More on Mendel’s Manuscript

A couple of week ago I asked if anyone knew about the whereabouts of Mendel’s manuscript. Nobody seemed to know, but now the New York Times has an article about it.
The short version is that the ownership is now disputed, between Mendel’s family and the Augustinians, and the state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg wants to stop the manuscript leaving Germany, because it is a state treasure (one wonders what the Czech government thinks about that). It all sounds horribly messy.


But, if you’ll excuse me for a moment … AAAAAAGGGGHHHH!
The writer of the article includes this paragraph:

In the history of modern biology, Mendel’s article is probably second in importance only to Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” Mendel made 40 reprints of his article, which he sent to scientific luminaries of the time. There are reports that one copy went to Darwin and was discovered among his papers with the pages uncut, a chore that printers in those days often left to readers. The history of biology could have been quite different had Darwin read Mendel’s article, recognized that it provided a better theory of inheritance than his own, and incorporated it in future editions of his work. (emphasis added)

Yes, and Galileo might have saved us a lot of time if he had bypassed Newtonian mechanics and gone straight to relativity. Look, if you know anything about the history of evolutionary biology in the early 20th Century, it should be obvious that Darwin would almost certainly not have seen that Mendel’s work chimed with his. when Mendel’s work was rediscovered, the consensus was that it contradicted Darwin – Mendel showed how discrete characters could be inherited, but this was (apparently) totally at odd with the sort of inheritance Darwin observed: that was continuous.
It took Fisher’s genius to see that the two were not in conflict, but that was a couple of decades after Mendel’s work was rediscovered. I’m not convinced Darwin would have had the mathematical insight to see how his work and Mendel’s could be reconciled.
OK, rant over.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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3 Responses to More on Mendel’s Manuscript

  1. Cath Ennis says:

    “rant over”
    Booooo. I was enjoying that fine rant.

  2. Ian Brooks says:

    Nice one Bob. I have something similar brewing about Galileo and scientific progress…the punctuated equilibrium of discovery and knowledge vs. the way things are reported in the media.

  3. Bob O'Hara says:

    Cath – Sorry, I’ll make it longer next time.
    Ian – You should have a look at Thorny C’s post on the (not so?) great man.