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How Theories Became Knowledge: Morgan's Chromosome Theory of Heredity in America and Britain

Stephen G. Brush
Journal of the History of Biology
Vol. 35, No. 3 (Autumn, 2002), pp. 471-535
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4331759
Page Count: 65
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How Theories Became Knowledge: Morgan's Chromosome Theory of Heredity in America and Britain
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Abstract

T. H. Morgan, A. H. Sturtevant, H. J. Muller and C. B. Bridges published their comprehensive treatise "The Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity" in 1915. By 1920 Morgan's "Chromosome Theory of Heredity" was generally accepted by geneticists in the United States, and by British geneticists by 1925. By 1930 it had been incorporated into most general biology, botany, and zoology textbooks as established knowledge. In this paper, I examine the reasons why it was accepted as part of a series of comparative studies of theory-acceptance in the sciences. In this context it is of interest to look at the persuasiveness of confirmed novel predictions, a factor often regarded by philosophers of science as the most important way to justify a theory. Here it turns out to play a role in the decision of some geneticists to accept the theory, but is generally less important than the CTH's ability to explain Mendelian inheritance, sex-linked inheritance, non-disjunction, and the connection between linkage groups and the number of chromosome pairs; in other words, to establish a firm connection between genetics and cytology. It is remarkable that geneticists were willing to accept the CTH as applicable to all organisms at a time when it had been confirmed only for Drosophila. The construction of maps showing the location on the chromosomes of genes for specific characters was especially convincing for non-geneticists.

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