Did you know Haldane?

10 March 2006

Dr Andy Hammond (UCL Science & Technology Studies) is searching for people who have known or worked with the eminent UCL Professor JBS Haldane (1892–1964) for his current research project.

In 2005, Dr Hammond completed his PhD entitled ‘JBS Haldane and the attempt to construct a Marxist Biology.’ He explained: “This was a study into how Haldane’s philosophy interacted with his science. I examined his various philosophical positions in relation to his work in genetics, biochemistry, and origin-of-life theorising.”

Dr Hammond has subsequently dedicated his research to Haldane. The American Philosophical Society is to print his paper entitled ‘JBS Haldane and Holism: Haldane’s Synthetic Project’ in the edited volume ‘Descended from Darwin: Insights into American Evolutionary Studies, 1925–1950’ later in 2006. He said: “The main thesis in this paper is that throughout his life Haldane was always an antireductionist. This can be seen in how his ideas in biology evolved in tandem with his developing philosophical ideas.” As one of his projects, Dr Hammond is interviewing peers, students and friends of Haldane, and is appealing for anyone who knew him to get make contact.

One of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century, Professor Haldane raised public awareness of science with his numerous publications. He also published fiction and poetry as well as political works in his support of the Marxist movement.

In his physiological experiments Haldane would experiment on himself and others, resulting in occasional injuries for himself and his dedicated co-workers. At times his decompression chamber experiments, for example, led to burst eardrums. He commented: “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.”

“These interviews will form the basis for at least two oral history papers; one on Haldane and the other on recollections of efforts made by UCL staff (including Haldane) to help refugee scientists from Nazi Germany in the 1930s,” said Dr Hammond. “I also see this as a way of generating an oral history resource that I can make available to other historians studying the history of biology or UCL in the 20th century.”

To find out more, use the links at the bottom of this article or contact Dr Hammond.