10 to 15 minutes during my lunch break everyday working at the campus library since January. If given the time, however, I probably could have polished it off in a few weeks, but time is always limited, and I am not as prolific a reader as a fellow blogger, who has also read this book (and hopefully planning to review, Brian?). So, that said, I am happy to finally post my review of Burnett’s book about” The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature” (this is its subtitle), and I thank Princeton University Press for their patience.
From Today in Science History:
Pierre Lyonnet (Born 22 July 1708; died 10 Oct 1789). Dutch naturalist and engraver who skillfully dissected insects and made detailed illustrations of their anatomy. He also had a career as an official codebreaker. In 1738 he entered the service of the States General as an administrator of secret expenses and as a code-clerk. In his leisure he turned to natural history. He believed that nature was a cipher that could be interpreted by tracing every detail of its perfect design. He designed a simple microscope which had each lens suspended at the end of a series of ball and socket joints over a small mahogony dissecting table mounted on a post above a wooden base with small drawers containing his instruments. After preparing engravings for several books written by others, he produced his own treatises.
George Shaw (Died 22 July 1813; born 10 Dec 1751). George Shaw was a naturalist and an anatomist. In 1792, at the Royal Zoological Society in London, he received and was the first to preserve and classify an Australian echidna specimen. Spines and hair on the animal suggested a new genus of porcupine. But it was “captured in New Holland on an anthill,” had a naked, elongated snout and long, cylindrical tongue. Thus, he mistakenly classified it in the taxonomic scheme as related to the South American ant bear. What had he missed? Not until 1884 was there verification (of the observations passed on from native aboriginal Australians many decades before) that this mammal laid eggs!
Jean Senebier (Died 22 July 1809; born 6 May 1742). Swiss naturalist and botanist who demonstrated that green plants consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen under the influence of light. In 1788, Jean Senebier, in his Expériences sur l’action de la lumière solaire dans la végétation established the relationship between the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the production of oxygen by plants. His studies built on the work of Ingenhousz who showed that plants produce oxygen in sunlight and carbon dioxide in darkness. Neither scientist fully understood the puzzle of photosynthesis, but they provided steps to the solution by others after them.
Sir Richard Owen (Born 20 Jul 1804; died 18 Dec 1892). English anatomist and paleontologist who is remembered for his contributions to the study of fossil animals and for his strong opposition to the views of Charles Darwin. He created the word “Dinosaur” meaning “terrible reptile” (1842). Owen synthesized French anatomical work, especially from Cuvier and Geoffroy, with German transcendental anatomy. He gave us many of the terms still used today in anatomy and evolutionary biology, including “homology”. In 1856, he was appointed Superintendent of the British Museum (Natural History).
John Playfair (Died 20 Jul 1819; born 10 Mar 1748). Scottish mathematician, physicist, and geologist who is remembered for his axiom that two intersecting straight lines cannot both be parallel to a third straight line. His Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802) gave strong support to James Hutton’s principle of uniformitarianism, essential to a proper understanding of geology. Playfair was the first scientist to recognise that a river cuts its own valley, and he cited British examples of the gradual, fluvial origins of valleys, to challenge the catastrophic theory (based on the Biblical Flood in Genesis) that was still widely accepted. He was also the first to link the relocation of loose rocks to the movement of glaciers. Playfair published texts on geometry, physics, and astronomy.
From Today in Science History:
Sir George Darwin (Born 9 Jul 1845; died 7 Dec 1912). Sir George (Howard) Darwin, the second son of the famous biologist Charles Darwin, was an English astronomer who championed a theory (no longer accepted) that the Moon was once part of the Earth, in what is now the Pacific Ocean. His was the first mathematical analysis of the evolution of Earth’s Moon. He suggested that since the effect of the tides has been to slow the Earth’s rotation and to cause the Moon to recede from the Earth, then by extrapolating back 4.5 billion years ago the Moon and the Earth would have been very close, with a day being less than five hours. Before this time the two bodies would actually have been one, until the Moon was torn away from the Earth by powerful solar tides that would have deformed the Earth every 2.5 hours.
Wilhelm His (Born 9 Jul 1831; died 1904). Wilhelm His, born in Basel, Switzerland, was a German anatomist and embryologist who created the science of histogenesis, or the study of the embryonic origins of different types of animal tissue. His discovery, in 1886, that each nerve fibre stems from a single nerve cell was essential to the development of the neuron theory. He invented the microtome – a device to slice very thin serial specimens for microscope slides (1865). With it, he could examine embryos. He was the first to accurate describe the human embryo.
Loren Eiseley (Died 9 Jul 1977; born 3 Sep 1907). Loren (Corey) Eiseley was a U.S. anthropologist, educator, and was one of the preeminent literary naturalists of our time. He wrote for the lay person in eloquent, poetic style about anthropology, the history of the civilatization and our relationship with the natural world. Scientific American published Loren Eisleys’ first popular essay, The Folsum Mystery (1942). Eiseley’s best-known book, The Immense Journey, combines science and humanism in a collection of essays, many with origins to his own early Nebraska experiences. Eiseley became known internationally, winning major prizes and honorary degrees for his unique work. [author of Darwin's Century and Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X]
From Today in Science History:
Sir William Henry Flower (Died 1 Jul 1899; born 30 Nov 1831). British zoologist who made significant contributions to comparative anatomy and clarification of the classification of mammals, including carnivores (1869), rhinocerosces (1875), and edentates (1882). He was superintendent, and subsequently followed Sir Richard Owen as director of Natural History Departments of the British Museum of Natural History (1884-98). Flower’s innovations in museum displays greatly improved their educational value to the public. His main research interest dealt with marsupials, primates and especially whales, through which he was the first to demonstrate that lemurs are primates. Further, in thorough anthropological studies, he recorded detailed measurements of over 1,300 human skulls.
Evolution theory In 1858, the Wallace-Darwin theory of evolution was first published at the Linnean Society in London*. The previous month Charles Darwin received a letter from Alfred Wallace, who was collecting specimens in the East Indies. Wallace had independently developed a theory of natural selection – which was almost identical to Darwin’s. The letter asked Darwin to evaluate the theory, and if worthy of publication, to forward the manuscript to Charles Lyell. Darwin did so, almost giving up his clear priority for he had not yet published his masterwork The Origin of Species. Neither Darwin nor Wallace were present for the oral presentation at the Linnean Society, where geologist Charles Lyell and botanist Joseph Hooker presented both Wallace’s paper and excerpts from Darwin’s unpublished 1844 essay.
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Donald Culross Peattie (Born 21 Jun 1898; died 16 Nov 1964). American botanist, naturalist and author who won high critical acclaim for his several books on plant life and nature. After college, he joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a botanist in the office of foreign seed and plant introduction. From 1922-3 he worked on frost resistance in tropical plants. In 1926, he left the USDA to free-lance in his own field, writing books and also began a nature column in the Washington Star which ran for 10 years. An example of his writing for lay people, his book Flowering Earth (1939, reprinted 1991) reveals the miracle of plant life. Needing no chemical formulas or botanical glossary, it involves the reader in the vital stories of chlorophyll and of protoplasm, of algae and seaweeds, conifers and cycads.
Sir Gavin de Beer (Died 21 Jun 1972; born 1 Nov 1899). Sir Gavin Rylands de Beer was an English zoologist and morphologist who contributed to experimental embryology, anatomy, and evolution. He refuted the germ-layer theory and developed the concept of paedomorphism (the retention of juvenile characteristics of ancestors in mature adults). From examination of the fossil Archaeopteryx, De Beer proposed mosaic evolution with piecemeal evolutionary changes to explain the combination of bird and reptile features. He was director of the British Museum’s Natural History section (1950-60). Applying knowledge of biology (plant pollen) and geology (glaciology) to his study of original documents, he proposed the route taken by Hannibal across the Alps for his attack on ancient Rome. [He also wrote much on Darwin]
Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (Died 21 Jun 1948; born 2 May 1860). Scottish zoologist and classical scholar noted for his influential work On Growth and Form (1917, new ed. 1942). It is a profound consideration of the shapes of living things, starting from the simple premise that “everything is the way it is because it got that way.” Hence one must study not only finished forms, but also the forces that moulded them: “the form of an object is a ‘diagram of forces’, in this sense, at least, that from it we can judge of or deduce the forces that are acting or have acted upon it.” One of his great themes is the tremendous light cast on living things by using mathematics to describe their shapes and fairly simple physics and chemistry to explain them.
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Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (Died 19 Jun 1844; born 15 Apr 1772). French naturalist who established the principle of “unity of composition,” postulating a single consistent structural plan basic to all animals as a major tenet of comparative anatomy, and who founded teratology, the study of animal malformation.
Sir Joseph Banks (Died 19 Jun 1820; born 13 Feb 1743). (Baronet) British explorer and naturalist, and long-time president of the Royal Society, known for his promotion of science. As an independent naturalist, Banks participated in a voyage to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1767. He successfully lobbied the Royal Society to be included on what was to be James Cook’s first great voyage of discovery, on board the Endeavour (1768-71). King George III appointed Banks adviser to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Banks established his London home as a scientific base (1776) with natural history collections he made freely available to researchers. In 1819, he was Chairman of committees established by the House of Commons, one to enquire into prevention of banknote forgery, the other to consider systems of weights and measures.
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Thomas Pennant (Born 14 June 1726; died 16 Dec 1798). Welsh naturalist and traveller, one of the leading zoologists of his time. His extensive travels took him through Europe, mostly on horseback, where he observed and recorded not only the flora and fauna, but also the local people and antiquities. Pennant wrote about these is an exceptionally readable style. His book British Zoology (1766) generated new interest in animal research, especially birds. Pennant believed in meticulous research and preparation and in the importance of high quality illustrations. He popularized and promoted the study of natural history, though on the whole he was not a propounder of new theories. Pennant is best known for his travels and extensive writings about touring in Wales, her language, people, history and landscape.
Karl Gegenbaur (Died 14 June 1903; born 21 Aug 1826). German anatomist who laid emphasis on comparative anatomy. This research led him to become one of Europe’s strongest supporters of the theory of evolution. Gegenbaur’s work on fishes provided evidence in support of Huxley’s stand against a theory that held that the skull originated from expanded vertebrae. From studies in embryology, he asserted that all eggs are simple cells (1861) as suggested earlier by Schwann (1838). Thus not only the eggs and sperm of mammals, but all eggs and sperm were single cells, and so were even the relatively huge eggs of birds and reptiles.
Elkanah Billings (Died 14 June 1876; born 5 May 1820). Canadian geologist and paleontologist, who was the first Canadian paleontologist. For three years as the editor of the Ottawa Citizen, he wrote a series of articles on science, including geology and paleontology. He published his first scientific paper on Trenton fossils in 1854. He launched a new monthly periodical, The Canadian Naturalist and Geologist in 1856, which he also edited and was the major contributor. In Aug 1856 he was appointed staff paleontologist with the Canadian Geological Survey by William Edmond Logan, the founder of the Survey. Billings immediately began the task of identifying a 20-year backlog of fossils collected by the Survey. By 1863 he had published descriptions of no fewer than 526 new species of fossils.
Edward O. Wilson (Born 10 June 1929) Edward Osborne Wilson is an American biologist recognized as the world’s leading authority on ants who has conducted extensive studies of the ecology and evolution of the ant. He has travelled the world studying ant populations, and he has discovered several new ant species. These currently number practically 9,000, but Wilson predicts that count will someday total nearly 20,000. He also estimates that within these species there are over a million billion individuals. In 1967, he co-published The Theory of Island Biogeography, a study of islands, which examines the relation between island size, the number of species contained, and their evolutionary balance. He is also active in sociobiology, a genetic study of social behaviour.
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Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton (Born 29 May 1716; died 1 Jan 1800). French naturalist who was a prolific pioneer in the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology. Daubenton completed many zoological descriptions (including 182 species of quadrupeds for the first section of Georges Buffon’s work Histoire naturelle, 1794-1804). His dissections contributed to productive studies in the comparative anatomy of recent and fossil animals, plant physiology, and mineralogy. He conducted agricultural experiments and introduced Merino sheep to France. In 1793, he became the first director of the Museum of Natural History in Paris.
Julius von Sachs (Died 29 May 1897; born 2 Oct 1832). (Ferdinand Gustav) Julius von Sachs was an outstanding German botanist studying plant physiology during the second half of the 19th century. He discovered transpiration: that the absorbed water moves in tubes in the plant walls without the cooperation of living cells. In 1865, Sachs proved that the green substance of plants, chlorophyll, is located in special bodies within plant cells (later called chloroplasts), that glucose is made by the action of chlorophyll, and that the glucose is usually stored as starch. Sachs studied the formation of growth rings in trees, the role of tissue tension in promoting organ growth. He invented the clinostat to measure the effects of such external factors as light and gravity on the movement of growing plants. MORE
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Oliver Perry Hay (Born 22 May 1846; died 2 Nov 1930). American paleontologist whose catalogs of fossil vertebrates greatly organized existing knowledge and became standard references. From 1912, he conduct his research at the United States National Museum where he assisted in working up and describing the museum’s collections in vertebrate paleontology. Hay’s primary scientific interest was the study of the Pleistocene vertebrata of North America. He is renowned for his work on skull and brain anatomy. His first major work was his Bibliography and Catalogue of the Fossil Vertebrata of North America (1902), supplemented by two more volumes (1929-30). Hay also wrote on the evidence of early humans in North America.
Joseph Wood Krutch (Died 22 May 1970; born 25 Nov 1893). American naturalist, conservationist, writer, and critic.
Mastodon and Man In 1979, the discovery of a Clovis type projectile point found in association with mastodon remains provided the first solid evidence of the coexistence of humans and the American mastodon in Eastern North America. Paleontologist Russell W. Graham of the Illinois State Museum made the discovery during a state sponsored excavation in the Kimmswick Bone Bed, near Imperial, Missouri. The first recorded report of bones of mastodons and other now-extinct animals in the vicinity of the town of Kimmswick, Missouri, was in the early 1800s. St. Louis Museum owner, Albert C. Koch, in 1839 excavated bones weathering out of the banks along Rock Creek. The site is now the Mastodon State Historic Site and excavations have been halted.
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Sir Edwin Ray Lankester (Born 15 May 1847; died 15 Aug 1929). British zoologist whose interests embraced comparative anatomy, protozoology, parasitology, embryology and anthropology. He was one of the first to describe protozoan parasites found in the blood of vertebrates. Lankestrella (a parasite related to the causative agent of malaria) carries his name. His work contributed to an understanding of the disease. Based on his investigation into the comparative anatomy of the embryology of invertebrates, Lankester endorsed Darwin’s theory of evolution. In anthrolopology, his activities included the discovery of flint implements, evidence of early man, within Pliocene sediments, in Suffolk. He was Director of the British Museum of Natural History (1898-1907).
(Alexandre-)Henri Mouhot (Born 15 May 1826; died 10 Nov 1861). (Alexandre-)Henri Mouhot was a French naturalist and explorer of the interior of Siam, Cambodia and Laos (1858-61), he is remembered for his reports of the ruins of Angkor, capital of the ancient Khmer civilization of Cambodia. The location was known to the local population, had been visited by several westerners since the 16th century, but it was Mouhot’s evocative accounts and detailed sketches that popularized the Angkor series of sites with the western public. He drew the attention of western scholars to the many ancient terraces, pools, moated cities, palaces and temples as important archaeological sites. His books were published posthumously as he died in Laos at the young age of 35 from malarial fever on his fourth jungle expedition.
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Georges Cuvier (Died 13 May 1832; born 23 Aug 1769). Baron Georges Léopold Chrêtien Frédéric Dagobert Cuvier was a French zoologist and statesman, who established the sciences of comparative anatomy and paleontology.
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Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (Born 11 May 1752; died 22 Jan 1840). German physiologist and comparative anatomist, frequently called the father of physical anthropology, who proposed one of the earliest classifications of the races of mankind. He divided humanity into five races: Caucasian, Ethiopian, American, Mongolian, and Malay. Blumenbach coined the term Caucasian (derived from the residents of Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains) to describe the white race; and the term Mongolian. Blumenbach was a pioneer collector of human crania and was among the first to place comparative anatomy on a completely scientific basis. His book Collectionis Suae Craniorum Diversarum Gentium Illustratae Decades (1790-1828) contains the results of his observations of the skulls of different races.