The so-called "classical/balance" controversy pitted against each other two of the most charismatic figures in genetics and evolutionary biology in one of the most bitter arguments ever waged in those fields. The debate centered ostensibly on the issue of genetic variation within species. The classical view held that there is little such variation and that natural selection weeds this out. The balance view held that there is much genetic variation within species and that variation is actually maintained by natural selection. Throughout the 1950's and 1960's, H. J. Muller, the principal champion of the "classical" view, and Theodosius Dobzhansky, who promoted the "balance" position, were locked in dispute, in part on account of their personalities, in part on account of the nature of the scientific issues involved, and in part on account of the social-policy issues connected with the dispute. Dr. Beatty will examine this controversy, dealing not only with its long lasting intractability and its sudden transformation in the late 1960's, but also with the more general nature of evolutionary biology since the heralded evolutionary synthesis of the 1920's and 1930's. For, the classical/balance controversy is a revealing microcosm of the post-synthesis period. In the first place, it illustrates the priorities of evolutionary biologists as they turned from the success of the synthesis to other issues, both long standing ones which had been set aside during the formation of the synthesis and new ones which arose out of it. The controversy exemplifies as well as the methodological, epistemological, and conceptual problems that befuddled the pursuit of those post-synthesis goals. Moreover, the classical/balance controversy illustrates the sorts of social policy (broadly speaking, "eugenic") concerns that were inspired by synthesis and post-synthesis developments, and by concurrent social and political changes. Besides scientific papers and books published in connection with the controversy, Dr. Beatty will also examine a number of publications concerning the broader social implications of the dispute. He will also use transcripts and reports of meetings, correspondence, unpublished papers, diaries, notebooks, lecture notes, exams, etc. He will also interview a number of scientists who are still active and were involved in the debate. This well-rounded study promises to make a major contribution to our understanding not only of the development of contemporary evolutionary biology but also of the ways social forces help to shape how science works.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Alicia Armstrong
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Minnesota Twin Cities
United States
Zip Code