Article ID: CBB000773116

Maintaining Continuity through a Scientific Revolution: A Rereading of E. B. Wilson and T. H. Morgan on Sex Determination and Mendelism (2007)


A rereading of the American scientific literature on sex determination from 1902 to 1926 leads to a different understanding of the construction of the Mendelian-chromosome theory after 1910. There was significant intellectual continuity, which has not been properly appreciated, underlying this scientific revolution. After reexamining the relationship between the ideas of key scientists, in particular Edmund B. Wilson and Thomas Hunt Morgan, I argue that, contrary to the historical literature, Wilson and Morgan did not adopt opposing views on Mendelism and sex determination. Rather, each preferred a non-Mendelian explanation of the determination of sex. Around 1910, both integrated the Mendelian and non-Mendelian theories to create a synthetic theory. One problem was the need to avoid an overly deterministic view of sex while also accepting the validity of Mendelism. Morgan's discovery of mutations on the X chromosome takes on different significance when set in the context of the debate about sex determination, and Calvin Bridges's work on sex determination is better seen as a development of Morgan's ideas, rather than a departure from them. Conclusions point to the role of synthesis within fields as a way to advance scientific theories and reflect on the relationship between synthesis and explanatory pluralism in biology.

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Authors & Contributors
Volpone, Alessandro
Cottebrune, Anne
Lockhart, Jeffrey W.
Cech, Erin A.
Bruch, Elizabeth E.
Frezza, Giulia
Journal of the History of Biology
Mefisto: Rivista di medicina, filosofia, storia
NTM: Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
Johns Hopkins University Press
Cambridge University Press
University of Michigan
Mendelism; Mendelian inheritance
Sex differences
Controversies and disputes
Morgan, Thomas Hunt
Wilson, Edmund Beecher
Weismann, August
Bateson, William
Paolo Della Valle
Montgomery, Thomas Harrison, Jr.
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
20th century
20th century, late
18th century
17th century
United States
Moscow (Russia)
Great Britain
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

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