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The Refractory Model: The Logistic Curve and the History of Population Ecology

Sharon Kingsland
The Quarterly Review of Biology
Vol. 57, No. 1 (Mar., 1982), pp. 29-52
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2825134
Page Count: 24
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The Refractory Model: The Logistic Curve and the History of Population Ecology
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Abstract

The logistic curve was introduced by Raymond Pearl and Lowell Reed in 1920 and was heavily promoted as a description of human and animal population growth. In subsequent years it underwent a barrage of criticism from statisticians, economists, and biologists, a barrage directed mostly against Pearl's claim that the logistic curve was a law of growth. Nevertheless, it emerged in the mid-1930's as a central model of experimental population biology, and in its various modifications has remained an important part of modern population ecology. The history of the logistic curve reveals that its acceptance was by no means straightforward: repeated promotion of the curve by Pearl and his connections to other scientists were both important in the establishment of its place as a tool of research. The people responsible for legitimizing the logistic curve - A. J. Lotka, G. F. Gause, G. Udny Yule, and Thomas Park - all had different degrees of direct contact with Pearl in the early years of its use, and these personal contacts facilitated the acceptance of the logistic curve despite the heawy criticisms. The history of the logistic curve reveals the complicated social processes which can underlie the development of scientific disciplines.

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