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Database: Richard Owen

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ACS DB Richard Owen

Date of Birth: 20 July 1804.

Sir Richard Owen never learned natural history in school growing up, which may have been his first mistake in life. He studied to become a surgeon at the University of Edinburgh, found work at the Hunterian Museum cataloguing plant and animal specimens, and was elected to the research arm of the Zoological Society of London in 1830. He was the youngest and most active member of the group. By which I mean he did lots of work, not that he was a jogger.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, scientists were theorising about the presence of the Divine in natural sciences. Owen threw his hat into the proverbial ring by publishing papers outlining his theory on the origin of Earth's species. In essence, Owen believed that the changes observed in animals occurred as a response to their environment, and that all species not only share a common archetypal ancestor, but that all species are progressing towards an idealised form, with humans already reaching their apex.

From apes to apex. That'd make a nice title for my autobiography.

Oh, and if that doesn't make a lot of sense to you, don't worry. Owen's contemporaries felt the same way.

Owen developed a reputation for overreacting to criticism and responding in anger, crossing the line of acceptable behaviour and discourse in the scientific community. This was evident more than ever in his scathing reviews of On the Origin of Species, published by Charles Darwin in 1858. Owen stood by his own theories even as his contemporaries came to embrace Darwin and natural selection. Feeling alienated from his peers in the field of biology, Owen focused his efforts on, among other things, establishing the Natural History Museum, which he did in 1881. He was knighted three years later and promptly retired. Which is what I will do when finally the old bird knights me.

By the time Owen passed away in 1892, he was remembered for little more than his opposition to Darwinism and his misplaced ego. But before you go knocking on him, keep in mind Richard Owen coined the word 'dinosaur.' Let's see you top that.

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