Ernst Mayr on Harvard Biology Department
  Ernst Mayr     Biography    
Recorded: 31 Mar 2002

No, it wasn’t so extreme because the laboratory crowd was rather mediocre… and the naturalist crowd also was rather mediocre. (This you have to erase later…) We had a bunch of botanists who were very mediocre. And that George Wald always talked about. That he said, “All these absolutely useless botanists.” Then, of course, he generalized and said all the naturalists at Harvard are no good and that includes Ernst Mayr and George Simpson. Oh, yeah, we heard that, but, one of these days you will see—it’s published in German already. I have a paper published, the English version is still not yet published on “The Autonomy of Biology,” in which I show that even after we eliminate Menedelism and geneology and all these fuzzy things, if you leave cold hard biology, it is a very different science from physics. That is virtually ignored by the historians of science and the philosophy of science even more.

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.