Soviet Geneticsby Alan G. Morton

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  • Soviet Genetics by Alan G. MortonReview by: Conway ZirkleIsis, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Dec., 1952), pp. 379-380Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 01:11

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  • Reviews 379 France, England, and Scotland are clearly traced and carefully documented. The role of the tex- tile industry in providing a market for deter- gents, dyes, and bleaching agents is a particular example of the interplay of influences. The market for soap made its impact on potash pro- duction and stimulated the search for methods of converting rock salt into sodium carbonate. Though the Leblanc process was a French de- velopment the Scottish industrialists were to be among those who brought the process into suc- cessful commercial production.

    The Clows clearly believe that it was the synthesis of soda from salt which marked the transition from eotechnic to paleotechnic econ- omy. Although sulfuric acid became commer- cially available a half century earlier - Roe- buck and Garbett started lead-chamber plants in Birmingham in I 746 and in Prestonpans near Edinburgh three years later - it was the avail- ability of alkali which provided the key to industrial development. They write:

    Supplies of soda, obtained independent of biological material, converted primitive eotechnic soap-boiling into a full-fledged capitalist industry. Soap and soda supplied to the finishing trades detergents with which they could keep pace with increased tempo in other branches of textile operation consequent to the introduction of power operated units. By-products from the soda synthesis supplied raw materials to revolutionize the bleaching trade, and made a wider variety of rags, already growing scarce, usable by the paper maker (p. 9X).

    The book approaches the chemical industry in its broadest sense, showing not only the obvi- ous influences on textile, paper, glass, pottery and metal production, but bringing out more subtle influences. The introduction of gas light- ing as an outgrowth of the coking process asso- ciated with the smelting industry is a case in point. The cross influences between agriculture (and food processing) and chemical industry are treated extensively. Attention is also given to social problems created by a thriving chemical industry, such as pollution of the atmosphere and of streams, and problems created by the introduction of chemicals into foods.

    The authors have carefully traced the relation- ship between the universities and the industries. The contacts of Thomas Cullen, Joseph Black, John and Daniel Rutherford, James Hutton, and Thomas Thomson with John Roebuck, James Watt, Matthew Boulton, Lord Dundon- aid (Archibald Cochrane), Josiah Wedgwood, James Muspratt, and Charles Tennant are stead- ily emphasized. It is gratifying in this connec- tion to see that the University of Leyden and Hermann Boerhaave are given their proper recognition for stimulating the founding of a great university in Edinburgh.

    Valuable appendices list the teachers in the medical and chemical faculties of Edinburgh (I685-I858) and Glasgow ('747-I852) universi- ties, provide a glossary of chemical terms which

    have now become restricted in use or obsolete, and list a chemical chronology from I6Io to I856.

    AARON J. TIDE University of Wisconsin

    ALAN G. MORTON: Soviet Genetics. 174 pp. London: Lawrence R. Wishart, I95$.

    Evidence has been accumulating for some time that the Communists were greatly surprised by the reception which Lysenko's triumph got from the scientists of the world. Preparation for a major propaganda offensive had evidently been made carefullv. A new and improved biology (Michurian science) was to be offered to man- kind and new prestige was to be gained for the Soviets among the forward-looking intelligentsia of the capitalistic countries. Certainly the actual results of the affair were not foreseen. The of- fensive was met head on by a few individual scientists, who, without governmental assistance and acting for themselves alone, stopped it in its tracks. When the nature of the Lysenko quackery, which had been adopted officially by the Soviets, became known, the propaganda backfired and communist scientists outside of the Iron Curtain were made very unhappy. Some of their antics in harmonizing their communistic religion with their integrity as scientists have already been recorded for future historians. All in all the situation was very bad from the Communist viewpoint and some sort of rescue project was indicated.

    The destruction of genetics in Russia had struck the dwindling Communist parties in the free world a new blow. Young scientists could no longer be taken in by the Communists and some of the older scientists, who had once followed the party line, were shocked into re- covering from their illusions. For the time being, it became impossible to make new converts to the Party, so efforts had to be concentrated on preserving and comforting the faithful. Soviet genetics by Alan G. Morton, B. Sc., Ph. D. is one of these efforts. It is purelv defensive, and is directed apparently exclusively at those who have already been converted to Communism. It certainly can not make new converts.

    The book is written very calmly. The tone is most reasonable and restrained and the au- thor, while apparently saddened by those re- actionaries who refuse to accept Michurin, seems ready to forgive them when they see the light. On the surface the treatment of Russian genetics seems purely factual. The author states that he bas read all of the hundred or so Russian papers cited in the bibliography. (The bibliography cites only Russian literature.) The reader soon discovers, however, that everv communist claim is accepted at face value, but no evidence is cited in any real detail, and - this deserves emphasis - the genetics of the free world is consistently misrepresented.

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  • 380 Reviews

    It is fascinating to follow the author as he blandly misstates the facts. Obviously Soviet genetics was not intended for geneticists to read, for the falsifications are far too easy for them to identify. They really are much too crude to be effective in deceiving anyone who is at all familiar with biology. The following samples are typical.

    I. "The classical experiments of Kammerer are certainly very striking, and it is unfortunate that they should have been surrounded by so much irrelevant prejudice. It is no argument to say that they have not been confirmed merely because no one else has undertaken the necessary laborious investigation." (p. 74) Here are the facts about Kammerer. He managed to prevent his colleagues from examining his specimens for seven years, from I919 to 1926. When they were finally examined by the director of his laboratory, Hans Przibram, and Dr G. K. Noble, the "acquired character" which Kammerer had claimed to be inherited turned out to be injected India ink. Kammerer admitted the fraud but claimed personal innocence in his letter to the Moscow Academy of Science in which he an- nounced his impending suicide. (Published in Science 64: 593-'94, 1926.)

    2. "In more recent times there have been the striking experiments of Guyer and Smith on inherited defects of rabbits, which are now gen- erally accepted." (p. 74) These experiments are not "generally accepted" as a glance at any relevant text will show. In fact they have been universally rejected on two counts. First, no one has ever succeeded in duplicating them and, second, the rabbits in question were not pedi- greed so no one can be sure that they were not inflicted with hereditary blindness before the experiments started.

    3. In his section on "hybrid vigour or hetero- sis" Morton states (p. 88), "It is significant that orthodox genetics, with its mechanical separation of heredity and environment, has been unable to develop even a formally satisfactory explana- tion of hybrid vigour in terms of the gene theory." Shull, who coined the term "heterosis" and who, together with East and Jones, worked out the principles of hybrid vigor, which, when applied, have added so much to our corn crop, were all orthodox Mendelian geneticists. The Mendelian or genic explanation of hybrid vigor can be found in any elementary text book of genetics.

    4. Such instances of misrepresentation might be repeated indefinitely. Only one more will be cited, but one which shows that the author would be in a safer position if he has composed his confession of "error" and has it on file and ready for use. From pp. 135-6: "[In] the production of hybrid maise . . . the prolonged inbreeding associated with the technique has been shown to be unnecessary and inessential both by American and Soviet investigators (Salamov, 1950)." Lysenko had denounced in- breeding and the practice had been forbidden in

    Russia and this meant of course no hybrid corn. Recently, however, B. P. Sokolov has reintro- duced the practice into Russia but thus far it goes under another name. He uses as parents "interlinear hybrids" which are the result of hybridizing inbred lines. These are now used in the Russian attempt to breed hybrid corn.

    Soviet genetics is really a valuable book, al- though its value is to be found in those of its qualities which certainly do not flatter the au- thor. It helps to give us a picture of our times and our times should be of great interest to the ages which will follow. It shows what an edu- cated man can and will do for an ideology. It also helps to expose one type of ideology which is now loose in the world. At present we cer- tainly can not learn too much about Soviet science and the intellectual and ethical standards of Communists.


    LEONARD K. NASH: Plants and the Atmos- phere. Foreword by James B. Conant. ix- 122 pp. (Harvard Case Histories in Experi- mental Science, Case 5). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952. $1.50. The growing complexities of the sciences, to-

    gether with the almost incredible accumulation of detailed scientific knowledge, have presented a major problem to those who are charged with responsibilities in general education. Under- graduates who intend to become professional scientists do not add appreciably to this prob- lem. (They present us with another problem, i.e., how to civilize the scientist.) It is really the students, whose main interests are not in the sciences but who will have to live in the twen- tieth century, who confront the educators with the question, "What should they be taught about science during their four years in college?" A perfectionist might answer very logically that, in our times, all college graduates should be both scientists and humanists and also gentlemen and scholars and individuals whose tastes in the finer things of life are reliable. But obviously an education which does all this will take more than four years.

    Of course, the best any college can hope to offer is a compromise. The question becomes, how good a compromise is possible and how shall it be obtained? The president of Harvard University is one of the few who has really faced this challenge to liberal education, and his ideas are now being tried out at the institution he heads. At Harvard, many non-science majors are taught science chiefly as a series of case histories where the emphasis is given to showing the nature of scientific methods, problems, re- search and discoveries. The Harvard graduate should thus have some knowledge of what science is and how scientists go about their work. They are definitely better off than those who get their knowledge of science and scientists from the Hollywood movies. However, because

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    Article Contentsp.379p.380

    Issue Table of ContentsIsis, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Dec., 1952), pp. 305-402Volume Information [pp.394-400]Front Matter [pp.305-306]An Odd Lot. Presidential Address Delivered at the Close of the Meeting of the History of Science Society at Brown University, 5 April 1952 [pp.307-311]An Unpublished Letter of Robert Hooke to Isaac Newton [pp.312-337]How Old Is the Bergbchlein? [pp.337-343]Galileo on the Distance between the Earth and the Moon [pp.344-348]On the Date of a Comet Ascribed to A. D. 1238 [pp.348-351]Father Procopius Divi -- The European Franklin [pp.351-357]Did Divi Erect the First European Protective Lightning Rod, and Was His Invention Independent? [pp.358-364]Notes & Correspondence [pp.364-366]Queries & Answers [p.366]Obituaries [pp.366-368]Teaching the History of Science [p.368]Dissertations in Progress in the History of Science [pp.368-369]Reviewsuntitled [pp.369-371]untitled [pp.371-373]untitled [pp.373-374]untitled [p.374]untitled [pp.374-375]untitled [pp.375-377]untitled [pp.377-378]untitled [pp.378-379]untitled [pp.379-380]untitled [pp.380-381]untitled [pp.381-382]untitled [pp.382-383]untitled [pp.383-385]untitled [pp.385-386]untitled [p.386]

    Administrative Documents [pp.387-393]Back Matter [pp.401-402]