Alex Aylward

Alex Aylward

PhD Student

Summary: Eugenics and the Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics: R. A. Fisher's Evolutionary Synthesis


My current doctoral research focuses upon British geneticist and statistician Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890-1962), and his role in the origins of theoretical population genetics (ca. 1915-1935). In particular, I ask how far his role in the making of this discipline can be understood as a contribution to the project of understanding and controlling human heredity and evolution.

Research Interests

History and Philosophy of Biology; History of Eugenics; Historiography; Philosophy of Science; Science and Literature

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Prof Gregory Radick


Aylward, A. (2018). Broadening Heredity (Essay Review). Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. 67, 36-40. Available online here.

Aylward, A. (2017). Science as It Could Have Been: Discussing the Contingency/Inevitability Problem (Book Review). British Journal for the History of Science. 50(2), 379-81. Available online here.

Invited Talks

'What is Theoretical Population Genetics For? The Curious Case of R. A. Fisher' - Charles University Department of Philosophy and History of Science, Seminar in Theoretical Biology, 17th May 2018 (Prague, Czech Republic)

'From Natural Histories to Manmade Futures: The Origins and Ends of R. A. Fisher's Darwinism' - University of Cambridge Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cabinet Of Natural History, 20th November 2017 (Cambridge, UK)

Conference Presentations & Talks 

'Population genetics as a human science: Eugenics at the dawn of the modern synthesis' - British Society for the History of Science Postgraduate Conference, April 2018 (Manchester, UK)

'R. A. Fisher and the generality of selection' - The Generalized Theory of Evolution, Jan-Feb 2018 (Düsseldorf, Germany)

'Not a 'book on evolution': Reason(s) and representation in science and HPS' - Get Real! Realism as a goal for the sciences and for HPS, September 2017 (Leeds, UK)

''... a veritable key of the future': The nature of selection in R. A. Fisher (1890-1962)' - British Society for the History of Science Annual Conference, July 2017 (York, UK)

''Beyond versus': Towards a resolution of the contingentism vs. inevitabilism debate' - Annual UK Integrated History and Philosophy Workshop, June 2017 (Nottingham, UK)

'How Fisher became Fisherian: The making of the populational gene' - University of Leeds HPS Work-in-Progress seminar, June 2017 (Leeds, UK)

'H. G. Wells and the identity of the 'scientist,' 1895-1925: Negotiations in Nature and the novel' - British Society for the History of Science Postgraduate Conference, April 2017 (Florence, Italy)

'The vitalism controversy at the Royal College of Surgeons, 1814-19: How IHPS can bring new life to a controversy about life (which has been done to death)' - The Past, Present and Future of IHPS: An International Postgraduate Forum, January 2017 (Leeds, UK)

'What's in a word? H. G. Wells and the identity of the 'scientist' in British popular writing, 1895-1925' - International Conference on Science and Literature, September 2016 (Poellau, Austria)

'Between distance and domination: Feminism, experimentalism, and the manipulation of nature' - British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference, July 2016 (Cardiff, UK) and London Philosophy of Science Graduate Conference, September 2016 (London, UK)

'The vitalism controversy in early nineteenth-century Britain: packaged-histories and faulty fault-lines' - British Society for the History of Science Postgraduate Conference, January 2016 (Cambridge, UK)

'Does Hacking get the most from his microscopes?' - Congress on Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science, August 2015 (Helsinki, Finland)


MPhil History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science, Technology, and Medicine, University of Cambridge (2016)

BA Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge (2015)


Semester 1, 2017-18: Tutoring and grading on the Level 1 module 'Introduction to the History of Science'

Semester 2, 2017-18: Tutoring and grading on the Level 1 module 'How Science Works'


During October 2017, I ran a four-session reading group for members of the public at Ilkley Literature Festival, on H. G. Wells' classic scientific romance, The Time Machine (1895).

Also in October 2017, along with Matthew Holmes, I designed and delivered a public lecture, 'A cupboard of dead bugs: Life lessons from insects for economics, empire and evolution', as part of the HPS in 20 Objects series.

I am a member of the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS), the European Society for the History of Science (ESHS), the History of Science Society (HSS), and the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB).

Awards and Scholarships

University of Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship, 2016-2019

Newton College Masters Scheme Studentship, 2015-2016

University of Cambridge Jacob Bronowski Prize in History and Philosophy of Science, 2015

Christ's College, University of Cambridge, Darwin Prize in Natural Sciences, 2015