ISSN 1982-1026

Boletim de História
e Filosofia da Biologia

Publicado pela Associação Brasileira de Filosofia e História da Biologia (ABFHiB)

Artigo: “The mystery unraveled: the author of the article ‘Gregor Mendel: An Opponent of Descent with Modification’ appears and reveals the fantastic story obscured by the Berlin Wall!”

Nelio Bizzo
Anyone who has already carried out a bibliographical survey on articles about Mendel’s work certainly came across the article that appears in the title: “Gregor Mendel: An Opponent of Descent with Modification”, published in 1988. And, most likely the same researcher went after other publications by the same author, L.A. Callender. The article provides valuable information about the research carried out in Brno, where precious relics are kept, such as the copy of The Origin of Species that belonged to Mendel and which has many scribbles. The author says that his work is part of an “unpublished thesis”, what I understood as a lack of interest by a commercial publisher, as (we have to admit) occurs with the vast majority of our theses and dissertations.

The conclusion of the thesis appears stamped in the title: Mendel was an anti-evolutionist, perhaps even a Lineu-style creationist, admitting something like crosses and original hybrids, but no “transmutation”, as it was then called. It is not reasonable that someone has done research with primary sources looking at the papers of Gregor Mendel, who presented his results on pea crosses at a scientific congress session where Darwin’s ideas were discussed, at the height of his repercussion, came to the conclusion that he was against them, finished a doctoral thesis, and published only a relatively short article. However, when looking for other publications with the same authorship, a disconcerting failure is reached. Nothing else can be found! How could that be possible?

An alternative would be to write for the London faculty that appears as an institutional affiliation of authorship, especially when seeing the same surname among the professors in office. And one more disappointment: not one, but two professors have the same surname but have never heard of L.A. Callender. A visit to the English institution’s library would seem to be an infallible alternative to finally get to know such a thesis. However, that also does not result in success. The mystery remained. A thesis with revolutionary results, work known to almost every historian in the field, and no one, simply no one with whom I spoke and who came to know the article, did not have the faintest idea about the author. What would have happened to this real “Oscar Wilde” in the History of Biology? I thought that he (or she) should have been involved in some tragic story to the point of not having had the opportunity to write more about his/her findings and conclusions.

What was my surprise when I received a contact from a certain Lenval Alan Callender, who had read an article of my own (together with Paulo Sano and Paulo Henrique Nico Monteiro) on the same topic, published in Portuguese, in the journal Genética na Escola, in a special issue about Mendel. He advanced some criticisms, which I very much thanked, and asked about his other works on the subject and his thesis mentioned in the 1988 article. The story he told me surprised me to the point of writing on the same day for my great idols of the History of Biology who live (relatively) near London: Jon Hodge, Jim Moore, Greg Radick, and Peter Bowler. They were equally surprised by the revelations.

Lenval Alan Callender was a doctoral student, willing to carry out a History of Biology work with the primary sources kept in Brno, then Czechoslovakia. He was guided by none other than prof. Vítězslav Orel (1926-2015), director of the Mendelianum for many years which he had helped to organize since the early 1960s. Mendel was seen as an enemy of Soviet science, especially for his opposition to Lysenko’s ideas. The country was occupied by Soviet troops and Darwin had long been a great idol in the bloc of socialist republics. Any evidence that that famous Catholic priest was contrary to Darwin’s ideas, in addition to Lysenko’s, would seriously jeopardize the very existence of that place dedicated to preserving his memory and encouraging studies following his conclusions.

It is not surprising, therefore, that an already mature researcher, who had published his first article in 1968, on DNA polymerase purification, did not find much enthusiasm from his advisor when he presented him with a conclusion that compromised the very existence of the institution he ran. Prof. Orel endeavored to show just the opposite, that is, the full compatibility between Mendel and Darwin, proclaimed since the beginning of the 20th century by Bateson, the most enthusiastic Darwinist about Mendel’s work ever. What did Orel do with Callender’s thesis? He simply disapproved of it, saying that he did not subscribe to it and, therefore, he should try to reach another conclusion or change the graduate program. As simple as that!

The “unpublished thesis” was a thesis that had not been presented, which was kept in the file of its author, without anyone having heard of it. Thus, the meaning of “unpublished thesis” is quite different from its literal translation into Portuguese and from its meaning in our graduate programs. The student who cannot submit his thesis simply fails and loses all credits. It is not surprising, therefore, that Lenval Alan Callender decided to change the field, specializing in Immanuel Kant, with a new thesis, and dedicating the rest of his career to Kantian philosophy.

The case is absolutely interesting, since after prof. Orel’s passing over, his conduct has been studied and a recent publication speaks precisely of the way he passionately defended Mendel. But the effects of Soviet occupation seem sublimated in this context and this story can be taken as a new flashlight to shed light on this dark period of history.

I asked him whether he thinks about finally publishing his thesis and his answer was positive. He is retired after having made a career at the famous Trinity College in Dublin (Ireland), institutional link since his student days. Another student from the same institution was … Oscar Wilde!

Citação bibliográfica deste artigo:

BIZZO, Nelio. “The mystery unraveled: the author of the article ‘Gregor Mendel: An Opponent of Descent with Modification’ appears and reveals the fantastic story obscured by the Berlin Wall!” Boletim de História e Filosofia da Biologia, 14 (4), dez. 2020. Online version available at: Accessed: dd/mm/yyyy. [insert date of access to the online version]