In this letter to his friend and former student Ralph Voris, Alfred Kinsey chats about his landmark publication on gall wasps (Cynips), explains how his research methods are being accepted by other entomologists, talks shop, and invites Voris to visit Bloomington.
Department of Zoology
January 31, 1937
Your last letter should have been answered long before this -- I have thought of you often enough, Lord knows, but been snowed under with aftermath of the second Cynips publication, The Atlantic City Symposium, several journal articles, etc. The reaction to the new Cynips volume is the most encouraging thing yet -- especially on top of the fact that it was delayed a year in publication because of the doubts the publication committee had about it. Perhaps neglect more than doubts. At any rate, they held the Ms. [manuscript] 3 months without doing anything about it, then submitted it to a taxonomist and a geneticist for criticism. Taxonomist said the taxonomy was OK and important, but the genetics unprintably bad. Geneticist said the genetics was sound enough, but the taxonomy certainly not in accord with current work in taxonomy. They mussed about with it so long I took back the Ms, put it in the bank vault while I was in Mexico, and refused to give it to them for six months after my return. By that time, Payne was quite weak about it. At any rate, you have seen Kennedy's lavish praise. The geneticists are strong for it -- have had worst interesting correspondence with a lot of them, [...] Lansky, Sewall Wright, Blakeslee, Anderson, Banta, etc. etc. all quite convinced. Anderson has objected for all these years that I had a very special case in these logs -- that such major mutations were not to be expected in most groups. Now he writes he is quite convinced that it is my method that is unique -- that he can believe that the use of as diverse means for recognizing relationships in other groups might show relationships that we have overlooked because of our dependence on morphologic similarity. He was handsome in his acceptance of this at the Atlantic City Symposium. Another of the paleontologists have testified that their fossil connecting links make higher categories just what I find them. Even a number of the taxonomists are enthusiastic -- tho they as a group, offer the most objections. You are going to see a day when taxonomic contributions will be accepted as a fundamental part of biologic science... And I am most anxious to know what your bugs are going to contribute to it.
I am delighted to know that Philonthus is moving. Were you flesh and blood of my own, I could get no more satisfaction out of the research you turn out. These other folk have a few printed pages of my ideas, a few minutes of verbal explanation. You and the others who have finished theses with me have so much better grasp of my thinking -- and I shall, therefore, be more interested in seeing how you react to it, modify it in the light of your own data, what you reject, what you accept, what you carry it on into. I spent a couple of days in New York after the meetings -- saw Spieth's collection, home, etc. make me glad he is some child of mine. Glad the NYA has contributed help to you. Braland has help too. I am interested to know you have gone to Nat. Mus. trays -- each group will have its own best technique. Speith has gone to double size Schmitt boxes. The Schmitt boxes still are the best unit for me (I get about 800 insects in a box by my new arrangement). -- And, by the way, if you are discarding your old Schmitt boxes, I will buy them from you, personally. Let me know.
I discovered at Atlantic City that you were already booked for C.C.N.Y. next summer -- so I have not hurried about my advice. It is most hearty approval of the plan. It will give you a new atmosphere (hot & dirty as New York is in the summer) and just the many contacts you most need. Library, museum, collections, etc. Go to it. But don't forget that the previous visit to Bloomington is an indispensable part of it. For long enough time to really do something! There are worlds to talk about, scientific problems to discuss, more gossip than we can hope to cover short of days. Added over 300 volumes to my own library in the last 6 months -- surely there ought to be enough to do to keep you here a while. Our home is yours as long as you will stay. Miss Kinsey will be delighted to have as much time with Geraldine as I want with you -- and the four of us should find enough in common to make it a delight.
Letter courtesy of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.