Friday, September 4, 2009

Quote of the Week: Ready or Not

There is a widespread view that scientific discoveries are more or less inevitable, and that it makes little difference whether or not a particular individual makes a discovery at a given time: if the time is not ripe for it, it will not be understood and will have little or no effect on future events; if the time is ripe, then someone else will soon make the discovery anyhow.
The history of Mendelism is one of the often-cited examples here. According to this interpretation, Mendel's paper was not understood in 1866 because the time was not ripe ... To me, this account seems greatly oversimplified--though it must be admitted that the development of the subject would probably have been much the same, even to the dates, if Mendel's paper had never been written.
It it true that the paper was ahead of its time, but it was not difficult to understand, and it seems unlikely that it would have remained unappreciated for so long if it had appeared in a less obscure journal, or if Mendel himself had published the further cases that he reported to his letters to Nageli.

A History of Genetics (1965) by A.H. Sturtevant, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

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