Which pre-blog ecologists and evolutionary biologists would’ve made the best bloggers? (UPDATED)

Which ecologists and evolutionary biologists from before blogs existed (so, not that long ago!) would’ve made the best bloggers? A few opening bids:

Steven Jay Gould is an obvious pick. And while I disagree with many of his opinions, he totally would’ve been a great blogger. Prolific, opinionated, entertaining.

John Lawton used to have a column in Oikos called “A View From the Park” (because he was based at Imperial College London’s Silwood Park campus). His essays for that column were like lengthy blog posts. “A View from the Park” is part of what inspired me to start blogging, back when I was an editor at Oikos, and I believe it was part of Brian’s inspiration as well.

Similarly, Bob Holt recently did a series of invited essays for an Israeli journal that would’ve worked equally well as blog posts. And of course, it’s not too late for Bob and John to start blogging if the mood strikes them!🙂

On the evidence of this wonderful little essay, John Maynard Smith would’ve been a fine blogger. (I’m presuming that, given the opportunity provided by blogging, he could’ve cranked out this sort of thing on a regular basis.)

As suggested by the comment that inspired this post, Thomas Henry Huxley (“Darwin’s bulldog”) definitely would’ve had a blog, and it would’ve been awesome. (On the other hand, Darwin himself was far too cautious to have been a blogger. He always wanted to be absolutely sure of his ground before he published anything).

Who have I missed?

UPDATE: In the comments and on Twitter, Dan Janzen is a popular suggestion, and rightly so. Indeed, as noted in the comments, he preceded John Lawton in having a column in Oikos, and so in a sense had a blog before blogs existed. R. A. Fisher is another name suggested on Twitter. But while he certainly was capable of eloquent writing, and willing to take controversial positions, he wasn’t always noted for his ability to explain himself clearly. Think of how long it took people to figure out what the heck he was talking about when it came to his “Fundamental Theorem” of natural selection. So I’m not sure if Fisher would’ve been a great blogger or not.

21 thoughts on “Which pre-blog ecologists and evolutionary biologists would’ve made the best bloggers? (UPDATED)

  1. There are many good names, but my vote goes for Daniel H. Janzen. His series of comments “Janzen views from the tropics” in Oikos (1986-1989 if I recall well) were very interesting. That was after he was awarded with the Craaford Prize. Then the series “A View From the Park” is also among my favorites. Very inspiring.

    • Ah yes, I’d forgotten Dan Janzen’s Oikos column. Yes, that would’ve worked well as a blog. But while he doesn’t blog himself as far as I know, he does read at least some blogs. A little while back he left a wonderful comment over at Small Pond Science on a post about the Organization for Tropical Studies.

  2. Darwin would have blogged, but he would have entitled his blog Wild Speculations or something similar. His format would be like writing a letter to a friend, seeking ideas, advice, rebuttals, thoughts on his own hypothesis. He’d make very clear these were speculations and interesting ideas that very well may not be correct, and he would welcome discussion.

    Then after the first few trolls he’d close down comments and eventually close down the blog because he found interacting with people hateful, and it was too draining of his limited energy. He’d retreat to just emailing friends privately again, and enjoying his garden.

    Huxley’s blog would have been one to bookmark in the favourites.

    • “Darwin would have blogged, but he would have entitled his blog Wild Speculations or something similar. His format would be like writing a letter to a friend, seeking ideas, advice, rebuttals, thoughts on his own hypothesis. He’d make very clear these were speculations and interesting ideas that very well may not be correct, and he would welcome discussion.”

      Hmm, maybe. But while Darwin welcomed feedback on his speculative ideas, he tended to invite it from friends in private correspondence. And of course, he also dealt with lots of feedback after he’d published. But both those activities are quite different than trying out speculative ideas in public, before you’ve fully worked them out to your own satisfaction. Which Darwin never did, though he could have. There were plenty of widely-read magazines in which he could’ve aired speculative ideas had he wanted to, and he could’ve published anonymous pamphlets too. That he didn’t do either suggests to me that, had blogging existed at the time, he wouldn’t have tried it out at all.

      But I do agree that, had he tried it out, it quickly would’ve exhausted him.

  3. (as replied on Twitter) N. Tinbergen and K. Lorenz would have had great blogs (the second one probably indulging in more posting and commenting than the former). And Darwin would have blogged, but likely under a pseudonym, such as ‘BarnaclesViews’. Maybe without allowing lots of comments, after hitting a few trolls, as suggested above😉

    • Hmm, can’t see Darwin blogging under a pseudonym. If he’d been inclined to use one at all, he’d have used one for the Origin. After all, there was precedent–Robert Chambers published Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation anonymously. And Darwin was famously scared of how the Origin would be received. But yet he eventually put it out under his own name, not least because he wanted the credit for the idea.

    • As if readers wouldn’t instantly see through a pseudonym like “BarnaclesViews”!🙂 Darwin’s barnacle obsession was no secret. Heck, one of Darwin’s kids once asked a friend “So, where does your father keep his barnacles?”, mistakenly assuming that all fathers were barnacle enthusiasts.

      Which raises the question: What would’ve been a good pseudonym for Charles Darwin to blog under?🙂

  4. The dueling blogs from Cope and Marsh would have been fascinating. Given the number of papers they published, their blogging would have been out of control. They probably would have gotten a bit unprofessional, but I would have read them anyway!

    I think Hutchinson would have been an excellent contributor to blogs, but wouldn’t have taken the time to have his own blog. His writing was more along the lines of a story than science (in an enjoyable way).

    Goldschmidt’s blog would have been a hilarious display of his crazy ideas. He published a lot of wonderful papers, but he had quite a few outlandish ideas about evolution. I’d be willing to bet he didn’t get a lot of his crazier ideas published, so a blog would have been his ideal stage.

  5. I’d say Wallace, definitely! He clearly loved corresponding with people exploring other bits of the world. I bet his blog would have had awesome photos attached.

  6. Two entries.

    Alfred Wallace (http://wallacefund.info/) for his pioneering work on plant and animal distribution,, as well as contributions in glaciology, land reform, anthropology, ethnography, epidemiology, and astrobiology. You can almost get a feel for his blog as his letters are now available online (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/scientific-resources/collections/library-collections/wallace-letters-online/index.html) and he even has a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alfred-Russel-Wallace/50145041283). A fine example of his views on Victorian society is:
    “During the last century, and especially in the last thirty years, our intellectual and material advancement has been too quickly achieved for us to reap the full benefit of it. Our mastery over the forces of nature has led to a rapid growth of population, and a vast accumulation of wealth; but these have brought with them such an amount of poverty and crime, and have fostered the growth of so much sordid feeling and so many fierce passions, that it may well be questioned, whether the mental and moral status of our population has not on the average been lowered, and whether the evil has not overbalanced the good. Compared with our wondrous progress in physical science and its practical applications, our system of government, of administering justice, of national education, and our whole social and moral organization, remains in a state of barbarism. And if we continue to devote our chief energies to the utilizing of our knowledge of the laws of nature with the view of still further extending our commerce and our wealth, the evils which necessarily accompany these when too eagerly pursued, may increase to such gigantic dimensions as to be beyond our power to alleviate.” (From Chapter 11 of Wallace’s 1869 book The Malay Archipelago)”

    Ferdinand Von Mueller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_von_Mueller). An early botanist/geographer who described many of Australia’s plants and founded the National Herbarium in Victoria in 1853. There is a project to collate his correspondence (http://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/science/information-and-resources/library/mueller-correspondence-project), which is now up to more than 10,000 letters.

  7. Michael Chamberlain was the editor of the Journal of Wildlife Management, and at least back in 2007-2009, he had a great series of editorials that would have made excellent blog posts. I think he had one every issue (I grabbed one at random – Vol 72, No. 8 “Providing a quality manuscript review” (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2193/2008-365/abstract; paywalled). I’ve kept a number of them in my “papers to make you think” folder.

  8. Wallace, Darwin and Bates were all great writers when inspired — and all had great travels in their younger days that would make good blog diaries. Bates is arguably the best and most underrated of the three — he corresponded with the other two (and worked with Wallace in his initial Amazon days) and also advocated evolutionary explanations.
    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Naturalist_on_the_River_Amazons
    Not sure if any would have sought the attention though.

    • Good point about travel diaries as making for great blogs. And Darwin, Wallace, and Bates all did publish their travel diaries in book form, so I think it’s more a question of whether they’d have chosen to publish them as blogs instead, had the option existed.

      • Publishing travel dairies etc as books was a common way to make money to fund their research, as was the sale of specimen collections. Many scientists gave public lectures as well, so science communication was part of their tool kit. When you look at the correspondence of many of these early scientists, you can see that they’re voluminous letter writers. Before phones, emails, blogs, faxes etc, this was their way of building and maintaining networks with their contemporaries. I suspect many would have leapt at the opportunity to blog.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s