The October 2008 issue of Acts & Facts has been published by the Institute for Creation Research. In addition to a querulous editorial about the unfairness of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board turning thumbs down on ICR's plan to offer graduate degrees in “science” (as they define it), Acts & Facts presents a tribute to that famed creationist and anti-Darwinian, Gregor Mendel.
Surprised? I was. While I'm sure that Mendel was essentially a creationist, having been a Roman Catholic monk in the days before Darwin published The Origin of Species, I didn't realize that the good Augustinian abbot was on record as being an unfriend of Charles Darwin. Nevertheless, that's what Christine Dao claims in her article Man of Science, Man of God: Gregor Johann Mendel.
Ms. Dao is identified as the magazine's assistant editor and bears no academic initials after her name, so we may presume she is not one of ICR's scientific superstars. We should still, however, be able to expect some simple journalistic competence, perhaps seasoned with just a dash of fact-checking. And by “fact-checking,” I mean more than cutting and pasting from Wikipedia.
Let's beginning with a brief review of the key scientific achievement of Mendel's life, his experimental discovery of the laws of inheritance. This is what Wikipedia says:
Between 1856 and 1863 Mendel cultivated and tested some 29,000 pea plants (i.e. Pisum sativum). This study showed that one in four pea plants had purebred recessive alleles, two out of four were hybrid and one out of four were purebred dominant. His experiments brought forth two generalizations which later became known as Mendel's Laws of Inheritance.Christine Dao heartily concurs in her Acts & Facts article:
Mendel read his paper, "Experiments on Plant Hybridization", at two meetings of the Natural History Society of Brünn in Moravia in 1865. When Mendel's paper was published in 1866 in Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brünn,it had little impact and was cited about three times over the next thirty-five years.
Between 1856 and 1863, he cultivated some 29,000 pea plants (Pisum sativum). The study showed that out of four plants, one received recessive alleles, two were hybrids, and one had the dominant alleles. His experiments were the foundation for two generalizations known today as Mendel's Laws of Inheritance. Based on his work, he produced the paper Experiments on Plant Hybridization and read it to the Natural History Society of Brünn in 1865. The society published the paper in its Proceedings in 1866.We all know, of course, that facts are facts, so there are only so many ways to recount the same facts. And, if you have to tell the same story, it's just more efficient to use essentially the same words, too. Ms. Dao is efficient.
But not thorough. At the end of the excerpt I quoted, Wikipedia notes that Mendel's discoveries languished for several years. In a later paragraph, the on-line encyclopedia reports one of the reasons for Mendel's initial neglect:
At first Mendel's work was rejected, and it was not widely accepted until after he died. The common belief at the time was that Darwin's theory of pangenes were responsible for inheritance. The modern synthesis uses Mendelian genetics.Ms. Dao should have clicked on “pangenes” to discover the nature and timing of Darwin's theory of pangenesis, because the Wikipedia article does not make the sequence of events entirely clear. That extra bit of effort would have saved her from the following embarrassing claim:
Mendel's paper was rejected at first, since he evidently produced it as a counter to Darwin's theory of pangenesis, which was popular at the time and accepted as being responsible for inheritance.Excuse me, Christine, but Darwin published his theory of pangenesis in 1868, while Mendel published his paper in 1866. You see the problem?
Ms. Dao is good enough, however, to cite a paper by B. E. Bishop as a reference. In Mendel's Opposition to Evolution and to Darwin, Bishop argues that Mendel could have been familiar with the 1860 German edition of Darwin's Origin and therefore viewed his paper on heredity as a contribution toward the fixity of species and therefore opposed to Darwin's views. This, at least, is a defensible thesis, although Mendel never mentions Darwin or evolution (let alone the future theory of pangenesis) in his paper.
As for Ms. Dao's time-disordered account of events, there is no defense at all.