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The Death of Spontaneous Generation and the Birth of the Gene: Two Case Studies of Relativism

Nils Roll-Hansen
Social Studies of Science
Vol. 13, No. 4 (Nov., 1983), pp. 481-519
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/284846
Page Count: 39
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The Death of Spontaneous Generation and the Birth of the Gene: Two Case Studies of Relativism
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Abstract

Relativists in the history and sociology of science have recently claimed that whatever the status of the philosophical debate, their empirical programme is very successful: relativistic case studies meet little criticism on the empirical level. In this paper I try to redress the balance, a little, by repeating and elaborating some objections to two cases which relativists have frequently used to support their general claims about the nature of science. A crucial objection to the relativist interpretations of the Pasteur-Pouchet debate over spontaneous generation, and of the biometrician-Mendelian debate over the nature of heredity, is that they are based on inadequate understanding of the scientific issues. When these misunderstandings are cleared up, interpretations in the rationalist tradition become much easier to uphold.

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