Review: Darwin’s Passionate Environmentalism

Peer review by Dr Andrew Strigner of Harley Street, London,  UK

Darwin’s Passionate Environmentalism: Or the Not -'All-Sufficient'- Theory of Natural Selection

Paper for Nutrition and Health 2012 based on the Cleave Lecture 2011 by David Marsh, given before The McCarrison Society and guests 22.11.2011

“On the Shoulders of Giants*” should be the appropriate title for this scholarly excursus by David Marsh: an absolute gift – a must – for anyone with an interest in or involvement with evolution, environment, the human condition, nutrition and health.

The Giants, discussed here, are the eighteenth/nineteenth century pioneers; Darwin and Lamarck, whose observations and intuitive thinking provide the basis of our present knowledge of the effects of the environment on evolution and the human condition.

In all branches of science, the accretion of knowledge leads to specialisation. For example, consider Medicine. The old-style consultant physician, who had to know something about everything connected with the patient, has virtually disappeared and been replaced by specialists: cardiologists for the heart; neurologists for the nervous system; gastroenterologists for the digestive system… the list of specialities is long and increasing. Inevitably, the more knowledge the specialist acquires, the narrower field of vision and, ultimately, loss of sight of the patient as an entity. The once jocular definition of a specialist as “one who knows more and more about less and less” has become a truism.

How does one reconcile the work of the anthropologist with that of the bacteriologist, the biochemist, obstetrician, neurologist, psychologist, geneticist, epigeneticist?

David Marsh himself an agricultural scientist and author has managed, in clear language, to do so. He mentions the work of many experts, each eminent in his or her field. The list is long and impressive, yet is a small fraction of the vast numbers of workers worldwide. Many, of course are aware of the work of their peers but, surprisingly, many more are unaware of others engaged in similar work to their own. The list of references that spans many years is impressive and indicative of the author’s meticulous research and dedication.

How can these ideas be promulgated? David Marsh made references to the McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health, which arranges conferences attracting international interest. It is also engaged in the publishing of an international journal “Nutrition and Health” in addition to a newsletter for members of the society. He also mentioned the work of the late Dr Weston Price. His legacy, The Price-Pottinger Nutrition Foundation in the USA also works on similar lines.

David Marsh merits commendation, not only for the high quality of his work, but for bringing our attention to the valuable work of many different experts in the work and the importance of their contribution to our total knowledge and the need for more people with his particular specialty… to bring together the bits to make a whole.

*Footnote: ‘with acknowledgement to Stephen Hawking: himself a Giant’.

Dr Andrew Strigner