Featuring: the living dead! Killer flowers! Killer insects! Auntie Beeb!
Editor Charlotte Sleigh writes:
This quarter’s edition kicks off with our Society’s president on the topic of ‘experimenting with the scientific past’, specifically asking how biology might look, in the taught curriculum, if we were not so centred on the gene as a central pillar of biological thought. En passant, he resurrects a little-known figure from the biological past who might just have sent history on a different path. The theme of ‘what if’ is continued by Tom Quick’s examination of Robert E. Grant’s zoology in the early nineteenth-century, pointing out how differing norms of microscopic and museum-based presentation affected the knowledge that was permitted to be generated. Upon moving to London, Grant found that his microscopic investigations were side-lined by the greater persuasiveness accorded to museum specimens.
Next, Jim Endersby’s ‘Deceived by orchids’ achieves something rare and valuable in the history of science, and in the related field of literature and science. It is a concrete example of how imaginative work – here in the arena of fiction – may have made certain scientific novelties thinkable in a way that they previously were not: a closure of the loop of influence between literature and science. All this and sex, deception, and fatal flowers too.
Ted Deveson’s article on, biological control in Western Australia during the first decade of the twentieth century takes us once again into the terrain of what-if. It narrates the fortunes of a Californian entomologist who, in the context of local politics and successful media manipulation, made a kind of biology (a late, local popularization of acclimatization) thinkable in a way that it was not in most other contemporary settings.
Finally we move to the first so-called science journalist, J. G. Crowther, and the institutional shenanigans of science around the time of the Second World War. Allan Jones recounts how Crowther retreated from his pre-war view that scientific institutions should direct the public broadcast of science, owing to his embroilment in wartime conflict between the Science Committee of the British Council and the Royal Society.