Richard Owen: por que não se ouve falar de um dos maiores cientistas?

terça-feira, dezembro 14, 2010

Richard Owen: the greatest scientist you've never heard of

He founded the Natural History Museum, named the dinosaurs and taught Queen Victoria’s children – so why has no one heard of Richard Owen, asks Karolyn Shindler.

Richard Owen, the first Superintendent of the Natural History Museum. Darwin's supporters insinuated that Owen was anti-evolutionist. 

By Karolyn Shindler 9:42AM GMT 07 Dec 2010

In 1861, William Gladstone, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, stood up in the House of Commons and paid tribute to a man he called a “splendid genius”, and the world’s greatest living naturalist. Yet today, Professor Richard Owen may be remembered as the first superintendent of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, but for little else.

In fact, when listing his achievements, it is hard to know where to start. Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1834, at the age of 30, he was a comparative anatomist with an extraordinary range and depth of knowledge in zoology, biology and palaeontology. He described and named an astonishing number of creatures new to science, and published more than 600 books and papers on subjects as diverse as the duck-billed platypus and the gorilla. It was Prof Owen who gave the name “dinosaur” to the order of great extinct reptiles that were then being discovered.

Owen’s greatest legacy is the Natural History Museum, but he was also an adviser to governments, reported on environmental health issues and was awarded more than 100 honours – including a knighthood. He was a famous lecturer, tutored the royal children in science and was awarded a grace-and-favour home by Queen Victoria. His friends included Charles Dickens, Sir Robert Peel and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

So why have so few people heard of him? One of the problems was that Owen was a contradictory character. His actions alienated many; others were jealous of the scale of his success. He fell out with Darwin, not over evolution itself but the forces that brought it about. Darwin won the argument, and his supporters wrote history in a way that marginalised Owen. They emphasised his defects: the occasions when he did not credit the work of others, the harshness of some of his reviews and the public disputes. They insinuated he was an anti-evolutionist, when Darwin must have known that he was not. Owen was accused of being too snobbish to involve himself in the dirty business of digging for fossils – when, in fact, his world was the laboratory and museum.

Read more here/Leia mais aqui: The Telegraph