CHMD Research Seminar: Dominance subverted: Animal regeneration research in W. F. R. Weldon’s critique of Mendelism
The Oxford-based biologist Walter Frank Raphael Weldon (1860-1906) was the most ferocious as well as formidable critic of Mendelism in the early years of the twentieth century. But so strong is Weldon's association with his mathematical friend and former colleague Karl Pearson that Weldon's critique of Mendelism has come to be remembered as 'biometrical' - all to do with measurement of visible characters, bell-curve distributions, Galtonian concepts and so forth.
So it comes as a surprise to find that, at the time of his death in 1906, Weldon was at work on a book-length Theory of Inheritance which dealt extensively with animal regeneration. For Weldon, this topic held the key to a far more productive understanding of dominance than the Mendelians were promoting. The lesson he drew was that dominance was not a permanent property, as the Mendelians believed, but conditional; what became manifest depended on what was next to what. The capacity of a certain tissue to regenerate a certain limb was manifest only when surrounding tissues were disturbed. For Weldon, the conditionality that characterized dominance in the rest of the body ought to hold for the germinal tissues too.
This paper aims to show how Weldon's animal-regeneration interests were integrated in his critique of Mendelism with his better-remembered biometrical interests. A related aim is to suggest some of the ways in which Weldon's bullish attitude toward animal-regeneration research can help historians think their way out of a number of traps in the current historiography.
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