Talk:History of biology

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edit·history·watch·refresh Stock post message.svg To-do list for History of biology:

Here are some tasks awaiting attention:
  • Other:  :Get input from many editors on the balance of material on different topics
    Fix the etymology - appears to be dutch(?)


Hmm, actually I think Jean-Baptiste Lamarck actually coined the term biology in the late 17th century. Who was this Estonian doctor? --Lexor 13:40, 20 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Lamarck was born in 1747. He could not do anything in the 17th century... Alexei Kouprianov 15:05, 12 April 2006 (UTC)
Sorry, 1744, not 1747... Alexei Kouprianov 21:01, 12 April 2006 (UTC)


I fixed the second item under "verify" tasks given above, on history of metabolism.DonSiano 14:37, 13 April 2007 (UTC)

New content heeds home[edit]

The history of science was getting too long, in mav's estimation. So I am looking for a new home for some of the content. Would it be allright with everyone if I injected some of the content here? Ancheta Wis 19:35, 29 Mar 2005 (UTC)

It would only be appropriate for the history of biology, which is actually only given very briefly and unevenly here. Stevenmitchell 13:13, 12 April 2006 (UTC)

Maybe you first post the insertions to the talk page? Then, after some appropriate discussion, they could be integrated into the History of Biology page itself? Alexei Kouprianov 15:05, 12 April 2006 (UTC)


This was a canidate for Stubsensor cleanup project. On the one hand, I certainly feel this article as it stands now is much more than a stub. On the other hand, the topic "History of Biology" is such a huge topic, and this article barely scratches the surface, it's clear that it needs expanding. What to do? For now, I'm going to leave the stub tag here --RoySmith 18:31, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

The History of Biology article should act as a summary and a lead-in to other topics, with extensive use of the Main template. At the moment it has too much detail in some sections, such as Classical Greek biology. It does not have to be a long article to function properly. Bejnar 18:09, 6 December 2006 (UTC)
While I agree that the early sections of the article are extremely unbalanced, I don't think the ideal version of of this article would be simply summaries and lead-ins. Rather, it should have a broader narrative that ties together the histories of various biological fields and places them in a broader historical context. We've tried to do this with the 19th century section to some extent. Sectioning the article based on what other topics we have articles for is not appropriate, in my opinion, especially because many of the other articles (the various "history of discpline X" articles) are basically chronologically co-extensive with this one. It would disrupt the chronological coherency of this article to rely too heavily on summary. An additional problem is that our coverage in other history of biology articles is not well-balanced; this article has much information that isn't present elsewhere on Wikipedia. The better way to do it is to start from the big picture, and to create and reshuffle narrower articles based on the structure of the larger one.--ragesoss 20:38, 6 December 2006 (UTC)

I think the article may need some grammar and language checks. Summer Song 14:01, 21 September 2005 (UTC)

Intro para[edit]

The intro paragraph really needs to be improved if we want potential editors to take an interest in improving this article. I've got this running in the back of my mind and may get around to rewriting it myself this summer, but I thought I'd post an invitation here for real experts in the subject to take on that job. --arkuat (talk) 09:17, 30 May 2006 (UTC)

It is much improved now, but perhaps a little long. The fourth para in particular overlaps or is redundant with the text of the article. It might better be a more general overview, more like the preceeding ones. DonSiano 12:25, 30 June 2006 (UTC)
I intended it as an outline for fleshing out the rest (which I'll help do in the coming weeks, hopefully); the 20th century part is redundant because that's one of the only developed parts of the article, but I tried to keep it concise as I could while still touching on the major points (which I found particularly difficult for the 20th century). Hopefully the entire intro will overlap with the article, eventually. However, I have an idea for improving the 4th paragraph, which I'll try out now.--ragesoss 13:35, 30 June 2006 (UTC)

Thanks. It is much improved, only now the intro is a bit long for my preferences. But preferences vary and that's okay, it's still a lot better than it was. I may try to make the introduction a little more succinct (two paragraphs instead of four, perhaps?) and move the detail into the body of the article. --arkuat (talk) 03:16, 14 July 2006 (UTC)

I think the intro paragraph is fine. It is getting the rest of the article to live up to it that is the trick :)

I think the section on 19th century natural history and philosophy is shaping up well thanks to contributions from several of us, but I wish somone who knew more about it than I do would expand the comments on embryology. My next planned step is to add a brief allusion to the debate over the nature of fossils to the Rennaissance section. Rusty Cashman 19:40, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

The intro paragraph for biology has no citations O_o? --AmandaEP (talk) 03:16, 10 December 2007 (UTC)

Well spotted! I've inserted a sound ref; content of intro looks good to me Macdonald-ross (talk) 12:47, 11 December 2007 (UTC)

This article's needs[edit]

I changed "man's" understanding to "human" understanding and again down in the discussion of stem cells. I expect since I am a newcomer, some of you may feel sensitive about this. But, really, there is no reason to irritate readers unnecessarily in the first line of the article and omit all the women thinkers of the last few thousand years. (It was clear in the United States Constitution that "man" was not intended as an inclusive term. It isn't any more so now.) I hope I can make some more substantive contribution. I have a pretty strong biology background. Maybe I can expand the embryology section by a paragraph or two? Let me know if there's anything in particular I can help with.

Also, I have another general suggestion. It was Darwin's genius to recognize that organisms are individuals and all his ideas rested on that realization. For that reason, it's best to avoid phrases like "the fly," "the dolphin," or "man," as opposed to "flies," dolphins," and "humans," as the former is platonic/typological and incorrect and puts wrong ideas in people's heads. Sometimes, it's hard to avoid the platonic construction (as I have just lapsed), but I believe it's worth the effort. Eperotao 18:58, 6 January 2007 (UTC)

You make an excellent point about typological phrasing. Although in the case of model organisms like the fruit fly Drosophila, the platonic version is probably actually more appropriate, since the whole point of constructing and using model organisms is to eliminate all that nasty individuality that mucks up experiments.
You're more than welcome to add/change whatever you want. The unsourced sections of the twentieth century could do for a total re-write, or at least some work to make the content have a little more big-picture coherence (and of course sourcing).--ragesoss 19:12, 6 January 2007 (UTC)
Yes. Right about model organisms. Eperotao 19:20, 6 January 2007 (UTC)

Central dogma[edit]

The caption on the image is misleading; the original central dogma was a one way street. --Peta 06:14, 27 March 2007 (UTC)

The first versions of the central dogma actually included the possibility of RNA-to-DNA, DNA-to-protein and RNA-to-RNA pathways; only the intermediate version was one-way. Maybe it would be better to include a fair use image of one of Crick's diagrams, rather than the free, ahistorical one there now. Crick wrote about this in 1970: [1] --ragesoss 18:18, 27 March 2007 (UTC)
I was thinking that a better caption would do it; it should be pretty easy to get someone to create a free version of Cricks central dogma; User:Ilmari Karonen might do it. --Peta 22:02, 27 March 2007 (UTC)
Yeah, I just tried to make one, Image:Crick's 1958 central dogma.svg, but it has some issues with the arrows; it looks good when viewed natively in Firefox (and in Inkscape), but it doesn't show up right when rendered on-wiki. I put in a request for some help at Wikipedia:Graphic Lab, but it seems to be pretty slow lately.--ragesoss 22:22, 27 March 2007 (UTC)
A Graphist fixed it.--ragesoss 23:06, 1 April 2007 (UTC)

GA on hold[edit]

Very nice work, here are some issues I have picked up fix these and you'll have a GA, they're all pretty minor:

MoS issues[edit]

Some minor problems here:

  • Overall the length is fine, but the lead is slightly long, It could be shortened by a couple of sentences. My suggestion would be to not worry so much about qualifying certain statements. If you can't see anything to cut that's fine, I'd rather it be slightly long than leave anything important out.
    • TimVickers condensed it considerably: diff --ragesoss 18:16, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
  • Per the MoS section titles should not begin with "The".
  • There are some instances of British spelling and some of American, pick one and then covert them to that style.
    • To save you time I went to find exactly what I saw in there, but unless I'm going nuts I don't see it in there anymore (if it ever was in there). I could have sworn I saw modelling (should be modeling), any more (should be anymore) and cosy (should be cozy). Oh well. Quadzilla99 17:55, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
  • Duhrer's Rhinoceros pic and the Darwin sketch should be moved up per this section of the MoS.
  • 20000 genes in "Recent developments" needs a comma (20,000).
    • Fixed.--ragesoss 18:12, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
  • Individual years are half linked; either link all of them or none of them (I'd prefer none).
    • Fixed.--ragesoss 18:12, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
  • This is very minor, but I personally find it annoying—apostrophes shoud be inside when linking if possible. Such as Darwin's theory of evolution, Mendel's work etc. See here; particularly the last sentence of the section.
    • I've changed it for now, but I'm chasing this up at the technical level so that this hopefully works automatically in future without all the extra wikitext. Thanks for pointing it out. Samsara (talk  contribs) 14:36, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
      • Does the manual of style really say that? I much prefer 's not to be part of the link.--ragesoss 10:02, 23 April 2007 (UTC)


Very solid work here too, one or two minor things.

  • The caption of the first pic: "Like the tree of life itself, the history of biology is complex and many-branched." while nicely written, reads like a personal summary or personal observation. Maybe you could describe the picture and it's relevance to the article or find some other caption.
    • I provided a reference about the complexity of the history of biology, so it seems less like editorializing.--ragesoss 18:06, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
      • Could still use a slightly different wording maybe but not worth holding up an otherwise fine article. Quadzilla99 18:21, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
  • "Of the Arab biologists, al-Jahiz—the 9th century author of Kitab al Hayawan (Book of animals)—is particularly noteworthy.[citation needed]" This sentence needs a cite since it's saying someone or something is noteworthy. Maybe instead of saying he was noeworthy you could say "al-Jahiz did so and so" then you would not even need a cite if it's not something that's likely to be disputed. Incidentally it was tagged when I read the article.
  • "This US$100 million effort is the largest biological research endeavor since the human genome project." Needs a cite.
    • I removed these two sentences. Al-Jahiz does not appear in any of my general history of biology sources, and mentioning the money is out of keeping the rest of the article, which largely neglects the structural/financial aspects of the history of biology.--ragesoss 18:06, 21 April 2007 (UTC)


  • Very well written, there are some minor things such as the use of a lot of additive terms, you could perhap cut some to tighten the prose. Not really necessary though, pretty minor.
  • Some words like "nascent" and "elucidate" are eloquent, but since they are so similar to more well known ones like "developing" and "enlighten" I'd replace them. I tried to find major issues here and couldn't.
Pretty minor stuff overall. Quadzilla99 09:14, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

GA passing[edit]

See my comments above, I have only one other thing that needs doing—you must notify me when you nom this for FA. Quadzilla99 18:21, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

I agree that this article is now ready for FA. I would be happy to help.Rusty Cashman 18:53, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

I put it on my watchlist so I won't miss the nom. Quadzilla99 19:54, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

I think after we deal with Awadewit's forthcoming comments on the 20th century, and when we find sources for the last paragraph of the "Expansion of molecular biology" section, it will be ready. It would be nice to have more pictures for the 20th century, but it's hard to find anything but portraits (which I think should be avoided here) that are free.--ragesoss 21:25, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

  • Also, I'm hoping someone responds to the request I left at WP:Requested templates for a history of biology navigation template for the bottom of the article. Not many other articles link to this one, and a general history of biology template would provide a nice mechanism to draw readers here.--ragesoss 21:29, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
    • Also, the lead picture and caption are up for grabs. More than one editor has objected to the cheesiness of my caption, without which, the image itself loses its significance here.--ragesoss 21:52, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

My suggestions[edit]

Really, just minor ones:

  • The lead is far too long.
    • Awadewit agreed in the peer review. Between TimVickers' edits and the further trimming I just did, I think it's now about as small as a it should go.--ragesoss 21:21, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
      • Looks fine to me. Remember that the one that goes on the main page is often a trimmed version of the actual lede, e.g. Charles Darwin. Regards, Samsara (talk  contribs) 22:23, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
  • "However, some people who dealt with medical issues still studied plants and animals as well." (Wiesel word?)
    • Weasel sentence. Don't know how that snuck through.--ragesoss 21:21, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
  • "The discovery and description of new species and collecting specimens became a widespread passion of scientific gentlemen." (I think we should avoid using words like widespread as passion alone is also enough.)
    • I reformulated this sentence, although I think widespread and passion are orthogonal here.--ragesoss 21:21, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
  • "By 1900, much of these domains overlapped, while natural history and (and its counterpart natural philosophy) had largely given way to more specialized scientific disciplines" (The same case, largely is unnecessary.)
    • I think "largely" is an important qualification.--ragesoss 21:21, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
  • The sections about molecular biology couldn't be shortened (the History of molecular biology covers nearly everything)? The Expansion of molecular biology sections is very long.
    • Molecular biology had a huge impact on the rest of biology. I think it's important to explain how molecular biology interacted with and affected other disciplines. Molecular biology is a fuzzy thing (in terms of what is and is not molecular biology), but I've done my best to tell a more nuanced story than "the history of molecular biology covers nearly everything), even if a large amount of content that isn't strictly molecular biology falls into the nominal molecular biology section. I'm still looking for a better way to work in (and find sources for) the information in the last paragraph of the "expansion of molecular biology" section. There is probably a better way of arranging the sections that I haven't thought of.--ragesoss 21:21, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
  • "In 2006 a large international consortium began a collaborative effort to enable researchers to conveniently obtain mice that have any one of its approximately 20,000 genes knocked out" (reference?)
    • I'm thinking about just deleting this whole last section on recent developments, since it starts to cross the border from history to science reporting.--ragesoss 21:21, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

NCurse work 18:43, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

Thank you for your comments and work! NCurse work 06:13, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

WP vs. CZ[edit]

It might be worthwhile to compare this article to Citizendium's Biology article, which is basically a history of biology. Overall, I think this article compares favorably, but obviously I'm too close to see things in clear perspective. What does the CZ article do better than this one?--ragesoss 22:33, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

I'd say theirs is written textbook style. More butter, less bread. It would never pass Wikipedia QA - people would complain about the flowery language. Large sections are unverifiable. I deliberately didn't suggest looking at it, even though I saw it when it was newly approved. Maybe the homunculus image is a nice touch. I'm surprised that I can't find a copy of the famous "Watson and Crick standing by cardboard model" photo. Surely it would have been released to PD?! Maybe we could work on the images a bit? They're a bit grey atm. (Of course, more text and fewer image makes for nicer layout, like at cz.) Samsara (talk  contribs) 22:50, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
That DNA photo has been the subject of litigation, actually; it's been widely used and reproduced, but the photographer has had little success capitalizing on it.--ragesoss 23:07, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
Interesting. I see now that the images are all original illustrations. We have to be careful not to let this article become an exhibition of our ability to obtain original material. Clearly, this is one example where cz is following a different rationale, although some of their image choices are quite bizarre in turn - like a zebra finch popping out of nowhere (hey, we actually have an article on the bird!) Samsara (talk  contribs) 23:13, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
Interesting indeed, though of course I'm no expert. Their idea of "Natural history (the study of individual species like white-tailed deer, sugar maple trees, box jellyfish and timber wolves) was one of the first areas to develop; in natural history, whole organisms are studied in an attempt to make sense of the order of nature." clearly differs from Natural history as defined here and shown in more reliable sources. More to the point, I've disambiguated Uniformitarianism (science) and mentioned James Hutton as the previous claim that Charles Lyell "introduced" it seemed wrong to me. ... dave souza, talk 10:05, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
Yeah, but they're the authorities, see? They don't need sources. They just know. "Revelation is an uncovering or disclosure via communication from the divine of something that has been partially or wholly hidden or unknown." ;) Samsara (talk  contribs) 10:08, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

Concerns over recent edits to Classical genetics, the modern synthesis, and evolutionary theory[edit]

I have concerns over some recent edits to this section. A couple of days ago the paragraph in question read:

In the second half of the century the ideas of population genetics began to be applied in the new discipline of the genetics of behavior, sociobiology, and, especially in humans, evolutionary psychology. W. D. Hamilton proposed Hamilton's rule in 1964 to describe how altruism could have evolved through kin selection, as well the controversial Red Queen hypothesis in the 1980s to explain the origin of sexual reproduction. The work of Hamilton was elaborated by George C. Williams and Richard Dawkins into the influential gene-centered view of evolution, spawning perennial debates over the proper balance of adaptationism and contingency in evolutionary theory.

Although it seems to have gotten lost the primary source was Larson's Evolution.

The paragraph now reads:

In the second half of the century the ideas of population genetics began to be applied in the new discipline of the genetics of behavior, sociobiology, and, especially in humans, evolutionary psychology. Debates over kin selection, the Red Queen hypothesis on origin of sexual reproduction, group selection, the possible origin of higher organisms through endosymbiosis. Contrasting approaches to molecular evolution in the gene-centered view (which held selection as the predominant cause of evolution) and the neutral theory (which made genetic drift a key factor) spawned perennial debates over the proper balance of adaptationism and contingency in evolutionary theory.

And the primary listed Source is Gould's Structure of Evolutionary Theory, which I suspect is the root of the changes. My biggest concern is the removal of the references to W.D. Hamilton and his seminal 1964 paper on Altruism (and Hamilton's rule). I am also concerned that endosymbiosis and the neutral theory are now both discussed in 2 separate places in the article. Another concern I have is that I don't like using Gould's work as the main source for anything having to do with the controversy over the gene centric view of evolution (for much the same reason I wouldn't want to cite anything by Dawkins on the topic) as Gould was an extremely partisan party to the controversy. I think The Structure of Evolutionary Theory would be an excellent source for many things but I think the chapter entitled The Evolutionary Definition of Selective Agency and the Fallacy of the Selfish Gene was written as a partisan polemic rather than an unbiased summary of the relevent issues. I also think this entire section is loosing its focus which should be on developments related to classic genetics, the modern synthesis and further developments in population genetics after the original modern synthesis. I realize that I probably contributed/started the problem by sticking in the paragraph on punctuated equilibrium and mass extinctions.

I would suggest the following compromise solution for the paragraph in question:

In the second half of the century the ideas of population genetics began to be applied in the new discipline of the genetics of behavior, sociobiology, and, especially in humans, evolutionary psychology. W. D. Hamilton proposed Hamilton's rule in 1964 to describe how altruism could have evolved through kin selection, as well the controversial Red Queen hypothesis in the 1980s to explain the origin of sexual reproduction. The work of Hamilton was elaborated into the influential but very controversial gene-centered view of evolution, spawning perennial debates over the proper balance of adaptationism and contingency in evolutionary theory and the level at which selection occurs.

That leaves the explicit reference to Hamilton's work, which even Gould calls remarkable on pp 613 of Structure of E.T, but omits Williams and Dawkins whose work is more recent and more controversial. This would be conistent with all 4 sources I have, Larson, Gould, Zimmer, and Dugatkin's book on Altruism.

I would then suggest creating a separate Evolutionary paths and mechanisms section into which we would move the stuff on punctuated equilibrium, mass extinction, endosymbiosis, neutral selection and possibly the stuff on evolutionary development biology and body plans, after cleaning up the sections on molecular genetics so that they were consistent but did not duplicate stuff.

However, before I do the edits I thought I would talk about it first to avoid any possibility of an edit war.Rusty Cashman 07:17, 24 April 2007 (UTC)

Moreover, the work of Williams and Dawkins is merely a popularisation of something that had been implicit in the literature since Fisher (1920s). Samsara (talk  contribs) 07:39, 24 April 2007 (UTC)

Ok I definately concede on Williams and Dawkins, but Hamilton is a different case. Haldane and Fisher may have discussed kin selection but nobody treated it formally or mathematically until Hamilton. Now that I say that I realize that the paragraph on the modern synthesis doesn't mention Fisher, Haldane and Wright. Now I can sympathise with a desire to minimize the name dropping in the 20th century but I kind of think you need to mention those 3. Otherwise you might as well not mention anyone but Darwin and Mendel. This I have to fix. Rusty Cashman 08:35, 24 April 2007 (UTC)

Ok I at least fixed that.Rusty Cashman 08:44, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
Well, yes, Hamilton is game theory - completely different approach than Fisher. Not disagreeing on Hamilton at all. Samsara (talk  contribs) 08:49, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
I don't mind adding back in Hamilton, with a mention of game theory. Maybe Red Queen could be cut altogether.--ragesoss 14:15, 24 April 2007 (UTC)

Ok, I took a stab at it based on this consensus. Rusty Cashman 03:23, 25 April 2007 (UTC)

Nitpicking over the Red Queen[edit]

Two points here:

  1. The Red Queen was not originally about the evolution of sex
  2. The Red Queen is disproportionately represented in popular literature, but is in fact only one of several hypotheses for the evolution of sex, all of which originated in late 20th c. (but are essentially variants of a model proposed by Weismann in 19th).

Samsara (talk  contribs) 09:11, 24 April 2007 (UTC)

More organismal biology[edit]

A little more on the history of ecological topics would be nice for balance. Georgii Gause deserves mention for linking the concepts of niche and resource partitioning (something like allopatry). It would also be worth mentioning the ideas of species-area relationships and island biogeography. The history of ecology article also fails to cover standard ecological topics and instead emphasizes pop concepts. Shyamal 01:48, 25 April 2007 (UTC)

Gause's work is available here and there are commentaries in most ecology textbooks. More on Tribolium models for instance here. Shyamal 01:55, 25 April 2007 (UTC)
I agree that species-area concepts and island biogeography probably warrant inclusion. I'm skeptical about singling out Gause and the niche concept; these appear only very briefly (along with many other things in ecology that were going on at the same time) in the main source I've looked at for the history of ecology, Joel Hagen's An Entangled Bank: The Origins of Ecosystem Ecology. Do have a historical source that places the niche concept in a different context? Too much detail is the worst enemy this article has. (You are certainly right about the flaws of the history of ecology article.)--ragesoss 01:57, 25 April 2007 (UTC)
I'm having trouble finding much in the way of historical sources to support this content. I know roughly how island biogeography and species-area concepts fit in from E. O. Wilson's memoir, but I'm reticent to introduce either first-hand accounts or textbooks in justifying the significance of a topic within the broad history of biology. None of these topics appear in Magner, A History of the Life Sciences (2003), and ecological biogeography gets 1 and a quarter pages (and island biogeography 1 sentence) in Mayr's Growth of Biological Thought.--ragesoss 02:33, 25 April 2007 (UTC)
Looking over these sources though, there are some other things that probably merit addition: group selection and ecosystem evolution, then big ecology and oceanography (which may offer a chance to mention island biogeography).--ragesoss 02:49, 25 April 2007 (UTC)
Gause was the first to publish the idea (1934), although it was not well known because it was in Russian. A little more out here and here we see how competitive exclusion was seen to relate to allopatry. Sorry, I do not have sources that explicitly link these ideas historically. Would also be nice to see some text that ties up some of the other linked articles to show the changes in ethology from explanations based on "benefit to species" towards "selfish replicators". Also notice that there is no mention of the evolution of "species concepts." Shyamal 03:56, 25 April 2007 (UTC)

As I recall Quammen had quite a bit to say about it in Song of the Dodo. It has been a few years since I read it however.Rusty Cashman 05:56, 25 April 2007 (UTC)

Text deleted from lead[edit]

I reverted out the following text added by an anonymous user because it was inappropriate for the lead and because it made a rather strong assertion without citing a source. With some cleanup of the wording the text might make a good addition to the Molecular systematics and genomics subsection if someone can find an appropriate source to cite...

Regardless, more universities (such as MIT, Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia,Hopkins) appear to be equating "biology" to a solely molecular/cellular perspective. This is partly reflected in the undergraduate curriculum for biology majors (they do not require any macroscale biology courses but require molecular scale ones). Ecology and the likes appear to becoming more like a discipline like Earth and Planetary Science, in sofar as both disciplines being recognized as independent studies from their parent discipline (molecular biology and chemistry/physics, respectively).

Rusty Cashman 08:27, 8 July 2007 (UTC)


I've straightened out the Wallace/zoogeog bit, but I notice the end-para on Sclater reads rather oddly. I'll look to see what he actually did do and if nec rewrite a bit. He's a secondary figure, and hence not so easy to research. Look at his WP article; it really says nothing! Macdonald-ross 21:26, 24 October 2007 (UTC)

You definitely improved the coverage of Wallace's contributions. I tweaked and reordered your paragraph a little so that it was a little more chronological, and fit better in the flow of the section. It also alludes to the fact that Wallace focused on the geographical distribution of closely allied species because of his interest in transmutation, which got lost in your rewrite of the original paragraph. I think the reference to Sclater now fits better also. He is a bit of a neglected figure without question. Only recently have some historians like Larson and Bowler pointed out how important a factor biogegoraphical evidence was in the initial acceptance of evolution in the scientific community right after the publication of Origin of Species. Rusty Cashman 20:42, 25 October 2007 (UTC)
Yes, the power of the geog distr. evidence is considerable. I'm thinking of JD Hooker; we should mention him, perhaps, for the botany. I see Janet Browne mentions that Wallace read Wm Swainson's Treatise on the geography & classification of animals (1835) in 1842. Interesting; I didn't know that. She also mentions Vestiges as having some rational speculations, and of course Wallace & Bates were great fans of that book! Perhaps you'll improve Sclater's page while you're in the mood? It gives only a brief account of his zoogeographical work. Macdonald-ross 20:17, 26 October 2007 (UTC)
You have a good point about Hooker. I will dig into it a little. I would like to seed Sclater's page improved, but I don't know if I will be able to do it. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Rusty Cashman (talkcontribs) 02:09, 27 October 2007 (UTC)

Medieval knowledge too certain[edit]

I have much the same complaint here as with the History of evolutionary thought, namely that too much is said in too dogmatic fashion, especially about early ideas of evolution. Reference #15, supporting Al-Jahiz, is dubious and makes claims that are far too strong. Here's what I wrote after reading the reference:

I notice passages such as "Al-Jahiz’s zoology and theory of biological evolution have profoundly affected the development of zoology and biology." This is simply not true. Another case: "There is no doubt that the great evolutionist sufi, Mawlana, had already influenced Goethe, who called him “a Darwinian before Darwin”." This is interesting, because it shows the author isn't aware of the distinction between Erasmus Darwin and Charles Darwin. Another example: "Darwin was himself initiated into Islamic culture in Cambridge under a jewish orientalist called Samuel Lee.": the statement is far too strong; there is no evidence that Darwin had any real understanding of Islamic literature.

It is good to have references, but big claims deserve big evidence. The whole section is full of unqualified claims, some of which, of course, might be justified. Macdonald-ross (talk) 19:32, 19 January 2008 (UTC)

The "Medieval knowledge" section does not make any "big claims" about al-Jahiz having any kind of influence on Darwin. It only says that he "described an early theory on evolution". I don't see anything controversial about this, especially considering how evolutionary thought had been around since ancient times. Jagged 85 (talk) 18:21, 22 January 2008 (UTC)
1. Minor point: an unsound reference removes the prop from the paragraph above it.
2. Major point: all the various history of biology overview articles seem to be pushing precendents from the pre-modern world (ie Greece, China, Islam...) far more strongly than do standard reference works on the history of science and biology. Sometimes this may be justified, but overall these articles are (to me, anyway) constantly verging on over-statement. Contributors might like to reflect on how extremely difficult it is to translate and reliably interpret the fragmentary source texts of these ancient authors. Anyway, it's now for others to make their views felt (or not). Macdonald-ross (talk) 19:14, 22 January 2008 (UTC)
I agree that the recently expansion results in more weight for early work than is typically reflected in broad histories of biology. That said, I wouldn't put any particular faith in those broad works that I'm familiar with (Mayr's Growth of Biology Thought, which is good but dated and opinionated; and Magner's History of Biology, which I don't think reflects much effort to balance content in a systematic way) to accurately reflect the broader balance of scholarship or historical import. That said, we don't really have a good substitute for the broad histories, in terms of balancing content. There are a couple of works that I think are well-balanced but that only stretch back to the 18th or 19th century (in particular, I think Sapp's Genesis is well-balanced), and I haven't read any that are focused on earlier periods. What works do you all think we could use to find a decent balance?--ragesoss (talk) 22:54, 22 January 2008 (UTC)
Well, on history of evolution topics Mayr is certainly an authority; on the history of ancient medicine and biology Charles Singer was an authority, and his History of biology (1932) is still useful for the ancient world and the pre-Darwin era; Philip Fothergill's Historical aspects of organic evolution (1952) is generally OK; English editions of Radl and Nordenskiold exist. The older works were useless on post-1900 but usually OK on older work; their authors often had a good classical education. Singer certainly did. I could do a summary of all these, but not for a week or so. It rather depends how ambitious we want to be. In general, encyclopedias should not run too fast. It's OK for them to be conservative; they're meant to be that. I've already checked Mayr, and this is what he says:
"Nothing of any real consequence happened in biology after Lucretius and Galen until the Renaissance. The Arabs, so far as I can determine, made no important contributions to biology. This is true even for two Arab scholars, Avicenna (980-1037) and Aberrhos (Ibn Rosh, 1123-1198) who showed a particular interest in biological matters." Mayr p91.

Macdonald-ross (talk) 22:55, 24 January 2008 (UTC)

The History of biology#Ancient and medieval knowledge section only accounts for a small fraction of the entire article. I don't think this section is being given any undue weight at all. Jagged 85 (talk) 01:20, 24 January 2008 (UTC)
Searching for an independent account of al-Jahiz lead me to volume 4 of the Cambridge History of Iran, (ed Richard Nelson Frye, 1975) where on p402 and p404 al-Jahiz is described as a philologist, not a biologist, and therefore he would have acted as a translator into between Arabic and Pahlavi, Sanscrit and other oriental languages. And perhaps also as a collator and editor. In his Kitab al-hayawan "there are many elements of earlier Persian animal lore." Nothing wrong with that, but it increases my scepticism that he produced 'an early theory on evolution and the struggle for existence'. In any event the description of him as a biologist is clearly wrong.

Macdonald-ross (talk) 17:52, 25 January 2008 (UTC)

Just because Al-Jahiz was a philologist does not mean that he cannot be anything else other than that. In medieval times, it was quite rare for a scholar to specialize in any particular field, but it was more common for them to study a variety of different subjects. He didn't exactly produce a theory of evolution, but he did certainly produce a theory on the struggle for existence, one of the components of evolutionary theory, according to Conway Zirkle. Regards, Jagged 85 (talk) 18:10, 16 September 2008 (UTC)

keep a watch on jagged85[edit]

am just giving everyone here a heads up to keep watch of the edits that jagged85 makes. This guy is either the biggest lier/distorter or just plain lost when it comes to any matter dealing with science. Am in the process of writting full expose on claims and facts he makes about science in the islamic world. To give everyone here a a little taste of his great scholarship and which has importance for biology, at one time he wrote that muslims intiated the fields of microbiology and bacteriology because they made wild speculative guesses on "contagious entities"---he claimed that this marked the beggining of microbiology lol, sure how about first discovering them first. Pretty much every piece he has written is flagged under some unflattering tag(fatcual accuracy, neutrality, etc). —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:29, 23 March 2008 (UTC)

What does any of this have to do with this article, exactly? If you feel like attacking me for no good reason, you're welcome to do so on my talk page, but this is not the place to do it. Also, I find it high suspicious that you would hide behind an IP address and not confront me directly with your real username, although I suspect I might know who you are. And please, I don't ever remember claiming they founded microbiology, and only two of the articles I've written are currently disputed, so spare me the exaggerated nonsense. Regards, Jagged 85 (talk) 18:03, 16 September 2008 (UTC)
Further to the above, I came across problems with one of Jagged 85's sources. (For full details see Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Noticeboard#The Islamic Contribution to Science, Mathematics and Technology: Towards Motivating the Muslim Child and the Jagged 85 cleanup project that it links to.) Because of the many problems, including misrepresenting sources, undue weight and so forth, that have been ascribed to him I am reverting some of his changes, represented by this combined diff. I will look at the rest of his edits to this article in due course. All the best, Rich Farmbrough, 01:50, 10 April 2014 (UTC).

Ancient medicine may actually be understated in the article[edit]

I added links to Susruta and Zhang Zhongjing, who I was disappointed to find missing here. Still, I think the article might provide more detail on the Ebers Papyrus and other texts demonstrating that ancient surgeons were well aware of the concept of anaesthesia. Anaesthesia with opium, deadly nightshade, cannabis, aconite and other drugs was a crucial advance which permitted physicians to perform involved surgeries, and therefore gave them both the reason and the opportunity to learn more about human anatomy and physiology. Even the ancient Sumerians grew opium and performed surgeries. The roots of medicine are very deep - there is actually some (debatable) evidence that Neanderthals collected medicinal herbs such as Achillea for the ill. (see PMID 1548898)

I think the text you added on Susruta and Zhang Zhongjing was quite reasonable. However, there is a separate history of medicine article and I think we want to limit the level of detail that goes into this article on topics covered (or that should be covered) elsewhere. Rusty Cashman (talk) 08:10, 3 June 2009 (UTC)
I added a mention of the Ebers papyrus. I agree that one-sentence summaries are best here (partly because these ancient traditions did not create a "science", as the word is understood today, and partly for the reason given by Cashman). Readers who want further knowledge can click on the Wikilinks, which also serve as references. I would have put in links to "main articles", but I don't know how yet. ''' '' Solo Owl '' ''' (talk) 22:41, 20 May 2012 (UTC)

Ancient and medieval knowledge -- divided into 4 subsections[edit]

I divided the section "Ancient and medieval knowledge" into four subsections, on China, India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, as suggested in the second of the two introductory paragraphs in this section. I arranged them from East to West because Mesopotamia and Egypt directly influenced Ancient Greek traditions, the topic of the next section. I made a handful of very minor corrections, but left the content unchanged, although rearranged.

I did this because I found Ancient China and Egypt discussed under the heading "Ancient Indian Ayurveda", which is illogical and unhelpful.

This leaves an empty section on Ancient Mesopotamia, which I will try to fill. ''' '' Solo Owl '' ''' (talk) 22:12, 20 May 2012 (UTC)

Ancient Mesopotamia[edit]

Unfortunately, this sentence represents the whole coverage of ancient Mesopotamian medicine in English Wikipedia, as of now. ''' '' Solo Owl '' ''' (talk) 22:26, 20 May 2012 (UTC)