Thursday, August 10, 2006

A case for cold toads...

[Edit, I was checking this comment for formatting issues. I suspect that it's of limited interest to most but I'll leave it here for those interested in arcane issues of science. I.e. those who think, "A debate on a study on toads from the last century? Well boy oh boy, just what I was looking for!"]

There was another deranged charlatan, a rabid Lamarckian by the name of Paul Kammerer, who was finally exposed largely through the efforts of William Bateson and the American herpetologist G. Noble. He committed suicide. The entire episode is recounted in Arthur Koestler’s book ”The Case of the Midwife Toad."

Is it? Maybe I have a little prescription that can be prescribed for you, but first a summary of the case:
[Kammerer's] results inspired determined opposition from disciples of the new Mendelian genetics, particularly from its spokesman William Bateson. After years of exhausting controversy, Kammerer allowed the American herpetologist G. K. Noble to examine his last specimen of modified Alytes. The toad had no nuptial ‘pads; moreover, the black coloration on its left hand had been produced (or at least erhanced) by the injection of India ink.
Seven weeks after the publication of Noble’s report Kammerer killed him- self. This seeming admission of guilt created his legend with its obvious moral on the dangers of zealous advocacy.
Koestler, with his usual richness of style and intelligence, has convinced me that this common reading is, indeed, legend in the derogatory sense. He combines an analysis of published sources, the testimony of living witnesses, and even some scientific experimentation of his own to argue (i) that the injection was more likely performed by one of Kammerer’s numerous enemies than by Kammerer himself; (ii) that, in any case, it was done after Kammerer’s famous demonstration of the specimen in England in 1923; (iii) that Kammerer probably succeeded in producing nuptial pads in his water-bred Alytes (though Koestler seems unaware that, as I shall mention later, this provides no confirmation of Lamarckian inheritance); and (iv) that Kammerer’s suicide was due as much to the mundane passions of unrequited love and economic failure as to the burden of tragic deceit. Moreover, Koestler has drawn an inference from the debate that is profoundly disturbing because it is probably of general application: the mistrust that established professionals felt for Kammerer arose more from his unconventional personality—his “artistic” temperament, his verbal ability, his unpopular politics—than from any legitimate doubt about the validity of his methods.
(Review: Zealous Advocates
The Case of the Midwife Toad by Arthur Koestler
Review author: Stephen Jay Gould
Science, New Series, Vol. 176, No. 4035.
(May 12, 1972), :623)

It seems that a typical pattern emerges when anyone (anyone, for any reason) rejects the urge to merge the past into the present or the specific into hypothetical goo that the Darwinian mind lives on. I.e., those who refuse to run with the Herd that such minds form and merge into tend to be trampled by it. But another reviewer of the book you cite notes that in this case the Herd may not have had a profound impact:
...from the book it appears that a more relevant factor [than the scientific debate] was the post—war economic crisis that destroyed both Kammerer’s world and his livelihood rather than scientific controversy in which he clearly could hold his own. Suicide or breakdown could well have seen the end of the highly-strung personality that peers from these pages, quite apart from the scandal. Particularly since it seems obvious now that Kammerer had nothing to do with the faking.
(Reviewed Work: The Case of the Midwife Toad by Arthur Koestler
Review by D. F. Roberts
Man New Series, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Jun., 1972), :323)(Emphasis added)

In contrast to the legends of the madmen, crackpots and kooks that the banal and conventional sometimes believe in from within the establishment, those outside sometimes view things totally differently. In this instance:
Paul Kammerer was an Austrian biologist... Throughout most of his life he was a distinguished experimental researcher with an international reputation. Nature magazine called his last book ‘one of the finest contributions to the theory of evolution which has appeared since Darwin.’ Surprisingly, however, Kammerer’s work did not support the evolutionary views of Darwin, but on the contrary provides some of the most convincing experimental evidence ever produced of an evolutionary mechanism far more important than the Darwinian mechanism: a mechanism that is at present denied entirely — the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Kammerer’s story was brought to a modern audience by Arthur Koestler in his book The Case of the Midwife Toad.

Kammerer worked at the prestigious Institute for Experimental Biology... Over several decades he carried out intricate breeding experiments with many generations of animals and plants to try to find evidence that individuals evolve not because of the selection of chance mutations (the Darwinian idea) but because they were in some unknown way able to adapt their physical features to their habitat or way of life.

Kammerer searched the animal and plant kingdoms, both on land and in water, looking for individuals he could breed in the laboratory that might exhibit this kind of evolution. He found many such examples. He bred spotted salamanders on different colour soils and found that over successive generations they changed colour to resemble that of the soil on which they were bred: those bred on yellow soil showed a progressive enlargement of the yellow spots on their bodies until they became predominantly yellow, while those reared on black soil showed a diminution of the yellow spots until they became predominantly black. When the offspring of these genetically modified salamanders were moved to the opposite colour soil to that of their parents, their coloration changed back again.

It is important to appreciate that this kind of genetic evolutionary change is entirely anti-Darwinian in nature. It is an example of directed genetic change (although the mechanism that directs it is entirely unknown); a heresy that all Darwinists vehemently deny is possible.
(Alternative Science: Challenging the
Myths of the Scientific Establishment
by Richard Milton :224-225)

I suppose that Kammerer is heretical to you as well, even if you don't have much of a Herd to run with given how you've tried to prescribe your capacity for adaptability.

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