- William Bateson campaigned hard to make Mendelism matter for breeders.
- A measure of his success is his expert testimony in a 1921 court case on peas.
- During the Cold War, historical work on Bateson mainly ignored this campaign.
- Behind the dismissal was Marxism, in Lysenkoist and then Mannheimian guises.
- To counter this historiography is to draw on other potentialities within Marxism.
- William Bateson
- William Coleman
For Simon Schaffer
1. Mendelism as a productive technoscience: two questions
Nothing, insisted W. F. R. Weldon, Linacre Professor of Zoology at Oxford, could be less in tune with breeders’ experience than Gregor Mendel’s picture of how inheritance works. That was in early 1902.1 Weldon’s Cambridge-based rival William Bateson immediately set out to show how wrong Weldon was. For Bateson a career-long campaign on behalf of Mendelian utility ensued, at the end of which, in 1926, the British plant breeders’ organ, The Gardeners’ Chronicle, printed an admiring obituary. One line in particular merits scrutiny here. Evoking Bateson’s intellectual energy, the obituarist recalled the “almost boyish zest that made it possible for him to turn from animals to plants as soon as Mendel’s work was republished, and in a very short time he got a good grasp of many branches of horticulture, and even appeared as a witness in a famous lawsuit when the identity of Gradus Pea was in question.”2
It is not difficult to spot here the three kinds of ownership claim delineated in the introduction to this special issue. There is, most obviously, a productivity claim, for Mendelian truths as horticulturally useful. No sooner had Bateson learned of Mendel’s work, the Chronicle’s readers learned, than he applied himself to the problem of practical application—eventually succeeding enough to be called as an expert witness in a dispute over varieties of that Mendelian plant par excellence, the garden pea. There is also, less directly stated, a priority claim, for Mendel as the ultimate begetter of these truths that Bateson mastered so productively. When the British plant breeders remembered Bateson’s contribution to their domain, they remembered it in connection with Mendel’s work—indeed, as a development out of that 1900 “rediscovery” which was itself the upshot of a priority dispute. Both of these ownership claims constitute, in our programmatic terms, intellectual property in a broad sense (IP-broad). But there is also intellectual property in a narrow sense (IP-narrow)—a patent claim, or rather its functional equivalent in the breeders’ world. The obituary shows that the most memorable Mendelian service that Bateson rendered to horticulture was his testimony in a couple of court cases concerning an issue which counted in the plant-breeding world as egregious patent violation: the selling of the seeds of one, often inferior variety under the name of another, often superior variety.
For the historian of science interested in intellectual property, then, Bateson’s attempts to sell Mendelism to the breeders look most promising. This paper seeks to deliver on that promise with two related inquiries, one historical, the other historiographical. The question at the core of the historical inquiry is a simple one: how did Bateson do it? In pursuit of an answer, the paper concentrates on major public moments at the start of each of Bateson’s decades as a Mendelian campaigner: in 1902, as a speaker at a horticultural conference in New York; in 1911, as president of the agricultural sub-section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; and in 1921, at the first of the Gradus pea trials. Such samplings have their methodological shortcomings, of course. Even so, the coverage here extends beyond what is currently available.3 And the events sampled serve our purposes concerning the dual conception of intellectual property, in suggesting how hard Bateson worked, intellectually and otherwise, to turn Mendelism into a “go-to” science for breeders—and furthermore how that work led him to reflect on the more general relationship in his time and place between what he called “pure science” and “applied science.”
The historiographic question returns to another theme of the introduction to this set. Given the treatment there of Marxian writings of the 1930s, one might expect to find a high correlation between, on the one side, contact with the Marxian tradition in the history of science and, on the other, close attention to Bateson’s efforts on behalf of breeding as applied Mendelism. In fact, the reverse has been true. The second part of the paper attempts to document this reversal and to explain it. Here as well are three foci: first, a long and largely forgotten biographical essay of 1952 by J. G. Crowther (Boris Hessen’s guide on his visit to the Patent Office Library); second, an even longer but very influential paper of 1970 by the historian of biology William Coleman; third, a famous historical study by Donald MacKenzie and Barry Barnes exemplifying the then-new “strong programme” in the sociology of science. As we shall see, Crowther wrote as a Stalinist advocate of Lysenkoism; Coleman as a historian of ideas who recognized in Bateson’s work a pattern of thought well described by the Marxian sociologist Karl Mannheim; and MacKenzie and Barnes as sociologists whose Mannheimian program aimed to show, against Cold War emphases on science’s autonomy, how social context holds clues to scientific disagreement.
The diversity of the Marxian tradition in science studies was, it will become plain, remarkable. No less remarkable, however, is that, in the postwar decades, it uniformly led to a view of Bateson as an aesthete and snob whose attitude to the work of breeders was primarily one of disdain. Far from inspiring curiosity about Bateson’s efforts to make Mendelism useful, the Marxian tradition made those efforts invisible.
2. Bateson among the breeders
2.1. Reaching out to the breeders: Bateson’s 1902 New York address
On September 30, 1902, Bateson gave the opening address at the International Conference on Plant Breeding and Hybridization, held in New York City by the newly formed Horticultural Society of New York. He was then forty-one and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was based at Cambridge University, although his position there was the relatively humble one of deputy to the zoology professor. His invitation had come about not thanks to the esteem of American breeders but through his connections in the Royal Horticultural Society, whose representative he was.4 Nevertheless, Bateson made the most of the opportunity. When he stepped up to the podium, his Mendel’s principles of heredity: A defence had been out for a few months. Here was his chance to bring its news more fully to leading horticulturalists, agriculturalists, botanists and experimental hybridists, some working in state-funded agricultural stations, some in universities, some—including the great Luther Burbank, America’s most celebrated plant breeder—in commercial breeding.
Bateson’s title was “Practical aspects of the new discoveries in heredity.” He began with flattery. It was a treat, he said, for anyone like him, investigating breeding experimentally in Britain, to come to the United States and meet fellow workers, since nowhere else were the problems being studied by so many people, under such varied conditions of soil and climate, and in such a well-resourced way. In studies of this kind, he continued,
[we] have reached a critical moment. That crisis, as it is known to many of those present, has been brought about by the rediscovery and confirmation of Mendel’s work on heredity. These discoveries intimately concern the art of the practical breeder, and I propose to use the present opportunity to indicate some of the ways in which we can employ them for his purposes.5
In the exposition of Mendelian principles that followed, Bateson stressed a chemical analogy introduced in his book. Given a simple salt, one can swap the base for a range of other bases, or the acid radical for a range of other acid radicals, decoupling and recoupling at will. The elements comprising a compound are understood as replaceable components. So too, Bateson explained, are the hereditary characters making up the sorts of hybrids that Mendel examined. Greenness and yellowness, hairiness and smoothness, tallness and dwarfness, are thus “unit characters,” passed on to offspring in an all-or-nothing way, and so, like the chemical elements, susceptible of endless swapping in and out.
Here was an insight, he continued, whose significance for breeders and hybridists would be hard to overstate. Of course, he cautioned, that significance was still largely unrealized. But a future was surely not far off when, like the chemist, the “breeder will be in a position … to do what he wants to do, instead of merely [working with] what happens to turn up.” Those involved with hybridization had got used to hopeless confusion in their findings, and become resigned to never knowing what the results of a cross would be. Now Mendel’s work was the thread that would lead the way out of “those wonderful mazes of heredity.”6
Above all, Bateson went on, breeders needed to take to heart the lesson that plants which look exactly the same can be fundamentally different when it comes to the characters composing them and so transmitted in crosses. A pea plant with yellow seeds may, with respect to seed colour, be the product of a union between two yellow-making germ cells, and so itself the producer of germ cells for yellowness exclusively. Such a plant would, in Bateson’s terms, be “pure to the yellow character.” (Mendel’s achievement for Bateson was above all “the discovery of the purity of the germ cells,” more commonly known as segregation.) But, because yellowness is dominant and greenness recessive, this yellow-seeded plant might instead be the product of a union between a yellow-making germ cell and a green-making germ cell, in which case the plant would go on to produce both kinds of germ cell, and so both yellow-seeded and green-seeded progeny.
Failure to distinguish between these two possibilities—between, that is, a plant being what Bateson was already calling a “homozygote” or a “heterozygote” in respect of a given hereditary character—had caused endless mischief. It was, in his diagnosis, the source of “an immense number of the contradictions which the practical breeder experiences,” not least the perennial breeders’ headache of “rogues which are not true to the character which he desires to put on the market—rogues which he is unable to eliminate.” The old doctrine had it that to eliminate rogues, the breeder had to hoe them out, and continue to do so generation after generation. By such means the number of rogues would diminish and the breeder would “gradually fix his type.” Mendelism taught otherwise. Character fixity was a matter not of selection plus time, but of gametic purity. For the breeder attempting to breed plants in which the desired character was a dominant character, all that was needed to achieve rogue-free fields was to ensure that the starting materials contained no recessive-harbouring hybrids. And that was just a matter of judicious, constitution-exposing breeding among individual plants exhibiting the character.7
Bateson went on to describe a number of phenomena familiar to breeders but not yet fully accommodated within the new Mendelian understanding, notably hybrids whose character resembled neither parent, indeed sometimes resembled a remote ancestor (though, he noted, the Mendelian analysis did make intelligible why, if the hybrid character should be desirable, self-fertilization preserved it in only some of the offspring). Such atavisms were precisely the grounds on which Weldon mounted his attack on Mendelism.8 Yet, to his New York audience, Bateson treated them in a relaxed way, as merely an interesting challenge for a momentum-gaining research program. He predicted in conclusion that it was only a matter of time now before “the laws of heredity, hitherto a hopeless mystery, will, in their outward presentments, at least, be, as the laws of chemistry now are, a matter of every day knowledge.”9
Famously, after the meeting Bateson wrote to his wife about the electric response to his lecture. “It is Mendel, Mendel all the way!” he reported.10 And indeed, to judge by the published transcript of the discussion following Bateson’s lecture, he did succeed in switching on mental light-bulbs for a number of his listeners, above all with his discussion of rogue plants. He had illustrated the abstract lesson with an agricultural example, the unwanted persistence of bearded wheat in fields meant to be growing only beardless wheat. The trouble, he explained, was that farmers had not understood that beardedness is a recessive character, and so is bound to turn up whenever farmers fail to exclude heterozygote plants from the beardless breeding stock.11 William Saunders, a director of experimental farms in Canada, spoke of how illuminating he had found Bateson’s explanation of bearded rogues:
Mr. President, this paper has thrown light upon many subjects which have been somewhat dark in my mind. For instance, in the cross-fertilizing of wheats we have often found that the crossing of two beardless forms will produce a bearded form, or we have a beardless wheat as the result of the crossing of two bearded forms. This explanation that Professor Bateson has given us throws light on that point and on many similar points which have puzzled many of us who are practical workers in this very interesting field.12
It is worth noting that Saunders’ praise was founded partly on a misunderstanding. He told of getting a beardless form when he crossed two bearded ones. That result did not conform at all to Mendelian expectations. On the contrary, bearded crossed with bearded—as the union of two recessive characters, and so of gametes with the power to produce nothing other than the recessive character—should yield bearded offspring ad infinitum. If Bateson was bothered, he kept quiet.
The last word went to the chair, presumably the Society’s president, James Wood, a farmer, businessman, and a tireless servant of the cause of agricultural improvement. For Wood, as for Saunders, Bateson had indeed dispelled mystery:
I could have presented from my own fields this season ten acres of illustration of Mr. Bateson’s statement in regard to growing wheat. I have been growing a hybrid wheat for a number of years in a practical way as a farmer, and the seedsmen have taken the crops, and every year I have had to fight these bearded specimens of plants that came up in this field. To me it has been one of my greatest puzzles, as I was making no progress whatever; and while I never allowed one of those plants to go into my field, yet year after year I had the same result. I can see that it has been a bottomless work that I have been trying.13
What to make of these testimonials? It seems surprising that the likes of Saunders and Wood should have needed Bateson to tell them that, in order to take a hereditary character out of circulation, they needed to take the germinal causes of the character out of circulation and that, when unwanted characters popped up, it was because the elimination job had been botched. Nor should it have been news that a character can lie dormant, re-emerging only when its germinal causes are not inhibited in their effects. Francis Galton had said as much, and was admired for doing so.14 And yet, plainly, listening to Bateson, these men experienced a kind of epiphany, indeed a powerful one.15
2.2. On pure and applied science: Bateson’s 1911 BAAS address as president of the agricultural sub-section
When, in New York, Bateson conjured that mystery-dispelling future for heredity and breeding, he described it as a cooperative venture between “the practical breeder” and “the scientific investigator.” Indeed, he reckoned that the former’s contribution would be the more decisive, since, with the basics of Mendelian analysis now worked out, what was needed were statistical studies on a scale that the breeders were in a much better position to carry out.16 He struck a similar note when, nine years later, at the August 1911 BAAS meeting in Portsmouth, he addressed the agricultural sub-section as its president. Then too he drew to a close by holding out hope of “free interchange of experience and ideas” between the “practical man with his wide knowledge of specific natural facts, and the scientific student ever seeking to find the hard general truths which the diversity of Nature hides.”17
In between those two statements, of course, much had changed. Mendelian science now went under the name “genetics,” Bateson’s coinage, and was flourishing, as was its reputation for productivity. Bateson himself, having gradually climbed the career ladder at Cambridge up to a professorship, had recently left the university to take up the directorship of the new John Innes Horticultural Institution at Merton, near London. Meanwhile, breeding research was booming institutionally under the auspices of the 1909 Development Act. “We are witnessing a very remarkable outburst of activity in the promotion of science in its application to agriculture,” he noted in Portsmouth. At such a time, he continued, it seemed appropriate not only to report on what genetical science had done and was doing for breeding practice, but to reflect more generally on what he called “the scope of an applied science.”18
The terms “pure” and “applied” do not appear in Bateson’s 1902 New York address. They are everywhere in his 1911 address, though its major message was one of unity, not division. “If we are to progress fast,” Bateson told his Portsmouth audience, “there must be no separation made between pure and applied science.” And indeed, throughout the address the distinction was blurred. For Bateson, applied sciences were what would nowadays be called “interdisciplines,” in that the practical problems whose solution was their raison d’être typically required insights from a range of different pure sciences. Agricultural science was, in his view, exactly of this kind. He explored the point by considering its connection with the constituent science that he knew most about, genetics. Because the problems of agricultural science included problems to do with plant and animal breeding, there was, of course, a genetics side to it. But agricultural science was, and had to be, larger than just the genetics applicable to breeding, just as genetics was, and had to be, larger than just that part of it relevant for breeders.19
He warned that optimizing relationships between pure science, applied science and practical work depended on getting a number of things right. One was the level of oversight imposed on those in the applied arena. Yes, of course, it was proper to insist that research in agricultural science be conducted with the closest acquaintance with the facts and frustrations of the farm. But the researchers had to be allowed to do their jobs and do them well. It was in no one’s interest for their time to be used up writing endless reports full of useless information, either because it had not been digested into useable form, or because the digest had been made too soon, before the relevant findings could be thoroughly checked. If public accountability demanded such wasted efforts, then, in Bateson’s view, “the public should be plainly given to understand that the time for inaugurating researches in the public’s name had not arrived.” Nor would it do to confine researchers too narrowly to their practical remit once their investigations were underway. The model here, Bateson advised, should be those successful British firms, notably in metallurgy, pharmacy and brewing, whose in-house researchers enjoyed the freedom to pursue their questions, and the resources making that possible, while nevertheless remaining responsive to industrial needs. To do otherwise—to insist that nothing could be followed up unless it had obvious utility—was, in his view, short-sighted nonsense. So too was the commonly encountered notion that applied science was where people not good enough for pure science ended up. Between that dismissive attitude and the managerial heavy-handedness it sanctioned, priceless opportunities for discovery would, Bateson worried, be lost.20
A further source of difficulty that he foresaw was the overselling of what genetics and other agriculturally relevant sciences could offer now or anytime soon. Bateson recalled a recent newspaper interview with a fruit farmer. When asked whether he had got scientific advice to deal with pests and other troubles, he answered that he had, but that, as recommendation gave way to recommendation, he eventually concluded that there were no firm conclusions to be had yet. And this farmer was right, said Bateson. The road from scientific discovery to practical improvement was usually long, especially when the research involved living beings. Mendel and Pasteur were the exceptions—men whose “penetrative genius” yielded up new knowledge from which agricultural improvements tumbled straightforwardly. (And what, Bateson wondered at one point, if Mendel had conducted his eight years of hybridization-for-hybridization’s-sake experiments at an agricultural institution? “I can imagine much shaking of heads on the County Council governing that institution, and yet it is no longer in dispute that he provided the one bit of solid discovery upon which all breeding practice will henceforth be based.”) Genetics would eventually come good as an agricultural boon, but in the meantime everyone needed to be patient. Indeed, for the most part, in Bateson’s view, the practice of breeding, for all its imperfections, so far outstripped the science that the latter “can scarcely hope in finite time even to represent what has been done, still less to better the performance.”21
Nevertheless, strides were being made, and not just in understanding. Bateson gave the example of H. M. Leake, working with cotton in India. His mission was to develop a high-quality variety that could be grown in the United Provinces, to the far north, near Kashmir. The challenge lay in uniting in a single cotton plant two hitherto separate hereditary characters: high quality of cotton, and earliness of flowering (needed because, at that latitude, the growing season was otherwise too short). Leake succeeded as quickly as he had, according to Bateson, thanks to Mendelian genetics, which in turn—and here Bateson flagged up a lesson for pure and applied science more generally—reaped dividends of its own:
Until genetic physiology was developed by Mendelian analysis, it is safe to say that a practical achievement of this kind could not have been made with rapidity or certainty. The research was planned on broad lines. In the course of it much light was obtained on the genetics of cotton, and features of interest were discovered which considerably advance our knowledge of Heredity in several important respects. This work forms an admirable illustration of that simultaneous progress both towards the solution of a complex physiological problem and also towards the successful attainment of an economic object which should be the constant aim of agricultural research.22
And then there was the rogue problem. Here Bateson was more expansive than he had been in 1902. For too long, he again maintained, rogues had been taken for granted as an inevitable part of planting reality, “accepted as part of the natural perversity of things.” But modern genetics had now made that acceptance look premature. It was likewise beginning to undermine the widespread acceptance of degeneration as the inescapable fate of all seed crops. In the offing, according to Bateson, were prospects for “absolute purification” hitherto unimagined. By way of example he discussed his own recent researches with Mendel’s own model organism, the garden pea. Once in a while, Bateson explained, a variety of peas with wrinkled seeds throws up a round seed—a violation of Mendelian norms along the lines discussed in the previous section in relation to beardedness in wheat. Bateson himself had encountered the round-pea-in-a-wrinkled-variety anomaly three times, and had been sent others by his friends in the breeding trade, Arthur Sutton and, in France, Philippe de Vilmorin.
How to account for it? Bateson acknowledged a number of general possibilities for rogue plants. They might be “sports”—one-offs that, for whatever chance physiological reason, wind up departing from the type. They might, rather interestingly, have the character they do as a result of the coming together of rare recessive factors. Or they might, rather boringly, be due to undetected cross-fertilization or admixture. It was this last possibility that, in Bateson’s eyes, made for anomalous round-seeded peas. When he sowed the ones in his keeping, he got the usual Mendelian offspring-of-hybrids mix of round and wrinkled. Case closed. Blame it on the bees.23
But peas threw up other kinds of rogues, and Bateson reported that, thanks to material provided by Sutton, these were now under investigation on a large scale at the John Innes. Compared with a typical pea plant specimen, one such plant was too tall, with leaves and flowers too small, and the whole looking, in Bateson’s judgment, “straggling.” He raised the question of whether it represented a degenerative reversion to the wild type—back to something stronger, more primitive, more dominant—but swiftly rejected that possibility, noting that, among other difficulties with that view, the rogue plant had pointed pods, whereas primitive pea plants were known to have stumpy pods. His suspicion was that the rogue character—and likewise that of some rogue wheats being investigated by his former student Rowland Biffen—was an ordinary, if rare, recessive trait, and as such, potentially isolable. Here was theoretical science with maximal practical pay-off. By next year, Bateson said, he expected to be able to “prove the rogue-throwers to be a class apart. The pure types then separately saved should, according to expectation, remain rogue-free, unless further sporting or fresh contamination occurs.”24
Notwithstanding Bateson’s protests about the slow progress of applied genetics, he thus dangled before his audience a future of absolute purification of their seed stocks. At the same time — and as detailed further in Charnley and Radick’s paper in this special issue — with that “unless” clause, Bateson effectively neutralized the potentially damaging effects of any rogues that might be found to persist in those separately saved lineages.
2.3. Bateson as expert witness, 1921–2
We come now to Bateson’s performance at the trial concerning the Gradus peas. There were in fact two trials, which took place in London in July 1921 and July 1922 respectively, and in both Bateson provided expert testimony; but I shall concentrate here mostly on the first trial.25
Besides Bateson, there were three main players in the unfolding drama. There was Martin Hamm, who, while working at the Corn Exchange in London, agreed a sale of 637 bags of seed peas described as belonging to the New Zealand variety Gradus. These seed peas would be at the centre of the dispute. There was G. Frazer White, whose London firm bought the seed peas from Hamm. And there was J. J. Corry, the New Zealand-based breeder who bred the seed peas and who was generally known as a breeder of Gradus peas.26
The trouble was over the identity of the Corry-bred seed peas that Hamm sold to White at the Corn Exchange. As the subsequently published case report put it, “the main question for decision was whether they were or were not Gradus peas.” Gradus peas were what White and company thought they were buying and what Hamm thought he was selling. But when the seed peas were sown, the crop did not much look like a Gradus crop—indeed, the peas were deemed much inferior to a Gradus crop. So White complained to Hamm that he had sold them something other than Gradus peas; and Hamm in turn brought a suit against the firm from which he had bought these apparently mislabelled peas.
Here is the classic IP-narrow controversy among plant breeders: the entangled problems of synonymy and rogues. Firm X manages to produce a novel and appealing variety, or to establish itself as a reliable source of seeds for that variety. For a while, business is good. All of a sudden the market is full of inferior or rogue-infested varieties going under the same name as the lucrative variety. The nightmare is that, before too long, the lucrative variety will lose its reputation as worth buying, and the firm its reputation as worth buying from. This was exactly the situation facing the purveyors of Gradus peas in Britain in the early 1920s. When Hamm’s suit came to trial in mid-July 1921, Corry was there to defend himself. He had a lot at stake.27
The case report does not record Corry’s defence in detail; but we can glimpse it in a post-trial letter preserved among the Bateson papers in Cambridge University Library, from a seed-grower supporter of Hamm’s. “You will recollect,” wrote William Kelway to Bateson in September 1921, “that Mr. Corry tried to prove that the Peas in some mysterious way developed a power to produce something quite different, either on the voyage [from New Zealand] or at any rate in one year [i.e. in the year between his producing them and their arrival in England].”28 In other words, Corry testified that he had in good faith raised and sold peas of the Gradus variety, but something extraordinary and unfortunate must have happened to them en route and en masse, for which he was not to blame. Indeed, the case report details an argument to this effect from one of the defending barristers. But the judge found the argument unconvincing, and decided for the plaintiffs. In the judge’s words,
… I should have thought that the seed sent forward from New Zealand had an undue proportion of “rogues” in the amount sown. Can these peas that were sold to Mr. Hamm be said to be Gradus peas? Mr. Disturnal [the barrister] said every pea is a Gradus pea if it originally came from Gradus stock, and it matters not that it has reverted, it is still a Gradus pea. I do not agree with that commercially, and I think that is a perfectly unsound proposition.29
That the judge should have come to this conclusion was in no small measure due, it seems, to Bateson’s testimony. While again there is no direct record of that testimony, White wrote immediately to Bateson after the trial to express his thanks “for the very great assistance which you gave us in our Gradus Pea Case yesterday and the day before. I think the two most important witnesses there, who helped us most, were yourself and Mr. Corry!”30
In 1921, Bateson was not just the most prominent Mendelian in Britain, he was theexpert in rogues in garden peas in general and in Gradus in particular, thanks to research initiated around the time of his 1911 lecture to the BAAS agriculturalists. For all that Mendelians regarded the rogue problem as unthreatening to the conceptual structure of their science—periodically announcing it as solved and characterizing it as, in any case, an exception to the rule, an increasingly minor nuisance in a world where varieties bred true if the breeder had done the job well—neither did they ever quite let it go. From 1911 to 1915, Bateson at the John Innes Institution led extensive studies of rogues in peas in collaboration with Caroline Pellew, then a “minor student” there, but later a well-known figure in her own right.31
At the start of an article on their investigations, published in the Journal of Geneticsin 1915, they stated their results in terms of the quantity of rogues that might legitimately be expected: “The proportions in which … rogues occur under commercial conditions are of course various, depending on the care with which the parent crop had been rogued, on the nature of the variety, etc. In a crop of Gradus considered fairly free from rogues we estimated the proportion at 1 per cent, but we have seen crops more nearly free from rogues and of course several much worse.”32
Compare that statement with the judge’s in the case report from the Gradus trial:
When a person buys Gradus peas, he does not, of course, expect a perfect delivery; “rogues” there must be, and very likely among the seed delivered other seeds may have got mixed in [n.b. the standard off-the-shelf exculpatory explanation], but what he does expect, and what he has a right to expect, is that there shall be an overwhelming proportion of peas that when sown will produce Gradus peas—a pea that is known in the trade as Gradus peas.
When a man sells peas as Gradus peas the buyer has a right to expect, not 100 per cent, but an overwhelming percentage of the peas which he buys shall, when sown under proper conditions, produce Gradus peas, but there will be a certain amount of “rogues,” of which, of course, he must not complain. For these reasons, I must give judgment for the plaintiff against the defendants in this action.
It appears, then, that Bateson’s testimony made a difference to the judge’s decision. It may also have contributed a little something to the public perception of Mendelian genetics as the pure science behind commercial breeding—as the body of truths which accounted for success and so, relatedly, also accounted for failure, as in the Gradus pea case. In the report, the judge explained that he was going to go into considerable detail about the case’s history because “the case has evidently excited a good deal of interest.” And, as we have seen, the “famous lawsuit” received a mention in Bateson’s obituary in the Gardeners’ Chronicle five years later.
3. Bateson among the Marxian historians of science
Bateson’s expert witnessing in the Gradus trials suggests that, to at least some of his contemporaries, he had succeeded in making Mendelian genetics the science underpinning breeding practices. To have accomplished that was not, of course, to have improved those breeding practices dramatically, or even to have tried to improve them in any direct way. “Bateson not much concerned with practical applications of genetics” was a subheading in another obituary, in the Journal of Heredity, which went on to quote him in support of the division of intellectual labour that he favoured when it came to pure and applied sciences.33 But Bateson never disparaged the work of the applied men or the hope of breeders for guidance from his science. In consequence, as Bateson’s disciple and ally Reginald Punnett stressed in his own obituary of Bateson, “no other man of science in recent years has ever enjoyed to the same extent the confidence of the practical breeder.” Looking back on all the energy that Bateson had devoted to the relationship, from his regular attendance at breeders’ shows and workplaces to his cultivation at the John Innes of attractive new varieties (notably non-bolting beets and giant flax), Punnett reflected that it was “not the least part of [Bateson’s] life’s work that he went far towards breaking down that barrier between the man of science and the man of practice which had so lamentably grown up in the latter part of last century.”34
In 1952, the Royal Society reprinted Punnett’s encomium on Bateson and the breeders by way of marking the fiftieth anniversary of Mendel’s principles of heredity. That same year J. G. Crowther published a dissenting, indeed dissident, view. Little read or remembered today, Crowther in his interwar and postwar heyday was a familiar presence in Britain, in print and on the radio, on scientific topics presented from a left-wing perspective. (He was a Communist Party member from the 1920s and a not-infrequent visitor to the Soviet Union.) Ever since the July 1931 encounter with Hessen, the Marxian history and social analysis of science had been a mainstay. Now Crowther put forward a Marxian interpretation of Bateson’s genetics.35
3.1. The Lysenkoist Crowther: Bateson in the 1950s
It appeared as a long biographical essay that concluded Crowther’s 1952 book British scientists of the twentieth century. The book placed Bateson in distinguished company: Crowther’s other subjects were J. J. Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, James Jeans and the physiologist F. G. Hopkins. But the important partnering for Crowther was with the man whose portrait, together with Bateson’s, illustrated the chapter: the Soviet agrobiologist Trofim Lysenko. Down to its basic concepts, Crowther argued, Batesonian science reflected and reinforced the position of the middle class in its struggle against the aristocrats above and the common people below. No truly productive applications, of the sort the common people needed, could ever have arisen from such an ideologically compromised science, in Crowther’s view. For him, it followed that Bateson’s science was accordingly “stunted,” with agricultural benefits that were at best “limited” and slow to develop. It was only now, with the emergence of Lysenkoism, that those obstacles were being overcome.36
Crowther stressed that, for all Bateson’s good intentions and genuine achievements, when it came to plant and animal breeding he was ultimately a naturalist, even a natural philosopher, motivated to study heredity in the first instance to solve abstract questions about the origin of species. No wonder he had once celebrated the fact that Mendel was—Crowther quoted Bateson—“untroubled by any itch to make potatoes larger or bread cheaper.” A science that generated larger potatoes and cheaper bread only as incidental by-products was one in which, in Crowther’s judgment, there was “no necessary connection” between the science and the improvements. By contrast, Lysenko from the start had attacked practical problems: how to control weeds, how to attain better mixtures of grasses, how to cover the steppes in forests. And now, Crowther reported, Lysenko presided over a science of heredity that, though still in its infancy, already filled the Soviet people with far more enthusiasm, and guided their practical efforts far more effectively, than “Mendel-Morgan genetics” had ever managed.37
The ideological critique animating Crowther’s pages—his indictment of, as he saw it, the counterrevolutionary fatalism, mysticism and individualism of Mendelist-Morganist teachings (on, respectively, chromosomes as destiny, change as the plaything of chance, and organisms as composed of separable units)—was due to Lysenko.38 But the detailed application to Bateson’s story was all Crowther’s. In his telling, for example, Bateson’s coming to repudiate the evolutionary morphology of his Cambridge teachers, in the 1880s, in the name of a new, empirically based search to understand variation, had an element of class conflict. According to Crowther,
Bateson’s contest was not purely scientific. He belonged to the Liberal rentiers, descended from the trading and industrial classes, whereas [his teacher Francis] Balfour belonged to the Conservative landed aristocracy. The spirit of the Liberal rentiers was centred at St. John’s College [Bateson’s], whereas that of the Conservative landed aristocracy was centred in Trinity [Balfour’s]. The rivalry between the two colleges reflected the struggle between these two social classes. Bateson’s ideas and work were influenced by and were in some degree a part of this class struggle.39
Class turned out, on Crowther’s showing, to explain a great deal about Bateson, from his popularity in the States (where “his individualist ideology appealed to the Americans”), to his dismay at the way the Great War disrupted scientific life (“for he held the old liberal view that science was an international intellectual activity which was above war and politics”), to his scepticism about equality as a political goal when human intelligence was unequally distributed (he thus “ended by expressing in the guise of biological truths the social prejudices of the class to which he belonged”).40
Above all, it explained what Crowther held to be Bateson’s ineffectiveness in helping breeders. Cambridge itself, Crowther reckoned, was an unpromising milieu, since agricultural science there was the pastime of leisured sons of landowners.41 But whatever the dulling effect of the university environment on Bateson’s attempts at making his science useful, those efforts were in any case doomed by the thoroughly misguided, middle-class conceptions that he brought to the task. The ones about heredity—Mendel’s principles—appealed to Bateson initially, Crowther supposed, not because they seemed to hold the key to more powerful breeding techniques, but because they seemed to make sense of the natural discontinuities that, in differentiating himself from the Darwinism of the aristocratic Balfour, had loomed ever larger for Bateson since his student days. His ideas about applied science, though tending, on Crowther’s interpretation, towards the same fruitless end, had a rather different source. They were, according to Crowther, typical of the man who, sufficiently removed from the activities that funded the life of the mind, came to disdain those activities as beneath him and to cultivate an aesthetic response to nature. By way of illustration, Crowther quoted Bateson on how the facts of nature without “the rouge of speculation” fail to be interesting. “It appears,” remarked Crowther, “that Bateson might have been satisfied with the Garden of Eden before the discovery of Knowledge.”42
Crowther’s conclusion pulled no punches:
Bateson was a scientist of great ability, who was unable to overcome the obstructions of the ideology of the society in which he lived. Not only was his scientific ability deflected by the ideology outside himself, it was distorted also from within, owing to his conscious and unconscious personal acceptance of a large part of this ideology. His life and work provide a vivid illustration of the frustration of a great scientific talent by a declining imperialist social system.43
3.2. The Mannheimian Coleman: Bateson in the 1960s
Crowther’s Lysenkoist reading of Bateson’s story left almost no mark on subsequent historical writing on Bateson. That Crowther’s Bateson slipped from view is not surprising. Even in 1952, and in the most leftwing circles in Britain and America, Lysenko was regarded as a Stalinist monster, his doctrines on science and society as deranged—yet here was Crowther offering up Bateson’s biography as a kind of love letter to Lysenko.44 William Coleman came from another world, as did the Marxism on which he drew. Born in 1934, a son of the American mid-west, Coleman belonged to that first postwar generation of historians of science trained up in Koyréan history of ideas—in Coleman’s case, at Harvard.45 But then came the radicalizing, liberating 1960s and, for historians of science, the return of the repressed: the Marxian legacy, mediated for many by the Cambridge historian of biology Robert Young. He is among the figures thanked in the acknowledgements to Coleman’s “Bateson and chromosomes: conservative thought in science,” which made its debut as a talk in 1967.46 Published three year later, it went on to supply the image of Bateson that has dominated ever since.
Coleman’s subtitle is the giveaway as to the kind of Marxism being engaged: not Lysenko’s or Hessen’s, but Karl Mannheim’s. Mannheim (1893–1947) did his most influential work in the sociology of knowledge in the 1920s when, though based in Germany, he was very much inspired by fellow Hungarian Georg Lukács’s Marxian approach to culture as a greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts “totality.”47 Mannheim was one of the first sociologists to write about “styles of thought” as an appropriate unit of analysis for the sociologist of knowledge concerned to treat thought as a historical process and a product of social groups. His amazing 1927 essay “Conservative thought”—an abridged version of his habilitation thesis—set out the general styles-of-thought framework in all its totalizing ambition (“a style of thought … embraces not only politics, but art, literature, philosophy, history, and so on”) and introduced the conservatism that emerged in Germany in reaction to the French Revolution as an empirical case study exhibiting the framework’s virtues.48
At one point Mannheim described what he called the “theoretical core of conservative thought”: a checklist of ideas that, forty years later, Coleman would import into his study of Bateson as a conservative. What made the theoretical core of German conservatism a unity, according to Mannheim, was the rejection of Enlightenment norms: reason replaced by history, life and nation; deduction by irrationality; universalism by particularism; individualism by social-organicism; atomism and mechanism by holism; and the timelessness of reason and its standards by their historicity (this latter of course a signature feature of Marxist analysis, which was thus given a reactionary pedigree).49
Before considering Coleman on the conservative Bateson, we should pause to note that, in the light of the materials examined so far, and in multiple ways, this list looks none too promising a fit for Bateson. Certainly if all we had to work with were his 1902 New York paper, his 1911 Plymouth address, and his actions on behalf of the plaintiff at the 1921 Gradus trial, the case for Bateson as a conservative in Mannheim’s sense would seem hopeless. On each occasion, he was the very picture of scientific reason at its most agreeably reasonable and—when it came to established traditions and authorities—most irreverent, eager to press the claims of Mendelism as a science whose potentially universal applicability lay in the atomistic conceptions that had served other sciences so well. Going from primary to secondary sources, if we next consider Crowther’s reflections on Bateson, then too there are severe difficulties, since, as we have seen, Crowther affiliated Bateson not with aristocratic conservatism but with bourgeois liberalism. In evidence, Crowther had summoned Bateson’s rejection of the gradualist Darwinism of his aristocratic Cambridge teachers; his identification with Mendelism’s grandeur as a philosophy of nature rather than with its practical benefits (limited as these were); his sadness at a war that disrupted the international scientific conversation (no blood-and-soil nationalism there); and his popularity in the individualist United States.50
Turning from Crowther’s Marxism to Mannheim’s, we find in his writings little explicit encouragement for a Bateson-as-conservative gloss. For one thing, Mannheim was at pains to emphasize that he was concerned with Germanconservatism—a very different kind of thing, he stressed, from English conservatism.51 For another, it is not at all clear that he intended the conservative style to extend to science. In the quotation above from the 1927 essay, science does not figure among the items that a style of thought embraces. That “and so on” may of course have included science. But in another classic essay of the same period, Mannheim dismissed as “crude propagandistic exaggeration” the view that “the proletariat had a science of its own, developed in a closed intellectual space, and the bourgeoisie another one, neatly separated from it”—suggesting, to put it mildly, a lack of keenness for the notion of conservative science.52 The interesting question of Mannheim’s attitude to natural science is one to which I shall return below.
So what prompted Coleman to reach for Mannheim on conservative thought in making sense of Bateson? The short answer is in Coleman’s title: chromosomes. Bateson made himself notorious among American geneticists of the 1910s and 20s for his doubts about whether Mendelian genes could be identified with parts of chromosomes—a view championed most successfully by T. H. Morgan (of “Mendel-Morgan genetics”) and his students at Columbia on the basis of soon-to-be-legendary breeding experiments with fruit flies. What Coleman wanted to know was how to explain Bateson’s transition from the Mendelism-promoting scientific revolutionary of 1900 to the chromosome-resisting scientific conservative of 1920.53
By no means should this question be taken for granted. It presumes that the chromosomal theory of heredity was the wave of the future and that all forward-thinking biologists were ready to ride that wave (and presumes too that theirdecisions, to back the chromosomal theory, do not stand in need of socio-political explanations in the way that the decisions of drop-outs such as Bateson need them). In the 1950s Soviet Union, the chromosomal theory was repudiated as scientifically false and ideologically suspect; unsurprisingly, Bateson’s attitude towards it barely registered for Crowther.54 In the 1950s America where Coleman trained in biology, by contrast, the chromosomal theory was a hands-down winner, and Coleman approached the history of biology accordingly. His ingenious answer to his question about Bateson was that underlying Bateson’s conservatism about chromosomes was a pervasive anti-materialism which not only predated his Mendelian commitments but, in interesting ways, paved the way for them; and which furthermore cohered with other elements of conservatism regnant in Bateson’s Britain and well represented in his life and work generally.55 As an anti-materialist, Coleman’s Bateson could no more accept that Mendelian factors were nothing but chromosomal matter than he could accept a commercial role for the sciences. For him, the discontinuous patterns of Mendelian inheritance arose not from the powers of some hereditary substance but from the physiological equivalent of resonance frequencies—from sublime motion, not stolid matter—and, accordingly, could be apprehended fully only by aristocrats of the mind, unbeholden to utilitarian interests or to empiricist philosophy.
Coleman summarized his case for Bateson as Mannheimian conservative as follows:
Intuitionism, aestheticism and the organic conception of society constitute distinctive features of Bateson’s conservative thought. These features suggest his relationship to contemporary developments in British thought and sensibility. They expose the presuppositional basis from which he came to articulate a non-material foundation for the hereditary process. From the same basis, finally, it can be seen how Bateson found strength to wage war upon the chromosome theory.56
A full evaluation of these statements would require a long and rather arduous paper unto itself. What matters for our purposes is that Coleman, convinced that what made Bateson tick was his conservatism, put matchless knowledge of the primary sources into the service of that conviction, to compelling effect. Through strategic quotation and equally strategic omissions, Bateson emerges from Coleman’s pages as an anti-democratic, anti-utilitarian thinker for whom only the rare man of genius, with a suitably refined sensibility (as Crowther had noted too, Bateson liked to surround himself with artistic masterworks), could rise above the coarse and coarsening temptations of material explanation and generalization in order to glimpse the inner, quicksilver reality behind the flux. The beauty of Mendelian theory for him lay in its disclosure of an orderly dynamism which transcended mere matter—hence, for Coleman, Bateson’s later resistance to the notion that Mendelian genes were bits of chromosome. As for the puzzle of how to square such a determinedly unworldly stance with Bateson’s long work to enshrine and enhance Mendelism’s utility, not least as Director of the John Innes for sixteen years, Coleman said nothing, giving only passing notice to that work—in ninety-six pages, just a few sentences.57
3.3. The Post-Mannheimian Edinburgh School: Bateson in the 1970s
Bateson as all-round conservative in turn featured in what became a classic historical case study of the fledgling Edinburgh-based “strong programme.”58 No less than Coleman’s paper, the strong programme was avowedly Mannheimian. What is more, its articulators proved as adept as Coleman at adapting Mannheim’s work to a new agenda–now, a felt need to inquire afresh into those science-society connections that postwar Mertonian sociology, concerned with how scientific institutions function to preserve scientific values in spite of wider social pressures, had ignored. For members of the Edinburgh School, sociological study of the sciences rightly took in not only the institutional context of scientific knowledge but its content. And in making room for that point of view, they found in Mannheim a useful ancestor. “Mannheim’s conception of the sociology of knowledge is a close approximation to the strong programme,” wrote David Bloor in his 1973 programme manifesto. On Bloor’s reckoning, Mannheim as anticipator of the Edinburgh School scored three out of four. He too had wanted a general causal account of how people come to believe what they do; he had sought “a form of the sociology of knowledge which went beyond the mere unmasking of ideology” (the term “unmasking” was echt Mannheim); and he had shown a willingness to apply, in a reflexive way, such causal understanding to his own beliefs. But Mannheim had “faltered” before the final hurdle—what Bloor called “the all-important symmetry principle, demanding the same types of cause for both true and false beliefs.” Bloor went on to give the impression that Mannheim simply could not see how his sociological perspective on knowledge might be brought to logic and mathematics, and so had resigned himself to treating these realms, and the natural sciences generally, as beyond the reach of sociological explanation.59 In Knowledge and social imagery (1976), Bloor put the point bluntly: “Despite [Mannheim’s] determination to set up causal and symmetrical canons of explanation, his nerve failed him when it came to such apparently autonomous subjects as mathematics and natural science.”60
As Mannheim scholarship, this was deeply misleading. What Mannheim in the 1920s wanted to understand was not scientific success but social failure, most pressingly in Germany; and, in seeking that understanding, he gave both scientific knowledge and epistemological relativism short shrift. But the implied self-description took hold: the strong-programme sociologists of science had the nerve to go where the likes of Mannheim and (their main target) Robert Merton did not dare, into the inner sanctum—the beliefs that scientists hold up as true.61
Between Bloor’s manifesto and his book-length expansion three years later came what remains perhaps the best-known biological example of the strong programme translated into historical practice, “Biometrician versus Mendelian: A controversy and its explanation” (1974), by Bloor’s Edinburgh colleague Barry Barnes and his then-graduate student, Donald MacKenzie. A didactic tour de force, the paper uses the early twentieth-century debate over Mendelism—and in particular, Coleman’s Mannheimian portrait of Bateson—to show that any serious interest in why scientists come to believe what they do must lead ultimately to the kinds of social explanation whose possibility Bloor was then defending. Beginning with an outline of the main events, issues and cast of characters, MacKenzie and Barnes propose and reject a number of candidate explanations for the two sides’ holding their contradictory beliefs, above all about whether change in nature is continuous (the biometricians, represented by Karl Pearson) or discontinuous (the Mendelians, represented by Bateson). Explanations in terms of the psychologies of individuals, the real structure of nature, different kinds of training: all are examined and, for various reasons, found wanting. With plausible alternatives eliminated, they then suggest the “need to explore the possibilities of the sociology of knowledge tradition, and the role of ‘external’ factors—moves all too rarely tried in the study of natural sciences.” There follow bravura epitomes of, on the one side (not quite the left), the middle-class Pearson as political and scientific liberal, defending gradual, progressive change in society and nature, and, on the other (unambiguously rightward) side, Bateson as political and scientific conservative, defending stasis as the social and natural rule punctuated from time to time, and unpredictably, by mutational leaps. The paper concludes with some reflections on why explaining the biometrician-Mendelian controversy in this way is not as reductive as it may look and how explanations of this kind can energize historical research.62
Barnes’s own next book, Interests and the growth of knowledge (1977), was not so much a manifesto for the strong programme (not referred to as such) as an exploration of its position within the sociology-of-knowledge tradition, stretching back to Marx and including Lukács and Mannheim.63 For Barnes, the strength of Edinburgh-style analyses lay precisely in the weakness of their claims as against those associated with the tradition. Yes, sometimes, scientific views could be read off from social structure; but the most one could say in general was that “interests inspire the construction of knowledge out of available cultural resources in ways which are specific to particular times and situations and their overall social and cultural contexts.’’ The task for the analyst was to understand how and why, in any given case, the process worked as it did. “It is ironical,” Barnes went on, “that a field so much influenced by historical materialism has … tended to conceive of its task as the classification of blocks of knowledge (say as ‘bourgeois’) very much as if they were objects or things.”64
As an example of a historical study paying due attention to situated process and its contingencies, he cited his paper with MacKenzie on the biometrician-Mendelian dispute. On their showing, of course (and as Barnes conceded), there was a sense in which biometry had been unmasked as a bourgeois-liberal science and Mendelism as a conservative science, in much the old classificatory, blocks-of-knowledge way. But Barnes now underscored the contingency of the links between the different sciences of inheritance and the particular interests they served. There was no implication, he insisted, that those politics went with those sciences necessarily, or for all the people involved. That was just how things turned out there and then, in Britain around 1900. In other places and other times, other trends and events could easily have made for other alignments. A clarifying endnote returns the reader, unexpectedly, to the world of Crowther: “It is worth noting how some years later Mendelism became characterised as a typical manifestation of bourgeois thought, particularly in the struggle between Soviet geneticists and supporters of Lysenko.”65
4. Marxism as a productive historiographic tradition: two further questions
The notion that Bateson denigrated the utility of Mendelism arose twice from within the Marxian tradition: in the 1950s, with Crowther, who tried to bring Bateson’s life and work into line with Lysenko’s condemnation of genetics as bourgeois biology; and in the 1960s, with Coleman, who sought to understand how Bateson the scientific radical could nevertheless have resisted the chromosome theory, and looked for the answer in Mannheim’s subtly Marxian analysis of conservatism. Lysenko’s and Mannheim’s Marxisms could hardly have been more different; yet, when it came to Bateson and utility, they led in the same direction. In MacKenzie and Barnes’s rendition, Bateson’s anti-utilitarianism became still more credible, slotting into place in an explanation not merely of why Bateson resisted the chromosome theory but why Mendelian genetics came to attract the arguments and opponents it did. That more general explanation in turn went on to serve, in the 1970s and 80s, as a template for a new generation of sociological interpreters of scientific controversy, under the banner of the sociology of scientific knowledge (or “SSK”).66 Of course, the standing of those analyses in no way depends on whether, in IP-primed hindsight, the Bateson of SSK and the Bateson of history bear little resemblance. Nevertheless the gap between the two Batesons is, as we have seen, substantial, and should provoke further questions. In closing let me outline two sorts, corresponding to the historical and historiographic missions announced at the outset.
First, and most obviously, how should we close the gap? I mentioned in passing that the evidence which Coleman marshalled in support of his case was selective. But the evidence is there; and any fuller reconstruction needs to confront it. All the time-honoured strategies for making sense of an apparently contradictory figure should be considered. Perhaps Bateson’s utility-mindedness will be revealed as a relatively late development, never entirely integrated into an earlier and never repudiated anti-utilitarianism.67 Perhaps, relatedly, we will find that he exposed these different attitudes towards utility to different audiences as suited his interests. Alternatively, we can see what happens when, in reading Bateson, we dispense with “utilitarian,” “conservative,” and other terms which he never applied to himself in any systematic way. Among other things, approaching him in this spirit might help us better capture the complexity of his positions. If we ask, for instance, whether his 1911 address was for or against applied genetics, we end up having to say it was both and neither. What he wanted was an institutional set-up that would benefit farmers—and so the nation now funding scientific work on breeding—precisely because, in addition to directing some researchers towards farmers’ and breeders’ problems, it allowed other researchers to consider more basic problems.68 Or consider a 1912 lecture, “Biological fact and the structure of society.” Coleman quoted a passage insisting on the natural basis of social class. But the lecture as a whole made a case for socialism, linking that case to the Mendelian analysis of heritable traits as discrete and separable, and to a positive but cautious prediction of what Mendelism would do in the long run both for plant and animal breeding and for their human extension, eugenics (for MacKenzie and Barnes, a biometrician-only enthusiasm, along with socialism and reductive materialism).69
And what, given the above, are the right lessons to draw about the Marxian heritage in the historical study of science? A wrong lesson, surely, is that it should be consigned to historiography’s dustbin and forgotten about. For all the limitations of the Batesoniana of MacKenzie and Barnes, Coleman, and even Crowther, it remains instructive and challenging. Nowhere else are the connections between Bateson’s science and wider trends documented so copiously or discussed so intelligently. More comprehensive and conceptually subtle interpretations may well emerge; but they will do so in dialogue with this body of work.70
To the extent that this future historiography of Bateson and early Mendelism draws on the IP-narrow/-broad program developed in this collection of papers, it will, moreover, have a whole other set of Marxian roots. Yes, in the 1960s and 70s, when Mannheim was the mediator, the Marxian tradition took the form of searching out alignments between scientists’ ideas about nature and the interests of their social groups. But in the 1930s, when the mediator was Hessen, the emphasis was on attention to intellectual property (as Merton called patents, priority claims and the points in between) and related topics to do with science, technology and capitalism. To engage this cluster in the 2010s is not, of course, to seek to turn the clock back. But it is to take up options that exist in the first place thanks to that remarkable cohort of writers whom Hessen inspired.
Context-minded historians of science can only benefit from a more active (if not activist) curatorship of their Marxian heritage, as it bears on IP and beyond. The recommendation holds with special force for historians of genetics. The genetical papers in this special issue aim, in complementary ways, to suggest that it took some doing to create the public image of Mendelian genetics as an agriculturally productive science. As Bateson admitted in his 1911 address, the breeders were not exactly floundering for want of his science. Nor did they think of themselves as scientific ignoramuses; the motto of the Royal Society for Agriculture was, he noted, “Practice with Science.”71 The Mendelians nevertheless managed to insinuate their science into the intellectual foundations of plant and animal breeding, and so to turn new, useful varieties into advertisements of the truth of their principles. Keeping up an inquiring scepticism in the face of that achievement is not easy. Anyone wishing to do so will find stimulation aplenty in acquaintance with the Marxian tradition, especially as represented, in our day, in Richard Lewontin’s writings on genetics and the gaps between its theory and praxis, its PR and reality.72
The effort is worth making not least because claims about Mendelism’s productivity became, in connection with events touched upon in this paper, part of the general cultural picture of Western science as a productive enterprise. What put those claims there was also what put the Marxian tradition beyond the pale generally: Lysenkoism. Western commentators on what (Crowther excepted) they saw as the scandal and tragedy of mid-century Soviet genetics invariably stressed, contra Lysenko, how useful Mendelian truths had been agriculturally. “Practically all the crops now grown in the United States consist of varieties which have been synthesized by the Mendelians,” reported Conway Zirkle in Death of a science in Russia (1949), at the end of a discussion highlighting the greatest Mendelian success, hybrid corn.73 The incredible yields associated with that variety, and the Mendelian reasoning which led to its invention, also featured in Julian Huxley’s book on Lysenkoism that same year.74 Ever since—and the efforts of Crowther to the contrary notwithstanding—the contrast between American fields full of healthy Mendelian corn and the underperforming Russian fields under Mendelism-rejecting Lysenko has stood in for a set of ideologically weightier contrasts: the market versus the command economy; freedom versus totalitarianism; reality versus its social construction.75 To take on IP and the history of genetics is thus to take on the whole of what another Marxian historian, Eric Hobsbawm, memorably epitomized as the “age of extremes.”76
Work on this paper was funded by the AHRC’s grant to the Leeds-Bristol Owning and Disowning Invention project. For improving comments on drafts, I am grateful to Jonathan Hodge, Jonathan Harwood, Mario Biagioli and everyone on the project team, especially Berris Charnley and Christine MacLeod. The paper benefited much from discussion at several seminars and meetings, including the end-of-project conference on “Managing Knowledge in the Techno-sciences, 1850-2000,” University of Leeds, 5–8 July 2010.
- Weldon (1902, esp. pp. 250–251); see also the paper by Charnley and Radick in this issue. Weldon became notably more positive about Mendel’s work and its applicability over the next few years; see chap. 7 of his unpublished MS “Theory of inheritance” (1904–5), in the Papers of Karl Pearson, Special Collections, University College London, Box 264/2D.
- The Gardeners’ Chronicle, 20 Feb. 1926; quoted in Cock and Forsydke (2008, p. 627).
- The best guide to the practical research that Bateson promoted and the links he cultivated in agriculture and horticulture is Robert Olby: see, in addition to the other items cited in this paper, Olby, 1990, Olby, 2000. The best guide to the obstacles that Bateson and other Mendelians encountered in positioning their science as important for practical men is Paolo Palladino: see esp. Palladino, 1990, Palladino, 1993, Palladino, 1994.
- Letter from W. Bateson to B. Bateson, 27 Aug 1901, reprinted in Bateson (Ed.) (1984, pp. 65–66). On Bateson’s life and career, up to that point and more generally, see Bateson, 1984a, Olby, 2012, Cock and Forsdyke, 2008.
- Bateson (1904, p. 1). In the published proceedings, Bateson’s address is preceded by a list of those in attendance.
- Bateson (1904, pp. 2–3).
- Bateson (1904, pp. 3–4).
- See Charnley and Radick’s paper in this issue.
- Bateson (1904, pp. 4–8), quotation on p. 8.
- “On the train yesterday many of the party arrived with their ‘Mendel’s Principles’ in their hands ! It has been ‘Mendel, Mendel all the way’ and I think a boom is beginning at last.” Letter from W. Bateson to B. Bateson, 3 Oct. 1902, in the Papers of William Bateson, Manuscripts Room, Cambridge University Library, Folder G.8.g (hereafter Bateson Papers, CUL).
- Bateson (1904, pp. 3–4).
- Bateson (1904, p. 9).
- Bateson (1904, p. 9). On Wood, see the biographical note in the online finding aid for his papers at www.haverford.edu/library/special/aids/wood_james/wood_james.pdf (accessed 20 May 2011).
- For Galton on hereditary latency, see, e.g., Gillham (2001, p. 180). See also Charnley and Radick’s paper in this issue.
- On the enthusiasm for Mendelism among agricultural scientists and seedsmen in the USA, see esp. Paul & Kimmelman (1988). It is an open question how widespread the enthusiasm was. German agricultural scientists, at least, do not seem to have been anything like as keen: Harwood (1997). For more on these contrary pictures in the historical literature and how to integrate them, see Charnley and Radick’s paper in this issue.
- Bateson (1904, p. 8).
- Bateson  (1984), p. 275.
- Bateson  (1984), p. 260. On the role of claims for Mendelism’s agricultural utility in securing facilities for Mendelian research in Bateson’s Cambridge and beyond, see Opitz, 2011, Olby, 1991. On the significance of the Development Act for agricultural and horticultural research generally, see Olby (1991). Bateson took over as chairman of the commission that administered the Act in 1912; see Bateson  (1984), p. 126. On the Act as part of a wider shift in state-science relations in Britain around 1900, see the introduction to this special issue.
- Bateson  (1984), quotation on p. 275. I take the phrase “interdiscipline” from Schaffer (2013).
- Bateson  (1984), pp. 261–264, quotation on p. 262.
- Bateson  (1984), pp. 262–269, quotations on pp. 263, 269, 266.
- Bateson  (1984), pp. 266–267.
- Bateson  (1984), pp. 267–268, quotations on p. 267. Cf. Weldon on such cases, discussed in Charnley and Radick’s paper, this issue.
- Bateson  (1984), p. 268.
- Details in what follows come from two sources: the official case report on the 1921 trial, Hamm vs. Berry Barclay & Co. ((1921) 8 Lloyd’s List Law Reports, no. 336); and the correspondence preserved in the Bateson Papers, CUL, Folder G.2.e. In none of these is the variety name in italics.
- The credit for originating the Gradus variety went not to Corry, however, but to the firm of Thomas Laxton, Weldon’s hero (as discussed in the paper by Charnley and Radick in this issue). For a remarkable complaint by the firm about the lack of protection for the producers of new varieties, and how the Gradus pea was one of several varieties “quickly propagated and sold against us,” see Laxton Bros. (1921). Many thanks to Dominic Berry for this reference.
- But was IP, narrowly construed, really what was at stake in the Gradus trial? One might expect IP cases typically to involve sellers (allegedly) ripping off other sellers, whereas here we have a seller (allegedly) ripping off a buyer—a situation ordinarily considered a “sale of goods” dispute (when the goods bought do not match the goods described). Even so, where the reputations of goods and sellers are on the line, sale-of-goods disputes bear on IP. The border between IP law and commercial law is generally hazy. Even when seller A sues seller B for marketing A’s goods under B’s brand, and calls upon IP lawyers to manage the court case, the body of law claimed as violated may be that governing the sale of goods, not IP. See, for a recent European example involving plant varieties, the judgment in the case of Antonio Muñoz v Frumar Ltd (2002). I am grateful for discussion of these matters to Lindsay Gledhill, Margaret Llewelyn and Regina Birner.
- Letter from William Kelway to W. Bateson, 3 Sept 1921, in the Bateson Papers, CUL, Folder G.2.e. The 1922 suit was Corry vs. Kelway.
- Hamm vs. Berry Barclay & Co. ((1921) 8 LI. Ll Rep.), no. 336.
- Letter from G. Frazer White to W. Bateson, 13 July 1921, in the Bateson Papers, CUL, Folder G.2.e.
- On Bateson and Pellew’s research on rogue peas, with some interesting remarks on its fate within post-1920s genetics, see Cock and Forsdyke (2008, pp. 451–453). On Pellew, see the short biographical essay at http://www.jic.ac.uk/centenary/timeline/info/pellew.htm (accessed 7 Aug 2012).
- Bateson & Pellew (1915, p. 13). They published another paper with virtually the same title in 1920.
- Anonymous (1926, p. 442). I am grateful to Berris Charnley for this reference.
- Punnett (1952, pp. 343–344).
- On Crowther, see Crowther, 1970, Gregory, 2010.
- Crowther (1952, esp. pp. 289–90), quotations on p. 290, illustrations facing p. 299 (Bateson) and p. 304 (Lysenko).
- Crowther (1952, pp. 289, 303). The line about Mendel, from Bateson  (1984), p. 329, came at the end of a long passage extolling the practical applications of Mendelian genetics.
- The most important statement is Lysenko’s “The situation in biological science” (1948), which was published in English early the next year; for one translation with useful (if far from neutral) commentary, see Zirkle (1949, pp. 94–134).
- Crowther (1952, p. 256).
- Crowther (1952, quotations on pp. 282, 284 and 305).
- Crowther (1952, p. 307).
- Crowther (1952, esp. pp. 289, 302–303, 307, quotation on p. 307).
- Crowther (1952, p. 309). Crowther’s verdict on Bateson derived from a distinctive political stance; but the notion that British science and technology was in the midst of a long period of decline resonated across the political spectrum in Britain at this moment, as David Edgerton pointed out to me in discussion.
- For a recent overview of Lysenkoism and the controversy over it, see Roll-Hansen (2005).
- On Coleman’s life and work, see Hannaway (1989).
- Coleman (1970, p. 305). For Young’s reflections on his engagement in 1960s Cambridge with the writings of Mannheim and others figures in the Marxian tradition of history of science, see Young (1985, chap. 6). For his admiring assessment of Mannheim—albeit as a purveyor of a “watered-down” Marxism (“linking ideas to their times but filtering out the nasty subversive and revolutionary potential”)—see Young (1990, pp. 83–84), quotation on p. 83.
- For a history-of-science readership, the best introduction to Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge and its contexts and commentators is Kaiser (1998). For Mannheim’s own positioning of his views within and against the Marxian tradition, see Mannheim (1952, esp. pp. 140–144, 182–184). Young notes that Mannheim was known as the “bourgeois Lukács;” Young (1990, p. 83).
- Mannheim (1953), quotation on p. 77. For a superb historical and analytical study of the essay, see Kettler, Meja, & Stehr (1986).
- Mannheim (1953, pp. 116–119, 163–164), quotation on p. 116.
- On the class identity that Crowther assigned Bateson as more persuasive than the Coleman–MacKenzie–Barnes identity, see Cock, 1983, Olby, 1989a.
- Mannheim (1953, pp. 80–83).
- Mannheim (1952, p. 182).
- Coleman (1970, pp. 228–242).
- Like Alan Cock thirty years later, Crowther thought that Bateson later in life came to accept the chromosomal theory of the gene: Crowther, 1952, Cock, 1983. Cf. Coleman (1970, pp. 260–261), for whom Bateson only seemedto change his mind.
- Coleman (1970, pp. 263–305). For an earlier, more limited treatment of Bateson’s “immaterialism,” see Darlington (1966, pp. 100-104). For a recent discussion of Bateson’s Mendelism in relation to his views on matter, motion and explanation, see Radick (2011, pp. 134-136).
- Coleman (1970, pp. 294–295).
- Coleman (1970, p. 252) for Bateson’s breeding-related work. The most extensive critique of Coleman’s characterization of Bateson as an anti-materialist conservative can be found in Cock (1983, esp. pp. 26–39) (with documentation of its influence on 26); see also Radick (2011, pp. 134–136).
- A useful history of the 1960s founding and 1970s heyday of the Edinburgh School—located in the Science Studies Unit of the University of Edinburgh—can be found in Mazzotti (2008).
- Bloor (1973, pp. 175, 179), quotations on p. 175. For Mannheim on the “sociological ‘unmasking’ of an ideology,” see Mannheim (1952, pp. 140ff).
- Bloor (1976, p. 8).
- For a superb discussion of Mannheim’s aims, the Edinburgh School’s representation of them, and the curious mediating role of Merton’s writings on Mannheim, see Kaiser (1998).
- MacKenzie & Barnes (1974). This is a typescript that, although in circulation among cognoscenti (see Olby (1989a, p. 299)), was published in full only in German translation. I am grateful to Donald MacKenzie for sending me a copy of the original.
- For remarks on Mannheim similar in spirit to Bloor’s, see Barnes (1977, pp. 3–4); also Barnes (1974, pp. 145–148).
- Barnes (1977), quotations on p. 58. Bloor was and remains less eager to affiliate his views with the Marxian tradition; for a recent statement, see Bloor (1997, p. 376).
- Barnes (1977, pp. 59–63, 98), quotation on p. 98 (note 16). In one respect, the case study “improved” somewhat in the reporting. Conjuring Bateson the conservative, Barnes wrote of “what William Bateson called ‘the blighted atomistic individualism of the utilitarians’” (1977, p. 60). In fact the quoted phrase was not Bateson’s but Coleman’s; see Coleman (1970, p. 295). (The 1974 paper got the attribution right but rendered the source ambiguous (1974, p. 28).) For an interesting later defence by Barnes of the case study, see Barnes (1980).
- For a general survey of the influence of SSK and the wider constructivist turn within the history of science, see Golinski (2005).
- It should be noted that previous historians hostile to the Coleman-MacKenzie-Barnes take on Bateson have granted an anti-utilitarian element in his thinking; see Cock, 1983, Olby, 1989a, Olby, 1989b.
- Bateson expressed a similar attitude in a 1918 letter. Advising against the John Innes accepting public funds, he explained that such funds tend to push institutions towards economically significant work, and it was important that “at least one Institution should retain its financial independence complete, though prepared to cooperate with the state-aided Institutions in all possible ways.” He added that “proper provision must be made for the purely scientific side of the work, neglect of which has rendered so much of the labours of the American stations trivial and unfruitful.” However, he also suggested the appointment of a travelling “liaison officer,” the better to improve communication between the John Innes researchers and the practical breeders, seedsmen and others involved with industry. “It would greatly promote both our own work and the spread of genetic knowledge,” wrote Bateson. Bateson to Sir Daniel Hall, 23 Feb 1918, in the Bateson Letters Collection, John Innes Centre Archives, mss 2148. I am grateful to Berris Charnley for bringing this letter to my attention.
- Bateson  (1984). Cf. Coleman, 1970, MacKenzie and Barnes, 1974, Barnes, 1977, note 19 (on later hereditarian thought as following from biometry not Mendelism)).
- See, e.g., Kim (1994), which takes aim at the MacKenzie-Barnes interpretation of the biometrician-Mendelian controversy, and in doing so offers the fullest coverage to date of the role of practical men, in medicine as well as in breeding, in settling the controversy in Mendelism’s favour.
- Bateson  (1984), p. 260.
- See esp. the essays collected in Lewontin (1993).
- Zirkle (1949, pp. 25–26), quotation on p. 26.
- Huxley (1949, pp. 181–182).
- See, e.g., Graham (1998, pp. 17–31); for discussion (heavily indebted to Lewontin’s work), see Radick (2005, pp. 32–33). On the celebration of Mendel himself in the context of the controversy, see Wolfe, 2010, Wolfe, 2012.
- Hobsbawm (1994). A useful entry point into the wider question of Marx’s influence on historical writing and thinking more generally, in more and less “vulgar” forms, is Hobsbawm (1997). Even Hessen made a point of distinguishing his Marxism from vulgar Marxism. “[I]t would be too greatly simplifying and even vulgarizing our object” [to treat] “the economic factor” [as] “the sole determining factor”: Hessen (1931, p. 177), quoted in Schaffer (1984, p. 24). On the distinctive path of Marxian studies of science in the Soviet Union, see Aronova (2011).
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