Two hundred years ago the news of a famine in China created no duty for Englishmen. They could take no possible action against it. To-day the telegraph and the steam-engine have made such action possible, and it becomes an ethical problem what action, if any, is right. Two hundred years ago a workman generally owned his own tools. Now his tool may be a crane or steam-hammer, and we all have our own views as to whether these should belong to shareholders, the state, or guilds representing the workers.

John Burdon Sanderson Haldane

Born: November 5, 1892

Died: December 1, 1964 (Age 72)

John Burdon Sanderson Haldane FRS was an English scientist known for his work in the study of physiology, genetics, evolutionary biology, and in mathematics, where he made innovative contributions to the fields of statistics and biostatistics. He was the son of the equally famous John Scott Haldane and was a professed socialist, Marxist, atheist, and humanist whose political dissent led him to leave England in 1956 and live in India, becoming a naturalised Indian citizen in 1961.

His first paper in 1915 demonstrated genetic linkage in mammals while subsequent works helped to create population genetics, thus establishing a unification of Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution by natural selection whilst laying the groundwork for modern evolutionary synthesis. His article on abiogenesis in 1929 introduced the "primordial soup theory", and it became the foundation to build physical models for the chemical origin of life. Haldane established human gene maps for haemophilia and colour blindness on the X chromosome, and codified Haldane's rule on sterility in the heterogametic sex of hybrids in species. He correctly proposed that sickle-cell disease confers some immunity to malaria. He was the first to suggest the central idea of in vitro fertilisation, as well as concepts such as: the hydrogen economy, cis and trans-acting regulation, coupling reaction, molecular repulsion, the darwin (as a unit of evolution) and organismal cloning. In 1957 he articulated Haldane's dilemma, a limit on the speed of beneficial evolution which subsequently proved incorrect. He willed his body for medical studies, as he wanted to remain useful even in death.

Arthur C. Clarke credited him as "perhaps the most brilliant science populariser of his generation". Nobel laureate Peter Medawar called Haldane "the cleverest man I ever knew".

Available Documents: 1

Science and Ethics
April 18, 1928

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