Thesis ID: CBB001560692

Vertebrate Paleontology and the Evolutionary Synthesis, 1894--1944 (2008)


Paton, Miranda Vierra (Author)

Cornell University
Provine, William B.

Publication Date: 2008
Edition Details: Advisor: Provine, William B.
Physical Details: 833 pp.
Language: English

This is a history of the Evolutionary Synthesis told from the perspective of two American vertebrate paleontologists, Henry Fairfield Osborn and George Gaylord Simpson. It reconsiders the role that paleontologists played in the organization of biology around the project of producing a unified causal theory of evolution. Between 1894 and 1912, Osborn called for unification that resisted methodological reductionism--a growing trend among biologists who privileged only those theoretical claims and research questions that could be explored through experimental means. Osborn aimed his calls for synthesis and theoretical arguments at evolutionists who were becoming increasingly committed to modeling Charles Darwin's Evolution By Natural Selection at its most "microscopic" level, within population-level studies that represented the interaction between random, heritable mutation and selection. Osborn believed that long-term patterns of heritable variation shape evolution in conjunction with natural selection, and objected to the way that biologists rejected his idea for methodological reasons alone. In 1944, George Gaylord Simpson implicitly accepted the series of reductive changes built into maturing population-level models. Simpson linked paleontology to the on-going "Evolutionary Synthesis" by interpreting the fossil record's patterns as products of the evolutionary causes in populations as modeled by geneticists. This history describes the long series of conceptual and methodological changes organized in evolutionary biology between 1894 and 1944. It shows that methodological changes exerted as much effect as did negotiated theoretical agreements and (changing) interpretations of Darwin's theory. It finds that the "Evolutionary Synthesis" of the 1930s and 1940s had two phases: one of methodological consolidation accomplished between 1900 and 1931, and a later phase of theoretical consolidation. The project considers the costs and benefits of agreeing to such a "synthesis," and argues that mid-20 th century agreements produced two lasting problems: a neglect of the process of genetic expression during ontogeny, and the difficulty of explaining selection-driven evolution at all hierarchical levels. It also examines some of the historiographic problems produced by a decision to recognize the unification of biology in terms of theoretical consolidation, or to acknowledge the effects of scientific practice, but to begin either analysis from the standpoint of experimental disciplines.


Description “A history of the Evolutionary Synthesis told from the perspective of two American vertebrate paleontologists, Henry Fairfield Osborn and George Gaylord Simpson.” (from the abstract) Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 69/05 (2008). Pub. no. AAT 3317482.

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Authors & Contributors
Laporte, Léo F.
Sommer, Marianne
Manias, Chris
Regal, Brian
Cain, Joe
Ries, C. J.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Journal of the History of Biology
Earth Sciences History: Journal of the History of the Earth Sciences Society
Archives of Natural History
Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology
History of Science
Columbia University Press
Riverhead Books
University of Minnesota
Scientific communities; interprofessional relations
Osborn, Henry Fairfield
Simpson, George Gaylord
Cope, Edward Drinker
Dobzhansky, Theodosius
Mayr, Ernst
Bucher, Walter
United States
20th century, early
19th century
20th century
American Museum of Natural History, New York
Field Museum of Natural History

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