John Baker (biologist)

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John Randal Baker
Born(1900-10-23)23 October 1900
Died8 June 1984(1984-06-08) (aged 83)
Alma materUniversity of Oxford
Scientific career
FieldsBiology, physical anthropology
InstitutionsUniversity of Oxford
ThesisSex studies on mammals (1927)
Doctoral studentsJock Marshall

John Randal Baker FRS[1] (23 October 1900 – 8 June 1984) was a biologist, zoologist, and professor at the University of Oxford (where he was the Emeritus Reader in Cytology) in the mid-twentieth century. John Baker received his D.Phil. at the University of Oxford in 1927.


His papers in the Bodleian Library include papers relating to the Indian Mutiny, Ashanti Campaign, Egyptian Campaign of 1882, and other military campaigns of General Sir Archibald Alison, 2nd Baronet, who was J R Baker's maternal grandfather.[2]


The most widely received of his works was Race (1974). Uncharacteristically for the time, Baker used the traditional categories of physical anthropology and classified human populations in terms of race.

Baker rejected the methodological relativism that had characterized anthropology since the days of Franz Boas, instead going back to earlier ideas of hereditarianism and cultural evolution. The book received mixed reviews.[1]

In Race, Baker used a restrictive sense of the term "civilization", giving 23 criteria by which civilizations might be identified. Based on these criteria, Baker declared that Mesoamerican societies such as those of the Aztecs and Maya were not civilizations, and that no indigenous civilizations ever arose in Africa. He enumerated five civilizations sensu stricto and explored the relationship between the biological traits and the cultures of these five civilizations.[3] In this book, Baker speculated that different human races evolved from different subspecies of apes (known as Polygenism). Baker claimed that "negrids" were less evolved, and also inferior, to races Baker described as civilized. Baker also claims that all black people have a "fetid smell".[4] According to a 1974 review by A. O. Ladimeji in Race & Class, Baker misrepresents or misunderstands the history of the study of race. Per Ladimeji, "Most of Baker's biological data comes from the nineteenth century with no corroboration from recent research." Ladimeji points out that most of Baker's more outlandish claims had already been refuted by available studies at the time of publication.[4]

Together with Michael Polanyi, Baker founded the Society for Freedom in Science in 1940. In March, 1958 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.[5]


  • Sex in man and animals; with a preface by Julian S. Huxley, 1926
  • Man and animals in the New Hebrides, 1929
  • Cytological technique, 1933
  • Biology in everyday life, 1934
  • Chemical control of conception, with a chapter by H. M. Carleton, 1935
  • Scientific life, 1942
  • Science and the planned state, 1945
  • Discovery of the uses of colouring agents in biological micro-technique, 1945
  • Path of science, by C. E. Kenneth Mees ... with the cooperation of John R. Baker ... 1946
  • Principles of biological microtechnique; a study of fixation and dyeing, 1958
  • Cytological technique; the principles underlying routine methods, 1960
  • Cell structure and its interpretation; essays presented to John Randal Baker, F.R.S. Edited by S. M. McGee-Russell and K. F. A. Ross, 1968
  • Race, 1974
  • Evolution : the modern synthesis by Julian Huxley; with a new introd. edited by John R. Baker, 1974
  • Freedom of science, 1975
  • Julian Huxley, scientist and world citizen, 1887 to 1975 : a biographical memoir, with a bibliography compiled by Jens-Peter Green, 1978
  • Biology of parasitic protozoa, 1982
  • Cell theory : a restatement, history, and critique, 1988

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Willmer, E. N.; Brunet, P. C. J. (1985). "John Randal Baker. 23 October 1900-8 June 1984". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 31: 32. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1985.0002.
  2. ^ Details of papers held in Bodleian
  3. ^ Baker, John R. Race (Oxford University Press, 1974).
  4. ^ a b Ladimeji, O.A. (1 July 1974). "Book Reviews : Science, Racism and Social Darwinism: A Review of Race by JOHN R. BAKER (London, Oxford University Press, 1974). xx + 625 pp. £6.50". Race. 16 (1): 101–110. doi:10.1177/030639687401600105.
  5. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 8 December 2010.

Further reading[edit]