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Lancelot Hogben

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Title: Lancelot Hogben  
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Subject: Interglossa, David Glass (sociologist), Motorcade, Regius Professor of Natural History (Aberdeen), Politics and the English Language
Collection: 1895 Births, 1975 Deaths, Academics of the London School of Economics, Academics of the University of Birmingham, Academics of the University of Edinburgh, Alumni of Trinity College, Cambridge, British Conscientious Objectors, British Statisticians, British Zoologists, Constructed Language Creators, English Anti-Fascists, English Male Writers, English Non-Fiction Writers, English Science Writers, English Socialists, Evolutionary Biologists, Fellows of the Royal Society, People from Portsmouth, Physiologists, University of Cape Town Academics
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Lancelot Hogben

Lancelot Thomas Hogben
Born (1895-12-09)9 December 1895
Portsmouth, England, United Kingdom
Died 22 August 1975(1975-08-22) (aged 79)
Wrexham, Wales, United Kingdom
Occupation experimental zoologist, medical statistician

Lancelot Thomas Hogben eugenics movement in the middle of his career, and popularised books on science, mathematics and language in his later career.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]


  • Early life 1
  • First World War 2
  • Academic 3
  • Political views 4
  • Society for Experimental Biology 5
  • Writer 6
  • Later life 7
  • Hogben's legacy 8
  • The Hogben Archive 9
  • Works 10
  • Further reading 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13

Early life

Hogben was born in Portsmouth and brought up in Southsea, Hampshire. His parents were Plymouth Brethren; he broke young from the family religion. He attended Tottenham County School in London, his family having moved to his mother's home town of Stoke Newington in 1907, and then as a medical student studied physiology at Trinity College, Cambridge.[3] He took his degree in 1915. He had acquired socialist convictions, changing the name of the university's Fabian Society to Socialist Society and went to become an active member of the Independent Labour Party. Later in life he preferred to describe himself as 'a scientific humanist'.[9]

First World War

In the First World War he was a pacifist and was imprisoned as a conscientious objector in 1916 at Wormwood Scrubs; this was after six months working with the Red Cross in France, and his deliberate return to Cambridge. His health collapsed and he was released in 1917.[1] Hogben married in 1918 the mathematician, statistician, and feminist Enid Charles, with whom he had two sons and two daughters.[3]


After a year's convalescence he took lecturing positions in London universities, moving in 1922 to the University of Edinburgh and its Animal Breeding Research Department. He then went to McGill University, and in 1927 to a zoology chair at the University of Cape Town. He worked on endocrinology and used the Xenopus frog. While using Xenopus to investigate the endocrine system, he serendipitously discovered that female Xenopus frogs, when injected with urine from a pregnant woman, ovulated within hours. Thus, the Hogben Pregnancy Test was created and remained the major, international pregnancy test for decades. He found the job in South Africa attractive, but his antipathy to the country's racial policies drove him to leave.

In 1930 Hogben moved to the London School of Economics, in a chair for social biology. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1936.[1] The citation read

Distinguished for his work in Experimental Zoology, especially in respect of the mechanism of colour change in Amphibia and Reptilia. He has published a series of important papers on the effect of hormones on the pigmentary effector system and on the reproductive cycle of vertebrates, and has worked on many branches of comparative physiology. More recently he has made substantial contributions to genetics, especially with regard to man.

The social biology position at the London School of Economics was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, and when it withdrew funding Hogben moved to Aberdeen, becoming Regius Professor of Natural history at the University of Aberdeen in 1937.

Hogben was granted both the Neill Prize, as well as a gold medal, for his work in mathematical genetics.[9]

Political views

While Chair for Social Biology at the LSE, Hogben unleashed a relentless attack on the British eugenics movement, which was at its apex in the 1920s and 1930s. In contrast to eugenicists, who commonly drew a strict line between heredity (or nature) and environment (or nurture), Hogben highlighted the 'interdependence of nature and nurture'.[9] Hogben's appeal to this interdependence of nature and nurture marked the first time gene-environment interaction (or 'gene-environment interplay') was used to undermine statistical attempts to partition the contributions of nature and nurture, as well as the eugenic implications drawn from those statistics. Hogben's foil throughout this period was R.A. Fisher, the leading scientist-eugenicist of the day (Tabery 2008).

In an interview for the book Twentieth Century Authors, Hogben stated:

"I like Scandinavians, skiing, swimming and socialists who realize it is our business to promote social progress by peaceful methods. I dislike football, economists, eugenicists, Fascists, Stalinists, and Scottish conservatives. I think that sex is necessary and bankers are not".[9]

Society for Experimental Biology

In 1923, Hogben was a founder of the British Journal of Experimental Biology (renamed Journal of Experimental Biology in 1930), along with Julian Huxley and geneticist Francis Albert Eley Crew (1886–1973). According to Gary Werskey, Hogben was the only one of the founders not holding any eugenic ideas.


Hogben produced two best-selling works of popular science, Mathematics for the Million (1936) and Science for the Citizen (1938). While at Aberdeen, Hogben developed an interest in language. Besides editing The Loom of Language by his friend Frederick Bodmer, he created an international language, Interglossa, as 'a draft of an auxiliary for a democratic world order'.

Politics and the English Language[10] used a sentence of Hogben's as an example of how not to write, particularly in relation to the use of metaphors.

Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables (...)
— Orwell (1946), quoting Hogben, Interglossa (1943)
Professor Hogben plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions (...)
— Orwell, Politics and the English Language (1946)

Later life

During World War II Hogben had responsibility for the British Army's medical statistics. He was Mason Professor of Zoology at the University of Birmingham 1941–1947 and professor of medical statistics there 1947–1961, when he retired. In 1963, he became the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana, a post he abandoned in April 1964, resigning in 1965.

In the 1950s Hogben settled at Glyn Ceiriog in north Wales, where he bought a cottage. That decade his marriage to Enid broke down, the couple separated in 1953 and divorced in 1957, with Hogben remarrying later that year to local widowed retired school headmistress, (Mary) Jane Roberts (nee Evans), who was seven years younger. Widowed by the death of Jane in 1974, he died at the War Memorial Hospital, Wrexham.[3] in 1975 aged 79 and was cremated at nearby Pentre Bychan.[11]

Hogben's legacy

Hogben's research has left a lasting impression on the history of biology. The phenotypic plasticity, gene-environment interaction, and developmental systems theory all owes much to the legacy of Hogben's initial emphasis on understanding nature and nurture interdependently rather than in dichotomy. In terms of scientific debate, the dispute between Hogben and R.A. Fisher over gene-environment interaction was the first of many subsequent disputes over the extent to which the primacy of the gene can be understood independently of its developmental relationship with the environment (Tabery 2007). The debate on nature and nurture, the race and intelligence controversy, the heritability wars, concerns over the geneticisation of complex human traits, and arguments over the promises and perils of the human genome project all incorporate some element of disagreement over the primacy of the gene. Hogben's attack on that primacy by appeal to the interdependence of nature and nurture has been echoed in each successive dispute.

The Hogben Archive

The Lancelot Thomas Hogben papers are held in Special Collections, University of Birmingham. Archive highlights include a draft of his autobiography (later edited and published by his son Adrian Hogben and his wife), correspondence, hand drawn diagrams for his books, and reflections on his life and works. (For a review of the Hogben Archive, see Tabery 2006).


  • A short life of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), p. 64 (London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1918)[12]
  • Exiles of the Snow, and Other Poems (1918)
  • An Introduction to Recent Advances in Comparative Physiology (1924) with Frank R. Winton
  • The Pigmentary Effector System. A review of the physiology of colour response (1924)
  • Comparative Physiology (1926)
  • Comparative Physiology of Internal Secretion (1927)
  • The Nature of Living Matter (1930)
  • Genetic Principles in Medical and Social Science (1931)
  • Mathematics for the Million (1936), illustrated by Frank Horrabin
  • The Retreat from Reason (1936) Conway Memorial Lecture 20 May 1936, chaired by Julian Huxley.[13]
  • Science for the Citizen: A Self-Educator Based on the Social Background of Scientific Discovery (1938), illustrated by Frank Horrabin
  • Political Arithmetic: A Symposium of Population Studies (1938) editor
  • Dangerous Thoughts (1939)
  • Author in Transit (1940)
  • Principles of Animal Biology (1940)
  • Interglossa: A Draft of an Auxiliary for a Democratic world order, Being an Attempt to Apply Semantic Principles to Language Design (1943)
  • The Loom of Language by Frederick Bodmer (1944) editor
  • An Introduction to Mathematical Genetics (1946)
  • History of the Homeland The Story of the British Background by Henry Hamilton (1947), No. 4 of Primers for the Age of Plenty, edited by Hogben
  • The New Authoritarianism (1949) Conway Memorial Lecture 1949[14]
  • From Cave Painting To Comic Strip: A Kaleidoscope of Human Communication (1949)
  • Chance and Choice by Cardpack and Chessboard (1950)
  • Man Must Measure: The Wonderful World of Mathematics (1955)
  • Statistical theory. The relationship of probability, credibility and error. An examination of the contemporary crisis in statistical theory from a behaviorist viewpoint (1957)
  • The Wonderful World Of Energy (1957)[15]
  • The Signs of Civilisation (1959)
  • The Wonderful World of Communication (1959)
  • Mathematics in the Making (1960)
  • Essential World English (1963) with Jane Hogben and Maureen Cartwright
  • Science in Authority: Essays (1963)
  • The Mother Tongue (1965)
  • Wales for the Welsh — A Tale of War and Peace with Notes for those who Teach or Preach (1967)
  • Beginnings and Blunders or Before Science Began (1970)
  • The Vocabulary Of Science (1970) with Maureen Cartwright
  • Astronomer Priest and Ancient Mariner (1972)
  • Maps, Mirrors and Mechanics (1973)
  • Columbus, the Cannon Ball and the Common Pump (1974)
  • How The World Was Explored, editor, with Marie Neurath and Joseph Albert Lauwerys
  • Hogben, Anne; Hogben, Lancelot Thomas; Hogben, Adrian. Lancelot Hogben: scientific humanist: an unauthorised autobiography (1998)[16]

Further reading

  • Erlingsson, Steindór J., "The Early History of the SEB and the BJEB." Society For Experimental Biology Bulletin, March, pp. 10–11, 2006. The article can be accessed here
  • Tabery, James, "Looking Back on Lancelot's Laughter", The Mendel Newsletter 15: 10–17, 2006.


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c d Kunitz, Stanley J. and Haycraft, Howard Twentieth Century Authors, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature, (Third Edition). New York, The H.W. Wilson Company, 1950, (pp. 658–59)
  10. ^
  11. ^ Death Notice.
  12. ^ Reprinted from Notes and Records of the Royal Society, London, 1999; vol. 53: pp. 361-369, part 2
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^

External links

  • Lancelot Hogben biography at the Galton Institute
  • inScientific Humanism Time Magazine (11 March 1940)
  • Max Perutz on Lancelot Hogben and his autobiography in Times Higher Education (31 July 1998)
  • Details of research on Xenopus
  • Royal Society certificate of election
  • Royal Society photograph
  • First part of Interglossa (there is a photograph of the author on p. 2.)
  • Brief excerpts from Interglossa
  • Full text and diagrams from Interglossa

For a tribute to Mathematics for the Million from Fields Medallist David Mumford

  • Interview with David Mumford

Some of the correspondence between Hogben and R. A. Fisher is available online

  • Correspondence of Sir R.A. Fisher: Calendar of Correspondence with Lancelot Hogben
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