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James F. Crow dies

James F. CrowJames F. Crow

The eminent geneticist James F. Crow died on January 4, 2012, at the age of 95, according to the blog of his colleague John Hawks (January 4, 2012). Born on Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, on January 18, 1916, he received his A.B. in biology and chemistry from Friends University in 1937 and his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1941. He taught at Dartmouth College from 1941 to 1948, and then spent the rest of his career at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, until his retirement in 1986. Among his honors were membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal from the Genetics Society of America. The J. F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution at the University of Wisconsin was named in his honor in 2010. He served as the president of the Genetics Society of America in 1960 and the American Society of Human Genetics in 1963, and was co-editor-in-chief of the journal Genetics from 1952 to 1957. In addition to a plethora of articles, he wrote Genetic Notes: An Introduction to Genetics (Burgess Publishing 1950), which saw eight editions, and Basic Concepts in Population, Quantitative, and Evolutionary Genetics (W. H. Freeman 1986). With Motoo Kimura he coauthored the classic An Introduction to Population Genetics Theory (Harper & Row 1970).

In his published work, Crow seems not to have mentioned the creationism/evolution controversy at all. But he was deeply concerned with the integrity of science education nevertheless. In a June 1-3, 2005, interview with the Oral History of Human Genetics Project, he was asked how he felt about the persistence of the antievolutionist movement despite the continued advances in understanding evolution. "I am puzzled by this," he answered, adding, "I'm especially puzzled by literate, intelligent, often scientifically trained people who are into intelligent design. ... The argument of so-called irreducible complexity that the intelligent design people make such a to-do over, I think that's a non-issue. ... That to me is a very, very old argument. I'd say the elephant trunk is complicated, too, and a lot more complicated than the bacterial flagellum. So what's new in this argument?" Reiterating "I am worried about creationism," he offered his view about science and religion: "My own views are atheistic, but I don't go around preaching atheism. You don't get very far trying to do this. And I do accept the fact that people can be religious and still be evolutionists. ... All the arguments among Muller, Fisher, Wright, the rest of these, none of them are changed one whit by whether the person's own views are religious or not. So I've decided I don't care whether a person is personally religious."