Population Genetics, Economic Theory, and Eugenics in the Work of R. A. Fisher

Jean Gayon
University Paris 1 – Pantheon Sorbonne
November 29, 2013  3:00-5:00 pm  IBLC 261
Abstract: Sir Ronald A. Fisher (1890-1962) was a leading contributor to the Modern Synthesis that united evolutionary theory with genetics, and provided many of the technical tools in the 1920s and 30s. Professor Jean Gayon will show how Fisher used economic concepts and images in both his mathematical approach to natural selection and his eugenic thinking. He will first examine the striking parallel made by Fisher, in highly theoretical texts, between the rate of increase a population and the growth of capital invested at compound interest. Then Jean Gayon will turn to the explicitely “economic” papers, all motivated by eugenic concerns. The lecture will finally provide evidence that the theoretical side and the eugenic side of Fisher’s biology and Fisher’s use of economic concepts were strongly related.
Biography: Professor Gayon studied at the Université de Paris (1, 6, 7), completing advanced degrees in both philosophy and biology. After a Fulbright at Harvard, he taught in the Philosophy Department of the Université de Bourgogne, where he was promoted to the rank of Full Professor in 1990. He returned to Paris in 1997 and from 2001 has achieved the highest rank, “Professeur Classe exceptionnelle 2”, at the Université de Paris 1. His primary appointment is with the Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques (IHPST), where he also serves as the Directeur. He has received the Grammaticakis-Neuman Prize from the Académie des sciences de Paris, and is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences and of the Conseil scientifique de l’Un (Paris 1). He also has served on the Conseil scientifique du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, and from 2000-2005, he served as a member of the adjudication committee for the Canada Research Chairs. Professor Gayon lists approximately 250 publications, including 19 books. He is a leading scholar in the history and philosophy of biology, with major works on Darwin, Buffon, and Bergson.