UCL Division of Biosciences


GEE Seminar - Dr Alex Aylward, Oxford University

26 April 2023, 12:00 pm–1:00 pm

Title: 'A book of two halves? A long history of The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection'

Event Information

Open to

UCL staff | UCL students | UCL alumni




Amy Godfrey


G46 H O Schild Pharmacology LT
Medical Sciences Building

Academic Host: Adam Rutherford
Abstract: R.A. Fisher’s The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930) is among the most celebrated and influential works in modern evolutionary thought, having helped lay the foundations of population genetics and the 'modern synthesis'. Meanwhile its final five chapters, in which Fisher set out a grandiose eugenical theory of racial decline, are notorious. Consequently, The Genetical Theory has been at the centre of recent debate around Fisher's legacy. This talk takes a long view, following the book through its writing, publication, reception, and circulation among readers. In particular, I’ll ask how both Fisher and his readers understood and negotiated the relationship between the book’s ‘scientific’ and ‘eugenical’ halves. Doing so, I argue, sheds light on the ongoing transformation of biology's disciplinary boundaries.

About the Speaker

Dr Alex Aylward

Departmental Lecturer in History of Science at Oxford University

I joined the History Faculty in October 2021 as Departmental Lecturer in the History of Science. Before this, I completed a PhD in the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds, in which I explored the writing, publication, reception and legacies of R. A. Fisher’s celebrated book of 1930, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. In the course of my doctoral research I spent time as a visiting scholar at Charles University, Prague, and as Eugene Garfield Pre-Doctoral Fellow at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. Prior to joining Leeds, I received a BA (Natural Sciences) and MPhil (History and Philosophy of Science) from the University of Cambridge.

More about Dr Alex Aylward