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Experimenting with imprinting on hatchlings


The American Ornithologists' Union
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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The American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]… is the biggest organization of American ornithologists, founded in 1883, so quite distinguished and all that. But when I looked at their journal which has the name [The] Auk I was rather appalled at the low quality, and then I went to their first annual meeting in the fall of 1931 after having come to the… the United States. And at the meeting in Detroit… but the actual lectures and all that were given at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and after I had sat through two or three or four of these lectures, one more uninteresting than the other, I decided I am wasting my time and I went to the library to read the current journals, or something like that. And there was another lady… there was a lady sitting there, and it turned out that she had been to the meetings and had exactly the same experience and she was just too utterly bored to attend any more, and this is how I met Margaret Morse Nice, that was at that… in a library there, both of whom having been. So, after a couple of years member of the AOU, I was sick and tired of the way it was run. It was run by a clique in Washington DC, they were all federal employees in the Biological Survey or similar institutions and they had finagled the constitution in such a way that they could elect the treasurer and the secretary and the president and… and all the major fellows. And so I studied the constitutional aspects and I found a way to defeat them, so I got together with Joe Hickey and several other people; this has all been written up now, I am told, in a… this forthcoming history of American ornithologists by… what's the name of the fellow? Barlow [sic] or some such name…. Anyhow, and… we… at one of the particular meetings we… I suddenly had all the votes to defeat the Washington people and we certainly did defeat them thoroughly and the society was from that point taken over by the real ornithologists and not by these civil service people in Washington. And the AOU for many years was a… was an important force in ornithology. But in more recent years the best young people usually become active in peripheral societies like the Ecological Society, the Evolution Society, the Behavior Society, and do not have enough money and time to go to several annual meetings, so they go to the meetings of those societies rather than that of the AOU. And the AOU has once again fallen back more or less into the hands of amateurs.

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: American Ornithologists' Union, United States of America, Detroit, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Washington DC, US Biological Survey, Ecological Society of America, Margaret Morse Nice

Duration: 3 minutes, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008