"In some respects—quickness of grasp, and the power to connect things in his mind in completely unexpected ways—[Haldane] was the cleverest man I ever knew. He had something novel and theoretically illuminating to say on every scientific subject he chose to give his mind to: on the kinetics of enzyme action, on infectious disease as a factor in evolution, on the relationship between antigens and genes, and on the impairment of reasoning by prolonged exposure to high concentrations of carbon dioxide."
In his day Professor JBS Haldane was as well-known a scientist as one could hope to be. Magazines paid handsomely for his articles explaining science to the general public. Collected in books, these continued to sell for years. When he voiced his classically-educated opinions, the newspapers listened, and the BBC transmitted them. Reckless physiological self-experimentation, learned from his father, created useful drama. 'Prof' had the sort of presence as a general science popularizer and skeptic that Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould came to command half a century later. But Haldane had a far broader scientific reach, and more panache. Technically, he was a mathematical population geneticist and evolutionary theorist, one of the founders of the New Synthesis which anchored Darwin to Mendel through statistical wizardry (impressive to those in the know, but an unpromising basis for broader fame). Along the way, he also took up communism.
A detailed consideration of Haldane's politics and his involvement in Soviet espionage, based on previously ignored sources, including MI5 files and the Haldane Archive at UCL. Published here in (mobile-friendly) HTML and PDF formats.
I was born at Oxford, England, in 1892. My father was
Prof. J. S. Haldane, the physiologist. I was educated at Eton and New
but However I learned much of my science by
apprenticeship, assisting my father from the age of eight onwards, and my university
degree is in for classics, not science. I was in a British
infantry battalion from 1914 to 1919, and was twice wounded. In 1919
I began scientific research in 1910, and became a Fellow of New College,
Oxford, in 1919. I was at Cambridge from 1922-1932 as Reader in
Biochemistry, and have been a professor in London University since 1933.
I was visiting professor in the University of Berkeley, Cal., in 1932. In
the same year I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
My scientific work has been varied. In the field of
human physiology I am best known for my work on the
physiolog effects of
taking large amounts of ammonium chloride and other salts. This has had
some application in treating lead and radium poisoning. In the field of
genetics I was the first to discover linkage in mammals, to map a human
chromosome, and (with Penrose) to measure the mutation rate of a human
gene. I have also made some minor discoveries in mathematics.
Whilst I may have been a credit to my universities, I
have not been a trial in other ways. I was dismissed from
Cambridge University in 1926 in connexion with a divorce case, but regained my
post on appeal to a higher tribunal, which found that the university
authorities had decided to dismiss me without hearing my case. At present
I have refused to evacuate University College, London, and, with two assistants
am its sole academic occupant. I am carrying on research there under
Besides strictly scientific books I have written a number of
popular works including a
children's book of children's stories. I
consider that a scientist, if he can do so, should help to render science
intelligible to ordinary people, and have done my best to popularize it.
Till 1933 I tried to keep out of politics, but the support
given by the British Government to Hitler and Mussolini forced me to enter the
political field. In 1936-1938 I spent three months in Republican Spain,
first as an adviser on gas protection, and then as an observer of air raid precautions.
have been was in the front line during fighting, and in several air
raids behind the line. Since then I have tried, with complete lack of
success, to induce the British Government to adopt air raid protection measures
which had proved their efficacy in Spain.
Mr. Chamberlain's policy, and the recent developments in
physics and biology, combined to convince me of the truth of the Marxist philosophy.
Though I am a member of no political party, I have of late years supported the
communist party on a number of issues. At present I am engaged on
research in genetics, & research intended to save the lives of members of
the British armed forces, and
in on writing and public speaking designed
to prevent the spreading of the present war, and if possible to secure
bring about peace. I am a fairly competent public speaker.
It will be seen that my life has been a full one. I
have been married for
ten 14 years, measure 73 inches, weigh 245 pounds,
and enjoy swimming and mountain walking. I am bald and blue-eyed, a
moderate drinker and a heavy smoker. I can read 12 11 languages
and make public speeches in three, but am unmusical.