Ernst Mayr on G.G. Simpson: Photograph
  Ernst Mayr     Biography    
Recorded: 31 Mar 2002

[G.G.] Simpson is an interesting case. A very brilliant person. The older members of the so-called—an architect of the so-called evolutional synthesis. I think he was the most brilliant one. But later in life he became paranoid and a real genuine classical persecution complex. He would no longer send out reprints and he wouldn’t speak to any students, he was afraid they would steal his ideas. It’s a long story anyhow.

He was asked by the director of the American Museum for perfectly good reasons to become a senior scientist and turn over the chairmanship of the department to a younger person because that younger person was the acting director anyhow—acting chairman of the department anyhow. And Simpson was just holding onto the title. Simpson got so furious that he resigned from the American Museum and then later the wrote a long document which was purely invented, saying that it was covert [the way] this younger man, who had, by his intrigues, saw to it that he was fired from the American Museum. A brilliant person but his mind was completely gone and such things.

Ernst Mayr has been universally acknowledged as the leading evolutionary biologist of the twentieth century. He earned his Ph.D. in ornithology at the age of 21 from the University of Berlin in 1926. During his tenure at the Berlin Museum, from 1926 to 1930, Mayr led ornithological expeditions to Dutch New Guinea and German Mandated New Guinea. In 1931, he was hired by the American Museum of Natural History, Department of Ornithology. During his 20-year AMNH tenure, Dr. Mayr described 26 new bird species and 410 subspecies, more than any other living avian systematist.

In 1953, Mayr became Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and served as Director of the Museum (1961-1970). He has published hundreds of papers and eight books, including Systematics and the Origin of Species (1942), which became a landmark of evolutionary biology.

Mayr has been honored with more than 25 major scientific awards and honors and many honorary degrees, including the National Medal of Science (1970), the Balzan Prize in Biology (1983) and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1999) with John Maynard Smith and George C. Williams "for their fundamental contributions to the conceptual development of evolutionary biology."

In 1995, Harvard’s Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology was rededicated as the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Mayr has been a longtime friend and mentor to Jim Watson.