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On Charles Darwin's birthday, Wayne State professor featured in NSF report on naturalist's legacy

February 5, 2009

Darwin Expert at Wayne State University to be featured in National Science Foundation's special report, debuting Feb. 12

Wayne State professor says science indebted to Charles Darwin

It seems logical that a professor whose rather unusual specialty is the history of biology might become intrigued with Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. And that is what happened for Marsha Richmond, now an associate professor in the Wayne State University History Department. In 1987 Richmond, who had just received her Ph.D. in history of science, took a position at Cambridge University as an associate editor with the Darwin Project, a meticulous, ongoing effort to assemble the 19th century British naturalist's existing correspondence for publication.

"Many people remember Darwin mainly for his famous book, On the Origin of Species, she explains. "But his real gift to the world was what he taught us about scientific methodology. He was always questioning the nature of things, and he had a keen sense of scientific observation. He looked at plants and animals with a critical eye and meticulously recorded his observations. Then he drew very specific conclusions from his research data.

"Of course, naturalists had collected specimens before Darwin's time," Richmond adds, "but few studied the connections between them and what they said about the world, past and present. Biologists at the time were mainly engaged in describing and classifying organisms, or in studying their anatomy and physiology. Darwin was one of the few to speculate that organisms could change, or evolve, over time. He put a myriad of facts together to provide a theory of evolution that unified all the life sciences. The scientific community, and the world at large, owes a great deal to Charles Darwin. He's really the father of modern biology."

Professor Richmond earned a bachelor's degree in science education from the University of Oklahoma and did post-graduate work in the history of science there before transferring to Indiana University, where she received her Ph.D.

An interview with Marsha Richmond, and an essay regarding her thoughts on Charles Darwin, will be available on the National Science Foundation's Web site (www.nsf.gov) beginning Feb. 12. Look for the "Evolution of Evolution" tab.

 

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