ARCHIVE: Evolution's Big Hitter

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Science  27 May 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5726, pp. 1233
DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5726.1233d

Stephen Jay Gould dubbed R. A. Fisher “the Babe Ruth of statistics and evolutionary theory.” A British geneticist and mathematician, Fisher (1890–1962) earned the rave review with achievements from inventing the analysis of variance to helping mesh natural selection and genetics, which many scientists in the early 1900s believed were incompatible.

To delve into Fisher's complex and eclectic work, click over to the R. A. Fisher Digital Archive from the University of Adelaide Library in Australia. Readers can browse more than 170 of Fisher's publications, which probe questions such as the origin of dominant genes and the inheritance of the Rh blood groups. A stack of Fisher's correspondence lets you follow along as he discusses heredity, natural selection, and other topics with thinkers such as Charles Darwin's son Leonard, a soldier and scientist. Fisher's papers also reveal what Gould called one of his “major-league errors,” his campaign to discredit the link between smoking and lung cancer. A pipe smoker, Fisher argued that we needed stronger evidence “before plant[ing] fear in the minds of perhaps 100 million smokers around the world.”

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