Mendel Newsletter letterhead

 


Table of contents
  n.s. 11 (February 2002)

A Word from the Managing Editor ...

The discredited science of eugenics has become a historical curiosity, the moral ambiguities of its presumptions having been largely resolved by the enlightened thinking of our own time. Right? As the faithful readers of MN will know only too well, there are literally hundreds of examples that will knock down this particular straw man. My current favorite is this: A Colorado couple made arrangements for an in vitro fertilization, because their six-year-old daughter was suffering from a rare and fatal disease. The mother eventually gave birth to a son, who was conceived in an effort to produce the biomaterials necessary to facilitate treatment for the daughter. As the parents had hoped, doctors were able to utilize stem-cells harvested from the umbilical cord of the now one-year old son in the successful treatment of his older sibling.

According to the West Central Tribune of Wilmet, MN (2 February 2002), the case has been the subject of study by Dr. Jeffrey Kahn at the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics. The article goes on to ask some very tough questions, such as, "Are there right or wrong reasons to have a child? How far should reproductive liberty extend? and, Who should have access to expensive technology such as genetic selection?" Dr. Kahn is quoted as stating that "the family's choice to have a child to save their daughter was probably ethically acceptable to most people." Yet, if most people can agree that this was an ethically acceptable procedure, surely one can construct a hypothetical scenario in which similar technology is employed, and in which the issues are not so easily nor universally resolved. The issues, and ethical dilemmas surrounding this case (and others like it) notwithstanding, it seems quite clear that genetic manipulation, social engineering, and technological capabilities are intersecting in ways that would have been quite recognizable to Galton and Davenport. To historians of science who may occasionally be asked what possible relevance the history of some bygone era may have in this nascent millennium, may I modestly submit that you invoke the case of Molly Nash, now eight years old, and living a healthy life in Colorado.

Martin L. Levitt
American Philosophical Society

 


The R. A. Fisher Collection at Adelaide University

Nancy S. Hall
University of Maryland, College Park & University of Delaware

The papers of Sir Ronald A. Fisher (1890-1962) are archived at the Barr Smith Library at Adelaide University in Australia. After Fisher retired from Cambridge in 1957, he traveled for two years and in 1959 moved to Adelaide. He died there in 1962 after surgery for cancer.

Ronald Fisher is well known to geneticists for his work on dominance and the sex ratio. His Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, in which he brought together the principles of Mendel and the natural selection of Darwin helped to found population genetics. Fisher was also one of the most important statisticians of the twentieth century. His Statistical Methods for Research Workers was, as the title indicates, essentially a statistics manual meant for practical use, and his later Design of Experiments amplified one section of Statistical Methods. Even the most casual student of statistics will have used a technique called analysis of variance without realizing that it was Fisher's innovation.

Published Sources

Fisher was both a geneticist and a statistician for all of his professional life. An examination of his published books gives some indication of his importance in both fields.
  • Statistical Methods for Research Workers, 1925 to 1970; fourteen editions; translated to six other languages.
  • Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, 1930, 1958, 2000.
  • Design of Experiments, 1935 to 1966, eight editions; translated to three other languages.
  • Statistical Tables for Biological, Agricultural and Medical Research (with Frank Yates), 1938 to 1963, five editions; translated to two other languages.
  • Theory of Inbreeding, 1949, 1965.
  • Contributions to Mathematical Statistics, 1950.
  • Statistical Methods and Scientific Inference, 1956, 1959, 1973.

Fisher's own notes were used to prepare the editions released after his death. He customarily had his publisher print for him an interleaf volume of each book or edition as it came out, a version with a printed page on one side and a blank page on the other. Fisher used the blank page to make notes of changes for the succeeding edition. Fisher himself put out a volume of his statistical papers that he considered most important, with his own commentary on each of the selected papers: Contributions to Mathematical Statistics. At the time of his death he was assisting in a project to publish a larger collection of his papers. This project was continued and became the five volume Collected Papers of R. A. Fisher, (1971-74), edited by J. Henry Bennett. In this set are 294 papers, arranged chronologically from 1912 to 1962. The numbering in the Collected Papers (CP24, for example) has become widely used as a means of designating Fisher's papers.

Bennett had studied under Fisher at Cambridge in the 1950's and then returned to Australia to become professor of genetics at Adelaide University. When Fisher moved to Adelaide after his retirement, he became very close to Bennett and his family. Bennett has been the guiding force in the establishment of the Fisher archives. In 1983 he edited and published a volume of Fisher's correspondence. Natural Selection, Heredity and Eugenics is a collection of letters, spanning many years, between Fisher and Major Leonard Darwin. Darwin, son of Charles Darwin, was very active in the Eugenics Education Society of London and was a friend and supporter of Fisher for many years. Another volume of correspondence edited by Bennett appeared in 1990; Statistical Inference and Analysis: Selected Correspondence of R. A. Fisher includes letters to and from some of Fisher's statistical colleagues. Also in 1990, a triple re-issue became available: one volume that contains Statistical Methods for Research Workers, Design of Experiments, and Statistical Methods and Scientific Inference.

A very comprehensive biography of Fisher, R. A. Fisher: The Life of A Scientist, was published in 1978 by one of Fisher's daughters, Joan Fisher Box. Her access to family recollections as well as archival material has made this book an invaluable aid to anyone interested in almost any aspect of Fisher's work. Additionally, she has provided an extensive bibliography of Fisher's publications, including the complete contents of the Collected Papers. Following that is a catalog of publications that were not included in the Collected Papers and a listing of the several hundred book reviews that Fisher wrote between 1914 and 1958.

Materials in the Fisher Collection

The Fisher collection is MS0013 in Special Collections at the Barr Smith library. The collection is immense. It is catalogued as twenty-four series plus some other materials. The series fall naturally into three sections. Series 1 through 9 contain Fisher's correspondence and publications. Series 10 through 13 contain J. Henry Bennett's correspondence with various of Fisher's co-authors and publishers in regard to the publication of the two volumes of correspondence and the Collected Papers set. Series 14 through 24 contain a variety of notebooks, lectures, data books and unpublished materials.

The finding aid for the Fisher collection is available on-line, as will be discussed below. Some of the series, however, deserve special mention. Series 1 is Fisher's correspondence, an amazing assemblage of four meters of files. The letters to and from his more than 900 correspondents (the list is available on-line) are arranged alphabetically by correspondent and chronologically within each file. The dates spanned by each file are indicated along with the correspondent's name. For any correspondent there may be as few as one or two letters in a slim manila folder, several thick files, or as much as an entire box, as in Fisher's letters to and from E. B. Ford. The Special Collections librarian, Susan Woodburn, has prepared a brief guide to the contents of each correspondent's file. I am aware of several researchers who have contacted her by e-mail and who have been very pleased with both the information received and with the pleasant and efficient attitude they encountered.

Fisher's own handwriting was tiny and is sometimes a challenge to read; luckily in later years he had a secretary who typed his letters and also made carbon copies. However, since Fisher rarely kept copies of his own handwritten letters, the early correspondence is largely letters to him rather than from him.

Series 2 contains Fisher's published papers, the 294 in the Collected Papers and 300 more, for a total of 594. There are also manuscript copies of some of the papers. Series 3, 4 and 5 are published books, including all fourteen editions of Statistical Methods for Research Workers, all eight editions of Design of Experiments.

Series 6 is a five volume set of letters from W. S. Gossett ("Student") to Fisher, from 1915 to 1936. It seems that "Student" did not keep Fisher's letters; diligent searching has never turned them up. Fisher kept "Student's" letters, and in 1937, when "Student" died and Fisher was asked to write a memorial tribute, apparently Fisher then organized the letters, numbered them, and wrote a brief commentary on each. There are 193 letters from "Student" to Fisher; interspersed are the few from Fisher that have been found. Four volumes are letters and the fifth is Fisher's commentaries. This set was privately printed and never published. (In addition to the set in Adelaide, there are sets at the University of Chicago, Edinburgh University, Harvard, and Yale.) Scholars of genetics should not ignore these letters simply because "Student" is known chiefly for statistics. He shared many interests with Fisher; for example, there is quite a discussion of "Student's" polydactyl chickens. (Gosset was a master brewer for Guinness. Guinness would not allow any employee to publish under his own name, so Gosset chose the pen name "Student.")

Series 7 and 8 are an assortment of papers, notes, lectures, data, reviews, two scrapbooks of family photos, and programs and photos of conferences, dinners and other functions. The Bennett correspondence, series 10 through 13, are of interest because sometimes Fisher's co-authors took the opportunity, in their letters to Bennett, to reminisce or to add background information about the publications being discussed. Series 14 and 15 are notebooks, record books and data, on Lythrum, mice, and chickens.

Series 16 is a three chapter manuscript that Fisher's daughter Joan brought to Adelaide some years after Fisher's death. The manuscript, unpublished and apparently dating from about 1919, was found in a closet where Fisher had stayed when he was at Rothamsted Agricultural Station in England. It may be the start of a book that Leonard Darwin referred to in his correspondence with Fisher; the theme is eugenics. There are both a handwritten and a typed copy in the file; the handwriting is Fisher's.

Series 20 lists "Paper on Gregor Mendel. 1955. [prepared as introduction to the translation of Mendel's Experiments in plant hybridization]". This became Fisher's commentary that was published with a new translation of Mendel in 1965 for the Mendel Centenary. Bennett's correspondence about the 1965 publication is in series 12.

The remaining series include notes on lectures that Fisher gave, notes on lectures that Fisher himself took in his student days, a scrapbook of Fisher's awards and reports to his parents from his schoolboy days, scrap books and collections of reviews, and published articles about Fisher.

Fisher Materials Available On-Line

The finding aid for the Fisher collection is available on-line, as is an alphabetical list of the correspondents in series 1. Also available and growing is the Digitization Project of Fisher's published papers." Start accessing these at http://www.library.adelaide.edu.au/ual/special/fisher.html and this will take you to the finding aid as well as to the e-mail address of Susan Woodburn, the Special Collections librarian. Within the finding aid is a link to the list of correspondents. At the very bottom of the finding aid is a link to the Digitization Project. Quoting from the web site, "The project is an initiative of Prof. J. H. Bennett, editor of the Collected Papers, and funding for it has come from sales of this publication." Put simply, about two-thirds of the Collected Papers are now available on-line in full text, and more are being added all the time. While Fisher worked tirelessly in both genetics and statistics, there is a recognition that most scholars today are primarily interested in one field or the other, so the papers are grouped.
  1. Statistical and Mathematical Theory and Applications (excluding Genetics)
  2. Genetics, Evolution and Eugenics

There is a link to each group, and each group is chronological and numbered according to its CP designation. Thus a reader can, for example, note in Box's bibliographic list that Fisher's 1922 paper "On the Dominance Ratio" is CP24, go to the web site, and, using Adobe Acrobat Reader, view the entire text and print it out. At this time there are sixty-nine papers available in the Genetics group and more than twice that many in the Statistics group.

Because not all libraries possess the Collected Papers set and because Fisher's work appeared in a wide variety of publications, this Digitization Project is truly a great service. Bennett and Elise Bennetto, the assistant librarian working on this project, are to be commended.

Adelaide and the University

Adelaide is on the coast in South Australia. It is served by several airlines, usually from either Sydney or Melbourne. The University is on North Terrace, along with a number of museums and government buildings. North Terrace is a broad boulevard with many hotels of various price ranges, so it is easy to stay within walking distance of the University. I was there in June, which in the eyes of the tourism industry is the off season; the daytime temperature was usually about 65 degrees F. while at night it went down to about 45; there are palm trees on North Terrace.

Adelaide University covers several blocks, sloping down to the Torrens River. The Barr Smith Library is centrally located within the University. The Special Collections area is a pleasure in which to work, both because of the cheerful assistance of Susan Woodburn and Elise Bennetto and because of the facilities. There is a large well lit room with a number of tables; there are also several small work areas that can be closed off. A copy machine is conveniently available for the use of patrons.

Near the Library are not only the Student Union, but also the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and the Adelaide Zoo, without which no trip to Australia would be complete.

Acknowledgments

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0091782, a Doctoral Dissertation Research Travel Grant. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. I thank J. Henry Bennett for his generosity in sharing his recollections, Susan Woodburn and Elise Bennetto for their invaluable assistance at the Barr Smith Library, and all three for making my visit to Adelaide a pleasure as well as a success.

 


"History of Bioinformatics and Molecular Evolution on the Net:
The Dibner-Sloan History of Recent Science and Technology Project"
http://hrst.mit.edu

Jay Aronson
University of Minnesota

It is old news to most of us that the nature and scope of science has changed a great deal over the course of the twentieth century. For starters, the complexity of scientific and technical knowledge has increased to the point that one needs specialized training in the field to truly understand it. Further, scientists and engineers now use new modes of communication that leave little or no paper trail, have new ways of doing science (e.g. computer simulations), and package scientific knowledge in new formats (e.g. patents and business plans). Put all of this together, and one begins to realize that the historian of recent science and technology must adapt to this new landscape.

In response to this situation, the Dibner Fund and Sloan Foundation have joined together to create an experimental program that utilizes internet-based technologies to encourage active scientists and engineers to contribute to the histories of their disciplines (http://hrst.mit.edu). This project, overseen by Jed Buchwald (former director of the Dibner Institute and currently at the California Institute of Technology) is motivated by the conviction that "the skills necessary to comprehend contemporary developments, as well as the vast array of objects that must be examined...make it essential to enlist the direct participation of those who were actively engaged in producing them." [quoted from the website] Two of the first five fields chosen will be of interest to readers of the Mendel Newsletter: bioinformatics and molecular evolution.

Unlike many other internet-based archival projects, the Dibner-Sloan project aims not only to create a digital archive of historically-important documents (whether they be software, computer simulations, scans of correspondence, or electronic versions of published papers), but also to encourage scientists and engineers to put these historical artifacts in what they believe to be their proper historical context. To facilitate this process, the project's core staff have worked hard to put together software packages that will be valuable to today's historically-minded scientists and tomorrow's historians. In addition to developing on-line discussion forums and a collaborative timeline module, the project's software engineers are in the process of building a digital library system that automatically creates within-text hyperlinks that weave a set of documents together. The core staff includes: Babak Ashrafi, Arne Hessenbruch, David McGee, Stephanie Munson, Daniel Tsai, James Voelkel, and Paul Warner.

Each of the five project teams has taken a different approach to the kinds of materials they digitize, as well as the ways in which they encourage the collaboration of scientists and engineers. To give readers a sense of the various trajectories that the projects have taken, I will briefly describe the methodology and currently available archival collections of the bioinformatics and molecular evolution projects.

Bioinformatics

The field of bioinformatics (or computational molecular biology) emerged nearly 30 years ago out of the need to process the huge amounts of data being generated by new biochemical techniques such as gel electrophoresis, amino acid sequencing, recombinant DNA technology, and PCR. The field rapidly expanded in the late-1980s and 1990s as the Human Genome Project began producing sequence data at an increasing rate. One of the primary goals of bioinformatics was and remains to infer biological function from sequence data alone. As such, one of the primary tools of the discipline is the computer. One of the many unique features of bioinformatics is that it is not strictly an academic discipline like many traditional areas of biology. Indeed, the practitioners of bioinformatics can be found not only in the university, but also in national labs and private biotechnology companies.

Timothy Lenoir and a group of graduate students at Stanford University (including Casey Alt, Gabriella Janni, and Zach Pogue) have set out to work with scientists and corporate executives to produce a history of bioinformatics. Their goal is to document not only the emergence of new methods for determining biological function, but also the scientists and institutions who made them. The team has already made a great deal of progress.

In addition to an exhaustive bibliography of nearly every relevant paper ever published in the field of bioinformatics, the team has already assembled an impressive digital archive of documents. The most exciting collection was recently contributed by Stanford University professor Douglas Brutlag and Dr. Peter Friedland of Intraspect Software. This collection includes technical reports relating to the development of MOLGEN, GENET, BIONET, the first computer network for computational molecular biology. It also contains extensive documentation of the activities of IntelliGenetics from 1983-1994, one of the first private companies to build tools for computer-based sequence analysis. The variety of documents on the site ranges from business plans, to phone lists, to mock-ups of graphic interface modules for the company's "Genetic Engineering Workstation" software. Other interesting files include the final text and drafts of a consultation paper that Douglas Brutlag wrote for the United States Patent and Trademark Office regarding genetic sequence patents, as well as a collection of correspondence, reports, and agenda from a series of meetings at the National Institute of Health (NIH) regarding maintenance of the Drosophila genetic database started several decades ago.

The collections are organized in a way that will be intuitive for any historian who has used traditional archives. The best way to describe the architecture of the site is "elegant." Upon clicking on the link for this collection, the viewer is presented with new browser window that contains several clearly labeled icons that look exactly like manila folders. These folder icons open up when clicked to reveal a set of documents represented by an icon in the form of a sheet of paper filled with text. Almost all of these text files have an informative summary that can be accessed by running the cursor over the text icon. In addition to these primary sources, the team is also in the process of uploading digitized versions of "classic papers," donated by Russ Altman, as well as secondary sources from science studies scholars like Evelyn Fox Keller and Stephen Hilgartner.

Molecular Evolution and the Neutral Theory

The second major project of interest to Mendel Newsletter readers is the history of molecular evolution site, being developed by John Beatty (University of Minnesota), Michael Dietrich (Dartmouth College), Rob Cox (American Philosophical Society), and me (University of Minnesota and Harvard University). Our goal is to document the emergence of the field of molecular evolution in the 1960s, as techniques and ideas from molecular biology were increasingly incorporated into the study of evolution. The basic strategy of our site is to focus on one online discussion topic at a time. To that end, we post classic papers and previously unpublished materials relevant to a particular discussion topic, and then we advertise the topic and solicit responses. The discussions are "live" for a period of one-to-two months. The supporting materials are intended to occasion more interesting responses to the discussion questions, and to provide additional information for biologists and historians who may use the discussions for teaching or research. All of the supporting materials are in searchable PDF format.

We have chosen to begin with the development of the notion of "non-Darwinian evolution," or the "neutral theory," advanced most prominently in its earliest years by Motoo Kimura, Tomoko Ohta, Jack King and Thomas Jukes. Though their theories differed in the details, they all argued that the vast majority of mutations at the molecular level were selectively equivalent, or "neutral"; thus, evolution at the molecular level was largely a matter of random genetic drift. Many traditional evolutionary biologists found this idea to be illogical and wrong-headed, and spoke out in defense of the overwhelming significance of natural selection. The ensuing neutralist-selectionist debates had, and continue to have, broad conceptual and methodological ramifications throughout evolutionary biology.

Thus far, we have digitized a great deal of published and unpublished materials on the website. Our first major unpublished source to be scanned is the transcript of the 1963 Macy Conference on Genetics. This conference brought together several well-known geneticists to discuss important issues in population genetics. It took place at a time when debates about the biological effects of atomic radiation were at their peak. Attendees included: Walter Bodmer, James Crow, Everett Dempster, Theodosius Dobzhansky, L.C. Dunn, Barry Falconer, Richard Lewontin, Howard Levene, H.J. Muller, James Neel, Bruce Wallace, and Jack Schull, among others.

Much of this discussion was devoted to the so-called "classical/balance" controversy, concerning the extent of genetic variation in natural populations and the evolutionary forces controlling it. In important respects, the Macy Conference represents the state of evolutionary genetics prior to the emergence of the neutral theory. Just how the neutral theory altered the terms of the debate has itself been debated. According to Richard Lewontin, the neutral theory was more closely allied to the classical theory, so that the classical/balance controversy gave way to the "neo-classical"/balance debate.

The format of the conference was short individual presentations followed by an informal free-for-all discussion. Fortunately, a stenographer was present throughout the conference to preserve the interactions of these scientists. We have posted the entire transcript, dividing it up by session. This is the first time that it has been available publicly.

We are also in the process of uploading a series of papers on molecular evolution, with many already online. A visitor to our site can already read the two papers that first described the neutral theory: Kimura's 1968 article on "Evolutionary Rates at the Molecular Level;" and King and Jukes' 1969 paper, "Non-Darwian Evolution." Some other foundational papers that we have scanned are Emile Zuckerkandl and Linus Pauling's 1965 work on the molecular clock, as well as Richard Lewontin and Jack Hubby's papers on the use of protein electrophoresis to examine the genetic variability of Drosophila (both from 1966). We have also digitized several critiques of the notion that evolution at the molecular level operates under different rules than evolution at the organismal evolution. These works include: G.G. Simpson's "Organisms and Molecules in Evolution" (1964) and Bryan Clarke's "Darwinian Evolution of Proteins" (1970).

In terms of correspondence, we have uploaded a fascinating set of letters between Jack King and Theodosius Dobzhansky from Spring 1970. These three letters, which center around a comment that Dobzhansky made regarding King's belief in "non-Darwinian" evolution at a conference, are truly a joy to read. In addition to the highly detailed scientific minutiae that scientists regularly discuss amongst themselves, one feels a real appreciation for the personal relationship between these two men. In the future, we hope to add much more correspondence from these scientists and many others. We are in the process of developing ways to allow scientists to contribute their unarchived correspondence to us directly.

In our first attempt to generate collaborate content, we have set up a discussion forum on the origins of the neutral theory. We recently sent a letter to every living scientist who cited either Kimura's 1968 or King and Jukes's 1969 paper before 1975 (161 letters in all), asking them to tell us about their initial reactions to the notion that most evolutionary change at the molecular level is selectively neutral. So far we have heard back from several scientists who have either posted their recollections or promised to do so in the near future.

We are also in the early stages of planning our first advisory board meeting to discuss the future direction of the site. (Our board members are: James Crow, John Gillespie, Richard Lewontin, Tomoko Ohta, and William Provine). Some possible events include a series of interviews in which prominent evolutionary and molecular biologists talk to one another about the development of the neutral theory, as well as discussion forums about priority disputes in science and the role of social context in the history of molecular evolution.

Conclusion

While scholars will undoubtedly benefit from efforts to collect the ephemeral artifacts of contemporary science, directly engaging scientists in the process of doing history is not without its potential pitfalls. Most obviously, we historians must be careful not to allow a few scientists to dominate the process of constructing the historical record. We need to go out of our way to ensure that as many scientists as possible have the opportunity to air their versions of history and to contribute the documents that they feel are important. Secondly, we must be careful not to generate the kinds of positivist histories of science that feature only the ideas and documents that are presently considered fashionable. Finally, we need to be careful not to marginalize historians and archivists of science!

In the end, though, it remains to be seen how this experiment in doing history works. Indeed, it may turn out that contemporary scientists have little interest in contributing to histories of their own disciplines. (Judging from the initial response to the first discussion on the molecular evolution site, however, this does not seem to be the case). Whatever the outcome, the project will have achieved a great deal if it helps to facilitate communication between scientists and the people who study them.

 


Reassembling the Edgar Anderson Papers

Kim Kleinman1
Missouri Botanical Gardens
kkleinma@swbell.net

As I reported last year,2 the Edgar Anderson papers in the Missouri Botanical Garden archives are at once a rich and a frustrating resource for students of the development of evolutionary theory in the 20th Century, biosystematics, and the study of human-plant relationships. The richness results from Anderson's role, very much on his own terms, in the Evolutionary Synthesis (he, for example, shared the 1941 Jesup Lectures on "Systematics and the Origin of Species" with Ernst Mayr); the frustration comes from Anderson's dispersal and destruction of much of his correspondence. What survives at the Missouri Botanical Garden archives is the result of the efforts of such former students and colleagues as Hugh Iltis and Charley Heiser in sending copies of their own letters back and persuading others, such as Paul Mangelsdorf, to do so as well. Thus, for instance, one can use the papers to reconstruct the outlines of Anderson's hallmark enquiries into maize (its genetics, taxonomy, archaeology, and anthropology) and hybridization as an evolutionary mechanism.

During the past year, I used a National Science Foundation fellowship, in part, to locate and study such other Anderson correspondence extant at other libraries. What follows is a report on those efforts. This expansion of materials for my biographical study of Anderson was greatly aided by the generous professionalism of many archivists at institutions around the world. In several cases, their fondness for Anderson, whether long-standing or newly discovered, expedited my requests. On more than one occasion, these librarians would provide a particularly pungent excerpt in their reports to me as they reported putting photocopies in the mail to me or prepared for my visit. Let me publicly reiterate the gratitude I expressed repeatedly in my correspondence with them.

These new materials help fill in important gaps in understanding Anderson's life and career by extending the range of the material in the papers at the Missouri Botanical Garden. In addition to general biographical material, they illuminate the nature of his scientific work, particularly concerning maize, mathematics, and biosystematics.

Biographical Material

Among the most interesting materials is a tape of a 1959 television program "In Pursuit of Happiness" on which Anderson joined a panel including poet John Ciardi and sociologist Daniel Lerner. These presentations and subsequent exchanges are a unique record of Anderson in action. While not by any means a scientific presentation, Anderson's wit and emphasis on natural history observation are in ample evidence as he argues for pursuing happiness via a contemplative appreciation of nature. The University of Georgia holds an extensive collection of old television programs. The Missouri Botanical Garden Library secured permission from Washington University, the copyright holder, and obtained a videotape of this program from the University of Georgia.

Among the Anne Roe Papers at the American Philosophical Society Library is a fat folder of Anderson materials she assembled as part of preparing her The Making of a Scientist (1953).3 Anderson was quite forthcoming in two interviews, both the main one in 1948 and a follow up in 1962. He was eager to share reminiscences of growing up and his parents and indeed these interviews are the only major source of information concerning that part of his life. These papers also provide some confirmation of Anderson's mental health problems as Roe corresponded in 1948 with the psychiatrist Anderson saw for anxiety and some related minor psychosomatic complaints. Their exchange is a discussion of their respective interviews with Anderson and interpretation of Rorshach tests Anderson took for Roe. Her 1962 interview took place at a low point for Anderson as he remained fairly drugged after a series of hospitalizations for bipolar disorders. The file also includes admission records for one such incident in 1961 in Connecticut. This evidence is particularly valuable as it indicates that it was only in the late 1950s and early 1960s that Anderson's work was disrupted by these problems.

Also at the APS is Jack Weir's important unpublished manuscript "Genetics and Agriculture at the Bussey Institution of Harvard" which sheds important light on Anderson's graduate school days. Weir appears to have found Anderson an important and voluble source. Additionally, Weir assembled extremely useful material on Anderson's professors and contemporaries and the institution they created, what Anderson called "for a few decades one of the most outstanding graduate schools in the United States."4 Weir deposited another copy of his manuscript at the University of Kansas Archives as he spent his career in the Zoology Department there.

Just as several of the Alfred C. Kinsey's biographers have relied on Anderson's reminiscences of graduate school to capture Kinsey at that stage of his life, as Anderson's biographer I am doing the same. Fortunately, there are several letters between them throughout their careers until Kinsey's death in 1956, discussing wasps and supra-specific variation5 as much as Kinsey's more famous later research. Of particular interest is a 9-page typescript, "Kinsey as I Knew Him," which Anderson prepared after his friend's death and serves as another source for capturing life at the Bussey Institution.

The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University holds a small but useful packet of letters that sheds light on the "missing years" in Anderson's Missouri Botanical Garden career, the 1931-1935 hiatus when he served as arborist for the Arnold. Of particular interest are the long descriptive letters to Oakes Ames from the Balkans where Anderson collected boxwoods and ivies and met with local botanists. While the postcards he sent to his family are at the Missouri Botanical Garden archives, they are sketchy and presumably he told the family his stories in person. It is in the letters to Ames that a typically Andersonian mélange of observations, both scientific and human, survive.

Wesleyan University holds documentation of the year (1960-1961) Anderson spent there as a visiting fellow, along with composer John Cage (a good amateur mushroom collector evidently) and others, in their Center for Advanced Studies. This was a challenging year for Anderson as he was hospitalized for depression there as the Roe papers indicate, so his work at Wesleyan was curtailed.

Finally, the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation is always a gold mine for scholars working on the history of botany. There, I found several small but interesting collections of letters with Paul Allen, Wilson Popenoe, John M. Fogg, George Sarton (a pleasant surprise), and Mrs. Roy A. Hunt, reflecting Anderson's interests in horticulture and tropical botany.

Maize

Anderson's work on maize, so central to his scientific career, is a key component of the surviving Anderson papers at the Missouri Botanical Garden. And, yet, important holdings exist in other libraries and collections that reinforce the picture that I had previously drawn.

Perhaps the most important such collection is just one aisle over in the Missouri Botanical Garden archives. The William L. Brown Papers include another full complement of important maize letters beyond the ones already in the Anderson correspondence proper, including an important binder on letters Brown saved between Anderson and Barbara McClintock. Also of great value here are the McClintock/Brown letters which often refer to Anderson and his work.

Brown was Anderson's graduate student and his closest maize collaborator. He spent his career at Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn Company which also supported Anderson's work. Company founder Henry A. Wallace's Papers are at The University of Iowa's Library and are available on microfilm via interlibrary loan and supported by a remarkably thorough finding aid. These letters illuminate yet another side of Anderson's maize project. Anderson knew Wallace first as the president of Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn Company, so maize is a major concern. But, as the correspondence extends into Wallace's political career as Secretary of Agriculture and Vice-President of the United States, even more general agricultural concerns also come to the fore.

The papers of geographer Carl O. Sauer are at the Bancroft Library, University of California-Berkeley. His extensive correspondence with Anderson provides important insights into Anderson's approach to maize. It was with Sauer in 1943 with Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation support that Anderson deepened his corn project. These letters paint a much fuller picture of the nature of their collaboration and the questions they asked about maize. As the chronicle of the easy collaboration between a botanist and a geographer, they help amplify Anderson's characterization of himself as an expert on what was NOT known about corn. As testimony to his appreciation of Sauer, Anderson at least twice wrote letters around the anniversary of their meeting remarking on how much he valued their friendship. There is also a wickedly funny letter from 1943 in which Anderson notes the appointment of E.J. Wellhausen to head up the Rockefeller Foundation's work in Mexico by envisioning himself as a wealthy Mexican able to fund aid workers who might be able to bring his country's insights to impoverished areas of the United States.

The Rockefeller Foundation Archives, nonetheless, holds important records of Anderson's contributions to the efforts they funded for maize improvement in Latin America.

At The Western Historical Manuscripts Collection at the University of Missouri are two collections of particular interest for this project. In the E.G. Anderson papers, I found a useful collection of letters on maize genetics with a frequent collaborator with whom he was sometimes confused. On the other hand, the absence of letters between Anderson and L.J. Stadler who spent his career 125 miles from Anderson in Columbia, Missouri, strikes me as curious, rather as Sherlock Holmes did when the dog did not bark in The Silver Blaze. In 1936 though, Stadler invited both Anderson and R.A. Fisher to come for a visit when Fisher was spending a semester at Ames, Iowa.

Similarly, the Marcus Rhoades papers at the Eli Lilly Library at Indiana University include some letters to and from Anderson. But, again, Rhoades, another renowned maize worker and a collaborator with Anderson's friend Barbara McClintock, was at the University of Illinois, quite close to Anderson, during Anderson's maize years and yet their correspondence is sparse.

Mathematics

Anderson's extensive, creative, and somewhat idiosyncratic attempts to find graphical methods capable of capturing the variation he saw in nature are reflected in materials I found reflecting his collaborations with R.A. Fisher, Sewall Wright, and John Tukey. They indicate just how integrated Anderson was with the efforts of leading biometricians, theoretical population geneticists, and statisticians.

The R.A. Fisher papers at The Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide holds the letters between Anderson and R.A. Fisher which rather closely chronicles their discussions of Anderson's Iris data, especially in 1936, which Fisher used as the basis for his linear discriminant function6. Anderson had first worked with Fisher during his sabbatical in 1929-1930 at the John Innes Horticultural Institute. They continued to correspond into the 1950s and evidently met, together with their mutual friend John W. Tukey, at Princeton in early 1957.

Tukey was another important mathematical collaborator of Anderson's. His relatives have been going through his papers since his death last September. They are generously sending me Anderson materials as they find them in searching Tukey's home and offices both at Princeton and Bell Laboratories. As with the Fisher papers, these letters show how Anderson developed his unique graphical methods for capturing variation. Tukey, who dedicated his Exploratory Data Analysis7 to Anderson in part, shared a commitment to finding ways of displaying data that could suggest new ways of interpreting them, rather than merely fitting them into existing theories and theorems.

Anderson had begun this mathematical quest by spending the winter 1933 term with Sewall Wright at the University of Chicago. The Anderson letters in the Wright papers at the American Philosophical Society Library open with a March 1932 letter in which Anderson wonders if one of Wright's formulas can be depicted graphically as Anderson suspects many biologists are like him and think more visually. His term with Wright was a successful introduction to more traditional mathematics. Later in the 1930s, Anderson tested his ideas on genetic linkage on Wright as part of an ongoing discussion that included Wright's April 1949 letter to G. Ledyard Stebbins's on Anderson's Introgressive Hybridization8 which is in the Anderson papers.

Biosystematics

Anderson was one of several botanists-Frederick Clements, Harvey Monroe Hall, Gote Turesson, E.B. Babcock, G. L. Stebbins, W.H. Camp, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington team of Jens Clausen, David Keck, and William Hiesey among them9 -- who contributed to development of experimental taxonomy or biosystematics as a disciplinary hybrid of genetics and taxonomy in the first half of the Twentieth Century. For Anderson, it came as a result of his collaboration with Missouri Botanical Garden colleagues and students who urged him to study systematics even while he was teaching them genetics. Understanding not just Anderson's contribution but this broader effort is essential to grasp the deeply synthetic thinking being done by evolutionary plant scientists during a period which included the Evolutionary Synthesis.

Kenton L. Chambers10, professor emeritus at Oregon State University's Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, was a graduate student at Stanford University in the 1950s and took Anderson's "Genetics and Natural History" seminar there while Anderson was a visiting professor. He has graciously made those class notes (as well as those from his seminar with Richard Goldschmidt another semester) available to me. A bit of Anderson's style as a teacher comes through from reading these notes as does a strong sense how his various interests-hybridization, domesticated plants, and natural history-can be understood in terms of biosystematics.

Though not extensive, the Carnegie Institution of Washington papers housed at the Missouri Botanical Garden include a number of valuable letters between Anderson and Jens Clausen in particular. These papers themselves are a rich resource yet to be plumbed fully. The production of a finding aid underway now by Garden volunteers will soon begin to give a sense of their scope.

Perhaps the most interesting material regarding biosystematics are Camp's papers concerning his landmark 1943 paper with Charles Gilly on "The Structure and Origin of Species." Anderson returned an extensively notated copy that reflected his encouragement and suggestions, as he enthusiastically scribbled in response to their neologism "biosystematy" "which was the point of letters I wrote you a year ago about the no-mans land (biosystematy) between genetics and hayloft taxonomy. In subsequent letters, Anderson basically rewrote their section on "alloploidions." He also briefly explored collaborating with them as he worked on completing (as he never did) a manuscript based on his 1941 Jesup Lectures on "Systematics and the Origin of Species: From the Viewpoint of a Botanist." These letters are but the second mention I have found of that erstwhile manuscript. Anderson reported having about 100 pages of manuscript on March 20, 1942, even as Mayr's book was going to press and proposed contacting Theodosius Dobzhansky and his editors at Columbia University Press seeking approval for this collaboration. They evidently did okay Anderson's idea but Anderson himself had come to the conclusion four months later that, though complementary, their efforts were meant for different audiences. In any case, the Camp and C.H. Gilly paper, "The Structure and Origin of Species," 11 now deserves attention as reflecting in part some of Anderson's views on biosystematics and the origin of species.

Taken together, these new materials add to the resources available to understand this unique figure in 20th Century evolutionary biology. They render, in the form of the video, the very man more intelligible as well as clarifying details of his life and career. Importantly, his science, especially his defining work on maize, mathematics, and biosystematics, stands out more clearly.

Endnotes

1 This article reflects work carried out during the 2000-2001 academic year when I was a National Science Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellow (SES-00080295).

2 Kleinman, "The Edgar Anderson Papers at the Missouri Botanical Garden," The Mendel Newsletter n.s. 10 (January 2001), 11-15.

3 Anne Roe, The Making of a Scientist (New York: Dodd and Mead, 1953). She writes about Anderson as "Henry" on pages 94-99, as the first subject in the chapter "Becoming a Biologist."

4 Edgar Anderson, "Kinsey as I Knew Him," 1. Typescript in the Kinsey Institute Archives, University of Indiana.

5 Alfred C. Kinsey, Anderson, and G. Gaylord Simpson were among a panel on "Supra-Specific in Nature and Classification" at the American Association for the Advancement of Science on December 30, 1936. Their papers were published in The American Naturalist LXXI I (1937). Kinsey's paper subtitled "From the Viewpoint of Zoology" appears on pp. 206-222; Anderson's, "From the Viewpoint of Botany," is on pp. 223-235.

6 R.A. Fisher, "The use of multiple measurements in taxonomic problems," Annals of Eugenics VII (1936-1937): 179-188.

7 John W. Tukey, Exploratory Data Analysis (Boston: Addison-Wesley Longman, Inc., 1977).

8 Anderson, Introgressive Hybridization (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1949).

9 Besides the essential work of historians Joel Hagen and Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, a number of historically-minded botanists including Kenton L. Chambers of Oregon State University, J. Chris Pires of the University of Wisconsin, and Allen Whittemore of the United States National Arboretum have addressed these developments in publications, conference papers, and seminar presentations. I am grateful for their work and camaraderie.

10 See also Chamber, "The Contributions of Gote Turesson to Plant Taxonomy," in Arthur R. Kukeberg, Richard B. Walker, and Alan Leviton (editors), Genecology and Ecogeographic Races: Papers in the Biological Sciences Presented at the 73rd Annumal Meeting of the Pacific Division AAAS on the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Gote Turesson (San Francisco: Pacific Division AAAS, 1995): 38-55.

11 W.H. Camp and Charles Gilly, "The Structure and Origin of Species," Britannia 4 (1943): 323-385.

 


The Periodicity of Swallows:
Sokoloff, Montagu, Sutton, Whitney, and Sepkoski

R. S. Cox
American Philosophical Society

San Juan Capistrano is less well known for its role in the history of genetics than its swallows, but the recurrent phenomena exhibited by those birds every spring seem nevertheless to apply. Periodically, the collections for the history of genetics at the APS accrue by a swallow-like process of revisitation, the return of familiar figures in new plumage -- a phenomenon particularly marked in the last year when several new arrivals in the Manuscripts Department bore traces of the old.

The revisitations began in May 2001 with a donation from Alexander Sokoloff, a geneticist from California State University at San Bernadino and a protégé of that stalwart of the APS, Theodosius Dobzhansky. Like his mentor, Sokoloff was of Russian extraction, though his path to genetics was notably more torturous, beginning even prior to birth. In 1917, Sokoloff's father received his doctorate in protozoology from the University of St. Petersburg, but with the Revolution swinging from violence into anarchy, he and his wife fled to Japan in search of employment and stability, hoping to emigrate to the United States when the opportunity arose. Alexander Sokoloff was born in Japan in 1920, technically a citizen of the Soviet Union, however when the Soviets stripped all expatriates of citizenship in 1922, the Sokoloffs were rendered effectively stateless. Another year later, the great Tokyo earthquake of 1923 rendered them effectively homeless, as well, shutting down the universities and forcing them once again on the road.

With American immigration quotas for Russia already filled, the Sokoloffs settled in Mexico, where a 15 year-old Alexander first met Dobzhansky, persuading him to take him along as an assistant on a fly collecting expedition. With Dobzhansky's paternal interest and the assistance of a family friend, Rev. E.L. Yeats, Sokoloff came to the United States to study, and after gaining citizenship through war-time service in the Air Force, Sokoloff graduated with a BA from UCLA in 1948 and a doctorate from Chicago in 1954. Since the late 1950s, Sokoloff's scientific efforts have been devoted largely to the genetics of the flour beetle, Tribolium, one the more important systems for genetic analysis, and one that has received comparatively little attention historically.

The materials donated by Sokoloff, however, relate less to his own genetic interests than those with whom he came into contact during his career. Among these are over 100 letters written between Sokoloff and Dobzhansky over a 35 year period, 1939-1974, including samples of Dobzhansky's well-known field letters and some engaging descriptions of life collecting flies. The peculiar virtue of these letters lies in providing a glimpse of an unusual side of the Drosophilist: his mentoring side. Simultaneously personal and professional, these including letters in which Dobzhansky speculates on everything from religion and evolution to dating and the "art of using time."

Sokoloff's donation also contributed to the periodic return of Sewall Wright to the APS. Despite the presence of the Wright Papers here, Wright's notorious penchant for discarding his old notes and outdated correspondence has resulted in a relative paucity of documentation for the early years of his career. Sokoloff, however, has helped to rectify the situation. As a graduate student at Chicago in the early 1950s, Sokoloff passed by Wright's office one evening, finding a box of papers clearly intended for the trash. Curious, he looked inside and discovered a set of Wright's lecture notes and quizzes from his course in genetics, 1921-1927, and research notes, 1914-1923, kept when Wright was working at the USDA and University of Chicago -- intellectually and professionally, one of the transitional periods of Wright's career. Not quite a complete course, the notes nevertheless stake out Wright's approach to the subject, with sufficient detail to provide a substantive overview of his thoughts his discipline, and they include, as well, notes on the application of statistical methods. The collection is currently available for research.

Like Sokoloff, Ashley Montagu (1905-1999) was one of the planets in the Dobzhansky cosmos, revolving in epistolary fashion for over twenty years, but he bore connection as well to another APS stalwart, Franz Boas. A physical anthropologist with far-flung interests, Montagu trained successively under Bronislaw Malinowski and Boas, receiving his doctorate in 1937, but he rapidly developed a characteristic academic style that might be characterized as interdisciplinary avant la lettre, but otherwise defies easy categorization. As early as the late-1920s, Montagu developed an interest in the "problem" of race and social inequality, which percolated under Boas' tutelage and eventually resulted in Montagu's best-known academic works, Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race (1942) and the Natural Superiority of Women (1953). In the former, Montagu asserted that race was best seen as a social construct imposed upon a fluid biological substratum, a logical extension of what some within the Boasian paradigm had been arguing, but an argument that struck many of his peers as quite radical. The work provoked strong responses from colleagues in the field, ranging from the hostility of eugenicist Morris Steggerda to the approval of anthropologist Melville Herskovits, and attracted Dobzhansky's attention, beginning a long period in which the two shared interests, projects, and over 120 letters.

In 1953, Montagu's progressive political opinions, combined with his unique ability to make them publicly known, led to difficulties with his employer, Rutgers, and ultimately to his resignation. He never again held, or sought, an academic position, but remained at home in Princeton, writing on a variety of academic subjects, returning repeatedly to issues of race and social inequality and increasingly to works that sought to bridge the gap between academia and the remainder of the world. Becoming something of a public intellectual, a favorite of television talk shows and radio chat, Montagu took part (with Dobzhansky) in the savaging of Carleton Coon's Origin of Races (1962), and in the debates over the heritability of intelligence spawned by Arthur Jensen and William Shockley during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He may best be remembered, however, as author of the Elephant Man, the book turned into a David Lynch film.

Montagu's correspondence includes valuable letters with Dobzhansky, Raymond Pearl, and H. J. Muller, and the Galton Laboratory's G. M. Morant, among others, and touches on the many topics that attracted Montagu's attention during his career, whether paleonanthropology, cultural anthropology, human evolution, genetics, eugenics, psychology, or sociology. Montagu's papers hold particular promise for examining science in the public context during the 1950s through 1970s, when Montagu actively courted the attention of the media. His efforts were rewarded: the collection includes dozens of fan letters, including many from celebrities in their own right: Gloria Swanson, Katherine Hepburn, and Henry "The Fonz" Winkler. The collection is currently in the early stages of processing and will be available to researchers during the summer.

As the summer of 2001 heated up, the APS collections in human genetics expanded with the arrival of the first part of the papers of H. Eldon Sutton, the Ashbel Smith Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Texas. Sutton's interests have centered on human population genetics, but the current crop of papers revolves largely around his role as editor of the American Journal of Human Genetics during the late 1960s. Additional papers are expected to arrive in 2002 and will be described in later issues of Mendel Newsletter.

Following close on the heels of Sokoloff and Montagu, the APS received the papers of Walter Goad (1925-2000), one of the early contributors to the burgeoning field of bioinformatics. As a physicist in the Theoretical Division of Los Alamos Laboratories, Goad worked primarily in the development of nuclear weapons during the years that spanned the development of the hydrogen bomb and the American entry into Vietnam, but beginning in 1964, he turned his attention increasingly toward the computational and analytic problems of molecular biology. At the instigation of Theodore Puck of the University of Colorado, Goad took a sabbatical in 1964 to explore molecular biology, taking a second sabbatical in 1970 at Max Perutz's Laboratory in Cambridge. By that time, Goad had begun to conceive of powerful computers as the best means of organizing, comparing, and exchanging molecular data. During the mid-1970s, he was instrumental in establishing the Los Alamos gene data bank, which became GenBank in 1979, the world's first large-scale database for nucleic acid sequences. Goad later played a role in the early phases of the Human Genome Project.

The Goad Papers are a small (6 linear feet) collection of correspondence, manuscripts and notes relating to the founding and early operation of GenBank and the Human Genome Project, including some detailed information on the design, construction, and (for lack of a better term) business plan. The Papers are fully processed and are currently open for research. The finding aid is available on the APS website at http://www.amphilsoc.org/library/mole/g/goad.htm.

Late in the year, the APS experienced a revisitation from Leon Whitney, former field secretary for the American Eugenics Society. Deep in the bowels of the library, a photograph album was rediscovered, containing approximately 200 photographs and half-tone illustrations of institutions for the "feeble-minded" in New York State, 1917-1925. The album appears to have been assembled to document the range of facilities for the care of mental patients and, like much of the material in the AES collection, to render their efforts visible to the public. The photographs appear primarily to have been provided to Whitney by the institutions themselves, and consist mostly of external views of buildings and grounds, a smaller number of interior views, and, in several cases, formally posed images of staff and patients at work. The images emphasize the remarkable orderliness of the institutions, architecturally and behaviorally, and they are accompanied (oddly enough) by eighteen photographs of posters issued by the New York Police Department as part of an anti-crime publicity campaign, and a similar number of scenic views marked "In the Ozark Mountains."

Finally, what comes around, comes around. Although the world of paleontology falls relatively far afield from genetics, paleontologists think a great deal about periodicity and the impact of genetics in evolutionary time, and few have done so more intently than Jack Sepkoski, whose papers recently arrived at the APS. A Harvard-educated paleontologist from the University of Chicago, Sepkoski exerted an enormous influence upon his field during the late 1970s and 1980s, becoming one of the principal exponents of the paleobiological renaissance and a promethean figure in introducing computer modeling to his peers. He is best known for attempting to model the shape of organismic diversity through time, an on-going project that resulted in the discovery in about 1980 of a statistically significant periodicity to mass extinction events. According to Sepkoski's analyses, every 26-30 million years the earth experiences an episode in which 65 to95% of its biota is killed off, a dramatic finding that reoriented paleontologists from conceiving of mass extinction events in isolation into searching for a common, periodic cause. Sepkoski's work has subsequently cross-fertilized with everything from theories about the extra-terrestrial causes of extinction (the "asteroid theory") to theories considering the interaction between causal and acausal factors in shaping the earth's evolutionary history. The Sepkoski Papers are a nearly complete record of Sepkoski's brief, but extraordinarily productive career, and should be available to research beginning in the summer. Like Capistrano, they should merit repeated revisitation.

 


Book Review:

Elof Axel Carlson,
The Unfit: The History of a Bad Idea
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2001 (xiv + 451pp.)

Steven Selden
University of Maryland College Park

Stupidity begets stupidity, and intelligence begets brains; but a thousand years of educating or improving the parents will never improve the children. . . . Children are not born from the body and brain cells which you can educate, but from the germ cells, which by any process now known, you cannot educate. In short statesmanship should learn the lesson of biology . . . . 'Wooden legs are not inherited, but wooden heads are.'
Albert Edward Wiggam,
The New Decalogue of Science, 1922

In the quest for perfect babies and lower health expenditures, prenatal diagnosis and abortion could be used for many of them. [The question is] where the line should be drawn in determining the appropriateness of a condition for prenatal diagnosis and abortion, and who should draw it. Genetic tests could foster a new eugenics in which pressure is exerted on women whose offspring would be at risk to avoid their conception or birth.
Neil A. Holtzman
Proceed With Caution: Predicting Genetic Risks in
the Recombinant DNA Era
, 1989

For many early twentieth-century intellectuals, anxious about increasing rates of immigration and infant mortality, and for what they saw as a trend toward national degradation, programs of hereditary manipulation were seen as necessary for national salvation. For those concerned for the threat posed by the "unfit," the focus of Elof Carlson's splendid and encyclopedic volume, The Unfit: The History of a Bad Idea, heredity was judged as of signal importance in predicting human performance. Americans from a variety of political perspectives saw eugenics as a way to turn the tide of national degeneracy. Mixing science and pseudoscience they pursued a series of social policies which included state-sponsored sterilization, segregation of the "socially inadequate," and the restriction of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. At the more popular level, school textbooks lauded the promise of eugenics, movies such as the "Black Stork" supported euthanasia, and Fitter Families' contests offered medals to those of presumed hereditary excellence. Perhaps the most destructive of these consequences was the use of the model American eugenic sterilization law by the National Socialists in Germany to facilitate the taking of more than six million lives in the Holocaust. It was, as Carlson points out, "the ultimate outrage of misapplied science and technology . . . [and] the capstone of this miserable period in 20th-century history" (p. 3).

Centering on degeneracy theories dating from antiquity The Unfit, carefully considers and documents the three hundred-year history of the abstraction that some are socially unfit as a consequence of their defective biology. The volume covers topics as diverse as biblical explanations of degeneracy (the consequence of transgressions against God), Indiana's 1907 sterilization law (developed in part as a way to reduce masturbation and degeneracy), and the ethical issues raised by the fact that 5% of all human issue will be unable to fully express their humanity. For the reader unfamiliar with this broad history the volume will provide an invaluable resource. Those familiar with degeneracy theory, and particularly with the charges that today's revolution in human genetics will lead to a "new eugenics," will find the volume, and Carlson's last two chapters of significant interest. Concerned as they are for the future of eugenics and for the deep ethical issues raised by our successes in medical technology, they wrestle with a series of profound moral and policy issues.

Carlson points out that despite the Holocaust, eugenics has not entirely disappeared from public discourse. His examples include the Pioneer Fund's historical association with eugenics, white and Black supremacist groups' commitment to racial typifications, Singapore's attempt to increase marriages among the professional classes, and China's combining of policies of one child for Han families with genetic screening. The text's clear judgements on whether these policies should be understood as malignant (Pioneer, supremacist) or benign (Singapore, China), bring to mind examples from the fields of psychology and social policy. The continuing work of J. Philippe Rushton, and the use made of that research by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in arguments for limiting welfare to the poor, might bear critique. And one might consider the less benevolent implications of that undertaking, e.g., programs of differential breeding to eliminate the hereditary behavioral qualities of the unfit from the human gene pool. In that regard, Carlson points out that we know remarkably little about the relationship between human social performance and genetics. Certainly not enough to practice selective breeding for complex human behaviors.

It is in response to that general proposition, that The Unfit offers its readers powerful analyses taken from the field of medical genetics concerning the possibility of reducing genetic disease in future generations. Carlson argues that in the cases of autosomal recessives such as Tay-Sachs, screening and elective abortions would not reduce the syndrome's gene frequency in human populations. On the other hand, autosomal dominants such as Huntington's disease, X-linked disorders such as Ducharme muscular dystrophy, and polygenic disorders such as neural tube defects could be greatly diminished through screening and elective abortions. In many ways the goal of The Unfit is to separate medical genetics from the taint of eugenics, and in the case of the above defects to claim that the choice for abortion is an application of medical therapy, not eugenics.

The Unfit's concluding chapter confronts the question of ethics in the context of advances in modern medicine. Improvements in medicine over the past 100 years have led to increases in family size. And the security that fetuses can be brought full-term and to adulthood has led to voluntary limits in family size in the hopes for a better life for all. Yet, it is nevertheless true that 5% of all newborns will suffer from some level of birth defect. For the families in such cases who act in good faith, "hope is abandoned . . . [and] values collide" (pp. 387). Parents so challenged must decide if they should, "prevent the occurrence of a Tay-Sachs child or risk another?

Should one elect to abort a fetus without hope? Should one withhold heroic measures on those who will not benefit from the treatment? . . . . Should one correct defects that prolong life but do not restore health? . . . . Here in all its misery, we wrestle with the image of the person that cannot be, and all our choices are unpleasant. (p. 386-387)

But individuals have acted in bad faith in the past. In the early 20th century for example, hope was abandoned as the poor were thought to be destined by their heredity to remain forever on the dole. They became the unfit, and 37 states quickly enacted policies of forced sterilization. It is this historical construction of the unfit that Carlson carefully lays out in his critical historical analysis. The volume's rich overview and resources provide the reader with questions as well as with answers. The questions posed by the text are straightforward and disturbing, "to what extent," we are asked, "does abandonment of hope for the terminally ill adult, the trisomic fetus, or the malformed newborn resemble the assignment of status as an unfit person?" (p. 389). With examples such as these we see the human condition in stark profile. One of the many important contributions of this text is that we learn that we must answer these questions. May we be fit to do so.

 


Book Review:
Nathaniel C. Comfort,
The Tangled Field
Harvard University Press, 2001 (xv + 337pp.)

Ana Barahona
School of Sciences, UNAM

According to John Maynard Smith, in all societies people have constructed myths about the origins of the universe and of humans. The people or objets that become a myth stand not only for themselves, but also as symbols of other things. A myth-maker conceives a story that moves her in a particular way; people repeat myths to persuade others to behave in certain ways. In his The Tangled Field (TTF), Nathaniel Comfort tells the story of Barbara McClintock, a woman scientist with humility and a spartan life-style, a woman whose scientific rigor and connection to nature gained her the description of "a little old lady with cropped iron-gray hair, dressed in simple slacks, a tailored white shirt, plain sweater, and sturdy shoes, and bearing a microscope, an ear of Indian corn, and a clipboard." Constructed as a myth in Evelyn Fox Keller's book A Feeling for the Organism, the life and work of Barbara McClintock have been described as a struggle for acceptance in male-dominated fields, as a journey through professional setbacks, financial hardship and humiliation, to finally become a symbol of female discrimination in science. Comfort tells us that this myth soon became a sentimental fancy: her science was nonmasculine, holistic, intuitive, nonreductionist and noninterventionist. After been granted the Nobel Prize in 1983, Barbara McClintock's myth became even fancier: she was a prophet, a brilliant loner, a rediscovered genius.

In TTF, Comfort tries to dismantle the Barbara McClintock's myth through the history of science, that is, "by examining her not as a representative of a class but as a unique individual," in this way "we get to know a new Barbara McClintock, one with a distinctive scientific style and a misunderstood contribution to the history of biological thought". This magnificent book is constructed according to seven themes that trace the aspects that once built the myth: a marginal cytogeneticist, transposition ignored, controlling elements neglected, her holistic view of nature, her place at Cold Spring Harbor, and finally, rediscovery and recognition. The evidence is overwhelming: McClintock was no more, no less, than a brilliant scientist who won the recognition of her teachers, pupils and colleagues, paraphrased and cited in many textbooks, who received many awards during her life. Yet, her work was somewhat misunderstood. The purpose of TTF is perfectly achieved.

Barbara McClintock (1902-1992) was a brilliant maize cytogeneticist who studied genes for the color of the kernels of the ear. One of the first important results obtained by McClintock by the 1930s was to show that contrary to what was commonly believed, the miotic chromosomes (during the prophase) were an excellent material to study chromosome morphology. Each member of the miotic chromosomal complement could easily be distinguished by its arm length and form. This discovery opened the door to the integration of plant breeding experiments with chromosome analysis. Also in the 1930s, McClintock discovered crossing over in maize, where chromosomes brake up to generate new gene combinations. In the 1940s she proposed gene mobility and its possible effects in gene expression; she pointed out that genes were not aligned in chromosomes like "beads on a string", but can move and change their position. She described and located the first jumping gene in the short arm of chromosome number 9.

Her work comprises tow different types of phenomena: genetic control and transposition. In TTF, Comfort tells the story about the importance of genetic control in McClintock's work. To find the source of developmental control was her primary interest, and McClintock was working at it when, as Comfort shows, she discovered transposition. McClintock always interpreted transposition in relation to developmental control: transposition helped to explain control. Although her vision of genetic control has not been accepted, transposition was the key to understand certain aspects of genetic behavior at the phenotypic level.

The work of B. McClintock has been understood as a challenge to the paradigmatic principles of classical genetics. McClintock's idea of transposition tried to explain the somatic regularities of variegation and mosaicism in relation with the material chromosome configurations during mitosis. At the same time, the movement of genes explained the occurrence of aberrations (mosaicism or different color configurations in the leaves of the maize plant) as a consequence of unstable genes, and was related with the origin of mutable genes. Transposition was regarded such an integrative mechanism that it could account for all the numerous, seemingly complex types of phenomena occurring at different levels of organization that were associated with the presence and behavior of unstable genes. The most important feature of transposition was the relation between the breakage of chromosomes and unstable genes. Between 1942 and 1948, McClintock developed a concept of this primary event, one which nowadays is part of the theories at the molecular level. Comfort's story ends with the rediscovery and recognition of McClintock's ideas.

Although it seems that transposition was well understood because it had been introduced in many textbooks, acceptance and support of McClintock's ideas came later, in the mid 70s, when the scientific community recognized a "general mechanism" for gene regulation (not control) among bacteria, viruses, yeasts, plants and animals. Recognition of her work was acknowledged with the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1983, at the age of 81. Since then, the myth grew stronger and became a harder story; thus, it needed to be dismantled. Comfort recognized this need and achieved it. With a deep understanding of McClintock's work, with an insightful narrative about a special scientific mind, Comfort's story is well worth a reading. It is not only apt for geneticists or general scientists, but for historians of science who want to understand scientists' way of constructing myths and their meanings. I certainly agree with Nathaniel: the construction of a myth tells more about human perception of science, than about the way science is constructed. Myths in science have worked so marvelously as foundational acts that mark the origin of our believes, that it seems we need to hold on to them.


 


APS Library Resident Research Fellowships
2002-2003

The American Philosophical Society Library is accepting applications for short-term residential fellowships for conducting research in its collections. The Society's Library, located near Independence Hall in Philadelphia, is a leading international center for research in the history of American science and technology and their European roots, as well as early American history and culture. The Library houses over 8 million manuscripts, 250,000 volumes and bound periodicals, and thousands of maps and prints. Outstanding historical collections and subject areas include the papers of Benjamin Franklin; the American Revolution; 18th and 19th-century natural history; western scientific expeditions and travel; the Peale-Sellers papers; American Indian languages; anthropology; the papers of Charles Darwin and his forerunners, colleagues, critics, and successors; genetics and eugenics; biochemistry, physiology, and biophysics; 20th-century medical research; and modern physics. (The Library does not hold materials on philosophy in the modem sense.)

The fellowships, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, are intended to encourage research in the Library's collections by scholars who reside beyond a 75-mile radius of Philadelphia. The fellowships are open to both U. S. citizens and foreign nationals who are holders of the Ph.D. or the equivalent, Ph.D. candidates who have passed their preliminary exams, and . independent scholars. Applicants in any relevant field of scholarship may apply. The stipend is $2,000 per month, and the term of the fellowship is a minimum of one month and a maximum of three, taken between June 1, 2002 and May 31, 2003. Fellows are expected to be in residence for four consecutive weeks during the period of their award.

There is no special application form and this notice provides all the essential information needed to apply. Applicants should submit the following: (1) cover sheet stating a) name, b) title of project, c) expected period of residence, d) institutional affiliation, e) mailing address, f) telephone numbers, and g) social security number; (2) a letter (not to exceed three single-spaced pages) which briefly describes the project and how it relates to existing scholarship, states the specific relevance of the American Philosophical Society's collections to the project, and indicates expected results of the research (such as publications); (3) a c.v. or resume; and (4) one letter of reference (doctoral candidates' must use their dissertation advisor). Guides to the collections are available on the Society's website: http://www.amphilsoc.org. Applicants are strongly encouraged to consult the Library staff by mail or phone regarding the collections.

Address applications or inquiries to:

Mellon Fellowships
American Philosophical Society Library
105 South Fifth St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106-3386
Telephone: (215) 440-3400.
Applications must be received by March 1 of application cycle year. Notice of awards will be mailed after May 1.