The Committee on Common Problems of Genetics Paleontology and Systematics 19421949

This Committee was founded upon a suggestion of Walter Bucher (1889-1965), Professor of Geology at Columbia University, New York, and chair of the National Research Council's Division of Geology and Geography (serving 1940-1943). Eleven scientists, including G. G. Simpson, Dobzhansky and Mayr, met in the Zoology Department of Columbia University on 17 October 1942 to discuss future research in the borderland between genetics and paleontology. The final plan envisioned a Western Group of 10 scientists centered in Berkeley that would emphasize the cooperation between an equal number of geneticists and paleobotanists; and an

Eastern Group of 20 scientists that would be centered in New York City and emphasize genetics, zoology and paleozoology. This proposal was formally accepted on 6 February 1943 and the "Committee on Common Problems of Genetics and Paleontology" (CCP) officially launched during that month.

At the same time the two leaders of the Eastern Group left the country; the paleontologist G. G. Simpson had joined the army in North Africa in December 1942 (returning in late 1944) and the geneticist Th. Dobzhansky went to Brazil in January 1943 to study natural populations of Drosophila in the tropics under a government program to promote inter-American cooperation (returning in the spring of 1944). Before his departure, Dobzhansky had asked his friend Ernst Mayr to replace him as chairman of the genetics section of the Eastern Group during his absence and to create the genetics part of the summer program and to plan the group's summer 1943 meeting (in consultation with W. Bucher and the paleontologist G. Jepsen, G. G. Simpson's replacement). Ernst Mayr took over this task with great enthusiasm and quickly moved into a leadership role of the CCP in the New York region using the opportunity for programmatic reforms. Again, we might say, an example of his unshakeable self-confidence.

By that time, Mayr was well known among geneticists many he had met personally. The 2-day summer 1943 meeting of the Eastern Group in the American Museum of Natural History was a success. The themes were genetic variation, discontinuity, rates of evolution, and evolutionary trends. Eight paleontologists, seven geneticists and a number of invited guests attended. Within the session on "discontinuity" Mayr and Curt Stern lectured on isolating mechanisms and the differences between sympatric and geographic speciation. Probably it was Mayr who argued that papers for a later symposium of the entire CCP should: "set forth for workers in the two fields the precise nature of the best data now available [...] that bear on the major problems of evolution. Each section [of the Committee] is to select specific topics that represent the most instructive and complete cases and lead to the theoretically most significant conclusions [...] Each subject is to be documented by illustrations and tables as full as possible and presented in such a manner that it may be fully comprehended and critically evaluated by the workers in the other field who are not familiar with the details of terminology and techniques used. In each case the theoretical implications of the results are to be set forth explicitly for those not sufficiently acquainted with the lines of reasoning peculiar to the two fields of science" ("Report of meetings," p. 9; cited from Cain 2002b: 300).

Because of the war, preparations for a joint symposium of the Western and Eastern Groups including the identification of suitable case studies for discussion had to be postponed from 1943 to a later year. However, Mayr proposed to begin "letter exchanges." He announced in January 1944 that the Eastern Group would "start a discussion by correspondence of topics which fall within the field of interest of the Committee." He volunteered to serve as "the central agency" for this communication. During the following months, members corresponded actively sending him copies of their letters which he collected and, once sufficient material had accumulated, distributed (often with his own comments) in mimeographed form to all the members as a "Bulletin." The first number was distributed in May 1944. This led to further discussion among other members or with the original correspondents and Mayr edited three additional "Bulletins." Gretel Mayr contributed also to this effort by typing mimeographed stencils. Otherwise there was, during World War II, virtually no interaction between the Eastern and Western Groups.

According to Cain (2002b: 302), Ernst Mayr was an aggressive editor, prompting queries, recruiting additional materials, instigating interaction. Under wartime conditions he was leading a highly successful "synthetic" and integrative program. Arguing that systematics was "the vital link" between paleontology and genetics, Mayr proposed and was granted a change in the name of the CCP in April 1944, adding systematics: Committee on Common Problems of Genetics, Paleontology, and Systematics. At the same time he began thinking and talking to colleagues, in particular Dobzhansky (back from Brazil in spring 1944), about a Society for the Study of Evolution with its own journal, i.e., projects along the lines that he as a member of the defunct Society for the Study of Speciation had envisioned earlier. Because, by rule, Committees under the auspices of the National Research Council had to be temporary, Mayr was planning for the future of the CCP after the war had ended.

When G. G. Simpson returned to New York in the autumn of 1944, he added, as chairman of the Committee, a preface to Mayr's fourth Bulletin praising the progress made and stating: "From the whole series of letters in the Bulletin there has emerged concrete evidence that a field common to the disciplines of genetics, paleontology, and systematics does really exist and this field is beginning to be clearly defined." He also agreed with Mayr's and Dobzhansky's ideas about founding a Society for the Study of Evolution and its journal. Specific planning was somewhat delayed until December 1945 and led to the formal launching of both the Society and the journal Evolution in June 1946 (Fig. 5.8).The next meeting took place during the December 1946 AAAS meetings in Boston. It was voted that the purpose of the society would be "the promotion of the study of organic evolution and the integration of the various fields of biology."

The main sporadic activity of the CCP under Simpson and Dobzhansky during 1945 and 1946 was the planning and organizing of the postponed major symposium in Princeton. Mayr was a member of the steering committee and G. Jepsen headed the local organization. The conference on "Genetics, Paleontology and Evolution" in January 1947 was culmination of work of the CCP and at the same time signaled the beginning of the new evolution society (Jepsen 1949). Due to Mayr's insistence David Lack from Britain was invited to bring ecology into the synthesis. But, as Mayr revealed in his autobiographical notes, Dobzhansky's coworker on Drosophila, J. T. Patterson of Texas, had not been invited (due to a confusion with Bryan Patterson of Chicago). Dobzhansky, enraged, was about to leave Princeton. Several of his friends managed to persuade him to stay, but he refused to contribute to the conference volume (1949) and to be listed as one of its editors.

The conference in 1947 was a confirmation of the evolutionary synthesis (or rather a synthesis because, by modern standards, it was far from complete). The books by Dobzhansky (1937), Mayr (1942), Huxley (1942), and Simpson (1944) had

Fig. 5.8. Ernst Mayr as cofounder of the Society for the Study of Evolution, 1946 (AMNH Library photographic collection, negative no. 122774)

all appeared several years earlier. The geneticists had realized that there was a large field of study in biodiversity and its origin, and the naturalists had realized that the evolutionary ideas of the early Mendelians based on large mutations (saltations) had been most misleading. Therefore, by 1947, there were no more arguments because both sides, the geneticists and the naturalists (systematists), understood that there was no conflict any longer between their thinking. As to Mayr's personal interactions with other North American "architects" of the evolutionary synthesis, his close relations with Dobzhansky have been detailed above (pp. 133, 185ff.) and his non-interaction with G. G. Simpson in New York during the 1930s-1940s was mentioned on p. 120. During the 1920s Bernhard Rensch had been Mayr's colleague at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin whose writings influenced Mayr as much as or even more than those of his teacher Erwin Stresemann (pp. 207208). As to his personal interactions with Julian Huxley (1887-1975), Sewall Wright (1889-1988), J. B. S. Haldane (1892-1964) and Ronald A. Fisher (1890-1962), Mayr said in an interview (Wilkins 2002):

"I knew Julian Huxley for a very long time as an ornithologist and we had met at international congresses and he was an enthusiastic outdoor birdwatcher so we got along just fine. Now Huxley was a really good friend; we visited each other's houses and our wives were friends. My only criticism of him was that he was so full of ideas and plans that there was very little cohesion between the things that he did. His book,'Evolution. The Modern Synthesis' (1942) was very good in detail but was chaotic in its composition. I now know also why he used to come and visit me in New York. He would sit across the table from me. He would put out a pad and say 'Now Ernst, what's the latest in evolutionary biology?' I would tell him and he would eagerly scribble and then I think he worked it out in a little more detail, fed it to his secretary, she put it together and there was his book! I'm exaggerating but you get the spirit. And so there really was very little in his 1942 book that was his original ideas. And no one ever quotes him as the originator of this or that idea. He is known mostly for coining the term 'the modern synthesis' and he had that term before there was a modern synthesis."

"The story that I was greatly influenced by Sewall Wright is mostly the concoction of Michael Ruse [e. g. 1999:118]. Actually I was not influenced very much, if at all, by Sewall Wright. He was a mathematician and looked at everything from that point of view and it just didn't make sense to me. I used to sit down next to him at Cold Spring Harbor when there were no other dinner companions and I'd try to get a conversation going and I never was successful." (See also p. 220). Mayr (1959) considered Wright as one of the mathematical geneticists whose theories referred to the same "beanbag genetics" as those of R. A. Fisher and J. B. S. Hal-dane who calculated independent effects of individual genes without taking into consideration genic interactions and factors other than random drift. Later Mayr admitted that his early views about Sewall Wright's theoretical contributions were not quite correct (p. 274).

"I never knew that J. B. S. Haldane was such a good outdoors man until one day when I visited him in Calcutta he took me to Orissa and we stayed overnight at a government guest house. This was right next to the fields, to a little native village and to really untouched Indian nature. I was an ardent birdwatcher at that time, this was in 1960 when I was about 56 years old. In the morning at about 5 AM I was out there and there were the most marvelous birds, the natives came out of their huts, it was a brilliant morning and I was just absolutely inebriated by this beautiful landscape. I came back to the guesthouse at 7 AM for breakfast and I was still full of enthusiasm and I held forth on how wonderful it was and all that. Suddenly Haldane interrupted me rudely saying 'Ernst, why didn't you take me along?' I said 'Well, I didn't know you'd be interested' and he said 'Of course.' So the next morning the arrangement was that he would knock at my door at 5 AM and he surely did and I took him out and we saw all these wonderful things again the next morning and he was just as enthusiastic as I was. We came home and we had had the most wonderful outdoor excursion and ever since that time I realized that in addition to all his mathematics and physiology, how much he was basically a friend of Nature.

I had a number of interactions with Ronald Fisher. I was editor of the journal Evolution and he and E. B. Ford submitted a joint paper in which they criticized a paper by Sewall Wright that I had published the issue before. In his paper, Wright showed (or thought he showed) that a particular change in a polymorphic pattern of one of their butterflies that they worked with was not a systemic selective change but could as well be due simply to random drift. Fisher and Ford were infuriated by this paper and they sent a rebuttal which not only used language unsuitable for a scientific journal but also didn't in any way answer Wright's criticism. They simply reiterated that it was systemic selection. Well, I read it as editor, and I said to myself 'I cannot publish this as it is.' I gave it to two other readers and they both agreed it would have to be changed, first of all the language had to be cleaned up, and secondly, they had to come to grips with the actual point of Wright's criticism. So with both of these things I returned the manuscript to Fisher together with the reviewers' letters and I got a very curt reply back from him saying that since obviously the editor of Evolution refuses to publish any paper that doesn't conform to his ideas, they didn't want to embarrass him and they were herewith withdrawing their paper.

Now there is a continuation to this story. A year or two later, one day at the luncheon table at the American Museum, Simpson said to me 'Oh, Sir Ronald came to see me this morning and when we had discussed what we wanted to discuss, I was going to bring him up to your office but at that moment Sir Ronald realized or remembered that he had an important appointment in downtown New York and left in a great hurry.' About another year later, I was in Cambridge, England, visiting Bill Thorpe. He was a very friendly person and as soon as I was there he said now we have to make a schedule for you, whom you have to see and all that and he mentioned Sir Ronald. I said 'Oh, don't bother. Sir Ronald doesn't want to see me' and Thorpe being such a kind person said 'Of course he would, naturally we must see him.' Well, I said 'OK, but it's your responsibility.' So he called his secretary and Sir Ronald wasn't there but she said that he'd be back at 11 o'clock. And so we timed it so that Thorpe herded me to Fisher's villa at 11 o'clock. Sir Ronald himself opened the door and he stepped outside just between me and Thorpe and in such a way that he turned his back to me and was facing Thorpe and started to talk to Thorpe and I was totally cut out. At this point, I thought well I can play that game too and I rotated around, facing him again from the other side. Then he had to give up and we went inside and, after that everything was reasonably civil."

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