Lev Berg

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Lev Berg
Берг 1920 год.jpg
Lev Semyonovich Berg

14 March 1876
Died24 December 1950 (1950-12-25) (aged 74)
Scientific career
FieldsGeographer and biologist

Lev Semyonovich Berg, also known as Leo S. Berg (Russian: Лев Семёнович Берг; 14 March 1876 – 24 December 1950) was a leading Russian geographer, biologist and ichthyologist who served as President of the Soviet Geographical Society between 1940 and 1950.

He is known for his own evolutionary theory, nomogenesis (a form of orthogenesis incorporating mutationism) as opposed to the theories of Darwin and Lamarck.


Lev Berg was born in Bessarabia in a Jewish family, the son of Simon Gregoryevich Berg, a notary, and Klara Lvovna Bernstein-Kogan. He graduated from the Second Kishinev Gymnasium in 1894.[1] Like some of his relatives, Berg converted to Christianity in order to pursue his studies at Moscow State University.[2]

At Moscow University, Berg studied hydrobiology and geography. He later studied ichthyology and in 1928 was awarded he was also a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Lev Berg graduated from the Moscow State University in 1898. Between 1903 and 1914, he worked in the Museum of Zoology in Saint Petersburg. He was one of the founders of the Geographical Institute, now a Faculty of Geography of the Saint Petersburg State University.

Berg studied and determined the depth of the lakes of Central Asia, including Balkhash and Issyk-Kul. He developed Dokuchaev's doctrine of natural zones, which became one of the foundations of the Soviet biology. Among his pioneering monographs on climatology were "Climate and Life" (1922) and "Foundations of Climatology" (1927).

During his lifetime, Berg was a towering presence in the science of ichthyology.[3] In 1916, he published four volumes of the study of Fishes of Russia. The fourth edition was issued in 1949 as Freshwater Fishes of the Soviet Union and Adjacent Countries and won him the Stalin Prize.[4] He was said to have discovered the symbiotic relationship between lampreys and salmon. Berg's name is featured in the Latin appellations of more than 60 species of plants and animals.

In 2001, the Central Bank of Transnistria minted a silver coin honoring this native of today's Transnistria,[5] as part of a series of commemorative coins called The Outstanding People of Pridnestrovie.


Berg is best known for his evolutionary theory called nomogenesis, which was a type of orthogenesis. Berg's ideas were collected in his book Nomogenesis; or, Evolution Determined by Law and was first published in 1922 in Russia; it was later translated into English in two editions the first appearing in 1926 and the later edition appearing in 1969. In the book Berg collected a large amount of empirical data which offered a strong criticism of Darwin's theory of evolution.[6]

Berg's theory of nomogenesis combined arguments from paleontology, zoology and botany to claim that evolution is not a random process. The theory emphasized the limitations of natural selection which determine the directionality of evolution.[7]

Berg claimed that the variation of characters in species is confined within certain limits due to both internal and external factors. The limitation of the variability, Berg argued, left hardly any space for natural selection; he claimed this was supported by the paleontological record because all the phylogenetic branches look more or less like straight lines. Berg distanced himself from both Darwinism and Lamarckism. Instead he proposed the mutationist concept of directed mass mutations as the main mechanism for directing evolution.[6]

Influenced by the paleontologist Wilhelm Waagen, he labeled the directed mutations Waagen-Mutations:

"New species arise by means of mass transformation of a great number of individuals, which happens due to Waagen mutations... This mass transformation is a phenomenon of geological magnitude. It is connected with the alteration of the fauna of a certain horizon and comes about in certain periods only to be absent for a long time"[8]

Thus Berg claimed evolution was caused by mass mutations, which are directed by internal and external factors, so that new species occur with a high probability of being almost perfectly adapted. According to Berg, newly evolved species beget the subordinate taxonomic categories, and appear to be perfectly adapted to their environments. Although Berg's theory was anti-Darwinian, and anti-Lamarckian, it still advocated adaptive evolution.[6]

J. B. S. Haldane called Nomogenesis "by far the best anti-Darwinian book of this century".[9]

Personal life[edit]

In 1910, Berg married fellow Bendery native Polina Abramovna Kotlovker. They separated shortly after the birth of their second child and though Polina sued, the Russian Orthodox Church granted custody to her Christian husband. Berg's mother helped raise the children, Simon (born 1911) and Raissa (born 1913). Berg married Maria Mikhailovna Ivanova, the daughter of a ship's commander, in 1923.[10]


Berg was honored for a lifetime of scientific achievement by the Imperial Russian Geographical Society and presented with the P. P. Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky Gold Medal.[3]

The Berg Mountains in Antarctica,[11] Cape Berg in Severnaya Zemlya and Cape Berg in Zemlya Georga were named after him.[12]


  • Nomogenesis; or, Evolution Determined by Law (1922)[13]
  • "Fresh-water fishes of Russia" (1923)
  • Discovery of Kamchatka and Bering's Kamchatka Voyages (1924)
  • Russian discoveries in the Pacific (1926)[14]
  • "Principles of climatology" (1927)[15] (reprinted 1938) [16]
  • Geographical zones of the U.S.S.R. (1937)[17]
  • "Freshwater fishes of the U.S.S.R. and adjacent countries. Volume 1-3. Israel Program for Scientific Translations Ltd, Jerusalem. 1962-65 (Russian version published 1948-49)."[18]
  • "Natural regions of the U.S.S.R." (1950)[19]
  • "Classification of fishes, both recent and fossil" (1940)[20]
  • Loess as a product of weathering and soil formation [21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ V. V. Tikhomirov, "Berg, Lev Simonovich," Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography (2008), Encyclopedia.com (accessed April 27, 2015).
  2. ^ Elena Aronova, "Raissa L'vovna Berg," Jewish Women's Archive, http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/berg-raissa-lvovna (accessed 21 April 2015).
  3. ^ a b Morrison, J. A. (Oct 1951). "Obituary: L. S. Berg". Geographical Review. 41 (4): 673–675. JSTOR 210715.
  4. ^ American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (February 1951). The Current digest of the Soviet Press. p. 18. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  5. ^ Smalley, Ian; Markovic, Slobodan; O’Hara-Dhand, Ken; Wynn, Peter (June 2010). "A man from Bendery: L.S. Berg as geographer and loess scholar". Geologos. Bogucki Wydawnictwo Naukowe. 16 (2): 111–119. hdl:10593/566. ISSN 1426-8981.
  6. ^ a b c Levit, Georgy S.; Olsson, Lennart (2006). "'Evolution on Rails' : Mechanisms and Levels of Orthogenesis" (PDF). Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology (11): 112–113.
  7. ^ Vol'kenshteĭn MV (1987). "Molecular Biology, Darwinism and Nomogenesis". Mol Biol (Mosk). 21 (3): 630–639. PMID 3309616.
  8. ^ Berg, L. (1969) Nomogenesis; or, Evolution Determined by Law, M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, (Original Russian edition 1922.) p. 317
  9. ^ John Haldane, The causes of evolution, 1932
  10. ^ Elena Aronova, "Raissa L'vovna Berg," Jewish Women's Archive, http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/berg-raissa-lvovna (accessed 21 April 2015); V. V. Tikhomirov, "Berg, Lev Simonovich," Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography (2008), Encyclopedia.com (accessed April 27, 2015).
  11. ^ "Berg Mountains". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2011-06-04.
  12. ^ Лев Семенович Берг (1876 - 1950). Retrieved on 19 November 2016
  13. ^ Lev Semenovich Berg (1969). Nomogenesis: or, Evolution determined by law. M.I.T. Press. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  14. ^ Lev Semenovich Berg; Akademii︠a︡ nauk SSSR. (1926). Russian discoveries in the Pacific. Published by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  15. ^ Лев Симонович Берг (1927). Основый климатологии. Гос. изд-во. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  16. ^ "Основы климатологии".
  17. ^ Lev Semenovich Berg (1937). Geographical zones of the U.S.S.R. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  18. ^ Lev Semenovich Berg (1965). Freshwater fishes of the U.S.S.R. and adjacent countries: Ryby presnykh vod SSSR i sopredelʹnykh stran. Israel Program for Scientific Translations; [available from the Office of Technical Services, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Washington]. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  19. ^ Lev Semenovich Berg (1950). Natural regions of the U.S.S.R. Macmillan. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  20. ^ Lev Semenovich Berg (1965). Classification of fishes both recent and fossil. Reprinted by Document Reproduction Unit, Thai National Documentation Centre, Applied Scientific Research Corp. of Thailand. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  21. ^ Lev Semenovich Berg (1964). Loess as a product of weathering and soil formation: Less kak produkt vyvetrivaniya i pochvoobrazovaniya. Israel Program for Scientific Translations. ISBN 9780598261564. Retrieved 22 May 2011.

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