An evolutionist in the Evolution Range

October 4, 2010 • 11:22 am

One of the friends I’m visiting in Boston is Andrew Berry, who teaches evolutionary biology at Harvard.  You may recall that Berry, whose other passion is mountaineering, placed a copy of WEIT atop Mount Darwin in California.

Berry has recently posted an account of his mountaineering homage to Charles Darwin: a combined climbing/backpacking expedition with another evolutionist.  The team ascended Mounts Darwin, Wallace, and Lamarck in the Sierra Nevada. His account includes interesting information on how these mountains got their names (others in the range include Mounts Huxley, Spencer, and Mendel).  Berry is unenthusiastic about the suggestion (seriously) that another peak in the range be named Mount (Stephen Jay) Gould; he favors Mount [R. A.] Fisher instead.

Photos from the 2009 expedition:

13 thoughts on “An evolutionist in the Evolution Range

  1. I tend to favor a vote for Mount Fisher as well, but that just my bias as someone who enjoys statistics as well as the biological sciences.

  2. If Mt. Spencer is named after Herbert Spencer perhaps it could be renamed after Gould. I see no reason to honor Spencer, a man that misused evolutionary theory to develop that hideous philosophy of Social Darwinism. Especially since the name of the philosophy is a misnomer that besmirches Charles Darwin and the theory of Natural Selection.

  3. Fisher is more than deserving of the honor because of his role in establishing the modern synthesis AND continental drift. Here’s a story about R.A. Fisher told by Persi Diaconis in his beautiful monograph Group Representations in Probability and Statistics. (The relevance here is Fisher’s analysis of hypothesis testing using measurements on a sphere.) Diaconis’s story is about the proof of Wegener’s theory of continental drift, in which Fisher played an important role in the 1950s, and a really nasty academic dispute with geophysicist/Bayesian statistician Harold Jeffreys:

    “I cannot resist reporting some background on Fisher’s motivation for working with the distribution discussed above. This story was told to me in 1984 by the geologist Colin B. B. Bull. Dr. Bull was a student in Cambridge in the early 1950′s. One day he ran across the street in haste and knocked an old man off a bicycle! The old man seemed dazed. When asked where he was bound he replied “India.” It turned out to be R. A. Fisher who was meeting a train enroute to a visit to the Indian Statistical Institute. A month later, Bull met Fisher at Cambridge and again apologized. Fisher asked what area Bull worked in. Bull explained that a group of geologists was trying to test Wegener’s theory of continental drift. Wegener had postulated that our current continents used to nest together. He tested this by looking at the distribution of a wide variety of bird, animal and plant life – arguing that matching points had close distributions.

    “Geologists found themselves far afield in trying to really understand Wegener’s arguments. They searched for data that were closer to geology. They had hit on the distribution of magnetization angle in rocks. This gave points naturally distributed on the sphere. They had two distributions (from matching points on two continents) and wanted to test if the distributions were the same.

    “Fisher took a surprisingly keen interest in the problem and set out to learn the relevant geology. In addition to writing his famous paper (which showed the distributions were different) he gave a series of talks at the geology department to make sure he’d got it right. Bull told me these were very clear, and remarkable for the depth Fisher showed after a few months study.

    “Why did Fisher take such a keen interest? A large part of the answer may lie in Fisher’s ongoing war with Harold Jeffries. They had been rudely battling for at least 30 years over the foundations of statistics. Jeffries has never really accepted (as of 1987!) continental drift. It is scarcely mentioned in Jeffries’ book on geophysics. Fisher presumably had some extra-curricular motivation.”

    Fisher also wrote about why “intelligent design” arguments are absurd given the fact of evolution”

    “If we imagine, then, some extra-natural agency endeavouring to influence the organic evolution of mammals and birds by the production, on millions of different occasions, of this single mutation, we can recognise that its efforts were futile and inoperative.”

  4. Have you considered publishing a limited edition stone or ceramic, possibly cuneiform version of the text to intrigue and enlighten the future descendents of the Morlocks and Eloi?

    Joking only to a point. Posterity aside, it would be nice for humanity to have something to counter 31st-century holy books. It would also be easier for future archaeologists to read than the failing bits of the last DRM server of the information age 🙂

  5. I can’t comment on SummitPost, so I’ll say it here: Well done, Dr. Berry! A very entertaining report on your trip to the Evolution Range. Wow, do I want to go!

  6. Is the focus on individuals who made great scientific contributions (Darwin, Wallace, Mendel) or on popularizers of science (Darwin and Wallace again, along with Huxley and Spencer)? If the former, then Modern Synthesis pioneers like Fisher and Wright are better candidates. If the latter, then Gould and Dawkins would be better.

  7. Having hiked that region a couple of five-six-seven(?) times that is some gorgeous territory. I’m surprised they didn’t comment about the cold. I remember it being 20 or so in mid August in the morning during my 2004 trip. Evolution Lake and Darwin’s Bench are the coldest places I ever stayed, I don’t think it was ever above 30 in the morning. During the day it 70 plus, but when night falls, so do the temperatures.

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