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US: Stanford University and fish



Mention Stanford University today, and people think of Silicon Valley, but that association is only as old as Silicon Valley. Nushin Namazi of Stanford's Psychiatry Department writes me:

"I happened to live in Hans Zinsser's (1878-1940) house in Beacon Hill (52 Chestnut Street) when I was a student research intern at Massachuesettes Eye and Ear Infirmary. In 1926, Hans Zinsser was president of the Society of American Bacteriology and Immunology at Harvard, but his fame and memory lived on because he was a gifted writer of both textbooks and literary works. Professor Sidney Raffel of Stanford was influenced by Zinsser.

Interestingly, Zinsser also came to the west coast and was Head of Department of Bacteriology at Stanford from 1910 to 1913, but he returned to the east after 3 years. He came with trepidation to Stanford because his boss, Jacques Loeb, famous biologist at Rockefeller Institute, counseled him against it:

"A man of your temperament will stand it about six months. Then you will come to me to help you get another job. But if you wish to be a success at Stanford, work on fish. Jordan (President of Stanford) himself, when he works at all, works on fish. he counts the scales on their behinds. [Everyone] works on fish. The geologists, the palaeontologists, the botanists, the English Department, the Romance Languages Department, even the philosophers--they all work on fish. go there my boy, be happy, and work on fish--or, at least, if you are too honest for straight fish, work on the bacteria you can find in fish. But if you love your family, don't get very far away from fish."

Professor Hilton, did you work on fish?"

No, but first of all let me correct Jacques Loeb. The department to which I was appointed was the Department of Romanic, not Romance Languages, the word Romanic, modeled on Germanic, being deemed less frivolous than Romance. As for fish, I was appointed to Stanford in 1941, just before the anti-fish revolt. The ichthyiologist was George Meyers. The Stanford Natural History Museum had a great collection of fish, the result largely of the efforts of President Jordan. I believe it was when Meyers retired that the collection was given to the California Academy of Sciences. There were a lot of fishy characters in the Romanic Languages Department, but otherwise I cannot figure out why Loeb singled out that department as a center of philoichthy. I am post-fish, but I will research this important subject. I suspect that Loeb's remark was inspired by the creation of the Hopkins Marine Station. The fish collection should have gone there, but I believe that financially strapped Stanford was relieved that the California Academy of Sciences was willing to pay for its maintenance.

Ronald Hilton - 11.30.03


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