Leigh Van Valen, who was one of the great, imposing presences at the Conceptual Foundations of Science meetings at The University of Chicago, pased away. He would be a disheveled presence with a tennisband holding his overflowing hair barely in place. At colloquia he would often (unintentionally, I think) bewilder famous invited speakers by asking profound questions from left field (often dropping a few minor premises along the way). My favorite lines in a recent obituary is this: "Considered unconventional even by eccentrics, Van Valen had a wide range of interests, spanning the history of all life forms. “I don’t work linearly,” he explained in a note to his department chair."
Anyway, I quote a few paragraphs from the obituary that give one pause about the nature of higher education.
"The author or co-author of more than 300 papers in academic journals, Van Valen managed to remain remarkably productive despite his growing unease with the system that regulates research funding. He worried that relying on grants, from any source, could constrain research into unimaginative ruts. “The required conformity stultified my research,” he wrote in an opinion piece for Nature. “When one knows just what one will do, it is done.” So he found ways to proceed without government grants.
He nevertheless held important roles in several professional groups, serving as vice president of the Society for the Study of Evolution and the American Society of Naturalists. He also served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the Journal of Molecular Evolution, Evolutionary Biology,Carnivore and Cryptozoology, and as assistant editor for Evolution and Paleobiology. In the 1970s, frustrated by the constraints of narrowly focused specialty publications, he founded and edited two new journals: Evolutionary Monographs and Evolutionary Theory.
Van Valen’s research papers tended to be “of enormous scope, genuinely imaginative and strikingly original,” said Jablonski, yet his ideas were often too innovative, too daring to get printed. “It signaled to Leigh that there was a dearth of outlets for such research. So he launched his own.”
The paper that introduced the Red Queen hypothesis, rejected by several leading journals, appeared in 1973 on page-1 volume-1 of Evolutionary Theory. It was soon recognized, said Jablonski, as “one of the most important ideas in modern biology.” In 2008, Nature, which had turned down the original study, acknowledged the extraordinary influence of this seminal work, exemplified by numerous follow-up studies confirming Van Valen’s 35-year-old theory.
The whole obituary is here: http://news.uchicago.edu/news.php?asset_id=2135