Burdon Sanderson Haldane, who normally used "J.B.S." as
a first name, was a British geneticist and evolutionary biologist.
He was one of the founders (along with Ronald Fisher and Sewall
Wright) of population genetics.
was born in Edinburgh, the son of the physiologist John Scott
Haldane and his wife Louisa Kathleen Haldane, and descended from
Scottish aristocrats (see Haldane family). His younger sister
Naomi Mitchison would later become a writer. Haldane was educated
at Dragon School, Eton College (which he hated) and at New College,
the First World War, Haldane served with the Black Watch in France
and Iraq. He was initially Bombing Officer for the 3rd Battalion
before becoming a Trench Mortar Officer in the 1st. Whilst in
the army, he became a socialist, writing "If I live to see
an England in which socialism has made the occupation of a grocer
as honourable as that of a soldier, I shall die happy".
1919 and 1922 he was a fellow of New College, then moved to Cambridge
University until 1932. He then moved to University College, London
where he spent most of the remainder of his academic career. In
the late 1950s he moved to India. The move was ostensibly a protest
against the Suez War, but in reality had been on the cards for
1924 Haldane met Charlotte Burghes (nee Franken) and the two later
married. To do so Charlotte divorced her husband Jack Burghes,
causing some controversy.
1925, Briggs and Haldane gave a mathematically superior derivation
of the 1913 Michaelis-Menten equation, still a mainstay of enzyme
kinetics in biochemistry. The original authors made the assumption
that enzyme (catalyst) and substrate (reactant) are in quasi-equilibrium
with their complex, which then dissociates to yield product and
and Haldane arrived at an equation of the same algebraic form,
but with a better interpretation of the Michaelis constant. Their
derivation makes the more realistic assumption that the intermediate
complex(es) are initially in a quasi-steady-state as substrate
is consumed and product is formed.
famous book, The Causes of Evolution (1932), was a major work
of what came to be known as the "modern evolutionary synthesis",
reestablishing natural selection as the premier mechanism of evolution
by explaining it in terms of the mathematical consequences of
Mendelian genetics. The other major figures were R. A. Fisher
and Sewall Wright.
was a keen experimenter, willing to expose himself to danger to
obtain data. One experiment involving elevated levels of oxygen
saturation triggered a fit which resulted in him suffering crushed
vertebrae. In his decompression chamber experiments, he and his
volunteers suffered perforated eardrums, but, as Haldane stated
in What is Life, "the drum generally heals up; and if a hole
remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco
smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment."
was also a great science populariser, and was perhaps the Isaac
Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould, or Richard Dawkins of his day. His
essay, 'Daedalus or Science and the Future' (1923), was remarkable
in predicting many scientific advances but has been criticized
for presenting a too idealistic view of scientific progress.
was himself a very idealistic man, and in his youth was a devoted
Communist and author of many articles in The Daily Worker. Events
in the Soviet Union, such as the rise of the anti-Mendelian agronomist
Trofim Lysenko and the crimes of Stalin, caused him to break with
the Communist Party later in life. He joined the Communist party
in 1937 but left in 1950, shortly after having toyed with standing
for Parliament as a Communist Party candidate.
is also known for an observation from his essay, On Being the
Right Size, which Jane Jacobs and others have since referred to
as Haldane's principle. This is that sheer size very often defines
what bodily equipment an animal must have: "Insects, being
so small, do not have oxygen-carrying bloodstreams. What little
oxygen their cells require can be absorbed by simple diffusion
of air through their bodies. But being larger means an animal
must take on complicated oxygen pumping and distributing systems
to reach all the cells." The conceptual metaphor to animal
body complexity has been of use in energy economics and secession
was friends with the author Aldous Huxley, and was the basis for
the biologist Shearwater in Huxley's novel Antic Hay. Ideas from
Haldane's Daedalus, such as ectogenesis (the development of fetuses
in artificial wombs), also influenced Huxley's Brave New World.
had many students, the most famous of whom, John Maynard Smith,
was perhaps also the one most like himself.
wise man regulates his conduct by the theories both of religion
and science. But he regards these theories not as statements of
ultimate fact but as art-forms."
education and religious education are incompatible. The clergy
have ceased to interfere with education at the advanced state,
with which I am directly concerned, but they have still got control
of that of children. This means that the children have to learn
about Adam and Noah instead of Evolution; about David who killed
Goliath, instead of Koch who killed cholera; about Christ's ascent
into heaven instead of Montgolfier's and Wright's. Worse than
that, they are taught that it is a virtue to accept statements
without adequate evidence, which leaves them a prey to quacks
of every kind in later life, and makes it very difficult for them
to accept the methods of thought which are successful in science."
I do not suggest that humanity will ever be able to dispense with
its martyrs, I cannot avoid the suspicion that with a little more
thought and a little less belief their number may be substantially
fact, words are well adapted for description and the arousing
of emotion, but for many kinds of precise thought other symbols
are much better."
fairly bright boy is far more intelligent and far better company
than the average adult."
"Now my own
suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose,
but queerer than we can suppose."