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May 04

Mendel’s Dwarf: Part Two of Two

FT + Proven By SciencePost a comment • 284 views

Mendel’s Dwarf: Part Two of Two

So away from literary concerns, how is the science in Mendel’s Dwarf? Well don’t ask me, I gave up Biology aged thirteen because the experiments were not as good as Chemistry and Physics and it was a gurls science*. Instead I have used the book as a primer on Mendel and his pea experiments. And what did I learn? The following:

a) They knew less about probability and statistics in the nineteenth century than biology even. The exhaustive studies Mendel did crossing particular strains of a rather dull plant over and over again confirmed a trend which anyone who had done basic stats would have recognised straight away.

b) They knew even less about margins of error in the nineteenth century than they did about stats. You see the chances of various genetic combinations coming up are just like tossing a coin. So we can conclude that the results may tend towards the perfect result, but the chance of getting the perfect results is actually very slim. Mendel did his experiments thousands of time (he was a monk, he has plenty of time). And his results have barely any margin of error. So much so that it is almost certain that he fudged his results. Which is nice to know. He was right, but he cheated. Ah, wonderful human nature.

The problem with this revelation in the book is that it is couched in the terms of a fictional novel. How much can we trust the biographical information that is presented to us as the writings of a fictional character. The revelation of Mendel’s duplicity is presented as a counterpoint to a modern day action by the fictional Dr Benedict Lambert. It is rather convenient, which leads you to wonder how true the whole thing is. Independent infomation confirms the Mendel as cheater story (and Galileo too!), but here is the problem in getting ones factual info from fiction.

*I have no idea where I got the idea that biology was a gurls science, it may just have been in my school where the physics teacher was a scary man who all the gurls thought smelled bad. To be fair so did most of the boys too.

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