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Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology

Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology

Epilogue by R. C. Lewontin
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology
    Book Description:

    This book is the first devoted to modern biology's innovators and iconoclasts: men and women who challenged prevailing notions in their fields. Some of these scientists were Nobel Prize winners, some were considered cranks or gadflies, some were in fact wrong. The stories of these stubborn dissenters are individually fascinating. Taken together, they provide unparalleled insights into the role of dissent and controversy in science and especially the growth of biological thought over the past century.

    Each of the book's nineteen specially commissioned chapters offers a detailed portrait of the intellectual rebellion of a particular scientist working in a major area of biology--genetics, evolution, embryology, ecology, biochemistry, neurobiology, and virology as well as others. An introduction by the volume's editors and an epilogue by R. C. Lewontin draw connections among the case studies and illuminate the nonconforming scientist's crucial function of disturbing the comfort of those in the majority. By focusing on the dynamics and impact of dissent rather than on "winners" who are credited with scientific advances, the book presents a refreshingly original perspective on the history of the life sciences.

    Scientists featured in this volume:

    Alfred Russel Wallace

    Hans Driesch

    Wilhelm Johannsen

    Raymond Arthur Dart

    C. D. Darlington

    Richard Goldschmidt

    Barbara McClintock

    Oswald T. Avery

    Roger Sperry

    Leon Croizat

    Vero Copner Wynne-Edwards

    Peter Mitchell

    Howard Temin

    Motoo Kimura

    William D. Hamilton

    Carl Woese

    Stephen Jay Gould

    Thelma Rowell

    Daniel S. Simberloff

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15054-4
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Chapter One Introduction: On Rebels, Icons, and the Value of Dissent
    (pp. 1-19)

    The history of science is invariably told through the lives of its heroes, and modern biology is no exception. Men and women who, with painstaking research and brilliance, have helped advance science to the heights we call “today” have been our guides. Historians have studied their lives in order to analyze the growth of the life sciences, the rise of institutions and disciplines, and the evolution of biologists’ understanding of nature. Insofar as we seek narratives concerning humankind’s quest for knowledge, it is not surprising that some biologists should be cast as heroes. But it is not the whole story....

  6. Chapter Two Alfred Russel Wallace, the Discovery of Natural Selection, and the Origins of Humankind
    (pp. 20-36)

    Alfred Russel Wallace discovered natural selection, the driving force of evolution, in 1858. Yet within ten years he was arguing that selection could not possibly account for the evolution of humankind and that only spiritual forces could have done the job. How could this be? Had Wallace, the ultimate man of science, turned into Wallace, the ultimate rebel against science? To answer this question, we need some background.¹

    The first part of the nineteenth century, particularly the 1830s, was an incredibly active and fertile period for the development of what we call the philosophy of science. This was not a...

  7. Chapter Three Rebel With Two Causes: Hans Driesch
    (pp. 37-64)

    Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch (1867–1941) may never have looked like a rebel, but in his scientific life he was one twice over. A major player in the 1890s movement to make biology in general and embryology in particular experimental and mechanistic sciences, after 1899 he disavowed the mechanistic approach and became one of the leading advocates of a new form of vitalism, the philosophy that claimed that life can never be understood in terms of the principles of physics and chemistry. In both instances, Driesch went against the prevailing tide of opinion within the established biological community. In the...

  8. Chapter Four Wilhelm Johannsen: A Rebel or a Diehard?
    (pp. 65-83)

    Four major concepts shaped the science of genetics in the past one hundred and fifty years: Mendel’s notion of discrete pairs ofFaktorenfor characters, which segregate independent of other pairs in the gametes and meet upon fertilization; Johannsen’s discrimination between the level of appearance and the level of inheritance of traits; Morgan and his students’ chromosomal theory of inheritance; and Watson and Crick’s physicochemical model of the architecture of DNA molecules.

    Wilhelm Johannsen’s analysis of the notion of inheritance challenged the perspective that had been expounded in the first decade of the twentieth century, following the so-called rediscovery of...

  9. Chapter Five Raymond Arthur Dart: The Man Who Unwillingly Ushered in a Revolution in the Evolution of Humankind
    (pp. 84-102)

    Unlike Eugene Dubois, who went to Java in 1888 with the avowed aim of finding a “missing link,” Raymond Dart “had no sense of dedication to a search for human ancestors when coming unwillingly to South Africa early in 1923.” Indeed, he went so far as to write in 1940: “I have striven ever since I was given my fi rst piece of anatomical research work as a student in Sydney a quarter of a century ago to avoid both bones and mathematics. Circumstances thrust anthropology upon me after I had chosen to follow even more useless trails as a...

  10. Chapter Six In Weismann’s Footsteps: The Cyto-Rebellion of C. D. Darlington
    (pp. 103-118)

    “The time in which men believed that science could be advanced by the mere collection of facts has long passed away.”¹ Such was the judgment of the aging, increasingly cantankerous August Weismann, Germany’s leading biologist, in 1886. A short four years after the death of Charles Darwin, Weismann was intent on describing a cellular theory to match the English naturalist’s theory of evolution by natural selection. “The investigation of mere details,” he wrote, “had led to a state of intellectual short-sightedness, interest being shown only for that which was immediately in view. Immense numbers of detailed facts were thus accumulated,...

  11. Chapter Seven Striking the Hornet’s Nest: Richard Goldschmidt’s Rejection of the Particulate Gene
    (pp. 119-136)

    In 1938, L. C. Dunn, acting as the managing editor ofGenetics,rejected a manuscript by Richard Goldschmidt for fear that it would “lead to unprofitable controversy.” The manuscript was a preliminary report of some experiments on spontaneous mutation that Goldschmidt thought decisively weighed against the existence of the particulate gene. In a letter asking the opinion of Curt Stern, who had been Goldschmidt’s assistant a few years earlier, before both had been forced to leave Nazi Germany, Dunn expressed his concerns. “If a paper like this had come from a less well known worker,” Dunn wrote, “my first impulse...

  12. Chapter Eight Rebellion and Iconoclasm in the Life and Science of Barbara McClintock
    (pp. 137-153)

    As the essays in this volume suggest, rebelliousness and iconoclasm often go together. Yet a rebel is not necessarily an iconoclast, and an iconoclast need not be a rebel. Rebelliousness is a personal trait, a habitual challenging of authority or flouting of convention. Iconoclasm, in contrast, is a sort of professional activity, a demolishing of cherished dogmas or institutions. Some scientific icons have been shattered by utterly conventional researchers; most rebels never demolish any significant beliefs or institutions. But where rebelliousness and iconoclasm meet, the historian can get a purchase on such elusive yet compelling dimensions of scientific practice as...

  13. Chapter Nine Challenging the Protein Dogma of the Gene: Oswald T. Avery, a Revolutionary Conservative
    (pp. 154-173)

    Oswald Theodore Avery distinguished himself by outstanding research in twentieth-century biomedicine whose results had a major impact on immunochemistry and, in particular, early molecular biology. The demonstration by Avery and his younger associates Colin M. MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty in 1944—that the substance capable of bringing about a lasting transformation of pneumococcal types that apparently consists of heritable changes in bacteria is DNA—for the first time clearly associated a genetic phenomenon to a nucleic acid. It challenged the generally accepted view that proteins form the material of genes. Avery and his associates’ discovery thereby became the basis of...

  14. Chapter Ten Roger Sperry and Integrative Action in the Nervous System
    (pp. 174-193)

    Roger Sperry was “something of a maverick.”¹ But what does such a judgment mean? Being in the position of a rebel in the scientific community of one’s own time is, of course, one of the potential routes to recognition. To adopt a heretical role in that community is a risky business: it may not ensure fame, and one is very likely to be wrong. Major steps in scientific progress require original thinkers, however, and therefore all great scientists need, in a sense, to be rebels in relation to the scientific orthodoxy of their time. Moreover, the really great scientist may...

  15. Chapter Eleven Leon Croizat: A Radical Biogeographer
    (pp. 194-212)

    The contributors to this volume deal primarily with rebels in biology whose iconoclastic views eventually became accepted, but not all iconoclasts succeed. In fact, very few do. I deal mainly with Leon Croizat, a biogeographer who worked in almost total isolation from other biogeographers of his day. “I do not like to share responsibilities, so I always do or die by myself,” he wrote.¹ If anyone counts as a rebel, renegade, maverick, or iconoclast, it is certainly Leon Croizat. To what extent did he succeed? To what extent did he fail? And can we learn anything about science from studying...

  16. Chapter Twelve Dogma, Heresy, and Conversion: Vero Copner Wynne-Edwards’s Crusade and the Levels-of-Selection Debate
    (pp. 213-230)

    The idea of the rebel carries with it a whiff of the romantic and often an element of tragedy; this chapter contains a bit of both. I describe the life and career of Vero Copner Wynne-Edwards (1906–1997) and his infamous contribution to the biological literature of the twentieth century, the theory of group selection. As David Hull did for Leon Croizat (see Chapter 11), I present the work of a rebel who was ultimately unsuccessful. This, I think, provides the historian with an interesting opportunity to delve into the nature of success in science. Though his theory was never...

  17. Chapter Thirteen Peter Mitchell: Changing the Face of Bioenergetics
    (pp. 231-247)

    The systematic study of the way chemical energy is provided from the breakdown of foodstuff in living cells started early in the twentieth century. The initial concepts developed more or less logically as experimental evidence provided insights into the chemical processes involved. Yet one central mechanism, that for the final oxidation by oxygen, known as oxidative phosphorylation, began to emerge as a major problem when provisional ideas could not be underpinned by experiment. Thus a new approach was clearly needed, and several were forthcoming. The problem was significant because oxidative phosphorylation is the process that provides most of the cell’s...

  18. Chapter Fourteen Howard Temin: Rebel of Evidence and Reason
    (pp. 248-264)

    At the Nobel Prize ceremony banquet held in Stockholm’s Town Hall, in December 1975, Howard Temin rose before the assemblage of Swedish royalty and twelve hundred distinguished guests to respond to the toast offered by the Prime Minister to the year’s laureates in physiology or medicine—David Baltimore, Renato Dulbecco, and himself. Each had won his share of the prize for research in the interactions of viruses and cells related to the genesis of cancer. Temin’s recognition was rooted, as the Nobel citation read, in his advancement of “a rather unorthodox idea [in the 1960s], which was not well received...

  19. Chapter Fifteen Motoo Kimura and the Rise of Neutralism
    (pp. 265-281)

    Sometimes a member of the scientific establishment makes a discovery that is so surprising and so contrary to conventional wisdom that this person automatically becomes a maverick. An outstanding example, Barbara McClintock, is discussed in Chapter 8 of this book. Early in her career, she was recognized astheleading maize cytogeneticist, admired by all who were familiar with her work. Then she discovered genetic entities that jumped around the genome. At first she simply was not taken seriously. But eventually, thanks to similar discoveries in microorganisms, which were more accessible to molecular analysis and therefore more convincing to the...

  20. Chapter Sixteen Against the Grain: The Science and Life of William D. Hamilton
    (pp. 282-301)

    A paradigm shift in the evolutionary explanation of social behavior took place during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Concepts such as kin selection, inclusive fitness, and the gene’s-eye view entered science, crowding out earlier notions of individual selection and individual fitness. Part of the novelty was the very idea that social behavior can evolve. This insight became the foundation for the emerging fields of behavior ecology and sociobiology.

    The cornerstone of the new line of reasoning came in the 1960s with William Donald (Bill) Hamilton’s crucial insight into the evolution of altruism. His 1964 paper “The Genetical Evolution...

  21. Chapter Seventeen The Iconoclastic Research Program of Carl Woese
    (pp. 302-320)

    Carl Woese has challenged doctrines and dichotomies at the core of twentieth-century biology. At a time when microbiologists declared that a phylogenetic classification of bacteria was impossible, Woese began such a research program based on comparisons of the ribosomal RNA molecule. His methods and concepts revitalized the study of microbial evolution and taxonomy. In so doing, he proposed a fundamentally new conception of the evolution of life on Earth in direct opposition to the canonical eukaryote-prokaryote dichotomy.

    Articulated in 1962 and taught in textbooks from high school to university, the transition from prokaryotes (bacteria) to eukaryotes (cells like our own,...

  22. Chapter Eighteen Stephen Jay Gould, Darwinian Iconoclast?
    (pp. 321-337)

    To the scientifically literate public, the proposition that Stephen Jay Gould was some kind of scientific iconoclast might seem odd. Gould was, after all, one of the twentieth century’s most ardent defenders of evolution and the scientific method, and he devoted countless books, essays, and reviews to fostering wider public appreciation of the truth and robustness of Darwinian evolutionary theory. A professional paleontologist or biologist, however, might react quite differently: Gould’s scientific oeuvre was regarded by many of his colleagues with suspicion and often outright hostility during his lifetime, so much so that the English geneticist John Maynard Smith once...

  23. Chapter Nineteen Culture and Gender Do Not Dissolve into How Scientists “Read” Nature: Thelma Rowell’s Heterodoxy
    (pp. 338-355)

    “The males of nearly every social primate play a special role in challenging predators, particularly if an infant is threatened,” the primatologist Alison Jolly wrote in her 1972 book TheEvolution of Primate Behavior.More precisely, “defense seems to be a male role throughout at least the monkeys and apes. Furthermore it may be concentrated among the dominant males, as in macaque troops, or even be the clearest sign of dominance, as in the cebus monkey. . . . When a savannaliving baboon troop encounters a big cat, it may retreat in battle formation, females and juveniles first, the big...

  24. Chapter Twenty Bringing Statistical Methods to Community and Evolutionary Ecology: Daniel S. Simberloff
    (pp. 356-371)

    When Daniel S. Simberloff began his call for more rigorous scientific methods in ecology, it was already under pressure for change. This infused arguments that should have been quietly technical with something of thesturm und drangof melodrama, both enriching and obscuring those issues. The neutral observer T. F. H. Allen, remarking that the dialogue being raised was something the discipline needed, nonetheless found “images of hand-to-hand combat or a bar-room brawl” coming to mind on reading certain exchanges.¹ One between the philosopher Marjorie Grene and Simberloff that Allen quoted in full shows both the combativeness and the humor...

  25. Epilogue: Legitimation Is the Name of the Game
    (pp. 372-380)

    The stories of new ideas in biology that have been recounted in this book can only be understood as part of a historical process if the words rebel and iconoclast are taken seriously. To be a rebel or aniconoclastis not the same thing as being someone with a heterodox view of some matter. Several times a year I receive manuscripts from people, amateurs of science, who have a new general theory of almost everything, and for all I know one or another of these theories might turn out to be right. Yet none of these intellectual efforts can...

  26. List of Contributors
    (pp. 381-384)
  27. Index
    (pp. 385-400)