Ernst Haeckel, much like Herbert Spencer, was always quotable,
even when wrong. Although best known for the famous statement
“ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, he also coined
many words commonly used by biologists today, such as phylum,
phylogeny, and ecology. On the other hand, Haeckel
supposedly stated that “politics is applied biology”
[Not everyone agrees with this, and it may indeed
be a fabrication. – e.Ed],
a quote used by Nazi propagandists. The Nazi party, rather unfortunately,
used not only Haeckel's quotes, but also Haeckel's justifications
for racism, nationalism and social darwinism.
Although trained as a physician, Haeckel abandoned his practice in
1859 after reading Darwin's Origin of Species. Always
suspicious of teleological and mystical explanation, Haeckel used
the Origin as ammunition both to attack entrenched
religious dogma and to build his own unique world view.
Hackel studied under Carl Gegenbauer in Jena for three years before
becoming a professor of comparative anatomy in 1862. Between 1859 and
1866, he worked on many “invertebrate” groups, including
(segmented worms). He named nearly 150 new species of radiolarians during
a trip to the Mediterranean. “Invertebrates” provided the
fodder for most of his experimental work on development, leading to his
“law of recapitulation”. Haeckel was also a free-thinker who
went beyond biology, dabbling in anthropology, psychology, and cosmology.
Haeckel's speculative ideas and possible fudging of data, plus lack of
empirical support for many of his ideas, tarnished his scientific credentials.
However, he remained an immensely popular figure in Germany and was
considered a hero by his countrymen.