Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Dedication

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Environmental & Science Education
Biological Evolution
History of Science
Edward Hessler

Below is the dedication to The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (2004) by Richard Dawkins (with additional research by Yan Wong).

It is one of the loveliest of dedications I've ever read.

John Maynard Smith (1920-2004)*

He saw a draft and graciously accepted the dedication, which now, sadly, must become

In Memoriam 

'Never mind the lectures or the "workshops"; be Mowed to the motor coach excursions to local beauty spots; forget your fancy visual aids and radio microphones; the only thing that really matters at a conference is that John Maynard Smith must be in residence and there must be a spacious, convivial bar. If he can't manage the dates you have in mind, you must just reschedule the conference...He will charm and amuse the young research workers, listen to their stories, inspire them, rekindle enthusiasms that might be flagging, and send them back to their laboratories or their muddy fields, enlivened and invigorated, eager to try out the new ideas he has generously shared with them.' 

It isn't only conferences that will never be the same again.

* John Maynard Smith was one of the most influential evolutionary biologists of the generation that succeeded the “founding fathers” of population genetics--Ronald Fisher, Sewall Wright and J. B. S. Haldane. An account of Smith's life, achievements and contributions are found in an obituary by Brian Charlesworth. Smith's contributions to population biology and evolutionary biology are staggering as you will learn if you scan the obituary.

Charlesworth writes that his significant contributions were achieved with very little grant funding: John did most of his work with pencil and paper or a primitive desktop computer. He was the kind of thinker who needed to talk through his ideas before they crystallized. His curiosity and intellectual strengths forged many collaborations that flowed out of his love of discussion and argument (much of it over morning coffee or evening beer). He was not very successful as a trainer of graduate students, at least in his later years. This was partly, no doubt, due to the scarcity of biology graduates interested in, or able to do, theoretical work, and partly to the fact that his policy was to “let them be around” rather than direct a research project 


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