Olivia Judson, or … Springtime for the Curmudgeon

EVERY blogger is going to make a fool of himself at some point, and this is your Curmudgeon’s moment.

We were scanning for news of interest to our fans, and we noticed this in the New York Times: Let’s Get Rid of Darwinism, by Olivia Judson.

Dr. Olivia Judson

Dr. Olivia Judson

That’s when we saw the photo of the author, beneath which it said:

Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist, is the author of “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex,” which was made into a three-part television program. Ms. Judson has been a reporter for The Economist and has written for a number of other publications, including Nature, The Financial Times, The Atlantic and Natural History. She is a research fellow in biology at Imperial College London.

Your Curmudgeon is smitten. There’s not much else to say, but we will gather what remains of our Curmudgeonly powers of concentration and attempt to describe Olivia’s article. It’s about how evolutionary biology has grown to be much bigger than Darwin’s original idea, and how the term “Darwinism” is inappropriate. Excerpts:

In short, Darwin did more in one lifetime than most of us could hope to accomplish in two. But his giantism has had an odd and problematic consequence. It’s a tendency for everyone to refer back to him. …

Why is this a problem? Because it’s all grossly misleading. It suggests that Darwin was the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, of evolutionary biology, and that the subject hasn’t changed much in the 149 years since the publication of the “Origin.”

He wasn’t, and it has. Although several of his ideas — natural and sexual selection among them — remain cornerstones of modern evolutionary biology, the field as a whole has been transformed.

That’s the essence of the piece, climaxing with this:

I’d like to abolish the insidious terms Darwinism, Darwinist and Darwinian. They suggest a false narrowness to the field of modern evolutionary biology, as though it was the brainchild of a single person 150 years ago, rather than a vast, complex and evolving subject to which many other great figures have contributed.


Calling evolutionary biology “Darwinism,” and evolution by natural selection “Darwinian” evolution, is like calling aeronautical engineering “Wrightism,” and fixed-wing aircraft “Wrightian” planes, after those pioneers of fixed-wing flight, the Wright brothers.

Nice article, Olivia. You’re a biologist of whom we’d like to see more.

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6 responses to “Olivia Judson, or … Springtime for the Curmudgeon

  1. It is rather grand to be able now to put a face to the author of “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation.” I had previously imagined a face more like Dr. Ruth’s…

  2. As the essay demonstrates, the Curmudgeon is skillful indeed at one-handed blogging.


  3. I hope we see more of her too, much more, all the way down more, and neked. (Hey, I’m a man!)

    OK, enough of my sexist, testosterone driven, drooling, one handed monkeying around.

    The reason the terms ‘Darwinism, Darwinian, Darwinist’ still exist is because of CrIders who use the terms to limit the scope of evolution to simple ideas. Those amazingly intelligent and well read CriDers believe that makes Evilution easy to ridicule in face of the complexity uncovered by modern studies which – cough, cough – can be attributed to intelligent creation.

    Those terms will not go away. Even the passing suggestion by a scientist that we discard the terms will encourage CrIders to ramp up their use and possibly add the claim that their use has Darwinists on the run.

    By frightening the ‘atheistic horde’ into distancing themselves from that satanic Darwinistic evolution (the original sin), the CrIDers have proven the very foundation of modern evolution (which they define differently every time you listen to them) ‘Darwinism’ to be false, thus bringing all subsequent knowledge down with it.

    Remember, Evilution is built on sand. Remove the sand and what do you have? Why, the destruction of the house that Darwin built, that’s what!

    Oops, you have stable bedrock. My bad.

  4. The Curmudgeon

    Try to control yourself, tundra boy! She’s just another incredibly gorgeous scientist. High profile bloggers, such as your Curmudgeon, are constantly surrounded by such.

  5. Sorry, what were you saying? I was kinda busy.

  6. Pingback: Olivia Judson Takes a Sabbatical « The Sensuous Curmudgeon