Smocovitis, Vassiliki Betty 1955-

views updated

Smocovitis, Vassiliki Betty 1955-


Born November 15, 1955, in El Mansura, Egypt; immigrated to the United States, 1988; citizenship: Canadian; daughter of Dimitrios and Alexandra Smocovitis. Ethnicity: "Greek." Education: University of Western Ontario, B.Sc. (with honors), 1979; Cornell University, Ph.D., 1988. Religion: Greek Orthodox.


Office—Department of Zoology, Bartroum-Carr Hall, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611. E-mail—[email protected].


University of Florida, Gainesville, assistant professor, 1988-97, associate professor, 1997-2006, professor of zoology and history, 2006—. Stanford University, fellow in humanities, 1990-92. Member of editorial board, Mendel Newsletter, 1989—, Social Epistemology, 1993—, Isis, 1995—, Osiris, 1999-2002, and Endeavor, 2005—.


International Society for the Study of History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow), History of Science Society, Botanical Society of America, Society for the Study of Evolution, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology.


Mellon fellow, 1990-92.


Unifying Biology: The Evolutionary Synthesis and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1996.

(Associate editor) New Dictionary for the History of Ideas, 2002-04.

Editor in chief, "Studies in Botanical History," New York Botanical Garden, 2005—. Contributor to journals, including Taxon, Evolution, Agriculture and Human Values, Osiris, Journal of the History of Biology, and American Journal of Botany.


Trained as a biologist, Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis switched to history and now specializes in various aspects of the history of science. "My primary research interest is in the recent history of modern biological science, falling into areas broadly conceived as the history of modern evolutionary biology, systematics, and genetics," Smocovitis once stated on her University of Florida Web site. Her research interests also include the history of ecology and twentieth-century American botany. "My research to date has been in the history of the subject defining itself as ‘organismic’ biology, but having had extensive training in general biology, I am also interested in the history of cell biology, biochemistry, and molecular biology."

Smocovitis's extensive research helped her construct the framework of her book Unifying Biology: The Evolutionary Synthesis and Evolutionary Biology. The book focuses on evolutionary theory and how it has been integrated with mathematical population genetics. Known as evolutionary synthesis, this integration is considered by some practitioners as one of the most important scientific achievements of the twentieth-century. In Unifying Biology Smocovitis discusses how the field of biology was greatly altered during the 1930s and 1940s with the dawning of evolutionary synthesis. Before the advent of this concept, biology was developing into a very fragmented field, as different scientists approached it in dissimilar ways. One such schism was between evolutionists and modern geneticists, who were heading in opposite directions with their research and theories. Smocovitis notes, however, that this began to change with the appearance of mathematical population genetics during the 1930s. This conceptualization proved that genetics and evolution could be defined in similar language. The author points out that one particular work, Theodosius Dobzhansky's Genetics and the Origin of Species, was very important in this synthesis, leading others to follow along the same type of research.

After Dobzhansky's book, Smocovitis states, there could be a successful "attachment of numbers to nature." By the 1950s this unified notion of biology was widely accepted. Part of her book describes the various scientists, such as J.H. Woodger and J.B.S. Haldane, who helped with the conceptualization of the evolutionary synthesis, and "to understand the world in order to add some meaning to life." She also uses William Blake's painting Fall of Man as a symbol of this biological unification. Critical response to Unifying Biology was generally positive. J.S. Schwartz, writing in Choice, called it "indispensable for biologists, historians, and philosophers of science as well as social scientists." American Historical Review contributor Howard L. Kaye referred to the book as "a lucid, comprehensive, and well-researched account." Kaye also felt that Smocovitis gives "a coherent interpretation" of the history and development of evolutionary synthesis.



American Historical Review, June, 1998, Howard L. Kaye, review of Unifying Biology: The Evolutionary Synthesis and Evolutionary Biology, pp. 857-858.

Choice, May, 1997, J.S. Schwartz, review of Unifying Biology, p. 1524.


University of Florida Web site: Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis Home Page, (March 9, 2007).