Did Gregor Mendel make up his genetic data?

Gregor Mendel is one of the most important figures in science. Taught in classrooms all over the world, his discoveries in the field of genetics were unparalleled in their sheer importance and historical precedence. Through rigorous experiments and pea plant breeding, Mendel demonstrated the precise functions of the dominant and recessive genes that make up our lives.

Dominance and regression refer to how the inherited alleles, or different copies of individual genes, are related to each other. The dominant allele requires only one condition in the genetic makeup to express your trait, such as eye color. Whereas a recessive allele requires two copies of it to be inherited together. They are best illustrated, and most commonly, by Punnett Square Diagram.

However, there has been an ongoing historical debate as to whether Mendel’s original experiments on the matter were either fraudulent or biased in some way. His general conclusions are well accepted in the scientific community, but his preliminary data themselves may not be entirely accurate. New research in the past several years has revived this topic, which has been the subject of many books over the past century.

“Mendel’s data are improbably close to what his theory predicted,” says Gregory Radek, a historian of science at the University of Leeds. “But the idea that Mendel just made it, out of thin air, is preposterous.” The most likely explanation is that some unconscious bias played a role in how he judged his results.

seeds of controversy

The idea that Mendel fabricated his data dates back to 1900, when he was a biologist WFR Weldon First read Mendel’s basic paper with some skepticism. Working with the famous mathematician Karl Pearson, Weldon made it very unlikely that Mendel would get his results the way he did.

It wasn’t until geneticist Ronald Fisher came on the scene in 1936 that allegations were made more widely that Mendel’s work was fraudulent. Fisher suggested that Mendel’s work was somehow reformed, but he hypothesized that rather than Mendel himself being the culprit, some anonymous assistant might have fabricated the results to please Mendel. However, Fisher lacked any evidence for the claim that this aide changed the results.

“Fischer’s credit has been upfront about the lack of independent evidence for this, and as far as I know, nothing has emerged since then,” Radek says.

The controversy continued for decades after that, with some scientists claiming that they had proven Mendel innocent, and others claiming that they had proven that Mendel was a scientific fraud. A book was published in 2008 entitled Ending the Mendel Fisher controversy Even intended to settle once and for all the debate as a whole. However, this book did not end the debate, as many papers published in the ensuing years offered new insights and perspectives on the matter.

Disputed data

The debate does not generally revolve around whether the basic ideas behind Mendel’s work are correct. Fisher himself supported the legitimacy of Mendel’s hypotheses, and Weldon considered his issues to be more academic in nature. Instead, the controversy questioned Mendel’s raw data, and whether he was biased in his interpretations of them.

Released in 2016, paper “Are Mendel’s data reliable? The view of a pea geneticist“By geneticist Norman F. Weeden re-examined Mendel’s data from the point of view of a pea geneticist. The work applied the findings and modern knowledge to Mendel’s work.”

“I don’t think Mendel ‘made up’ his data,” says Weeden. “[However]There is some evidence that an unconscious bias, or the enthusiasm of a more helpful helper, influenced the class values ​​reported by Mendel.”

The study served as a historical overview of the literature, as well as a way to provide answers to some of the most pressing questions that scholars have asked over the past few decades. Weeden worked through these layers, and given what we know about Mendel, he finds no reason to believe that Mendel deliberately fabricated his results, nor that an assistant changed anything. Alternatively, he may have unconsciously and unintentionally displayed a bias in how he interprets and presents his data.

This new study also suggested that Mendel may have simplified his data to be viewable to a skeptical audience. He may have done it himself, or with an assistant, to make it easier for the audience and peers to understand his model. Wieden also notes the different context and parameters of scientific research prior to the turn of the twentieth century.

“I’m not sure he can be blamed for ignoring some of the data sets or experimental complications that might have to be included in a paper written today,” Weeden says.

As an additional context, the scientific community in Mendel’s day was highly skeptical of any new revolutions occurring in the field of genetics. Mendel was presenting his data to an audience that wasn’t interested in hearing his results, so – in an effort to make his data more palatable – he ignored some key details and arbitrarily classified his data to support the model, according to Leiden.

“Mendel not only developed his model of particle inheritance, but then rigorously tested the model in a way that was beyond the imagination of his peers,” says Weeden. “So, you might sympathize with them [Mendel] When he began to explain his ideas to many educated members of the scientific community he was met with empty and incomprehensible looks.

Ultimately, we may not know for sure the reason behind Mendel’s changing results. This debate has been going on for decades, and is unlikely to end any time soon. As Weeden discusses, we can only hope that science remains self-correcting, and that this evidence sets the stage for a good future.

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