Of Colin Patterson (1933–1998) of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington — then the British Museum (Natural History), Nature’s obituary says this:
Colin Patterson, who died in London earlier this year at the age of 64, will be remembered for his part in the cladistic reform of palaeontology. This was the period in which the traditional method in palaeontology, the search for ancestors, was abandoned in favour of the search for the sister group — of evidence of the nearest relative.Gareth Nelson, “Colin Patterson (1933-98)” at Nature (August 13, 1998)
The paleontologist is credited with starting a “revolution.” But then the tenured fossils struck back:
Revolution provokes counter-revolution. Readers may remember an appalled Beverly Halstead and his thundering commentaries in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which with editorial blessing later became directed towards cladistics as reflected in Halstead’s “Museum of errors” (Nature 288, 208; 1980). The target was the exhibits on dinosaurs and humans, then on display at the Natural History Museum, with explanatory texts providing interpretations according to cladistic principles. For Halstead these “present[ed] the public for the first time with the notion that there are no actual fossils directly antecedent to man. What the creationists have insisted on for years is now being openly advertised by the Natural History Museum.” Creationists took notice, but the sky neither trembled nor fell — except upon Little Essex Street, then the site of Nature’s editorial office, in the form of vigorous responses from Patterson and many others.Gareth Nelson, “Colin Patterson (1933-98)” at Nature (August 13, 1998)
Now here’s what you don’t read:
One morning I woke up and something had happened in the night, and it struck me that I had been working on this [evolution] stuff for twenty years and there was not one thing I knew about it. That’s quite a shock to learn that one can be so misled so long. Either there was something wrong with me or there was something wrong with Evolutionary theory. Naturally, I know there is nothing wrong with me…Colin Patterson, “unpublished transcript of a 1981 address” at Clear Thinking
Uploaded at YouTube Feb 28, 2019, in two segments:
Part One (first hour)
1981 lecture before the Systematics Discussion Group at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City.
“It’s true that for the last eighteen months or so, I’ve been kicking around non-evolutionary or even anti-evolutionary ideas. I think always before in my life, when I’ve got up to speak on a subject, I’ve been confident of one thing – that I know more about it than anybody in the room, because I’ve worked on it.
Well, this time that isn’t true. I’m speaking on two subjects, evolutionism and creationism, and I believe it’s true to say that I know nothing whatever about either of them. One or the reasons I started taking this anti-evolutionary view, or let’s call it non-evolutionary, was last year I had a sudden realization that for over twenty years I had thought that I was working on evolution in some way. Then one morning I woke up, and something had happened in the night, and it struck me that I had been working on this stuff for twenty years, and there was not one thing I knew about it. That’s quite a shock, to learn that one can be so misled for so long.
So either there was something wrong with me, or there was something wrong with evolutionary theory. Naturally, I know there is nothing wrong with me, so for the last few weeks, I’ve tried putting a simple question to various people and groups of people.
The question is: Can you tell me anything you know about evolution, any one thing, any one thing that is true? I tried that question on the geology staff in the Field Museum of Natural History, and the only answer I got was silence. I tried it on the members of the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar at the University of Chicago, a very prestigious body of evolutionists, and all I got there was silence for a long time, and then eventually one person said, “Yes, I do know one thing. It ought not to be taught in high school.” [laughter]”
Part Two (final 41 minutes)
The blurb is repeated there.
Here’s the transcript of the talk.
If you have ever wondered whether a lot of establishment thinking was blithering nonsense, spare a kind thought for Colin Patterson…