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J. B. S. Haldane, Ernst Mayr and the Beanbag Genetics Dispute

Rao, Veena and Nanjundiah, Vidyanand (2011) J. B. S. Haldane, Ernst Mayr and the Beanbag Genetics Dispute. In: Journal of the History of Biology, 44 (2). pp. 233-281.

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Starting from the early decades of the twentieth century, evolutionary biology began to acquire mathematical overtones. This took place via the development of a set of models in which the Darwinian picture of evolution was shown to be consistent with the laws of heredity discovered by Mendel. The models, which came to be elaborated over the years, define a field of study known as population genetics. Population genetics is generally looked upon as an essential component of modern evolutionary theory. This article deals with a famous dispute between J. B. S. Haldane, one of the founders of population genetics, and Ernst Mayr, a major contributor to the way we understand evolution. The philosophical undercurrents of the dispute remain relevant today. Mayr and Haldane agreed that genetics provided a broad explanatory framework for explaining how evolution took place but differed over the relevance of the mathematical models that sought to underpin that framework. The dispute began with a fundamental issue raised by Mayr in 1959: in terms of understanding evolution, did population genetics contribute anything beyond the obvious? Haldane's response came just before his death in 1964. It contained a spirited defense, not just of population genetics, but also of the motivations that lie behind mathematical modelling in biology. While the difference of opinion persisted and was not glossed over, the two continued to maintain cordial personal relations.

Item Type: Journal Article
Additional Information: Copyright of this article belongs to Springer.
Keywords: population genetics;evolution;evolutionary synthesis;models; mathematical biology
Department/Centre: Division of Biological Sciences > Centre for Ecological Sciences
Depositing User: Id for Latest eprints
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2011 08:50
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2011 08:50
URI: http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/39091

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