School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    History as science : Michael White and his contributions to cytogenetics and evolutionary theory
    McCann, Douglas Andrew ( 1994)
    Michael White (1910-1983) was foundation professor of the Department of Genetics at the University of Melbourne and one of the world's leading cytogeneticists. He made fundamental contributions to general cytogenetics and evolutionary cytogenetics. In 1945 White published Animal Cytology and Evolution which integrated an enormous amount of previously disparate data on cytogenetics into an evolutionary framework. This book was praised by his colleagues as a primary contribution to the emerging Neo-Darwinian evolutionary synthesis. Yet since then his status in the history of the evolutionary synthesis has become ambiguous. Some recent commentators omit him from their accounts. In this thesis it is argued that White's disappearance from history is not accidental but the result of a successful strategy by competing scientists to construct a version of evolutionary biology that legitimates their own discipline, research program and world view. This study takes the form of a biography but with an emphasis on the social and cultural context of science. A social constructivist conflict model has been employed, specifically Bourdieu's 'struggle for scientific authority' metaphor, as articulated by Sapp (1987). It is suggested that unless social factors are included in any account of the production of scientific knowledge then the analysis is incomplete. It is further claimed that the 'internal politics of science' can be an important determinant in scientific knowledge construction. Competition between scientists can be both interdisciplinary and intradisciplinary. It will be shown that White was engaged in just such a struggle for scientific authority with several scientists and that this competition stimulated and informed his own research. A major theme of the thesis is that history itself is a resource which scientists can deploy in support of their knowledge claims and/or to enhance their own standing in the field. It is argued that White's place in the history of science has been determined (and is being re-determined) not only by the quantity and quality of his scientific work but also by the way this work had been interpreted (or ignored) by his colleagues and competitors. It is not simply a question of the 'factual' basis of the scientists' research but whether that work supports, or does not support, currently accepted views and whether or not it serves the social and technical interests of others within or outside the field. Scientific knowledge is thus both negotiated and constructed.