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Commemorating Sir Joseph Banks - Symbiosis and the concept of mutual benefit. The Sir Joseph Banks Memorial Lecture


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Smith, DC 1989 , 'Commemorating Sir Joseph Banks - Symbiosis and the concept of mutual benefit. The Sir Joseph Banks Memorial Lecture' , Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, vol. 123 , pp. 1-13 , doi: 10.26749/rstpp.123.1.

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Apart from his voyage with Captain Cook, the role of Banks in the founding of Australia owed much to the fact that he was a towering figure in the scientific and national life of late 18th and early 19th-Century Britain. Although he published little of scientific consequence, he achieved a very great deal in helping the scientific endeavours of others and in using his influence with the Government and the King in promoting the cause both of science and of other ventures beneficial to society.
He was President of the Royal Society of London for a record 42 years. Although his Presidency has been criticised in modem times as being autocratic and doing little to improve the Society, this gives a false image of a truly remarkable man whose achievements - Australia apart - were considerable and whose personality was engagingly complex. It is not easy to assess him as a practising scientist. He published only one serious scientific paper, in which he was the first person to suggest that the Barberry plant can serve as an alternative host to the wheat rust fungus. Although not confirmed by experiment until some 60 years later (by de Bary), this was presumably one of a range of observations which led de Bary to coin the word "symbiosis" for associations (including parasitic) between organisms. Many biologists subsequently restricted the word to only mutualistic associations but a survey of modem knowledge about associations described as "mutualistic" shows that mutual benefit is difficult to define in a way that is experimentally meaningful, and that the concept of mutual benefit should be abandoned.
Although Banks' single scientific paper could, therefore, be said to be an early contribution to symbiosis, he is a classic illustration of the observation that advancement of science depends not only upon those who make original discoveries, but also upon those who select the people and create the conditions under which these discoveries can be made. He differs from many modern civil servants in both having a profound understanding of science and winning the respect of his contemporaries for having this knowledge.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Smith, DC
Keywords: Royal Society of Tasmania, RST, Van Diemens Land, natural history, science, ecology, taxonomy, botany, zoology, geology, geography, papers & proceedings, Australia, UTAS Library
Journal or Publication Title: Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania
ISSN: 0080-4703
DOI / ID Number: 10.26749/rstpp.123.1
Collections: Royal Society Collection > Papers & Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania
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