Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blog August 31 My books


Books Published

1. The Gene: A Critical History Saunders 1966
I showed how the idea of hereditary units evolved from mid-19th century to the early 1960s. In each chapter I showed how a new idea or interpretation contended with one or more rival views of the same data. I explored what made one side win out and why some concepts are revived a generation or more after they were in contention. The entire book was based on my reflections on published articles of those in contention.
2. Genes, Radiation and Society: The Life and Work of H. J. Muller Cornell 1981
Muller was my mentor and I used interviews of his colleagues and students as well as the many tens of thousands of letters in the IU Lilly Library archives to construct his life and relate it to his scientific work and his applications of science to society. I found his social views on science (positive genetics by choice and radiation protection) consistent but his basic science shiftged with each new institution he joined. Muller was intense, committed, idealistic, and often wrong in his trust in the leadership of movements he admired. He had contradictory features to his personality and generated foes as often as generated admirers. His ability to bounce back from his set-backs, many self-imposed, I found remarkable.

3. Human Genetics (text) Heath 1984
I used this as a text for my Biology 101-102 course at Stony Brook University. My non-majors course did not fit the prevailing market’s idea of a biology for non-majors text. I felt it was better to work with most of what I taught than to teach a course for lower division undergraduates with no text book at all. In this book I covered the cell, the gene, developmental biology (the life cycle), evolution, and molecular biology. I considered these five concepts the foundation for understanding biology. I related problems of society to these five concepts and felt I had provided the science a person needs to know to be an informed citizen.

4. The Unfit: A History of a Bad Idea Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2001
This is a history of the roots of eugenics, before eugenics had its name in 1883. People have designated other people as unfit to reside among their peers or even unfit to live since biblical history was recorded. It shifted from transgressions against God as the cause of their being unfit to a scientific basis in the 1700s when masturbation became the first alleged cause of unfit people described as degenerates. Degeneracy theory had a strong appeal in the nineteenth century as the industrial revolution created urbanization and the problems of dealing with paupers, psychotics, the mentally retarded, vagrants, orphans, the physically handicapped, the aged, and the criminal. After Weismann’s work on the germplasm as unaltered by environmental conditions, the isolation of degenerates occupied social workers and physicians, leading to the asylum movement, marriage law restrictions, and compulsory sterilization of the unfit. I show how the two wings of the eugenics movement revolved in the 20th century and why state-mandated eugenics died.

5. Mendel’s Legacy: The Origin of Classical Genetics Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press 2004
Classical genetics was assembled from breeding analysis, cell biology, reproductive biology, evolution, population genetics, and biochemistry. Molecular genetics begins in the 1950s with the recognition of nucleic acids as the chemical basis for gene structure and function. I show how these components developed, most of them initially in Europe and by 1902-1920 mostly in the United States with the theory of the gene and the chromosome theory of heredity. I argue that the American PhD starting at Johns Hopkins University in 1876 created the interdisciplinary approach that brought about these unions of disciplines. I also argue that incrementalism and new technologies are characteristic of biological revolutions and not paradigm shifts.

6. Times of Triumph, Times of Doubt, Science and the Battle for Public Trust Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2006
Scientists are often idealistic and have good intentions when applying their knowledge to society. Why then are there bad outcomes that sometimes arise from these applications. I discuss these concerns for thalidomide, radiation usage, DES or diethylstilbestrol in medicine, DDT and other pesticides, Agent Orange and other herbicides, eugenics, and other instances of known failures. There are also fears of science that are unjustified and that have not led to harm such recombinant DNA technology and genetically modified foods. I argue that where regulation is either self-imposed or regulated by the state, there is a more careful monitoring of the transition of laboratory findings to commercial or health usage.

7. Neither Gods nor Beasts: How Science Is Changing Who We Think We Are. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2008
Many philosophers and scientists accept a universal human nature for our species. I argue that this is disputable. But what is not disputable is the way we transform our understanding of ourselves and society through new knowledge, especially scientific findings. I show how this came about first through human anatomy and physiology, leading to a shared understanding of the mammalian body that made it likely an evolutionary origin would be found to explain those resemblances. I show that when the microscope was added to the tools for studying our bodies, we became aware of our cellular composition. This led in turn to the recognition of cells associated with reproduction. This led to the recognition of chromosomes involved in the fertilization process and the genes in those chromosomes as the basis for life itself. With the introduction of biochemical processes and their genetic control in the 1940s humans began to see themselves differently. It led to concepts of molecular disease, of the kinship we can explore through our DNA sequences, and the deep understanding of fundamental processes in metabolism. None of these could have been predicted by theory alone. As we begin to isolated our neuronal functions, synaptic associations, and genetic functioning in regions of our brains that understanding will be more surprising and informative to our sense of who we are.
8. Mutation: The History of an Idea From Darwin to Genomics. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2011
This work covers the evolution of scientific language and how it changes each generation in response to new findings and new technologies. I begin with Darwinian fluctuations, the idea of “bud sports,” atavisms, and the amateur breeder’s vocabulary of the mid 1800s. I show how Bateson introduced a new set of terms (homeotic and meristic variations) and conflicts broke out over continuous and discontinuous traits as the driving mechanism of evolution. I show how Mendelism, the chromosome theory of heredity, and the work of Morgan and his students shifted the vocabulary of classical genetics. The molecular era had a similar transforming effect on genetics, with base replacements, transitions, transversions, and frame shift events associated with point mutations. As tools revealed DNA sequences and as gene structure proved more complex than bacterial models, the vocabulary for introns, exons, splicing, and other features of genetic transcription and translation multiplied. Popular views of mutations also changed with somewhat different meanings associated with the new terminology.

Other books (edited):

9. Modern Biology Braziller 1967
I use a selection of articles or excerpts from books that first introduced ideas of the cell, the gene, the life cycle, evolution, and molecular biology. I intended it for classes where undergraduate students could learn about how science works through reading of original published research articles.

10. Man’s Future Birthright: Essays on science and Humanity by H. J. Muller [edited by Elof Carlson] SUNY Press 1973
Muller’s social essays include his views on eugenics, radiation safety, reading science fiction, extraterrestrial life, freedom, peace, the evolution of values, and his views of what the world will be like in 100 years.

11. The Modern Concept of Nature: Essays on theoretical biology by H. J, Muller [edited by Elof Carlson] SUNY Press 1973
I chose essays on mutation, inducing mutations with radiation, chromosome breakage as a tool, how physics can solve genetic problems, genetics in relation to evolution, and the gene as the basis of life,

12. Gene Theory Dickenson Publishing Company 1967
The articles I included were on gene continuity and discontinuity, pseudoallelism, genetic fine structure, the structure of DNA, on genetic colinearity, on the molecular basis of mutation, on the operon model of regulation, and three different views of the gene.

Books in preparation:

1. Sex Determination: A History [in production, Indiana University Press, estimated date of issue, September 2012]
I cover views of sex determination in antiquity based on anatomy, temperature, activity, and celestial events. I introduce Aristotle’s, Plato’s, and Galen’s views of sex determination and their influences in medieval thinking on sex determination. I cover the discovery of the egg, the discovery of sperm, the proof that a union of one egg and one sperm results in a new life cycle, the working out of male and female reproductive organs, the discovery of sex hormones, the chromosomal basis of sex determination, comparative sex determination across the phyla, and the genetic and molecular basis for sex determination. I show the imperfections of the sex determining process and the formation of chimeras, mosaics, hermaphrodites, and pseudohermaphrodites. I distinguish the sex determination phenomena from gender differentiation and socializing and show how this has led to conflicts of religion, society, the law, and the public perception of sex. I attempt to relate the top down (gender studies) approach with the bottom up ( biological) approaches.
2. Agent Orange: How a plant growth hormone became an agent of war [sixth draft completed]
The idea of physical or chemical influences on plant growth begin with Darwin’s experiments on plant responses to light and gravity. In the early twentieth century plant diffusible substances were identified as controlling the bending of stems by differential cell multiplication. The hormone involved was called auxin. By the 1930s synthetic auxins were being tested as plant regulators to produce seedless varieties and to stimulate rapid growth from cuttings and isolated plant tissue. During World War II the synthetic auxins 24D and 245T were identified as agents that could kill broad-leafed plants. The research was shifted to secret studies at Fort Dietrich in the US and independently by British investigators to see if these agents could be used to destroy crops of the enemy. The war ended before they could be used. They were revived by the British in the Malay insurgency and adopted by the Vietnamese through consultation with US military and defense research agencies (especially DARPA). The escalating use of a mixture of these two agents, called Agent Orange, resulted in substantial ecological changes in the sprayed areas but the military value is disputed by the military itself. Health effects have been reported since the first synthesis of chlorinated herbicides in the factories that make them, among civilians exposed to them, and among workers spraying them. Of particular concern after the war ended was the effect on Us and other veterans as well as on the Vietnamese population. I show that a clear cut answer is not possible and that there is presently no way to assess the actual damage done to health or heredity of these veterans. The issue is essentially a political one and not a scientific one.

3. Faust: My First 50 Years [a novel, second draft completed]
4. A More Perfect Union [a novel, first draft completed]
5. Bits and Pieces: A Memoir of my Youth [first draft completed]
6. Memoirs of Florence Dawald Miller [completed, privately printed, Bloomington Indiana July 2011]
7. Dialogs with my Dead Father [first draft completed]
8. Human and medical genetics: a history [eight chapters done of projected 24]
9. Life Lines [100 essays from my newspaper column, first draft completed]
10. My Heroes [7 of 17 chapters completed]
11. The Pleasures of Living: How to enjoy life without relying on the supernatural [First draft completed]
12. The Good Teacher [first draft completed]
13. The Biology of Human Sexuality [text, first draft completed]
14. The last Evolutionist [novel, first draft completed]
15. The Science Maven [novel, first draft completed]
16. Genes, Sex, and Evolution: A discussion [novel written as Platonic dialogs, first draft completed]

If you are an editor, publisher, or literary agent and wish more details on my unpublished books and works in progress, please contact me at

Monday, August 8, 2011

Review of latest book Mutation in Human Genetics

I was pleased to read Peter Harper's fine review of my book on the history of mutation. It appears in the journal Human Genetics July 2011. Harper is a medical geneticist who has written an excellent history of medical genetics. He is at the University of Cardiff, Wales, UK.