The International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology awards the David L. Hull Prize biennially to honor the life and legacy of David L. Hull (1935–2010). It is awarded to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to scholarship and service in ways that promote interdisciplinary connections between history, philosophy, social studies, and biology and that foster the careers of younger scholars. These are strengths that reflect the contributions of David Hull to our professions and to our Society.

The inaugural recipient of the David L. Hull prize in 2011 was William B. Provine, the Andrew H. and James L. Tisch Distinguished University Professor at Cornell University. The 2013 recipient was William C. Wimsatt, Winton Professor in the College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota, a fellow of the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science, and the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Philosophy and Evolutionary Biology (Emeritus) at the University of Chicago. The 2015 recipient was Jane Maienschein, Regents’ Professor, President’s Professor, and Parents Association Professor, in the Center for Biology and Society, School of Life Sciences, at Arizona State University. On behalf of the Society and the 2017 David L. Hull Prize Committee, comprised of Ana Barahona, Paul Griffiths, Alex Levine, Roberta Millstein, Anya Plutynski, Sarah Richardson, and James Griesemer (Chair), we award this year’s prize to Richard M. Burian, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Science Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Burian Richard

Dick Burian trained originally in mathematics, but shifted fields to study philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. His move into philosophy of biology just as it was emerging as a specialty has been a benefit to all of us. Indeed, it is substantially because of Dick Burian that philosophy of biology is “a thing” and that the integration of philosophy of science with both history and social studies of science has been the agenda of ISHPSSB since its beginning.

A hallmark of Dick’s work is that he listens to what the scientists are saying and doing. He tailors philosophical investigations to the practice of working biologists rather than trying to force biological science into some preconceived, philosophical mold. More than that, the way Dick works to generate intersections of philosophy and biology, together with a strong contextualization in history and social sciences, have helped make his work a model for the field, and have made Dick one of the most accomplished and admired interdisciplinary scholars of his generation.

Dick was a central contributor to debates in the 1980s about the units of selection and sociobiology and in subsequent decades on defining the gene, on characterizing the contributions of development to evolutionary theory, and he pioneered in examining the use and role of model organisms, as well as many other topics. The nominators, in addition to many authors who continue to cite it in the literature, recognize Dick’s paper, “How the Choice of Experimental Organism Matters: Epistemological Reflections on an Aspect of Biological Practice” (Journal of the History of Biology, 1993), as a pioneering study of science in practice and one of the very first to recognize the emerging phenomenon and problems of model-organism-based biology. Others remarked on the general excellence of his 2005 collection of essays with Cambridge University Press, The Epistemology of Development, Evolution, and Genetics.

Dick’s papers on the history of French genetics have served as an important voice amid narratives that too often have been dominated by Anglo-American and German histories. The result is an appreciation of genetic traditions that integrated molecular biology and developmental biology earlier than was done in the United States. Dick was also one of the first science studies scholars to appreciate the importance of the rise of Evo-Devo and he continues to contribute significant work in this area.

In addition to his leadership as an interdisciplinary scholar, Dick has played a key role through the decades in building interdisciplinarity among historians, philosophers and biologists by organizing conferences that brought people from different disciplines together. Just to mention three:

  1. The 1984 Mountain Lake Research Conference on Evolution and Development led to a paper one nominator called “legendary.” This was, of course, “Developmental Constraints and Evolution,” by Burian, together with a who’s who of innovative scientists: Maynard Smith, Kauffman, Alberch, Campbell, Goodwin, Lande, and Wolpert (Quarterly Review of Biology, September 1985).
  2. The Conference “Foundations of Developmental Biology” held at the Santa Fe Institute, 1989, and organized by Burian, S. Kauffman, and W. Wimsatt. If I may offer a personal anecdote, this was a pivotal workshop for me as a junior scholar, as it was the place I met both Stu Kauffman and Leo Buss, which completely changed the course of my own career.
  3. The symposium “The Right Organism for the Job” at ISHPSSB 1991 in Brandeis, led to Burian’s already mentioned 1993 keystone paper in Journal for the History of Biology on “Choice of Experimental Organism.”

In additional to his own scholarship, Dick has played a critical role as an editor, especially of volumes that integrate contributions from history, philosophy, social studies, and biology. For example, among the numerous special issues of journals with an interdisciplinary focus he has edited are a special issue of Synthese on historical and cultural contexts for philosophy of biology, a special issue of Biology and Philosophy on integration, the special issue of the Journal of the History of Biology on selecting appropriate organisms for research, and a special issue of History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences on the transition from embryology to developmental biology. Nominators expressed appreciation for the many special issues of journals and volumes Dick edited or co-edited that have become canonical texts, introducing students to the field at the same time they summarized the state of the art.

Dick Burian is the consummate academic citizen. He is a tireless advocate of bringing together people from very different backgrounds. He has always acted with an exceptional sense of friendship, of superb organizing ability and sense, and with a rather unusual awareness of the importance of interdisciplinary work for both the biological sciences, and the humanities and social sciences. He played a key role in the early 1980s, organizing a number of conferences, workshops, and meetings that led to the ISHPSSB. Along with Marjorie Grene, Dick ran the Cornell Summer Institute on Philosophy of Biology in 1982, which ultimately gave rise to ISHPSSB, from the pilot “pre-meeting” at Denison in 1983 to the first “conference” in 1985 at Saint Mary’s, and on to a full-fledged “Society” by the time of the Blacksburg meeting in 1997, hosted by Burian himself, which has become increasingly international with every subsequent meeting. Dick and others set the tone for our Society being very welcoming to student presentations, encouraging mentorship of students and junior faculty, and for encouraging informal gatherings for professionals and students during the meetings.

Dick has worked tirelessly for the Society, as well as for many of its members personally, especially those among us who may not have had jobs at prominent universities or been the most centrally located, or who may just have been shy or awkward in the presence of distinguished leaders in the field. He has also worked to ensure that meetings are as inclusive, gender balanced, and properly interdisciplinary as they ought to be. His graciousness, competence, and generosity are renowned. It is no surprise that Dick has been an incredible mentor to many students and young faculty members.

Dick crafted the ISHPSSB by-laws and worked through the legal process of incorporating the Society (which is why we are incorporated in the State of Virginia). This was a tremendously time-consuming job that was both essential and seldom acknowledged. He served as informal president for the time before there was a formal ISH or an elected president to lead it. It is for that reason that he was immediately elected as “honorary past president” during the very first ISH business meeting.

For many years, Dick volunteered Virginia Tech as a last minute fall back should local arrangements for ISH meetings falter elsewhere. As President and as Chairperson of many committees, Dick’s care and thoroughness led to the guidelines and procedures for ISHPSSB that have served us so well for decades, including most recently the procedure for soliciting and evaluating nominations for the Hull Prize. Indeed, he leaves most of us in the dust when it comes to service on ISH committees.

Dick has been equally active in promoting interdisciplinary biology studies beyond ISHPSSB. He served as Chair of the History and Philosophy of Biology Division of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, contributing alongside Jane Maienschein and Gar Allen to make SICB an important meeting ground for historians and philosophers on biologists’ turf. He built STS at Virginia Tech (under challenging circumstances) and sustained its momentum when it might well have failed rather than become an important department for training STS scholars. As a true workhorse behind ISHPSSB, tireless promoter of interdisciplinarity, mentor to young scholars across the board, and first rate interdisciplinary scholar of history and philosophy of biology, Dick Burian truly meets the high expectations of the David L. Hull Prize in the spirit of David himself. On behalf of the 2015–2017 David L. Hull Prize Committee and the Society, I am delighted to present the David L. Hull Prize and medal to Richard M. Burian.

James Griesemer, on behalf of the David L. Hull Prize Committee 2015–2017: Ana Barahona, James Griesemer (Chair), Paul Griffiths, Alex Levine, Roberta Millstein, Anya Plutynski, and Sarah Richardson.