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April 20, 2011

John Gillespie, “the evil scientist from America”

I own a book of Motoo Kimura’s collected papers, and of course I have a copy of John Gillespie’s Population Genetics: A Concise Guide. But I’d forgotten the acrimony between the two men. Gillespie has been retired for half a decade now, while Kimura died in in 1994. I randomly stumbled onto an old newspaper story from 1992 covering the feud between these two eminent population geneticsts, Scientists in Open War over “Neutral Theory” of Genetics. It was in the Sacramento Bee, which is based near Gillespie’s university. The background is that both were principals in the “neutralist–selectionist” debate of the 1970s and 1980s. Kimura was one of the main theoretical architects of the neutral theory of molecular evolution, which eventually spread its influence to the point where old-line adaptationists such as Richard Dawkins had to offer up a counter-argument.

Some choice bits:

That was the beginning of John Gillespie’s problems with Kimura. He reviewed the Japanese scientist’s book for the prestigious journal Science. Gillespie was annoyed by the tone of Kimura’s book: “He devoted an entire chapter to telling us that he had saved us from ourselves.” The UC Davis scientist complained about it in the ...

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