Remembering Austin L. Hughes
I am grateful today to have a brief remembrance of Austin Hughes published in Infection, Genetics and Evolution. It mentions his contributions to science, but most importantly includes words from his esteemed colleagues and friends, including Dan Graur, Wen-Hsiung Li, Tomoko Ohta, and others. It is my hope that it will help preserve his memory and spread awareness of all that his life and work have to offer. A review of his scientific work on the neutral theory, overdominant natural selection, and adaptive evolution is in press elsewhere. A free PDF of the remembrance can be downloaded at the citation below, and a sample of the contributions follow.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance Austin Hughes’ fundamental contributions to molecular evolutionary theory and practice. He was a prolific researcher whose work covered such disparate topics as coevolution, phylogenetics, repetitive DNA, and more recently the application of population genetics to clinical research. Austin had an incredibly sharp mind, an imitable scientific intuition, and an abundance of impatience for bad science, faulty logic, and demagoguery. Debunking unwarranted generalizations and “accepted” theories was one of his fortes. His writing was crystal clear; I wish he had written a manual of writing style for scientists. He was also fluent in the Welsh language (Cymraeg) and wrote both poetry and prose in this ancient tongue. His untimely death deprived me of a friend and colleague; science was deprived of a great biologist who knew living systems inside and out at all levels, from the molecular to ecological. I’ll miss you, Austin. Gorffwys mewn hedd.
—Dan Graur, University of Houston
I remember Austin fondly—an unusual individual to say the least. He held deep religious convictions and yet was a rigorous scientist. I would call Austin, talk to him about whatever subject, and he would come up with some form of analysis. He was a rare scientist who bridged both biology and computing; his passing is such a loss to the field. Not that his relationship with my lab members was always plain sailing. His intolerance of naïve graduate students was legendary! I would ask them, with a smile on my face, to talk to Austin about their ideas. Almost always, they would be back in my office, despondent and demoralized! But once they got to know Austin, their disposition would change. I never, ever, had a single issue with Austin. Always ready and excited to help with new analyses, and entertaining to talk to—really a wonderful colleague and friend.
—David I. Watkins, University of Miami
Austin Hughes was that rarest of rare birds in academia: a distinguished scientist with the soul of a humanist. At the foundation of his scientific labors was a philosophical and, indeed, theological conviction: the supreme importance of seeking and attaining truth. It was this that motivated and sustained his work. And because he was aware that this (only) rational motivation for scientific inquiry is not itself something that can be grasped by deploying scientific methods, he eschewed philosophical empiricism and scientific reductionism. He knew that non-scientific methods of inquiry are as necessary as scientific ones in the House of Intellect. For Austin, scientists and humanists were—are—not inhabitants of “two cultures,” much less “cultures in conflict”; they are, rather, friends and collaborators in the comprehensive project of truth seeking.
—Robert P. George, Princeton University
Nelson CW (2016) Remembering Austin L. Hughes. Infection, Genetics and Evolution 40:262-5.