J. B. S. Haldane

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J. B. S. Haldane
J. B. S. Haldane.jpg
J. B. S. Haldane
Born(1892-11-05)5 November 1892
Oxford, England
Died1 December 1964(1964-12-01) (aged 72)
Bhubaneswar, India
ResidenceUnited Kingdom
United States
India
NationalityBritish (until 1961)
Indian
FieldsBiologist
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge
University of California, Berkeley
University College London
Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta
Alma materUniversity of Oxford
Academic advisorsFrederick Gowland Hopkins
Doctoral studentsHelen Spurway
Krishna Dronamraju
John Maynard Smith
Known forPopulation genetics
Enzymology
Notable awardsDarwin Medal (1952)
Linnean Society of London's Darwin–Wallace Medal in 1958.
SpouseCharlotte Haldane (1926-1945), then Helen Spurway
 
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J. B. S. Haldane
J. B. S. Haldane.jpg
J. B. S. Haldane
Born(1892-11-05)5 November 1892
Oxford, England
Died1 December 1964(1964-12-01) (aged 72)
Bhubaneswar, India
ResidenceUnited Kingdom
United States
India
NationalityBritish (until 1961)
Indian
FieldsBiologist
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge
University of California, Berkeley
University College London
Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta
Alma materUniversity of Oxford
Academic advisorsFrederick Gowland Hopkins
Doctoral studentsHelen Spurway
Krishna Dronamraju
John Maynard Smith
Known forPopulation genetics
Enzymology
Notable awardsDarwin Medal (1952)
Linnean Society of London's Darwin–Wallace Medal in 1958.
SpouseCharlotte Haldane (1926-1945), then Helen Spurway

John Burdon Sanderson Haldane FRS (5 November 1892 – 1 December 1964[1]), known as Jack (but who used 'J. B. S.' in his printed works), was a British-born geneticist and evolutionary biologist generally credited with a central role in the development of neo-Darwinian thinking (popularised by Richard Dawkins' 1976 work titled The Selfish Gene). A staunch Marxist, he was critical of Britain's role in the Suez Crisis, and chose to leave Britain, move to India and become an Indian citizen. He was also one of the founders (along with Ronald Fisher and Sewall Wright) of population genetics.

Biography[edit]

Aristocratic family[edit]

Haldane was born in Oxford to John Scott Haldane, a physiologist, and Louisa Kathleen Haldane (née Trotter), and descended from an aristocratic intellectual Scottish family (see Haldane family).[2] His younger sister, Naomi, became a writer. His uncle was Richard Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane, politician and one time Secretary of State for War; his aunt was the author Elizabeth Haldane. His father was a scientist, a philosopher and a Liberal, and his mother was a Conservative. Haldane took an interest in his father’s work very early in childhood. It was the result of this lifelong study of the natural world and his devotion to empirical evidence that he became an atheist. He felt that atheism was the only rational deduction available in light of all the evidence, saying, "My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course... I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world."[3]

Haldane was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford. He obtained first-class honours in mathematical moderations (1912) and Greats (a combination of philosophy and ancient history, 1914). He served in the British Army during the First World War in the Black Watch regiment, being commissioned a second lieutenant on 15 August 1914.[4]

Pioneer geneticist[edit]

Between 1919 and 1922 he was a Fellow of New College, Oxford, where he researched physiology and genetics. He then moved to the Cambridge University, where he accepted a Readership in Biochemistry at Trinity College and taught until 1932.[2] During his nine years at Cambridge, Haldane worked on enzymes and genetics, particularly the mathematical side of genetics.[2] Haldane wrote many popular essays on science; in 1927 these were collected and published in a volume titled Possible Worlds. He then accepted a position as Professor of Genetics and moved to University College London, where he spent most of his academic career.[2] Four years later he became the first Weldon Professor of Biometry at University College London.[2] In 1923, in a talk given in Cambridge, Haldane, foreseeing the exhaustion of coal for power generation in Britain, proposed a network of hydrogen-generating windmills. This is the first proposal of the hydrogen-based renewable energy economy.[5]

Population genetics and the Briggs–Haldane equation[edit]

In 1925, G. E. Briggs and Haldane derived a new interpretation of the enzyme kinetics law described by Victor Henri in 1903, different from the 1913 Michaelis–Menten equation. Leonor Michaelis and Maud Menten assumed that enzyme (catalyst) and substrate (reactant) are in fast equilibrium with their complex, which then dissociates to yield product and free enzyme. The Briggs–Haldane equation was of the same algebraic form, but their derivation is based on the quasi steady state approximation, that is the concentration of intermediate complex (or complexes) does not change. As a result, the microscopic meaning of the "Michaelis Constant" (Km) is different. Although commonly referring it as Michaelis–Menten kinetics, most of the current models actually use the Briggs–Haldane derivation.

Haldane made many contributions to human genetics and was one of the three major figures to develop the mathematical theory of population genetics. He is usually regarded as the third of these in importance, after R. A. Fisher and Sewall Wright. His greatest contribution was in a series of ten papers on "A Mathematical Theory of Natural and Artificial Selection", which was a major series of papers on the mathematical theory of natural selection. It treated many major cases for the first time, showing the direction and rates of changes of gene frequencies. It also pioneered in investigating the interaction of natural selection with mutation and with migration. Haldane's book, The Causes of Evolution (1932), summarized these results, especially in its extensive appendix. This body of work was a component of what came to be known as the "modern evolutionary synthesis", re-establishing natural selection as the premier mechanism of evolution by explaining it in terms of the mathematical consequences of Mendelian genetics.

Haldane introduced many quantitative approaches in biology such as in his essay On Being the Right Size. His contributions to theoretical population genetics and statistical human genetics included the first methods using maximum likelihood for estimation of human linkage maps, and pioneering methods for estimating human mutation rates. He was the first to calculate the mutational load caused by recurring mutations at a gene locus, and to introduce the idea of a "cost of natural selection".

Haldane is also known for an observation from his essay On Being the Right Size, which Jane Jacobs and others have since referred to as Haldane's principle. This is that sheer size very often defines what bodily equipment an animal must have: "Insects, being so small, do not have oxygen-carrying bloodstreams. What little oxygen their cells require can be absorbed by simple diffusion of air through their bodies. But being larger means an animal must take on complicated oxygen pumping and distributing systems to reach all the cells." The conceptual metaphor to animal body complexity has been of use in energy economics and secession ideas.

Keen experimenter[edit]

Haldane was a keen experimenter, willing to expose himself to danger to obtain data. One experiment involving elevated levels of oxygen saturation triggered a fit which resulted in him suffering crushed vertebrae.[citation needed] In his decompression chamber experiments, he and his volunteers suffered perforated eardrums, but, as Haldane stated in What is Life, "the drum generally heals up; and if a hole remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment."[6]

Awards[edit]

In 1952, he received the Darwin Medal from the Royal Society. In 1956, he was awarded the Huxley Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Among other awards, he received the Feltrinelli Prize, an Honorary Doctorate of Science, an Honorary Fellowship at New College, and the Kimber Award of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He was awarded the Linnean Society of London's prestigious Darwin–Wallace Medal in 1958.

Marriage[edit]

In 1924, Haldane met Charlotte Burghes (née Franken), a young reporter for the Daily Express. So that they could marry, Charlotte divorced her husband Jack Burghes, causing some controversy. Haldane was almost dismissed from Cambridge for the way he handled his meeting with her, which led to the divorce. They married in 1926. Following their separation in 1942, the Haldanes divorced in 1945. He later married Helen Spurway.

Political views[edit]

Haldane became a socialist during the First World War, supported the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War, and finally became a Communist. He was an enthusiastic, dialectical materialist Marxist, and wrote many articles in the Communist Daily Worker. He was the chairman of the editorial board of the London edition from 1940 to 1949. His vision of the Socialist principle can be considered pragmatic. In On Being the Right Size, Haldane doubted that socialism could be operated on the scale of the British Empire or the United States or, implicitly, the Soviet Union: "while nationalization of certain industries is an obvious possibility in the largest of states, I find it no easier to picture a completely socialized British Empire or United States than an elephant turning somersaults or a hippopotamus jumping a hedge."

In 1937, Haldane became a Marxist and an open supporter of the Communist Party, although not a member of the party. In 1938, he proclaimed enthusiastically that "I think that Marxism is true." He joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1942. The first edition of his children's book My Friend Mr. Leakey contained an avowal of his Party membership which was removed from later editions. Events in the Soviet Union, such as the rise of anti-Mendelian agronomist Trofim Lysenko and the crimes of Joseph Stalin, may have caused him to break with the Party later in life, although he showed a partial support of Lysenko and Stalin. Pressed to speak out about the rise of Lysenkoism and the persecution of geneticists in the Soviet Union as anti-Darwinist and the denouncement of genetics as incompatible with dialectical materialism, Haldane shifted the focus to the United Kingdom and a criticism of the dependence of scientific research on financial patronage. In 1941, Haldane wrote about the Soviet trial of his friend and fellow geneticist Nikolai Vavilov:

The controversy among Soviet geneticists has been largely one between the academic scientist, represented by Vavilov and interested primarily in the collection of facts, and the man who wants results, represented by Lysenko. It has been conducted not with venom, but in a friendly spirit. Lysenko said (in the October discussions of 1939): 'The important thing is not to dispute; let us work in a friendly manner on a plan elaborated scientifically. Let us take up definite problems, receive assignments from the People's Commissariat of Agriculture of the USSR and fulfil them scientifically. Soviet genetics, as a whole, is a successful attempt at synthesis of these two contrasted points of view.'

His ambiguous attitude toward the persecution of Vavilov was explicable by the atmosphere of the period, where supporters of Communism needed to be unequivocal. His attitude changed dramatically at the end of the Second World War, when Lysenkoism reached a totalitarian influence in the Communist movement. He then became an explicit critic of the regime. He left the Party in 1950, shortly after considering standing for Parliament as a Communist Party candidate. He continued to admire Stalin, describing him in 1962 as "a very great man who did a very good job".

India[edit]

In 1956, Haldane left his post at University College London, and moved to Calcutta, where he joined the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI).[7] Haldane's move to India was influenced by a number of factors. Officially he stated that his chief political reason was in response to the Suez Crisis. He wrote: "Finally, I am going to India because I consider that recent acts of the British Government have been violations of international law." His interest in India was also because of his interest in biological research, belief that the warm climate would do him good, and that India offered him freedom and shared socialist dreams.[8]

J.B.S. Haldane Avenue, Kolkata.

At the ISI, he headed the biometry unit and spent time researching a range of topics and guiding other researchers around him. He was keenly interested in inexpensive research and he wrote to Julian Huxley about his observations on Vanellus malabaricus, the Yellow-wattled Lapwing, boasting that he observed them from the comfort of his backyard. Haldane took an interest in anthropology, human genetics and botany. He advocated the use of Vigna sinensis (cowpea) as a model for studying plant genetics. He took an interest in the pollination of the common weed Lantana camara. The quantitative study of biology was his main focus and he lamented that Indian universities forced those who took up biology to give up on an education in mathematics.[9] Haldane took an interest in the study of floral symmetry. His wife, Helen Spurway, conducted studies on wild silk moths.[8] In January 1961 they befriended young Canadian lepidopterist Gary Botting, who initially visited the Indian Statistical Institute to share the results of his experiments hybridizing silk moths of the genus Antheraea. Uncomfortable with Haldane's "communist" sympathies, the United States cultural attache, Duncan Emery, summarily cancelled Gary Botting's attendance at a high-profile banquet to which the Haldanes had invited him to meet biologists from all over India. Haldane protested this "insult" by going on a much-publicized hunger strike.[10][11] When the director of the I.S.I., P.C. Mahalanobis, confronted Haldane about both the hunger strike and the unbudgeted banquet, Haldane resigned his post (in February 1961)[12] and moved to a newly established biometry unit in Odisha.[8]

Haldane eventually became an Indian citizen.[7] He was also interested in Hinduism and after his arrival he became a vegetarian and started wearing Indian clothes.[8] In Kolkata, the busy connecting road from Eastern Metropolitan Bypass to Park Circus area on which the Science City is located, is named after him. In 1961, Haldane described India as "the closest approximation to the Free World." His American friend, Jerzy Neyman, a professor of Statistics in the University of California, Berkeley, objected to this premise. Neyman gave his impression that "India has its fair share of scoundrels and a tremendous amount of poor unthinking and disgustingly subservient individuals who are not attractive."[7] Haldane retorted:

Perhaps one is freer to be a scoundrel in India than elsewhere. So one was in the U.S.A in the days of people like Jay Gould, when (in my opinion) there was more internal freedom in the U.S.A than there is today. The "disgusting subservience" of the others has its limits. The people of Calcutta riot, upset trams, and refuse to obey police regulations, in a manner which would have delighted Jefferson. I don't think their activities are very efficient, but that is not the question at issue.

When on 25 June 1962, six years after Haldane's move to India, he was described in print as a "Citizen of the World" by an American science writer named Groff Conklin, Haldane's response was as follows:[7]

No doubt I am in some sense a citizen of the world. But I believe with Thomas Jefferson that one of the chief duties of a citizen is to be a nuisance to the government of his state. As there is no world state, I cannot do this. On the other hand, I can be, and am, a nuisance to the government of India, which has the merit of permitting a good deal of criticism, though it reacts to it rather slowly. I also happen to be proud of being a citizen of India, which is a lot more diverse than Europe, let alone the U.S.A, the U.S.S.R or China, and thus a better model for a possible world organisation. It may of course break up, but it is a wonderful experiment. So, I want to be labeled as a citizen of India.

Author and a source of inspiration[edit]

Haldane was a famous science populariser. His essay, Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1924), was remarkable in predicting many scientific advances but has been criticised for presenting a too idealistic view of scientific progress. Haldane’s book shows the effect of the separation between sexual life and pregnancy as a satisfactory one on human psychology and social life. The book was regarded as shocking science fiction at the time, being the first book about ectogenesis (the development of foetuses in artificial wombs) - "test tube babies", brought to life without sexual intercourse or pregnancy. His book, A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) (1938) combined his physiological research into the effects of stress upon the human body with his experience of air raids during the Spanish Civil War to provide a scientific explanation of the air raids that Britain was to endure during the Second World War, then imminent.

Haldane was a friend of the author Aldous Huxley, who parodied him in the novel Antic Hay (1923) as Shearwater, "the biologist too absorbed in his experiments to notice his friends bedding his wife". Haldane's discourse in Daedalus on ectogenesis was an influence on Huxley's Brave New World (1932) which features a eugenic society. Haldane's work was also admired by Gerald Heard.[13]

Haldane was one of those, along with Olaf Stapledon, Charles Kay Ogden, I.A. Richards, and H.G. Wells, whom C.S. Lewis accused of scientism, "the belief that the supreme moral end is the perpetuation of our own species, and that this is to be pursued even if, in the process of being fitted for survival, our species has to be stripped of all those things for which we value it—of pity, of happiness, and of freedom." Shortly after the third book of the Ransom Trilogy appeared, J.B.S. Haldane criticised all three of them in an article titled "Auld Hornie, F.R.S.". The title reflects the sarcastic tone of the article, Auld Hornie being the pet name given to the devil by the Scots and F.R.S. standing for "Fellow of the Royal Society". In the essay, Haldane attacked Lewis for scientific inaccuracies, as well as what Haldane saw as Lewis' "complete mischaracterization of science, and his disparagement of the human race".[14] Lewis’s response, "A Reply to Professor Haldane", was never published during his lifetime and apparently never seen by Haldane. In it, Lewis claims that he was attacking scientism, not scientists, by challenging the view of some that the supreme goal of our species is to perpetuate itself at any expense.

Haldane wrote a popular book for children titled My Friend Mr Leakey (first published in 1937) which contained the stories "A Meal With a Magician", "A Day in the Life of a Magician", "Mr Leakey's Party", "Rats", "The Snake with the Golden Teeth", and "My Magic Collar Stud". It was reprinted several times – in 1944, 1971, and 1972 with illustrations by Quentin Blake. When he appears as a character in the stories, several of which are written in the first person, he describes his job as a professor, or: "Doing sums to make new kinds of primroses and cats".

Haldane edited Gary Botting's manuscript on the genetics of giant silk moths with marginal notes. In his preface to The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses, Dr. Botting wrote that when he was a teenager Haldane showed him many species of birds.[15] Botting credited Haldane with throwing him a "lifeline" in the form of a demonstrable manifestation of Darwinian evolution, which, decades later, "rescued" him from the perils of religious fundamentalism, in particular creationism, that he had faced in his youth. Half a century later, Botting still regarded his visit with J.B.S. Haldane and Helen Spurway as the single most influential existential experience of his life.[16]

In his An Autobiography in Brief, written shortly before his death in India, Haldane named four close associates as those showing promise to become illustrious scientists: T. A. Davis, K. R. Dronamraju, S. D. Jayakar and S. K. Roy.[17]

Death[edit]

Shortly before his death from cancer, Haldane wrote a comic poem while in the hospital, mocking his own incurable disease; it was read by his friends, who appreciated the consistent irreverence with which Haldane had lived his life:

"Cancer’s a Funny Thing:
I wish I had the voice of Homer
To sing of rectal carcinoma,
This kills a lot more chaps, in fact,
Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked..."

The poem ends:

"...I know that cancer often kills,
But so do cars and sleeping pills;
And it can hurt one till one sweats,
So can bad teeth and unpaid debts.
A spot of laughter, I am sure,
Often accelerates one’s cure;
So let us patients do our bit
To help the surgeons make us fit."[18]

Haldane died on 1 December 1964. He willed that his body be used for study at the Rangaraya Medical College, Kakinada.[19]

"My body has been used for both purposes during my lifetime and after my death, whether I continue to exist or not, I shall have no further use for it, and desire that it shall be used by others. Its refrigeration, if this is possible, should be a first charge on my estate."[20]

Quotations[edit]

Photograph of a display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History dedicated to Haldane and his reply when asked to comment on the mind of the Creator

Publications[edit]

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pirie, N. W. (1966). "John Burdon Sanderson Haldane. 1892-1964". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 12: 218–249. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1966.0010.  edit
  2. ^ a b c d e Acott, C. (1999). "JS Haldane, JBS Haldane, L Hill, and A Siebe: A brief resumé of their lives.". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal 29 (3). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801. Retrieved 2008-07-12. 
  3. ^ Haldane, J. B. S., Fact and Faith. London: London, Watts & Co., 1934.
  4. ^ The London Gazette, 26 May 1915
  5. ^ Daedalus or Science and the Future, A paper read to the Heretics, Cambridge, on February 4th, 1923 – Transcript 1993
  6. ^ Bryson, Bill. "A Short History Of Nearly Everything". 1st. New York: Broadway Books, 2003. at Googlebooks
  7. ^ a b c d India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy, Ramachandra Guha, Pan Macmillan, 2008, pp. 769 - 770
  8. ^ a b c d Krishna R. Dronamraju (1987). "On Some Aspects of the Life and Work of John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, F.R.S., in India". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 41 (2): 211–237. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1987.0006. JSTOR 531546. PMID 11622022. 
  9. ^ Majumder PP (1998). "Haldane's Contributions to Biological Research in India" (PDF). Resonance 3 (12): 32–35. doi:10.1007/BF02838095. 
  10. ^ “Haldane on Fast: Insult by USIS Alleged,” Times of India, 19 January 1961; “Protest Fast by Haldane: USIS’s “Anti-Indian Activities,” Times of India, 18 January 1961; “Situation was Misunderstood, Scholars Explain,” Times of India, 20 January 1961; “USIS Explanation does not satisfy Haldane: Protest fast continues,” Times of India, 18 January 1961; “USIS Claim Rejected by Haldane: Protest Fast to Continue,” Times of India, 18 January 1961; “Haldane Not Satisfied with USIS Apology: Fast to Continue,” Free Press Journal, 18 January 1961; “Haldane Goes on Fast In Protest Against U.S. Attitude,” Times of India, 18 January 1961; “Haldane to continue fast: USIS explanation unsatisfactory,” Times of India, 19 January 1961; “Local boy in hunger strike row,” Toronto Star, 20 January 1961; “Haldane, Still on Fast, Loses Weight: U.S.I.S. Act Termed 'Discourteous',” Indian Express, 20 January 1961; “Haldane Slightly Tired on Third Day of Fast,” Times of India, 21 January 1961; “Haldane Fasts for Fourth Consecutive Day,” Globe and Mail, 22 January 1961
  11. ^ Heather and Gary Botting, The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984, pp. xiv-xix
  12. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Statistical_Institute#cite_note-5
  13. ^ "Mr. Wells' Apocalypse" by Gerald Heard. The Nineteenth Century, October 1933. Reprinted in The H.G. Wells Scrapbook by Peter Haining. London : New English Library, 1978. ISBN 0450037789 (pp. 108-114).
  14. ^ Adams, Mark B., "The Quest for Immortality: Visions and Presentiments in Science and Literature", in Post, Stephen G., and Binstock, Robert H., The Fountain of Youth:Cultural, Scientific, and Ethical Perspectives on a Biomedical Goal. Oxford University Press, 2004; ISBN 0195170083 (p. 57-58).
  15. ^ Gary Botting "Preface," Heather and Gary Botting, The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), pp. xiv-xix
  16. ^ Tihemme Gagnon, "Introduction," Streaking! The Collected Poems of Gary Botting, Miami: Strategic, 2013.
  17. ^ "Selected Genetic Papers of JBS Haldane", pp.19-24, New York: Garland, 1990
  18. ^ New Statesman, 21 February 1964
  19. ^ John Burdon Sanderson Haldane
  20. ^ Murty, K. Krishna (2005). Spice in science. Dehli: Pustak Mahal. p. 68. ISBN 978-81-223-0900-3. Retrieved 1 February 2011. 
  21. ^ Hutchinson, G. Evelyn (1959). "Homage to Santa Rosalia or Why Are There So Many Kinds of Animals?". The American Naturalist 93 (870): 145–159. doi:10.1086/282070. JSTOR 2458768. 
  22. ^ Stork, Nigel E. (June 1993). "How many species are there?". Biodiversity and Conservation 2 (3): 215–232. doi:10.1007/BF00056669. ISSN 0960-3115. Retrieved 2011-02-25. 
  23. ^ Haldane, J.B.S., Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.286. Emphasis in the original.
  24. ^ Haldane, J.B.S., Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209.
  25. ^ Hull, D., Philosophy of Biological Science, Foundations of Philosophy Series, Prentice–Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1973.
  26. ^ Mayr, Ernst (1974) Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Volume XIV, pages 91–117.
  27. ^ Time magazine, 24 June 1940 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,,00.html
  28. ^ Haldane, J.B.S., Journal of Genetics Vol. 58, page 464 (1963)
  29. ^ Gary Botting, preface to The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984 p. xvi
  30. ^ Fact and faith, [WorldCat.org]

External links[edit]

There are photographs of Haldane at

The biography on the Marxist Writers page has a photograph of Haldane when younger.

Academic offices
Preceded by
Julian Huxley
Fullerian Professor of Physiology
1930 – 1933
Succeeded by
Grafton Elliot Smith