Monday 18 October 2010

Leigh Van Valen 1935-2010

I read this morning (via John Hawks) that Leigh Van Valen, who came up with the Red Queen's Hypothesis (a concept I have just taught my Level 2 Applied Science students) among many other valuable contributions to evolutionary biology, has died.

Leigh was a long-time reader of the old blog The Ethical Palaeontologist, and he subscribed by e-mail. Often I would receive an e-mail from him with his thoughts. He defended me on Paleonet without ever having met me (although to this day I do not know who the original poster was). When I was skeletonising the pigeons he sent me his co-authored paper on "Terrestrial Isopods for Preparing Delicate Vertebrate Skeletons". He even sent me the lyrics to his song "Sauropod Lek", where the chorus goes:
Sperm are cheap and so the males act sexy;
They twirl their tails till they get apoplexy,
And we can choose the one whose tail’s most flexi.
I have the female version - if anyone has his male version I'll swap you!

He made a tremendous contribution to the field of palaeontology and evolutionary biology, and my students will hear all about his legacy as and when we cover speciation. He also made a difference in my life personally, and while I did thank him many times for his support, I don't think my e-mails can do justice to the gratitude I feel towards him.

I will miss him.


  1. *sad*

    I can never remember what the Red Queen hypothesis actually is. Wikipedia to the rescue!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. To "erplus" - unfortunately I have had to remove your comment. The first half of it was perfectly fine and an excellent tribute to Leigh.

    However, the second half contained allegations against a living person, the veracity of which I cannot ascertain. As I do not know the facts of the alleged events, I am not comfortable in defending them and if they are unproven then they would constitute a libel against the person.

    As I am a British based blogger, the person against whom the allegations have been made could sue me in the English courts and gain damages in the order of £100,000s. I can neither afford, nor am I willing to take that risk on something I know nothing about.

    You are more than welcome to post the original part of the comment paying tribute to Leigh, but unless there are verifiable public-domain sources for these allegations that have been proven, then it is too much of a risk for me personally to take. If you wish to make these allegations public then you are more than welcome to do so on your own domains.

    Thank you.


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