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Volume 8 (2016) Current Issue

Can a History of Photosynthesis be Grand?   BOOK ESSAY

Andre M. Hahn

Kärin Nickelsen’s Explaining Photosynthesis makes an important contribution to the history of the plant sciences by offering an in-depth historical and philosophical exploration of photosynthesis research from its beginnings in the 1840s on into its mid-twentieth-century “golden age.” This trajectory traces how early diverse and open research programs gradually developed into more stable consensuses around methods and results through various heuristic and interdisciplinary strategies. Early photosynthesis research, like that of Justus Liebig and Adolf von Baeyer, was marked by “research opportunism” and “building-block” strategies. These early multidisciplinary approaches, while maintained to some degree, gradually developed into more fully engaged interdisciplinary strategies over subsequent research generations. These later approaches were exemplified in the mid-twentieth century by the Berkeley Group’s work on dark reactions and the international efforts researching light reactions. While Nickelsen's focus on philosophical and sociological aspects differs from other histories of photosynthesis that focus on discovery, they share a common narrative form which develops towards a particular end. Rather than the accumulation of facts characteristic of discovery narratives, Nickelsen’s narrative is characterized by the increasing sophistication of methods and models used to reflect photosynthetic phenomena.

Cross-cultural Research, Evolutionary Psychology, and Racialism: Problems and Prospects

John P. Jackson, Jr.

Philosophers defending evolutionary/cognitive accounts of racialism argue that cross-cultural psychological research has discovered similar patterns of racial reasoning around the globe. Such research, they hold, simultaneously supports the existence of an underlying cognitive mechanism for essentialist thinking while undercutting social constructionist accounts of racialism. I argue that they are mistaken for two reasons. First, evolutionary/cognitive researchers are unfamiliar with constructionist accounts of global racialism which explain similarities and differences in racialism. Second, evolutionary/cognitive accounts that make cross-cultural claims shoulder probative obligations for showing the independence of the cultures being compared, and these obligations have not been met. I argue that further evolutionary/cognitive research on racialism must account for constructionist models of global racialism while meeting the argumentative obligations of cross-cultural research.

On Recognising the Paradox of Sex

Joachim Dagg

George C. Williams and John Maynard Smith arrived at slightly different conclusions about the evolutionary maintenance of sexual reproduction, despite that both were staunch neo-Darwinians, simply because they approached the problem from different angles (life history vs. population genetics). This difference between their perspectives made them notice the so-called paradox of sexual reproduction for the first time. That is, Williams and Maynard Smith used their difference in perspective constructively, in order to raise a problem that had previously been overlooked by ‘monocular’ views. Evidence from before, during and after the recognition of the paradox supports this thesis of constructive difference. First, Maynard Smith had diagnosed the individual cost of sexual reproduction in full detail by 1958, but nobody raised an eyebrow for a decade. Second, both the correspondence between Williams and Maynard Smith and their publications show that they saw the same problem but against different backgrounds, because they viewed it from different perspectives. Third, further differences between Williams and Maynard Smith concerning the evolution of sex make no sense except in the light of the initial difference in their perspectives.