The Development of Francis Galton's Ideas on the Mechanism of Heredity

Journal of the History of Biology 32 (2):263 - 292 (1999)
Galton greeted Darwin's theory of pangenesis with enthusiasm, and tried to test the assumption that the hereditary particles circulate in the blood by transfusion experiments on rabbits. The failure of these experiments led him to reject this assumption, and in the 1870s he developed an alternative theory of heredity, which incorporated those parts of Darwin's theory that did not involve the transportation of hereditary particles throughout the system. He supposed that the fertilized ovum contains a large number of hereditary elements, which he collectively called the "stirp," a few of which are patent, developing into particular cell types, while the rest remain latent; the latent elements can be transmitted to the next generation, while the patent elements, with rare exceptions, cannot since they have developed into cells. The problem with this theory is that it does not explain the similarity between parent and child unless there is a high correlation between latent and patent elements. Galton probably came to realize this problem during his subsequent statistical work on heredity, and he quietly dropped the idea that patent elements are not transmitted in Natural Inheritance (1889). Galton thought that brothers and sisters had identical stirps, and he attributed differences between them to variability in the choice of patent elements from the stirp, that is to say to developmental variability. He attributed the likeness of monozygotic twins to the similarity of their developmental environment. Galton's twin method was to track the life history changes of twins to see whether twins who were similar at birth diverged in dissimilar environments or whether twins who were dissimilar at birth converged in similar environments. It is quite different from the modern twin method of comparing the similarities between monozygotic and dizygotic twins, on the assumption that monozygotic twins are genetically identical whereas dizygotic twins are not. It has been argued that Galton foreshadowed Weismann's theory of the continuity of the germ-plasm, but this is only true in a weak sense. They both believed that the inheritance of acquired characters was either rare or impossible, but Galton did not forestall the essential part of Weismann's theory, that the germ-plasm of the zygote is doubled, with one part being reserved for the formation of the germ-cells.
Keywords Galton  heredity  pangenesis  stirp  twins  Weismann  continuity of the germ-plasm
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 23,651
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther (2001). August Weismann on Germ-Plasm Variation. Journal of the History of Biology 34 (3):517-555.
Ute Deichmann (2010). Gemmules and Elements: On Darwin's and Mendel's Concepts and Methods in Heredity. [REVIEW] Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 41 (1):85-112.
C. J. (2001). Ideas of Heredity, Reproduction and Eugenics in Britain, 1800-1875. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 32 (3):457-489.
Nils Roll-Hansen (2009). Sources of Wilhelm Johannsen's Genotype Theory. Journal of the History of Biology 42 (3):457-493.
Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther (2000). Darwin on Variation and Heredity. Journal of the History of Biology 33 (3):425-455.
Ehud Lamm (2012). Inheritance Systems. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition).

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

23 ( #204,424 of 1,902,542 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

3 ( #268,990 of 1,902,542 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.