Raymond Pearl

Raymond Pearl books and biography

Raymond Pearl

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Raymond Pearl (3 June 1879 - 17 November 1940) was an American biologist, who spent most of his career at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Pearl was a prolific writer of academic books, papers and articles, as well as a committed populariser and communicator of science. At his death, 841 publications were listed against his name.



Born of upper-middle class parents in New England, Pearl excelled at school and went on to Dartmouth College where he gained his PhD. In 1906 he spent a year studying under Karl Pearson at University College, London. During this year he discovered biometry, which seemed to offer a solution to the problems he was concerned with in biology, zoology and eugenics. On his return to the US he continued his interests, but was converted from biometry to Mendelian genetics.

Eugenics and politics

Pearl maintained a loose interest in eugenics, but in 1927 published the landmark article The Biology of Superiority, which attacked the basic assumptions of eugenics as well as its prejudices. The article was the first general attack on eugenics by someone perceievd as being within the movement. It also contributed to the emergence of reform eugenics and the population control movement, which Pearl contributed to by founding the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population Problems.

Despite his apparent rejection of eugenics and its prejudices, Pearl maintained relatively good relations with key eugenicists and was never shy of expressing extremely snobbish and class-oriented views. He made many statements which have been interpreted as being anti-Semitic. On the other hand he worked for Black civil rights groups as an advisor.


His scientific interests (including his love of statistics) suggest that had he lived, he would have been at the forefront of population genetics which was emerging at the time, with the work of J. B. S. Haldane, Sewall Wright and Ronald Fisher

In 1926 Pearl founded The Quarterly Review of Biology.

Pearl is regarded as one of founders of [1]. Partly based on the observation that the longevity of fruit flies varies inversely with ambient temperature[2], Pearl (like Rubner) also asserted that maximum life span is inversely proportional to basal metabolic rate. Pearl speculated that lifespan was limited by vital cell components that were depleted or damaged more rapidly in animals with faster metabolisms[3]. Denham Harman's free-radical theory of aging later provided a plausible causal mechanism for Pearl's hypothesis.

The Rate of Living Hypothesis enjoyed prominence as one of the foremost [4]. (For a critique of the Rate of Living Hypothesis see Living fast, dying when? [5].)

Social habits and death

Pearl was widely known for his lust for life and his love of food, drink, music and parties. He was a key member of the Saturday Night Club which also included H. L. Mencken. Prohibition made no dent in Pearl's drinking habits (which were legendary). In 1926, his book, Alcohol and Longevity[6], demonstrated that drinking alcohol in moderation is associated with greater longevity than either abstaining or drinking heavily. In 1938, his data and work demonstrated the negative health effects of smoking tobacco.

In November 1940 Pearl was in apparently good health and paid a visit to the Baltimore Zoo. He cut his trip short complaining of chest pains and died later that day.

See also

  • Maximum life span
  • Senescence (aging theories)
  • Life extension


  1. ^ Rubner, Max (1908). Das Problem der Lebensdauer und seine Beziehungen sum Wachstum und Ernahrung. Munich, Germany: Oldenbourg.
  2. ^ Loeb, Jaques and Northrop,J.H. (1917). "On the influence of food and temperature upon the duration of life". THE JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY 32 (1): 103-121.
  3. ^ Pearl, Raymond (1928). The Rate of Living, Being an Account of Some Experimental Studies on the Biology of Life Duration. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  4. ^ Brunet-Rossinni AK, Austad SN (2004). "Ageing studies on bats: a review". BIOGERONTOLOGY 5 (4): 211-222. PMID 15314271.
  5. ^ Speakman JR, Selman C, McLaren JS, Harper EJ (2002). "Living fast, dying when? The link between aging and energetics". THE JOURNAL OF NUTRITION 132 (6, Supplement 2): 1583S-1597S. PMID 12042467.
  6. ^ Pearl, Raymond (1926). Alcohol and Longevity. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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