50 Years Ago

The recent passion for the progressive splitting up of genera has spread through most branches of zoology and latterly to botany as well. In fact, the present phase in taxonomy is to lump species and split genera... At present, names are very often proposed on flimsy grounds and the work of proving their validity or otherwise is handed down to future workers. New genera are established using merely the specific characters of the unique species included without any additional evidence. The result is that two species such as Cypraea tigris L. and C. pantherina Sol. are placed in different genera, whereas they are only just distinct species which actually hybridize. Such absurdities should have no standing in nomenclature.

From Nature 22 December 1956.

100 Years Ago

“Cutting a Round Cake on Scientific Principles” — Christmas suggests cakes, and with these the wish on my part to describe a method of cutting them that I have recently devised to my own amusement and satisfaction. The problem to be solved was, “given a round tea-cake of some 5 inches across, and two persons of moderate appetite to eat it, in what way should it be cut so as to leave a minimum of exposed surface to become dry?” The ordinary method of cutting out a wedge is very faulty in this respect... The cuts shown on the figures represent those made with the intention of letting the cake last for three days, each successive operation having removed about one-third of the area of the original disc. A common India-rubber band embraces the whole and keeps its segments together.

From Nature 20 December 1906.