Saturday, June 5, 2010

The University of Toronto's 1853 Screw Up

T.H. Huxley
This giggle-inducingly werewolfish fellow is T.H. Huxley. These days he's probably best known as the grandfather of superfamous mescaline user and Brave New World  author Aldous Huxley, but decades before baby Aldous was even born, his grandpapa was already one of the world's best known and most important scientists. He was a pioneer in evolution, called himself "Darwin's Bulldog" and was, next to Darwin himself, the leading advocate of the theory. He's the guy who suggested that birds were descended from dinosaurs, who coined the term "agnostic" and who got British universities to start giving out degrees in science. Dude wasn't just one of the leading naturalists of the 19th century, he was probably one of the most important figures in the entire history of science. And in 1853,  he wanted to work at the University of Toronto.

At the time, the U of T was looking to hire someone to head up their brand new natural history department, and Huxley—who in those pre-Origin of Species days was a young, but already award-winning biologist—applied, backed by glowing recommendations from many of Britain's best scientists, Darwin included.

His main rival for the position was a one-time Unitarian Minister from Ireland, the Revered William Hincks. And Hincks was no T.H. Huxley. He didn't believe in Darwin's theory, and would soon be attacking it in favour of the “unity of plan and perfection of design” put forth by the Old Testament. Scientifically, he adhered to his own version of the totally bullshit theory of quinarianism, which claimed that all species had been created in groups of five and sought to arrange them into pretty little circles. His biggest professional accomplishment would prove to be a collection of dead birds and plants, which he donated to the Royal Ontario Museum. Tellingly, while Huxley's contributions are now listed in a nearly 10,000 word Wikipedia article, Hincks doesn't have one at all. And if you're looking for a photo of the good Reverend to, oh, I don't know, say, stick at the top of a blog post about him, good freaking luck. He's an obscure footnote; his views on natural history were completely wrong-headed, his contributions were negligible at best and harmful at worst.


Hincks had one qualification that Huxley didn't: he was the older brother of Francis Hincks, who just so happened to be the Premier of Ontario. So guess who got the job.


This post is related to dream
02 The Adultorous Fox
William Hincks, 1853

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