Walter Frank Raphael Weldon bigraphy, stories - British zoologist

Walter Frank Raphael Weldon : biography

15 March 1860 - 13 April 1906

Walter Frank Raphael Weldon DSc FRS (Highgate, London, 15 March 1860 – Oxford, 13 April 1906) generally called Raphael Weldon, was an English evolutionary biologist and a founder of biometry. He was the joint founding editor of Biometrika, with Francis Galton and Karl Pearson.

Career

Upon returning to Cambridge in 1882, he was appointed university lecturer in Invertebrate Morphology. Weldon's work was centred around the development of a fuller understanding of marine biological phenomena and selective death rates of these organisms.

After graduating he began research, going to Naples where he worked at the Zoological Station. He was appointed a demonstrator in zoology at Cambridge University in 1882, and became a Fellow of St John's College and a university lecturer in invertebrate morphology in 1884. His teaching was described in these glowing terms:

"Seldom is it given to a man to teach as Weldon taught. He lectured almost as one inspired. His extreme earnestness was only equalled by his lucidity. He awoke enthusiasm even in the dullest, and had the divine gift of compelling interest."

After he was married to Florence, Weldon took all his holidays with his wife in places where they could study marine biology. In particular they visited the Bahamas in 1886, which was scientifically very profitable. The Marine Biological Association set up a laboratory in Plymouth, and Weldon and his wife began spending all their vacations there undertaking research. By 1888 they were spending as much time there as his duties at Cambridge would allow, and he only went to the university to give his lectures. He undertook research June to January, teaching at Cambridge for two terms each year.

In 1889 Weldon succeeded Lankester in the Jodrell Chair of Zoology at University College London, and was elected to the Royal Society in 1890. Royal Society records show his election supporters included the great zoologists of the day: Huxley, Lankester, Poulton, Newton, Flower, Romanes and others.

His interests were changing from morphology to problems in variation and organic correlation. He began using the statistical techniques that Francis Galton had developed for he had come to the view that "the problem of animal evolution is essentially a statistical problem." Weldon began working with his University College colleague, the mathematician Karl Pearson. Their partnership was very important to both men and survived Weldon's move to the Linacre Chair of Zoology at Oxford University in 1899. In the years of their collaboration Pearson laid the foundations of modern statistics. Magnello emphasises this side of Weldon's career. In 1900 he took the DSc degree and as Linacre Professor he also held a Fellowship at Merton College, Oxford.

By 1893 a Royal Society Committee included Weldon, Galton and Karl Pearson 'For the Purpose of conducting Statistical Enquiry into the Variability of Organisms'. In an 1894 paper Some remarks on variation in plants and animals arising from the work of the Royal Society Committee, Weldon wrote:-

"... the questions raised by the Darwinian hypothesis are purely statistical, and the statistical method is the only one at present obvious by which that hypothesis can be experimentally checked."

In 1900 the work of Gregor Mendel was rediscovered and this precipitated a conflict between Weldon and Pearson on the one side and William Bateson on the other. Bateson, who had been taught by Weldon, took a very strong line against the biometricians. This bitter dispute ranged across substantive issues of the nature of evolution and methodological issues such as the value of the statistical method. Will Provine gives a detailed account of the controversy. The debate lost much of its intensity with the death of Weldon in 1906, though the general debate between the biometricians and the Mendelians continued until the creation of the modern evolutionary synthesis in the 1930s.

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