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Title: John Maynard Smith and the fact(s) of evolution : a study of scientific working life in post-war Britain
Author: Piel, Helen
ISNI:       0000 0004 8498 9433
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2019
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John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) was one of Britain's foremost evolutionary biologists in the second half of the twentieth century. Drawing on his largely unexamined archive at the British Library and additional archival material, as well as on recent scholarship in science communication studies, this thesis offers a thematic study of Maynard Smith's working life as an evolutionary biologist. Three themes in particular are studied throughout. First, and contrary to the route taken in many scientific careers, popular science played a very prominent part in Maynard Smith's early career. He made use of both print and broadcast media to present his neo-Darwinian view of evolutionary science, to defend it against detractors and to advocate for science as both important for and responsible to society. Second, Maynard Smith, a natural communicator, used non-specialist and professional modes of communicating in tandem, exploiting them to his own professional advantage and to further professionalise evolutionary biology as a science. These different layers, and different uses of popular and professional outlets, also become apparent in his involvement in scientific controversies. Controversies - the third theme - become clearly conspicuous in Maynard Smith's later career, notably controversies around scientific conduct and around scientific ideas. In the former, scientific priority was at the centre, with Maynard Smith taking an "attributional" approach. In the latter, he showed a Popperian mindset, with a focus on falsifiability (to distinguish science and from religion) and constant critical testing as the way to move science forward, arguing both for orthodox views (in the punctuated equilibria debate) and against them (suggesting human mitochondrial DNA might recombine).
Supervisor: Radick, Gregory ; Pledge, Jonathan Sponsor: AHRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
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