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!
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!
Biology is typically known as a science without laws. There is evolutionary theory, of course, but it’s quite complex and looks different depending on what level you are looking at it; nothing like Newton’s Force = mass * acceleration. Biology does have quite a few “rules” though, such as Cope’s rule, which states that “population lineages tend to increase in body size over evolutionary time,” but there, of course, always exceptions to the rule. The existence or non-existence of laws in biology (and specifically, evolution) is a large matter of debate in philosophy of biology and I am certainly not qualified to discuss it (especially because I haven’t read much about it!).
The world history class I am TAing is reading Guns, Germs, and Steel which I have talked about briefly before. I decided to read along with the rest of the class as I haven’t read the full book (only the beginning and the end). I should note that the professor doesn’t necessarily agree or disagree with Diamond’s work – I have no clue how she regards this book, in fact – but she believes it easily provokes debate and will help students engage the material in a more critical way. I completely agree as this post shows.
Rereading the prologue I noticed a glaring evolutionary just-so story. As Jared Diamond considers himself an evolutionary biologist, how he allowed this argument to be in the book I do not understand. I did a brief search on Google and I didn’t see any comments on this particular problem – most focused on the much more important issues with his work.
So what’s the issue? Basically, no evidence, i.e., what usually constitutes a just-so story.