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Sewall Wright, a father of evolutionary genetics

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanMarch 25, 2007 10:07 PM


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Over at GNXP Classic David B has an introductory preface to a series of posts he plans to write on the great evolutionary geneticist Sewall Wright. David sums up:

As for my own assessment, for what little it is worth, in reading Wright I have realised that his achievement was truly massive. At the same time, I find it difficult to work up any great enthusiasm for his writings. This is partly due to the obscurities I have already mentioned, but also to a certain dryness and narrowness of scope. Whereas one can still read Fisher and Haldane and hope to find new insights and speculations, there is relatively little in Wright that cannot be found in more digestible form in a good textbook. Perhaps this is what every scientist should aspire to: to be absorbed into textbook nirvana.

The only qualification I would offer is that David states, "W. D. Hamilton, the most influential of all recent theorists, was largely self-taught in genetics, but took Fisher's Genetical Theory of Natural Selection as his main inspiration." The inspiration point is spot on, Hamilton's adulation of Fisher during his early and middle years is pretty clear when you read the biographical prefaces to his collected papers, but, in Narrow Road of Gene Land II, page 127, he says: "Sewall Wright, who by my time at Ann Arbor had become my favourite evolutionist...." Hamilton was at the University of Michigan in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so one might say that as he shifted from a focus on the evolution of sociality toward the evolution of sex his so did his intellectual mentors?

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