University of Cambridge > > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > A look back at 'Biometrician Versus Mendelian: A Controversy and its Explanation' (1974)

A look back at 'Biometrician Versus Mendelian: A Controversy and its Explanation' (1974)

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Over the past fifty years, a major stimulus for history and philosophy of science has been contact with the sociological study of scientific knowledge. In this seminar I want to outline and reflect on the achievement of a sociological paper dating from the start of this period: ‘Biometrician Versus Mendelian: A Controversy and its Explanation’, by Donald MacKenzie and Barry Barnes. When the paper was completed in September 1974, MacKenzie was a PhD student in the Science Studies Unit in Edinburgh, where Barnes was his supervisor. Remarkably, this classic case study in ‘Edinburgh School’ sociology of scientific knowledge was never published in its original English-language form. One aim of this seminar is simply to make the paper more widely available. Another is to give seminar participants the opportunity – Zoom permitting – to hear about it from Donald MacKenzie directly. In my contribution I’ll suggest that the paper continues to repay scholarly attention, not because its main claims are correct (I’ll give my reasons for thinking they aren’t), but because it permanently raised the bar for historians concerned to address the explanatory challenges posed by the debate over Mendelism, and perhaps even for scientific controversies generally.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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