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SCIENTIFIC PREJUDICE, REPRODUCTIVE ISOLATION, AND APARTHEID JUDITH MASTERS* DAVID LAMBERT.t and HUGH PATERSON* "Science progresses more by the introduction of new world-views or 'pictures' than by the steady accumulation of information." So stated Eldredge and Gould [1] in their presentation of an alternative to the previously unchallenged interpretation of phylogenetic patterns within the fossil record. (The storm of protest—and even abuse—that this hypothesis provoked provides some insight into the eagerness with which scientists tend to receive new ideas.) We feel that the importance ofworldviews (or Weltanschauungen) in the shaping ofscientific thought cannot be overemphasized. Numerous examples can be drawn from the literature to illustrate this fact—and the hindrance that such prejudices present to scientific progress. I Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the great German astronomer, was a mystic dreamer. His contribution to a mathematical conception of the universe, along with that of Galileo, was immense, and his three laws describing planetary motion are still cardinal principles in modern astronomy . Early in his scientific studies Kepler adopted the Copernican view that the planets move around the sun, although he proposed that the path is not circular but elliptical. Second, he suggested that the planets move not uniformly but in such a way that a line drawn from such a body to the sun sweeps out equal areas ofthe ellipse in equal time. The authors are grateful to Marc Centner for his views on Victorian racism and to A. W. Stadler for helpful advice regarding political aspects. ?George Evelyn Hutchinson Laboratory, Department ofZoology, University of the Wkwatersrand , Johannesburg 2001, South Africa. tPresent address: Evolutionary Genetics Laboratory, Department ofZoology, University of Auckland, Private Bag, Auckland, New Zealand.© 1984 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 003 1-5982/85/2801-0414$0 1 .00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 28, 1 ¦ Autumn 1984 j 107 Kepler's third law was that the squares of the periods of revolution around the sun are proportional to the cubes of the distances [2]. But Kepler arrived at these laws by no easy route. It has even been suggested (Whewell, 1794-1866, in [2]) that he should have anticipated Newton, had his mind not been heavily constrained by the expectations deriving from his rather rigid worldview. Kepler was trained in the Pythagorean and Platonic schools ofscientific philosophy, and his prejudice demanded a law for the universe which would bind together members of the solar system according to a moral plan. He saw mathematical relationships as illustrations of divine purpose, and—in an attempt to elucidate diis purpose—he sought for some time a numerical explanation for the number, size, and orbits of the planets that had been recognised up until that time. Faced with the failure of early attempts, in 1596, Kepler finally recognised the nature of the moral order he so desperately sought. Six planets had been identified by the end of the sixteenth century, and Kepler postulated that five regular solids could be fitted between the spheres ofthe planets so that each was inscribed in die same sphere about which the next or outer one was circumscribed ([2]; see fig. 1). The only five possible regular solid figures (i.e., figures with equal sides and equal angles) are the "Platonic bodies"—a Pythagorean development that gained their name from Plato's lucid description of them in Timaeus. Kepler's orderly universe did not survive long. In time, he was forced to retract his model, as he found that he had wrongly estimated the distances of the planets from their centre. Today, ofcourse, such a view of the universe is litde more than an interesting historical anecdote. However, it is illustrative of an important fact, namely, the extent to which prejudice can influence scientific pursuit. Singer's claim that Kepler 's scheme "suggests certain reflections on the workings of the mind itself" [2, p. 239] is surely correct. And yet, this phenomenon is as much a part of the history of scientific advancement as are the more romanticized aspects of research: patient observation and careful experiment. II This phenomenon of "inductive tunnel vision" is nowhere more apparent than in studies concerning the theory of evolution. One of the nineteenth century's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 107-116
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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