Leonard B. Radinsky (1937–1985), Radical Biologist

  • Richard F. KayEmail author
Original Paper


Trained in vertebrate paleontology, Leonard Radinsky (1937–1985) made signal contributions to the study of form and function in paleobiology. Here, I review Radinsky’s contributions and philosophy in the context of developments during the 1960s and 1970s, when a significant number of vertebrate paleontologists departed from their roots in the geological sciences to embrace a new interest in paleobiology and evolution. The study of comparative biomechanics and allometry in extant mammals was brought to the fore, with the express intent of applying the findings to reconstruct the biology of their extinct relatives. Radinsky’s contributions lay especially in the area of jaw mechanics in carnivorans and ungulates, and the evolution of the brain in ungulates, carnivorans, and primates. Alongside his important scientific contributions, Radinsky espoused radical views for his time. He fervently believed that basic science cannot be isolated from its social and political context. At a time when the US was deeply engaged in military conflict in Southeast Asia, Radinsky believed that the results of basic science unjustly were being co-opted by corporate and military interests. He believed that science should be used for the betterment of the great majority of the people.


Paleobiology Brain evolution Vertebrate functional morphology Science for the People New University Conference University of Chicago 



I thank the organizers of the symposium: El paradigma de correlación forma-función en mastozoología: un tributo a Leonard Radinsky (1937–1985) organized by G.H. Cassini, N. Toledo, and SF Vizcaíno, for the XXXI Jornadas Argentinas de Mastozoologia; La Rioja, Argentina. 25 October, 2018. I especially thank Sigrid Schmalzer, and Kelly Moore for information and insight about Leonard Radinsky’s political activities. I had helpful discussions with my former colleague Matt Cartmill, who was a University of Chicago (UC) graduate student in the mid-1960s, and James Hopson and Jack Stern who were Len’s UC colleagues. Professor Callum Ross (UC) provided valuable unpublished information from his interviews with other UC contemporaries.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Evolutionary AnthropologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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