Are Mendel’s laws of genetics based on falsified data?

Image from Google Doodle, celebrating Mendel’s 189th birthday.

You may have first heard about Gregor Mendel back in high school biology class when you had genetic classes. Mendel, who was an Augustinian monk wrote a paper in 1866 that laid the basic foundation for the development of the modern genetics. Although we now recognize the importance of his paper, Mendel died before his findings were established as one of the most important discovery in genetics.

Mendel’s paper included data from experiments carried for 8 years, statistic analysis and mathematical models and as Hartl and Fairbanks (2007) put, “Mendel’s paper appears to reflect the author’s simplicity, modesty and guilelessness”. Mendel’s seminal paper still drives controversies so many years after its publication. Fisher, the famous statistician, studied Mendel’s paper and came to conclusion that the results were too good to be true, suggesting Mendel fiddled with the data (Fisher 1936). And many other papers followed that questioned Mendel’s honesty. It is a pity that Mendel’s original records are lost, presumably burned by the time of this death, and the missing original data just adds to the polemic. But the in last 10 years, a series of papers focusing on Mendel’s work has been published and they all came to the conclusion: Mendel did not fabricate his data. But unfortunately, allegations of data falsification still follows Mendel’s legacMendel’s paper indeed has few issues that would be considered not the best practices in research, such as not being specific about the methods and stating “further investigations” or reporting partial data from his experiments, repeating experiments the results were not according to the expected and pooling the data.

Based on extensive investigations of the plant material available at that time, historical facts and data from experiments conducted during Mendel’s time, Fairbanks and Rytting (2001) debunked all the allegations and came to conclusion that there is no justification to claim Mendel falsified his data.

The allegations that Mendel committed scientific misconduct are widespread and his reputation as a scientist has been tainted. These allegations don’t change Mendel’s law or the Mendelian genetics, which are the foundation of transmission genetics.

Literature

Fairbanks, D. and B. Rytting. 2001. Mendelian controversies: a botanical and historical review. Amer. J. Bot. 88(5):737-752.

Fisher, R. A. 1936. Has Mendel’s work been rediscovered? Annals of Science 1 (2):115-137

Hartl, D.  and D. Fairbanks (2007). Mud sticks: on the alleged falsification of Mendel’s data. Genetics 175:975-979.

 

 

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