Richard Swann Lull (1867 - 1957)

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Death: Died
Managed by: Doug Robinson
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About Richard Swann Lull

Richard Swann Lull (November 6, 1867–1957) was an American paleontologist from the early 20th century, active at Yale University, who is largely remembered now for championing a Pre-Neo-Darwinian Synthesis view of evolution, whereby mutation(s) could unlock mysterious genetic drives that, over time, would lead populations to increasingly extreme phenotypes (and perhaps, ultimately, to extinction).

Lull was born in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of naval officer Edward Phelps Lull and Elizabeth Burton, daughter of General Henry Burton. He majored in zoology at Rutgers College where he received both his undergraduate and masters degrees (M.S. 1896). He worked for the Division of Entomology of the United States Department of Agriculture, but in 1894 became an assistant professor of zoology at the State Agricultural College in Amherst, Massachusetts (now the University of Massachusetts). Lull's interest in fossil footprints began at Amherst College, renowned for its collection of fossil footprints, and eventually led him to switch from entomology to paleontology.

In 1899 Lull worked as a member of the American Museum of Natural History's expedition to Bone Cabin Quarry, Wyoming, helping to collect that museum's brontosaur skeleton. In 1902 he again joined an American Museum team in Montana, then studied under Columbia University Prof. Henry Fairfield Osborn. In 1903 he received his Ph.D. from Columbia University, and in 1906, after a brief time at Amherst, was named Assistant Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology in Yale College and Associate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. He stayed at Yale for the next 50 years. In 1933 Lull was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

One famous example he used to support his Pre-Neo-Darwinian Synthesis theory concerned the enormous antlers of the Irish Elk: he argued that these could not possibly be the result of natural selection, and instead reflected one of his "unlocked genetic drives" towards ever increasing antler size. The poor elk, coping in each generation with ever bigger antlers were eventually driven extinct.

This forms an example of orthogenesis that clearly distinguishes the concept of mysterious, non-Darwinian evolutionary driving forces from the concept of teleology (purpose of goal oriented evolution). Both ideas are rejected by modern science, but each continues to resurface in one form or another as the years go by.

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Richard Swann Lull's Timeline

Age 90