As discussed in my last post, the mutationist/Mendelians (defined below) have mostly been sidelined in the history of biology. The claims used to justify this argument make up what Arlin Stoltzfus and I call “The Mutationism Story.” While Arlin first discovered this in the scientific literature, we found that scientists were getting many of these mistaken claims from historians and philosophers!
tl;dr: I am published!
What did early geneticists such as William Bateson, Hugo de Vries, Thomas Hunt Morgan and R.C. Punnett contribute to evolutionary thought? Nothing, according to many scientific sources. They aren’t included in various timelines of the history of evolutionary biology and most are not included in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Evolution. When they are mentioned with regard to evolution, they are depicted as fools who missed the big picture, rejected natural selection, and developed a dead-end “mutationist” alternative to Darwinism. The standard story is that clear and reasonable thinking about evolution vanished for a generation— the so-called “eclipse of Darwinism”—, returning with Fisher, Haldane, Wright, et al., who showed that genetics is the missing piece of Darwin’s theory, resulting in the Modern Synthesis.
This is wrong.
The first geneticists made substantial contributions to the theory of evolution, even though history has generally not recognized their achievements. Following their critique of Darwinism (next post), the Mendelians (Bateson, Punnett, Morgan, etc.) synthesized genetics with natural selection, laying down the foundations for later evolutionary theorizing. This post illustrates some of these developments.
While searching for information regarding Åke Gustafsson, a plant breeder who practiced mutagenesis (and cited by Stebbins as providing experimental data for mutation studies), I stumbled upon an amazing video: footage from the 8th International Congress in Genetics held in Stockholm in 1948!
tl;dr: My first post about the history of ornithology (fulfilling the “Kestrels” half o my blog name) discusses the osprey and how various naturalists perceived it. It’s a rather messy story.
Note: As is evident from the opening lines, I wrote this around the time the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. I wasn’t ready to relaunch my blog yet though, so I set it aside for a later time. It feels somewhat unfinished but whatever, it’s out there now!
Tl;dr: This post features my (thus far) favorite quote that I have found when doing historical work on experimental evolution. In his speech/article, Liberty Hyde Bailey argued that the truth of evolution had already been demonstrated… centuries ago as well as in the present day, not by the academic elite, but by those involved in the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. For Bailey, the domestication of plants and animals was a form of experimental evolution.
Tl;dr: Experimental evolution is partially about controlling and directing change for human benefit. Early experimental evolutionists cite Francis Bacon as a predecessor as both 1) inspiration for scientific practice and 2) creating an institution to which such practice could be carried out. Much like Bacon’s own perspective, there is little to no separation between basic and applied research. However, Bacon’s actual influence on later developments is questionable. Thus, titling Bacon the “father of experimental evolution” is probably not correct, but it seems as though experimental evolution could be titled “Baconian.”
In hindsight, I abandoned this blog 2.5 years ago, only approving the occasional comment that showed up in my e-mail inbox. Now I am relaunching it under a new name with a new purpose.
Much has happened since my unintentional abandonment. As can be seen in this blog’s history, I transitioned from wanting to be a biologist to being a historian of biology. Now that I am a Ph.D. student in the University of Minnesota’s Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, I think I have succeeded!
Although I have wanted to resuscitate this blog for a couple of years, the burden of coursework prevented me from ever doing so. This was mostly a procrastination-fueled excuse that I can no longer accept. Furthermore, and this is silly, I could never come up with a name that pleased me. “Kele’s Science Blog” clearly no longer worked, and “Kele’s History of Science Blog” would be terrible.
Now the title is “Kestrels and Cerevisiae.” This reflects the (hopefully) dual purposes of this blog: Cerevisiae, from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or yeast, represents experimental evolution (and work on them is what inspired my interest in the topic); Kestrels, a small falcon, represents my interest in birds, and I am planning on including some history of ornithology here to satisfy that curiosity. I also have a love for the American prairie, so if I can find a way to integrate the prairie with the history of science, that will appear also. Unfortunately I could not come up with a good w-word for the prairie since as you may have noticed, K and C are my initials.
Anyway, I will end this post here. I simply wish to announce the blog’s return with a new name, a new purpose and most importantly, new content! I hope you enjoy my work here!
As I mentioned in my last post, in a history of biology course I am sitting in on we were discussing Cuvier, and if we were discussing Cuvier, we were probably also discussing catastrophism vs. Lyell’s uniformitarianism. Which is true.
The story that is frequently told about this debate and its influence upon Darwin is, as is usual, simpler and a lot less interesting than what actually happened.
I am currently sitting in on a graduate philosophy of biology seminar and the theme of this semester’s seminar is evo-devo and we recently discussed the concept of modularity. I’m also sitting in on a history of biology course and we have talked a little about the early 19th century French scientist, Georges Cuvier. While attending the seminar, I was delighted to make a historical link between the two! (And oddly enough, one of the works we read in the seminar was a chapter from a book on modularity co-authored by Gunther Wagner which opens with the same link I had made.)
Two books I have read in the past couple weeks weren’t science or history books, really, but more in the genre of nature writing: The Peregrine and The Snoring Bird.