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Journal of the History of Biology

John Beatty
This is the first of a two-part essay on the history of debates concerning the creativity of natural selection, from Darwin through the evolutionary synthesis and up to the present. Here I focus on the mid-late nineteenth century to the early twentieth, with special emphasis on early Darwinism and its critics, the self-styled "mutationists." The second part focuses on the evolutionary synthesis and some of its critics, especially the "neutralists" and "neo-mutationists." Like Stephen Gould, I consider the creativity of natural selection to be a key component of what has traditionally counted as "Darwinism...
November 15, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Koen B Tanghe
Historians tend to speak of the problem of the origin of species or the species question, as if it were a monolithic problem. In reality, the phrase (or similar variants) refers to a, historically, surprisingly fluid and pluriform scientific issue. It has, in the course of the past five centuries, been used in no less than ten different ways or contexts. A clear taxonomy of these separate problems is useful or relevant in two ways. It certainly helps to disentangle confusions that have inevitably emerged in the literature in its absence...
November 7, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Michael R Dietrich
No abstract text is available yet for this article.
November 4, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Matthew Holmes
During the latter-half of the nineteenth century, the utility of the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) to humankind was a contentious topic. In Britain, numerous actors from various backgrounds including natural history, acclimatisation, agriculture and economic ornithology converged on the bird, as contemporaries sought to calculate its economic cost and benefit to growers. Periodicals and newspapers provided an accessible and anonymous means of expression, through which the debate raged for over 50 years...
October 26, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Simone Fattorini
Hewett Cottrell Watson and Edward Forbes were two naturalists of the Victorian age. They were protagonists on a dispute that generated comment and serves as an illuminating case study of misunderstanding in priority issues. Watson accused Forbes of having plagiarized his original classification of the British plants into groups on the basis of their geographical distribution. This controversy originated mostly from a so-far-ignored basic difference in Watson's and Forbes' ideas about biogeographical regionalization...
October 24, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Ry Marcattilio-McCracken
Though only one component product of the larger eugenics movement, the eugenic family study proved to be, by far, its most potent ideological tool. The Kallikak Family, for instance, went through eight editions between 1913 and 1931. This essay argues that the current scholarship has missed important ways that the architects of the eugenic family studies theorized and described the subjects of their investigation. Using one sparsely interrogated work (sociologist Frank Wilson Blackmar's "The Smoky Pilgrims") and one previously unknown eugenic family study (biologist Frank Gary Brooks' untitled analysis of the flood-zone Oklahomans) from the Southern Plains, this essay aims to introduce "environment" as a schema that allows for how the subjects of the eugenic family study were conceptualized with respect to their surroundings...
September 29, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Jean-Baptiste Grodwohl
This paper gives a detailed narrative of a controversial empirical research in postwar population genetics, the analysis of the cytological polymorphisms of an Australian grasshopper, Moraba scurra. This research intertwined key technical developments in three research areas during the 1950s and 1960s: it involved Dobzhansky's empirical research program on cytological polymorphisms, the mathematical theory of natural selection in two-locus systems, and the building of reliable estimates of natural selection in the wild...
August 1, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Alfons Billiau
The year 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of a publication by William Twort, in which he first described lysis of bacterial cultures by a filterable, self-replicating agent. In 1917, Félix d'Herelle, coined the name "bacteriophage" for the proposed agent. Two Belgian teams of microbiologists were among the few to critically examine the nature of the bacteriophage at that time. Although their experimental results agreed, their interpretations did not. Richard Bruynoghe (University of Louvain/Leuven) interpreted them as supportive of d'Herelle's notion of an ultramicroscopic microorganism...
August 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Bill Jenkins
This paper sheds new light on the prevalence of evolutionary ideas in Scotland in the early nineteenth century and establish what connections existed between the espousal of evolutionary theories and adherence to the directional history of the earth proposed by Abraham Gottlob Werner and his Scottish disciples. A possible connection between Wernerian geology and theories of the transmutation of species in Edinburgh in the period when Charles Darwin was a medical student in the city was suggested in an important 1991 paper by James Secord...
August 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Steindór J Erlingsson
Until recently the British zoologist Lancelot Hogben (1895-1975) has usually appeared as a campaigning socialist, an anti-eugenicist or a popularizer of science in the literature. The focus has mainly been on Hogben after he became a professor of social biology at the London School of Economics in 1930. This paper focuses on Hogben's life in the 1920s. Early in the decade, while based in London, he focused on cytology, but in 1922, after moving to Edinburgh, he turned his focus on experimental zoology, first concentrating on vertebrate endocrinology and later moving over to the comparative physiology of invertebrate muscle...
August 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Norberto Serpente
This article discusses the contribution to evolutionary theory of Leonard Darwin (1850-1943), the eighth child of Charles Darwin. By analysing the correspondence Leonard Darwin maintained with Ronald Aylmer Fisher in conjunction with an assessment of his books and other written works between the 1910s and 1930s, this article argues for a more prominent role played by him than the previously recognised in the literature as an informal mentor of Fisher. The paper discusses Leonard's efforts to amalgamate Mendelism with both Eugenics and Darwinism in order for the first to base their policies on new scientific developments and to help the second in finding a target for natural selection...
August 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Nicola Williams
Erwin Schrödinger's 1944 publication What is Life? is a classic of twentieth century science writing. In his book, Schrödinger discussed the chromosome fibre as the seat of heredity and variation thanks to a hypothetical aperiodic structure - a suggestion that famously spurred on a generation of scientists in their pursuit of the gene as a physico-chemical entity. While historical attention has been given to physicists who were inspired by the book, little has been written about its biologist readers. This paper examines the case of the English evolutionary botanist and cytologist Irène Manton, who took an interest in What is Life? for its relevance to her own research in chromosome structure as a clue to plant phylogeny...
August 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Simon Fitzpatrick, Grant Goodrich
Conwy Lloyd Morgan (1852-1936) is widely regarded as the father of modern comparative psychology. Yet, Morgan initially had significant doubts about whether a genuine science of comparative psychology was even possible, only later becoming more optimistic about our ability to make reliable inferences about the mental capacities of non-human animals. There has been a fair amount of disagreement amongst scholars of Morgan's work about the nature, timing, and causes of this shift in Morgan's thinking. We argue that Morgan underwent two quite different shifts of attitude towards the proper practice of comparative psychology...
July 25, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Richard W Burkhardt
Just as biologists have their favored places for doing research, so do historians. As someone who likes working in archives, the most surprising thing the present author ever found was a particular letter that had been written to him by the ethologist Niko Tinbergen-but that Tinbergen had never sent. The letter included a detailed critique of the intellectual style and conceptual shortcomings of Tinbergen's career-long friend and colleague Konrad Lorenz. The present author first saw the letter 3 years after Tinbergen's death and 10 years after the letter was composed...
July 19, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Jean-Baptiste Grodwohl
Describing the theoretical population geneticists of the 1960s, Joseph Felsenstein reminisced: "our central obsession was finding out what function evolution would try to maximize. Population geneticists used to think, following Sewall Wright, that mean relative fitness, W, would be maximized by natural selection" (Felsenstein 2000). The present paper describes the genesis, diffusion and fall of this "obsession", by giving a biography of the mean fitness function in population genetics. This modeling method devised by Sewall Wright in the 1930s found its heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in the wake of Motoo Kimura's and Richard Lewontin's works...
July 13, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Aleta Quinn
Early nineteenth century systematists sought to describe what they called the Natural System or the Natural Classification. In the nineteenth century, there was no agreement about the basis of observed patterns of similarity between organisms. What did these systematists think they were doing, when they named taxa, proposed relationships between taxa, and arranged taxa into representational schemes? In this paper I explicate Charles Frederic Girard's (1822-1895) theory and method of systematics. A student of Louis Agassiz, and subsequently (1850-1858) a collaborator with Spencer Baird, Girard claimed that natural classificatory methods do not presuppose either a special creationist or an evolutionary theory of the natural world...
July 7, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Joel B Hagen
Bergmann's rule and Allen's rule played important roles in mid-twentieth century discussions of adaptation, variation, and geographical distribution. Although inherited from the nineteenth-century natural history tradition these rules gained significance during the consolidation of the modern synthesis as evolutionary theorists focused attention on populations as units of evolution. For systematists, the rules provided a compelling rationale for identifying geographical races or subspecies, a function that was also picked up by some physical anthropologists...
June 17, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Juanma Sánchez Arteaga
This paper analyzes biological and scientific discourses about the racial composition of the Brazilian population, between 1832 and 1911. The first of these dates represents Darwin's first arrival in the South-American country during his voyage on H.M.S. Beagle. The study ends in 1911, with the celebration of the First universal Races congress in London, where the Brazilian physical anthropologist J.B. Lacerda predicted the complete extinction of black Brazilians by the year 2012. Contemporary European and North-American racial theories had a profound influence in Brazilian scientific debates on race and miscegenation...
May 23, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Roderick D Buchanan
Darwin's Cirripedia project was an exacting exercise in systematics, as well as an encrypted study of evolution in action. Darwin had a long-standing interest and expertise in marine invertebrates and their sexual arrangements. The surprising and revealing sexual differentiation he would uncover amongst barnacles represented an important step in his understanding of the origins of sexual reproduction. But it would prove difficult to reconcile these findings with his later theorizing. Moreover, the road to discovery was hardly straightforward...
April 20, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
Susan D Jones
Wildlife populations in the northern reaches of the globe have long been observed to fluctuate or cycle periodically, with dramatic increases followed by catastrophic crashes. Focusing on the early work of Charles S. Elton, this article analyzes how investigations into population cycles shaped the development of Anglo-American animal ecology during the 1920s-1930s. Population cycling revealed patterns that challenged ideas about the "balance" of nature; stimulated efforts to quantify population data; and brought animal ecology into conversation with intellectual debates about natural selection...
April 20, 2016: Journal of the History of Biology
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