a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Disagreement between geneticists and naturalists


Founding the Evolutionary Society and establishing the journal
Ernst Mayr Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

The time had come, I felt, and so did some others, to found an evolution society to give a little more prominence to this field. And this has been written up in great detail, the steps by which this was accomplished, by Joe Kane, and by Betty Smocovitis. To make a long story short, we founded the society, I became the first secretary to help bring the people together, the secretary has to do most of the work in such a society. But my next step was to found a journal and I, with the help of [George Gaylord] Simpson, I raised the money for this journal from the American Philosophical Society, $3000 to get the journal going. And we got the journal going. We had a lot of trouble first to get enough manuscripts because this was in 1947, right after the war, and everybody… nobody had done any… done much research during the war. And… however, we got over that and the first membership list had about 350 names, and the question was what should be the edition of the journal? And the council voted it should be printed edition of 500. And I was young and optimistic and idealistic and I-don't-know-what-istic, and I said, ‘500, that's much too few’, and, ‘it doesn't cost very much more to order 1500’. So I… without… well, actually in… in conflict with what the council had ordered, I ordered 1500 copies and everybody thought I was crazy. And about four years later these extra 1000 copies had all been sold, because when the journal finally became well known, better established, all the libraries had to get that journal and they wanted to have these early issues, and a lot of other people, and they even had to reprint the early issues. So the journal now… I had enough trouble getting three issues going in the first year, and now the journal has… publishes about 1400 pages a year. So the founding of the evolution society and the establishing of the journal was a great success and now you will find that many of the old departments of biology or zoology are called biologies of evolutionary and environmental biology, or something like that. So the term evolution and the number of titles with the… the number of books where the word evolution or evolutionary is in the title… it just scores every year. And yet, prior to about 1937 or 1940 evolution was a very much neglected subject. In fact, when I made that petition, that… to the American Philosophical Society to get those $3000 dollars to get the journal started, it went to the grants committee and I had a remarkable spokesman there in the astronomer Harlow Shapley, who was very much interested in evolution. But finally the committee – with one dissent – voted ­to give me the money. And the one dissent was the one biologist on the committee which was [Edwin] Conklin from Princeton University who said, as Shapley later told me, ‘Evolution? Of course everybody accepts evolution, and what else is there to be said about it?’ So, that was sort of the attitude among many biologists, they just think evolution was something very unimportant and doesn't have to be considered, didn't have to be taught, didn't require any society, any journal, any books.

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 Philosophical Society, World War II, Princeton University, 1937, 1940, 1947, Joe Kane, Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, George Gaylord Simpson, Harlow Shapley

Duration: 4 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008