Haldane, Mayr, and Beanbag Genetics

By Krishna Dronamraju | Go to book overview

Introduction

A fact in science, is not a mere fact, but an instance.

— Bertrand Russell

This book is about the views of two famous biologists, both now deceased, and how they differed on a central issue in evolutionary biology. As their correspondence indicates, theirs was a friendly disagreement—there was no animosity or bitterness in their arguments. Indeed, as Ernst Mayr once wrote in a letter to J.B.S. Haldane, it is all a matter of emphasis and interpretation. Their differences reflected their backgrounds and experience.

The term “beanbag genetics” is derived from the fact that the early Mendelians used to keep different colored beans in bags for the purpose of counting and analyzing Mendelian ratios. This method implied that genes behaved as isolated independent entities with no interaction with each other. Mayr (1959, 1963) used the term “beanbag genetics” to describe the methodology and the underlying concepts of early studies in theoretical population genetics by R.A. Fisher (1930), Haldane (1932a), and Sewall Wright (1931). This was especially true of Fisher and Haldane, who used simple models of genes acting in isolation for the sake of mathematical convenience. In his opening address to the 1959 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Qualitative Biology “Genetics and Twentieth-Century Darwinism,” Mayr challenged the great pioneers of population genetics: “But what, precisely, has been the contribution of this mathematical school to the evolutionary theory, if I may be permitted to ask such a provocative

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Haldane, Mayr, and Beanbag Genetics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • 1 - What Is Beanbag Genetics? 3
  • 2 - Foundations of Population Genetics 45
  • 3 - Time Line- J.B.S. Haldane (1892–1964) 88
  • 4 - Time Line- Ernst Walter Mayr (1904–2005) 100
  • 5 - J.B.S. Haldane and Evolutionary Biology 113
  • 6 - Ernst Mayr and Evolutionary Biology 126
  • 7 - Evolution- The Modern Synthesis 145
  • 8 - Summary 171
  • References 187
  • Appendix 199
  • Index 271
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