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The workshop on evolutionary synthesis bears fruit


Inviting participants to the workshop on evolutionary synthesis
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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The evolutionary synthesis, in many ways, was a marvelous illustration of the way concepts were developed and replaced and where compromises were made by opposing viewpoints. And I realized that and I decided in the early 1970s to organize a workshop in which the evolutionary synthesis would be thoroughly discussed and I tried to invite all the surviving architects of the synthesis. For instance, [Bernhard] Rensch in Germany, who promised he would come, but at the crucial moment came… became ill with shingles and couldn't come. I invited Julian Huxley, but he was also ill, and he died very soon after that, I invited George Gaylord Simpson, and he refused to attend and I… first he claimed there was a conflict of dates, so I organized a second workshop so that he could attend and… and he again said no he's not going to attend. And then afterwards he complained bitterly that the participants of the workshop had not properly explained and interpreted his ideas. Well, that's exactly why he was supposed to come. Well, he was in his paranoid condition, decided not to come. Well, there was one person I did not invite who was still surviving, he was in his mid to upper 80s, and that was Sewall Wright. And I had perfectly good reason for that. I'd been in several conferences where Sewall Wright had participated and he always talked endlessly and I found him historically, very often, quite unreliable. For instance, he also always claimed that he never had changed his mind after his early papers in… in 1916 or 1918 or something like that; in reality he had constantly changed his mind. However, so that genetics was properly represented, I invited something like, I don't know, eight or 10 or 12 geneticists including [Theodosius] Dobzhansky and… and [George] Stebbins and all the other personal geneticists were invited. They were compared… well, several palaeontologists were invited because Simpson wasn't coming, and so we had quite a very large group and the proceedings and all the discussions were recorded on tape, with one exception – a very colorful presentation by the British geneticist EB Ford, where he describes his family background. He came from an aristocratic family, and it was really a marvelous account. Unfortunately, the tape recorder hadn't been turned on, but otherwise everything was taped and the tape is still in existence.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: 1970s, Germany, 1916, 1918, Bernhard Rensch, Julian Huxley, George Gaylord Simpson, Sewall Wright, Theodosius Dobzhansky, George Ledyard Stebbins, Edmund Brisco Ford

Duration: 3 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008