AHP readers may be interested in an article in the most recent issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society. In “Abandoning Evolution: The Forgotten History of Antievolution Activism and the Transformation of American Social Science,” Michael Lienesch (left) describes the interaction of antievolution activists and social scientists in the first half of the twentieth century. The abstract follows below.
From its inception, antievolution activism has been aimed not only at the natural sciences but also, and almost as often, at the social sciences. Although almost entirely overlooked by scholars, this activism played a significant part in the development of American social science in the early twentieth century. Analyzing public writings and private papers of antievolution activists, academic social scientists, and university officials from the 1920s, this essay recalls this forgotten history, showing how antievolution activism contributed to the abandonment of evolutionary theory and the adoption of a set of secular, scientific, and professional characteristics that have come to define much of modern social science.
Also reviewed in this issue of Isis are the English translation of Fernando Vidal’s The Sciences of the Soul: The Early Modern Origins of Psychology (reviewed by John H. Zammito), the Psychology of Space Exploration: Contemporary Research in Historical Perspective edited by Douglas A. Vakoch (reviewed by Jordan Bimm), and Laura Stark’s Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research (reviewed by Susan M. Reverby).
An article by AHP founding editor Jeremy Burman on the history of memes was recently published in the journal Perspectives on Science. Burman’s “The misunderstanding of memes” is currently the journal’s most downloaded article and may, for the moment at least, be downloaded for free from MIT Press here.
In this article, Burman traces how the original meaning of memes became distorted over time. Intended originally to be a mere metaphor, “memes” have come to stand for the notion that ideas spread like viruses. The full title and abstract follows below.
“The misunderstanding of memes: Biography of an unscientific object, 1976–1999,” by Jeremy Trevelyan Burman. The abstract reads,
When the “meme” was introduced in 1976, it was as a metaphor intended to illuminate an evolutionary argument. By the late-1980s, however, we see from its use in major US newspapers that this original meaning had become obscured. The meme became a virus of the mind. (In the UK, this occurred slightly later.) It is also now clear that this becoming involved complex sustained interactions between scholars, journalists, and the letter-writing public. We must therefore read the “meme” through lenses provided by its popularization. The results are in turn suggestive of the processes of meaning-construction in scholarly communication more generally.
For those interested in evolutionary theory, tonight the US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) will broadcast a “two-hour scripted drama [that] tells the remarkable story behind the unveiling of the most influential scientific theory of all time, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection…. Daunted by looming conflict with the orthodox religious values of his day, he resisted publishing—until a letter from naturalist Alfred Wallace forced his hand. In 1858, Darwin learned that Wallace was ready to publish ideas very similar to his own. In a sickened panic, Darwin grasped his dilemma: To delay publishing any longer would be to condemn his greatest work to obscurity…. But to come forward with his ideas risked the fury of the Church and perhaps a rift with his own devoted wife, Emma…”
The full contents of the short lived journal Evolution: A Journal of Nature, have been made available online by Joe Cain, Professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies, at University College London. Evolution was established by American supporters of evolution following the Scopes trial in 1925. The aim of the periodical was to promote the teaching of evolution in American schools, while providing educators with the means of responding to creationist arguments. Reprinted in the fifth issue of the first volume of the journal is a letter of support for the endeavor from psychologist and philosopher John Dewey:
Permit me to offer my congratulations on your periodical, Evolution. They apply both to the idea and its execution. The present state of the public mind and of discussion as well of projected legislation make it highly important that there should be issued statements regarding the various aspects of the evolutionary controversy which can be widely read and understood. You have been fortunate in enlisting as writers persons of unquestioned competency and having a clear style. I am impressed with the fact that the Journal is scientific as well as popular. You are rendering a public service and I wish you every success.
Among the contents of the each issue of the journal are political cartoons, like that pictured to the right. The evolution of the human mind and its distinctness from that of apes is also a periodic topic within the journal’s pages.
Jacy is a second year masters student in the history of psychology at York University. Her thesis, supervised by Chris Green, will look at the historical context in which the “Baldwin Effect” was developed and received. Other interests include the history of biology and the history of evolutionary theory in psychology.
In a recent issue of the Journal of the History of Biology, 41(3), Ronald Ladouceur debunked the commonly-held belief that discussions of evolution were suppressed following the Scopes trial of 1925.
Two influential articles published in the 1970s suggested that pressure from Christian fundamentalists… forced American high school biology textbook authors and publishers to significantly limit discussion of the topic of evolution. The conclusions reached by these studies have become foundational for historians examining the interplay between science and religion in the United States in the twentieth century. However, a reexamination of key twentieth century biology textbooks suggests that the narrative that the treatment of the theory of evolution was held hostage to anti-rational cultural forces is largely a myth, created first as part of a public relations effort by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) to differentiate, defend, and promote its work, and later as part of an attempt by scholars to sound a warning concerning the rise of the religious right. A focus on this narrative has not only allowed biologists to sidestep uncomfortable questions regarding the race-biased and class-biased assumptions embedded within the concept of evolutionary progress, it has also limited reliance on the texts in question as reliable reflections of the cultural assumptions of educators and scientists. A reexamination of the most popular American biology textbooks from 1907 to 1963, particularly the work of Ella Thea Smith, provides evidence in support of these contentions. (Abstract)
Ladouceur has also produced a compagnion website, with post-publication commentary, errata and additional source material.
This archive includes additional biographical information plus a selection of relevant texts, including a copy of Smith’s original typewritten and mimeographed textbook from 1932.
The flagship journal of the American Psychological Association, American Psychologist, has just published a special issue on the influence Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has had on psychlogy over the century-and-a-half since it was first published.
The issue was guest edited by Donald Dewsbury (U. Florida) and, including Dewsbury’s introduction, it contains ten articles. Christopher Green (York U.) writes on the evolutionary roots of American functionalist psychology, while Raymond Fancher (York U.) considers the relationship between Darwin and his cousin Francis Galton. Robert Wozniak (Bryn Mawr) discusses the evolutionary thought of developmental psychologist James Mark Baldwin. Gordon Burghardt (U. Tennessee) delves into Darwin’s impact on comparative psychology and ethology while Stephanie Shields (Penn State U.) & Sunil Bhatia (Connecticut Coll.) investigate Darwin’s thoughts on race, gender, and culture. There are two articles on the Darwin’s influence on emotion research: Ursula Hess (U. Québec) & Pascal Thibault (McGill U.) on expression, and Randolph Nesse & Phoebe Ellsworth (both of U. Michigan) on disorders. Finally, David Buss (U. Texas) writes about the emergence of modern evolutionary psychology.
The complete articles are only available on-line by subscription but the abstracts are available here.
In a recent issue of Educational Theory, 58(3), Robin Zebrowski (pictured right) details some of the areas typically conflated in comparing the ideas of John Dewey with those of Herbert Spencer.
In educational scholarship, a number of comparisons have been made between the work of John Dewey and Herbert Spencer, many claiming that Spencer’s influence is unmistakable in Dewey’s theories or even that Dewey is derivative of Spencer. However, one must look beyond the surface similarities of Dewey and Spencer and recognize the drastically divergent views that each held on those very foundational notions upon which each built his educational program. In this essay, Robin Zebrowksi examines the theories of evolution, the directionality of organism and environment interaction, the agency of the individual, and the conceptualizations of progress in the respective works of Dewey and Spencer. Their underlying beliefs about the world and how it operates show that their philosophies cannot be reconciled. The educational theories that follow from these discrepancies, Zebrowski concludes, have incompatible and distinct implications for the classroom.
It is worth noting that Zebrowski’s criticism is directed primarily at Kieran Egan‘s book of 2002, Getting It Wrong from the Beginning: Our Progressivist Inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget. (My own comments on this work can be found in the article I published last summer in Perspectives on Science.) Continue reading →