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Steve Jones (biologist)

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Steve Jones
Steve Jones in 2012
John Stephen Jones

(1944-03-24) 24 March 1944 (age 80)
EducationWirral Grammar School for Boys
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh (BSc, PhD)
Known forBooks, journalism and broadcasting
(m. 2004)
AwardsMichael Faraday Prize (1996)
Scientific career
ThesisStudies on the ecological genetics of Cepaea (1972)
Doctoral advisorBryan Clarke[1]

John Stephen Jones DSC FLSW FRS[3] (born 24 March 1944)[2] is a British geneticist and, from 1995 to 1999 as well as from 2008 to June 2010, was Head of the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London.[4][5] His studies are conducted in the Galton Laboratory.

He is also a television presenter and a prize-winning author on the subject of biology, especially evolution. He is a popular contemporary writer on evolution. In 1996 his work won him the Michael Faraday Prize "for his numerous, wide ranging contributions to the public understanding of science in areas such as human evolution and variation, race, sex, inherited disease and genetic manipulation through his many broadcasts on radio and television, his lectures, popular science books, and his once-regular science column in The Daily Telegraph and contributions to other newspaper media".

Early life and education[edit]

Jones was born in Aberystwyth, Wales, to Lydia Anne and Thomas Gwilym Jones. His parents met as students at the University of Aberystwyth. Until he was about ten years old the family lived alternately at his paternal grandparents' house in New Quay, Ceredigion, and his maternal grandparents' house near Aberystwyth. Later the family moved to the Wirral, returning to Wales for their holidays.[6]

Jones's paternal grandfather and great grandfather were both sea captains. Jones's father, a PhD chemist, worked on detergents such as Jif.[7] Dylan Thomas was an acquaintance of his father. As a child Jones often stayed at his paternal grandparents' home and spent a lot of his time in the attic which contained some seafaring equipment, and boxes of books covering a wide variety of topics, many of which Jones read.[6] He also went to libraries and by the age of 14 years had read all the works of Charles Dickens.[8]

As a child in Ceredigion Jones spoke a lot of Welsh until he was 6 or 7 years old, and as a keen observer of local wildlife was particularly interested in birds.[6][9] Jones was a pupil at Wirral Grammar School for Boys.[10] At the age of 13 to 14 years old Jones was inspired to study biology by a school teacher.[8]

Jones was rejected by all the Welsh universities, so he applied to the University of Edinburgh for an undergraduate degree, which had a closing date seven days later, and he was accepted onto a zoology course.[8] In 1967 he won the Gunning Victoria Jubilee Prize in Zoology for his essay, “Area effects and the structure of peripheral populations of Cepaea nemoralis”.[11] He stayed on in Edinburgh to do research for a Doctor of Philosophy degree on the ecological genetics of Cepaea, a snail whose shell is polymorphic in colour pattern, making it a model organism for evolutionary biologists.[1][12] He developed an interest in snails from Bryan Clarke his PhD supervisor.[1][8]

Career and research[edit]

After his PhD, Jones also completed post-doctoral research into the genetics of Drosophila at the University of Chicago to widen his experience.[8] Much of Jones's research has been concerned with snails and the light their study can shed on biodiversity and genetics.[13][14][15][16][17][18][19]

Media and outreach[edit]

Jones was the 1991 Reith Lecturer on BBC Radio, with a series entitled The Language of the Genes, the basis of his 1993 book of the same name.[20]

He presented In the Blood, a six-part TV series on human genetics first broadcast in 1996, see book of same name in bibliography. In July 2011, Jones produced a report dealing with science reporting issues at the BBC. He was critical of the BBC for giving too much space and credence to maverick views on science,[21] including deniers of anthropogenic global warming.[22]

Jones was commissioned by the BBC Trust to write a report on the organisation's science reporting, which was published in July 2011.[citation needed] This was broadly supportive of the BBC's accuracy, impartiality and science coverage although it also made some suggestions. These included better interaction of staff across the organisation on science topics and in particular an end to "false balance". Jones describes "[a]ttempts to give a place to anyone, however unqualified, who claims interest can make for false balance: to free publicity to marginal opinions and not to impartiality, but its opposite". The BBC's response to the recommendations was generally positive, several of which it immediately implemented.

Awards and honours[edit]

Jones was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2012.[3] He won their Michael Faraday Prize in 1996[23] and delivered the Reith Lectures in 1991. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2011.[24] In 2011, he was elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.[25]

Personal life[edit]

Jones's life partner since 1977 has been American documentary maker Norma Percy; they married in 2004.[2][26]

Jones is a patron of Humanists UK and an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.[27] He was awarded the second Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year by the National Secular Society on 7 October 2006. On 1 January 2011 he became President of The Association for Science Education.[28]

Views on private education[edit]

In an interview on the BBC Radio 5 show '5 Live Breakfast' hosted by Nicky Campbell and Shelagh Fogarty on 13 January 2009, Jones described private schools as a "cancer on the education system".[29] Jones cites private schools as one of the reasons that Britain remains as socially stratified as it is. Among the advantages in private schools compared to state schools, Jones listed smaller class sizes, highly trained teachers, better facilities, and coaching through university interviews.[29]

Views on religion[edit]

Jones, along with 54 other public figures, signed an open letter published on 15 September 2010 in The Guardian, stating their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the UK.[30] Jones has also stated that creationism is "anti-science" and criticised creationists such as Ken Ham. Jones suggested in a BBC Radio Ulster interview in 2006 that Creationists should be forbidden from being medical doctors because "all of its (Creationism's) claims fly in the face of the whole of science" and he further claimed that no serious biologist can believe in biblical creation. For Jones, 'evolution is the grammar of biology'.[31] Jones elaborated on his full position on creationism in a public lecture entitled 'Why creationism is wrong and evolution is right'.[32]

National Life Stories conducted an oral history interview (C1672/12) with Steve Jones in 2015 for its Science and Religion collection held by the British Library.[33]

Views on human evolution[edit]

Jones's view that in humans "Natural selection has to some extent been repealed"[34] dates back at least to 1991 and has been the focus of newspaper reports and radio interviews.[35][36][37] Referring to the title of a public lecture entitled "Is human Evolution Over?" he stated "For those of you who have a train to catch, the answer is "yes", so you can leave now".[38]

His views are largely based on his claim that reduced juvenile mortality, decreasing age of fathers, and decreased geographical isolation of populations in Western societies reduce evolution. Both the data supporting these assertions and his views of the way these factors influence evolution in populations have been extensively criticised by other academics.[39][40][41][42][43]


  • Jones, Steve (1993). The Language of the Genes. Flamingo. ISBN 0-00-655243-9. winner of (Aventis Prize winner)
  • Jones, Steve; Van Loon, Borin (1993). Genetics for Beginners. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-636-7.
  • Jones, Steve (1994). Martin, Robert D.; Pilbeam, David R. (eds.). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human evolution. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46786-1.
  • Jones, Steve (1997). In the Blood: God, Genes and Destiny. Houghton Miffin. ISBN 0-00-255512-3.
  • Jones, Steve (1999). Almost Like a Whale: The Origin of Species Updated. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-40985-0.
  • Jones, Steve (2000). Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-42277-5.
  • Jones, Steve (2003). Y: The Descent of Men. Flamingo. ISBN 0-618-13930-3.
  • Jones, Steve (2006). The Single Helix: A Turn Around The World Of Science. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-349-11940-3.
  • Jones, Steve (2007). Coral. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-72938-3.
  • Jones, Steve (2009). Darwin's Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1-4087-0000-6.
  • Jones, Steve (2013). The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold as Science. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1-4087-0285-7.
  • Jones, Steve (2016). No Need for Geniuses: Revolutionary Science in the Age of the Guillotine. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-3494-0545-2.
  • Jones, Steve (26 January 2017). Evolution. illus. Rowan Clifford. London: Ladybird Books. ISBN 978-0-7181-8628-9.
  • Jones, Steve (2019). Here Comes the Sun: How it feeds us, kills us, heals us and makes us what we are. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1408711316.


  1. ^ a b c Jones, John Stephen (1971). Studies on the Ecological Genetics of Cepaea. lib.ed.ac.uk (PhD thesis). University of Edinburgh. hdl:1842/15121. OCLC 606118378. EThOS uk.bl.ethos.653149. Free access icon
  2. ^ a b c Anon (2011). "Jones, Prof. (John) Stephen". Who's Who (online Oxford University Press ed.). Oxford: A & C Black. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ a b "Professor Steve Jones FRS | Royal Society". Archived from the original on 22 April 2012.
  4. ^ "Academic Staff at UCL Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment". University College London. 15 September 2009.
  5. ^ UCL GEE News GEE marks the transfer of headship
  6. ^ a b c "The House I Grew Up In with Steve Jones as participant". The House I Grew Up In. 15 September 2009. BBC. BBC Radio 4.
  7. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – The Life Scientific, Steve Jones interviewed Jim Al-Khalili". Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Desert Island Discs with Steve Jones". Desert Island Discs. 1 March 1992. BBC. Radio 4.
  9. ^ "The Forum; At the British Museum – The Inner Life of Objects". The Forum. 24 January 2010. BBC. BBC World Service.
  10. ^ "Alumni". Wirral Grammar School. Archived from the original on 19 October 2011. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  11. ^ Jones, J. Stephen (1967). "Area effects and the structure of peripheral populations of Cepaea nemoralis". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ Jones, J. S. (1973). "Ecological genetics of a population of the snail Cepaea nemoralis at the northern limit of its range". Heredity. 31 (2): 201–211. doi:10.1038/hdy.1973.75. PMID 4521375.
  13. ^ Jones, C. S.; Noble, L. R.; Jones, J. S.; Tegelstrom, H.; Triggs, G. S.; Berry, R. J. (1995). "Differential Male Genetic Success Determines Gene Flow in an Experimentally Manipulated Mouse Population". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 260 (1359): 251–256. Bibcode:1995RSPSB.260..251J. doi:10.1098/rspb.1995.0088. PMID 7630894. S2CID 40092567.
  14. ^ Jones, J. S. (1987). "The heritability of fitness: Bad news for 'good genes'?". Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 2 (2): 35–38. doi:10.1016/0169-5347(87)90096-6. PMID 21227813.
  15. ^ Jones, J. S. (1988). "Gaps in fossil teeth: Saltations or sampling errors?". Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 3 (8): 208–213. doi:10.1016/0169-5347(88)90009-2. PMID 21227203.
  16. ^ Jones, C. S.; Noble, L. R.; Jones, J. S.; Tegelstrom, H.; Triggs, G. S.; Berry, R. J. (1995). "Differential Male Genetic Success Determines Gene Flow in an Experimentally Manipulated Mouse Population". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 260 (1359): 251–256. Bibcode:1995RSPSB.260..251J. doi:10.1098/rspb.1995.0088. PMID 7630894. S2CID 40092567.
  17. ^ h.Cowie, R.; Jones, J. S. (1998). "Gene frequency changes in Cepaea snails on the Marlborough Downs over 25 years". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 65 (3): 233. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.1998.tb01141.x.
  18. ^ Jones, S. (2006). "Health, Genes, & Environment: Prosperous People, Penurious Genes". Science. 314 (5807): 1879. doi:10.1126/science.1136273. S2CID 145010677.
  19. ^ Harris, D. J.; Jones, J. S. (1995). "Genotype-specific habitat selection and thermal ecology in Nucella lapillus (L.) (the dogwhelk)". Heredity. 74 (3): 311. doi:10.1038/hdy.1995.45.
  20. ^ BBC website Archived 22 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine Historic Reith Lectures
  21. ^ Sample, Ian (20 July 2011). "BBC gives too much weight to fringe views..." The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
  22. ^ Booker, Christopher (23 July 2011). "Steve Jones tells the BBC: don't give 'denialists' so much air-time". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011.
  23. ^ "Royal Society, awards". Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  24. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  25. ^ Wales, The Learned Society of. "Steve Jones". The Learned Society of Wales. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  26. ^ "profile: Steve Jones: Almost like Darwin?". The Independent. London. 15 June 1997. Archived from the original on 25 May 2022.
  27. ^ "Honorary Associates". www.secularism.org.uk. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  28. ^ "ASE President". The Association for Science Education. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
  29. ^ a b BBC Radio 5 Live: Breakfast, broadcast 13 January 2009
  30. ^ "Letters: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". The Guardian. London. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  31. ^ Steve Jones radio interview on "Sunday Sequence" – BBC Radio Ulster 19-03-06 Archived 21 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ Steve Jones – Why creationism is wrong and evolution is right, Royal Society public lecture, April 2006
  33. ^ National Life Stories, 'Jones, Steve (1 of 6) National Life Stories Collection: Science and Religion', The British Library Board, 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2017
  34. ^ Stevens, William K (14 March 1995). "Evolution of Humans May at Last Be Faltering". The New York Times.
  35. ^ BBC Radio 4 Today programme and BBC Five Live on 7 October 2008
  36. ^ Belluz, Julia (7 October 2008). "Leading geneticist Steve Jones says human evolution is over". The Times. London.
  37. ^ McKie, Robin (3 February 2002). "Is human evolution finally over?". The Observer. London.
  38. ^ Jones, S. (2009). Steve Jones Enlightenment Lecture – Is Human Evolution Over?. Video on YouTube
  39. ^ "Human evolution stopping? Wrong, wrong, wrong".
  40. ^ "No Virginia, evolution isn't ending".
  41. ^ "Evolution, why it still happens (in pictures)".
  42. ^ "Not the end of evolution again!". Archived from the original on 1 November 2008.
  43. ^ "Some comments on Steve Jones and human evolution".

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