Walter Fitch dies

Walter M. FitchWalter M. Fitch

The distinguished evolutionary biologist Walter M. Fitch died on March 11, 2011, at the age of 81, according to The Panda's Thumb blog (March 13, 2011). Born in San Diego, California, on May 21, 1929, Fitch attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1953 and his Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry in 1958. After a series of postdoctoral appointments, he joined the School of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he was a professor from 1962 to 1986. He then returned to his native California, spending three years at the University of Southern California before becoming a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, in 1989. A pioneer in molecular evolution, Fitch was proudest of his work on phylogenetics, especially "Construction of phylogenetic trees" (coauthored with E. Margoliash), published in Science in 1967. He was the first president of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution and the founding editor-in-chief of its journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. His honors included election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

A long-time member of NCSE, Fitch was active in efforts to promote the teaching of evolution; he was a member of the working group that produced Evolution, Science, and Society: Evolutionary Biology and the National Research Agenda in 1998, and contributed "Evolution is Fact" to Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation (PDF) in 2005, for example. He was also concerned with creationism, giving a plenary address on "Creation Science: An Oxymoron" to the Southern California Academy of Sciences in 2002; developing a class on creation and evolution at the University of California, Irvine, for students not majoring in biology; and even engaging in public debates with creationists on occasion (see, for example, the report in the Daily Pilot for May 15, 2006). At the time of his death, he was finishing a book on the creationism/evolution controversy, which NCSE Supporter Richard E. Dickerson of the University of California, Los Angeles, describes as "the final word of a major player in the field"; Logic, Rhetoric, and Science: And Why Creationism Fails at All Three is expected to be published by the University of California Press in 2012.