D. M. S. Watson

D. M. S. Watson

David Meredith Seares Watson FRS[1] (18 June 1886 – 23 July 1973) was the Jodrell Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at University College, London from 1921 to 1951.



Early life

Watson was born at Higher Broughton, near Salford, Lancashire, the only son of David Watson, a pioneering metallurgist. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and the University of Manchester. He specialised in geology and began to study plant fossils in coal deposits. In 1907, his final year, he published an important paper on coal balls with Marie Stopes (who had an early career as a paleobotanist); after graduating with first class honours he was appointed as a Beyer fellow at Manchester and went on to complete his MSc in 1909.

After his MSc, Watson continued to develop his wide interest in fossils and studied intensively at the British Museum of Natural History in London, and on extended visits to South Africa, Australia, and the United States. In 1912 he was appointed as a Lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology, at University College London by Professor James Peter Hill.

His academic work was eventually interrupted in 1916 by World War I when he took a commission in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He was later transferred to the nascent Royal Air Force where he worked on balloon and airship fabric design.

Marriage and children

Watson was married in 1917 to Katharine Margarite Parker, and had two daughters, Katharine Mary and Janet Vida.

Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy

After World War I, Watson returned to academic study and in 1921 he succeeded Hill as the Jodrell Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at UCL. He devoted his energy to the development of the Zoology department there and consolidated his position as a respected academician. In 1922 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, where he gave the Croonian Lecture in 1924. Four years later, he was invited to give the Romanes Lecture at the University of Oxford; he spoke on "Paleontology and the Evolution of Man".

He was appointed to the British government's Agricultural Research Council in 1931, which involved spending time in the United States where he lectured at Yale University in 1937. At the outbreak of World War II he returned to Britain to supervise the evacuation of the UCL Zoology department to Bangor, Wales, and then became Secretary of the Scientific Subcommittee of the Food Policy Committee of the War Cabinet.

After the war he continued to teach and to travel widely. He received many awards and academic honours including the Darwin Medal from the Royal Society, the Linnean Medal from the Linnean Society, the Wollaston Medal from the Geological Society of London, and honorary degrees from many universities in Britain and elsewhere. In 1941 Watson was awarded the Mary Clark Thompson Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.[2] He retired from his chair in 1951, but continued to study and publish at UCL until his full retirement in 1965. He was awarded the Linnean Society of London's prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal in 1958.

His scientific research, besides his early original work on fossil plants and coal balls, was chiefly concerned with vertebrate palaeontology, especially fossil reptiles. He amassed a large collection of fossils from his wide travels.

Published works

  • "Palaeontology and the Evolution of Man", Romanes Lecture, Oxford, 1928
  • The Animal Bones from Skara Brae (1931)
  • "Science and Government", the Earl Grey Memorial Lecture, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1942
  • "Paleontology and Modern Biology", the Silliman Memorial Lecture, Yale University, 1951
  • Many papers on vertebrate palaeontology and connected subjects in Philosophical Transactions, Proceedings of the Zoological Society, Journal of Anatomy, and elsewhere.

DMS Watson Library

The Science library, known as the DMS Watson library, of University College London is named in his honour. It is UCL's second largest library and is in Malet Place adjacent to the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

Famous Quote

the theory of evolution itself, a theory universally accepted not because it be can proved by logically coherent evidence to be true but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.

This statement by Watson first appeared in an article entitled "Adaption" for the journal Nature.[3] This quote is often utilized in Creationist publications and websites in an attempt to demonstrate that Watson, and thus by extension promoters of evolution in general, simply dismiss creationist viewpoints outright due to a presumed antitheistic bias. However, an examination of the article itself reveals that while Watson is somewhat diffident concerning several of the proposed explanations for and examples of evolutionary adaptation, it is his opinion that evolution has an overall explanatory power that is unmatched by any other competing explanation, including special creation. It is for this reason that Watson states near the beginning of his article in words echoing those quoted above that:

Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or is supported by logically coherent arguments, but because it does fit all the facts of Taxonomy, of Palaeontology, and of Geographical Distribution, and because no alternative explanation is credible.[4]

It is thus due to Watson's assessment of evolution has having an explanatory power for observations in biology superior to special creation that he labels special creation, as well as other alternatives, "incredible" and not from any predetermined dogmatic stance against creationism per se. One should finally note that although Watson's statements are supportive of theory of evolution, proponents of evolution themselves have found several aspects of his article as well as its use in current discussions on the status of evolution problematic.[5]


  1. ^ Parrington, F. R.; Westoll, T. S. (1974). "David Meredith Seares Watson. 1886-1973". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 20: 482. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1974.0021.  edit
  2. ^ "Mary Clark Thompson Medal". National Academy of Sciences. http://www.nasonline.org/site/PageServer?pagename=AWARDS_thompson. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  3. ^ D.M.S. Watson, "Adaptation," Nature, Vol. 124, August 10, 1929, 233 . This same article also appears in the Report of the Ninety-Seventh Meeting British Association for the Advancement of Science (Office of the British Association: London, 1929), 88-99 and can be accessed at http://www.archive.org/details/reportofbritisha30adva . The quote discussed here may be found on page 95.
  4. ^ D.M.S. Watson, "Adaptation" in Report of the Ninety-Seventh Meeting British Association for the Advancement of Science (Office of the British Association: London, 1929), 88.
  5. ^ cf. "Dumb Remarks by Scientists that Pseudoscientists Love" http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/StupidSci.HTM ; "D.M.S. Watson Admitted Evolutionists Dogmatically Rejected Creation?" http://members.cox.net/ardipithecus/evol/lies/lie031.html .


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