History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 138–150

Ernst Mayr’s interactions with J. B. S. Haldane

Notes and Comments

DOI: 10.1007/s40656-016-0098-x

Cite this article as:
Rao, V. & Nanjundiah, V. HPLS (2016) 38: 138. doi:10.1007/s40656-016-0098-x


Ernst Mayr and J. B. S. Haldane, major contributors to the ‘modern synthesis’ in evolutionary theory, set an example of how scientific disagreements need not come in the way of friendship. After getting acquainted, they kept discussing issues related to evolution until just before Haldane’s death in 1964. Their dissimilar backgrounds meant that they adopted different approaches. A major disagreement emerged regarding the right way to look at the role of genes in evolution. Mayr felt that the elementary models of population genetics were oversimplifications and therefore inadequate for representing evolutionary processes, though he was not consistent in his attitude. Haldane, on the other hand, maintained that the mathematical treatment of simple models had an important role to play. The Mayr-Haldane interactions illustrate divergent viewpoints concerning the utility of mathematics in biology.


Population genetics Beanbag dispute Evolution Mathematical models 

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of Advanced StudiesBangaloreIndia
  2. 2.Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS)Wallenberg Research Centre at Stellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa
  3. 3.Centre for Human GeneticsBangaloreIndia

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