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Bates, John A.V. (1918-1993) and the 'Ratio Club'

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0120 GC/179
Held at: Wellcome Library
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Full title: Bates, John A.V. (1918-1993) and the 'Ratio Club'
Date(s): 1942-1985
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 6 boxes
Name of creator(s): Bates | John A V | 1918-1993 | neurophysiologist
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

John A.V. Bates was born on 24 August 1918. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge and went on to clinical training at University College Hospital, London. During the Second World War he worked on visual tracking in gunnery and control design in tanks under the auspices of the Ministry of Supply. In 1946 he joined the External Scientific Staff of the Medical Research Council based at the Neurological Research Unit at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, London, where he worked until retirement in 1978. Bates also served as Honorary Consultant Physician to the Department of Applied Electrophysiology at the Hospital.

Bates was a leader in the field of neurophysiology. At the end of the Second World War, using home-made equipment from surplus electronic parts, Bates developed specialised equipment for brain stimulation and recording. He studied the human electroencephalogram (EEG) in research into voluntary movement, a term he may have coined. He went on to study the neurological effects of hemispherectomy and later collaborated with Irving Cooper and Purdon Martin on research into Parkinson's Disease, with work on human postural and balance mechanisms.

Bates founded the Ratio Club, a small informal dining club of young physiologists, mathematicians and engineers who met to discuss issues in cybernetics. The idea of the club arose from a Society of Experimental Biology Symposium on Animal Behaviour held in Cambridge, July 1949. The initial membership was W.R. Ashby, H. Barlow, G.D. Dawson, T. Gold, W.E. Hick, D.M. MacKay, T. McLardy, P.A. Merton, J.W.S. Pringle, H. Shipton, D.A. Sholl, A.M. Uttley, W.G. Walter and J. Westcott. A.M. Turing joined after the first meeting and other other members included I.J. Good, P.A. Woodward and W.H.A. Rushton. The Club continued in being until 1958. Bates acted as Secretary and retained many of its historical records.

Bates was a member of the Physiological Society from 1949, and a member of the Electroencephalography Society (now the British Society for Clinical Neurophysiology), serving as President 1976-1978, and the Association of British Neurologists. He died on 16 July 1993.


Scope and content/abstract:

The collection is small but includes significant records of Bates's scientific research, and of the Ratio Club. Section A, Research, comprises notebooks, and research notes and correspondence. The notebooks cover the period 1943-1971. There are four series, identified by the letters 'L', 'M', 'F' and 'B'. The 'L' series of notebooks dates from 1943 to 1949, 'F' 1944-1945 and 'M' c.1947. The series 'B' is the largest, running from 1950 to 1971. The notebooks include documentation of wartime research, and later research topics including work on EEG, hemispherectomy and Parkinson's Disease, and may also have notes and drafts for lectures, notes on patients, and personal and domestic information. The research notes and correspondence include material relating to Bates's work during the Second World War on gunnery, and post-war correspondence, most notably for the period 1945-1952.

Section B, Ratio Club, is principally the contents of Bates's box-file of Ratio Club material assembled for a possible history of the Club. It includes a chronological sequence of material relating to meetings of the Club (dates, topics, possible speakers), membership and the future direction of the Club. There is also a photograph of members of the Club and correspondence 1978 and 1984-1985 relating to its history and records. With this material is other correspondence with members of the Ratio Club - mostly dating from before its establishment or after it was discontinued. Very little of the correspondence directly concerns meetings of the Ratio Club but it does indicate the professional and personal relationships amongst members of the Club and many letters touch on areas of common scientific interest that may have been discussed at meetings of the Club.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

By section as follows: A. Research; B. Ratio Club. Index of correspondents.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment with the Archivist and after completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies and photographic copies are supplied at the discretion of the Archivist; in the case of certain deposited collections, the permission of the owner may also be required. Please note that material may be unsuitable for photocopying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months.

Finding aids:

Catalogued by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath, 1995 (Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of John A.V. Bates: NCUACS catalogue no. 56/5/95, 26 pp. Copies available from NCUACS). The catalogue has been slightly amended by CMAC, Wellcome Library to conform with house layout. Detailed catalogue available at

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

This collection was given to the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre (now Archives and Manuscripts following merger with Western Manuscripts) by Dr Bates' daughter, Dr Carol Foster, in September 1994 (CMAC accession no 552).

Allied Materials

Related material:

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Description based on that created by NCUACS, University of Bath, with amendments by Helen Wakely, Wellcome Library.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
August 2000

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