Monday, October 18, 2010

Leigh Van Valen (1935-2010)

Friends confirm the reports elsewhere on the web [a,b] that Leigh Van Valen died this Saturday in Chicago. He was 75.

Van Valen published on a wide variety of topics, but may be best known as the originator of the Ecological Species Concept and the Red Queen's Hypothesis. While it is difficult to summon authoritative information, the latter appeared in what may be the most successful self-published manuscript in the history of our field [1], presently cited 1402 times according to Google Scholar.

One of my personal favorites, for its vision and clarity, was his paper on clade selection [2]. It was virtually ignored until very recently, but it will likely receive a renewed look in view of recent developments [e.g., 3].

[1] Van Valen, L. 1973. A new evolutionary law. Evolutionary Theory 1:1-30.
[2] Van Valen, L. 1975. Group selection, sex, and fossils. Evolution 29:87-94.
[3] FitzJohn, R. G. 2010. Quantitative traits and diversification. Systematic Biology (in press) doi:10.1093/sysbio/syq053.


Glor said...

Van Valen was definitely one of evolutionary biology's most interesting characters. Does everybody remember the dinosaur sex songs? Personally, I'll never forget the interview I had with him in 2006. We sat knee to knee in his cramped office, surrounded by books piled so high that we would have been buried alive by the slightest tremor. He told me about a book he was working on about energy.

mwpennell said...

Van Valen was an incredibly original thinker. It is a dream of mine to one day publish a paper in Evolutionary Theory as a sort of tribute.

Katrina said...

Thanks for your comments and for the wonderful original post. It's been great to wander out on the net and read the nice things that people are saying about my Dad.

Some people have found the idea of his person (small and overpoweringly intellectual) incompatible with the idea of procreation, but how could an evolutionary biologist not have kids?

The Piles of books and papers were a constant presence in his life, as were songs of every variety.

-Katrina Van Valen

Glor said...

Thanks for visiting our page. Please accept our condolences on your loss.

I'm trying to dig up an old document that included some of your dad's songs. I'm not sure who originally produced this document, but it looked like an old xerox of something produced on a type-writer with pasted on drawings of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. I had a blast performing a few of these songs with my PhD adviser at a party during graduate school a number of years ago.

How would you feel about making a digital version of his compositions available on-line? I haven't been able to find anything that's already out there, but perhaps I haven't looked hard enough...

Poletarac said...

The New York Times ran this obituary today:

erplus said...

leigh’s greatest achievement is what he called “the 3rd law of natural
selection” (1976; van valen meant evolution by natural selection when
writing “natural selection”), an unsuccessful but brilliant and
valiant attempt to overcome the mindless story-telling that
characterizes the modern “natural selection” casuistry industry.

search for “van valen” in the link below, second posting by erpiu.

PS. i heard from several uofc graduate students at a conference that
over the last few decade leigh was harassed systematically by his
former ecoevo chair, c-i.wu. this creep wanted to take away leigh's
lab space to install a paper churner who would bring fed.grant money
to the uofc's parasitic bureaucrats. the harassment included hiding
leigh's excellent teaching evaluations to deny him any defense
arguments. i also heard that leigh lost his space after the creep
resigned due to a scandal involving fraud by a top clerical officer.
sounds like disneyland !? ;)

i also was told that leigh's papers have been claimed by the american
association for the history of science [or something like that], and
that the association offered to make paper shredders available for his
his colleagues when they retire.

David Bapst said...

Just for future visitors to this post, I'd just like to point out that Leigh's songs are available at the website which also collects issues of his self-published journal.