Wikipedia:Peer review/History of biology/archive1

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

History of biology[edit]

I've brought this article as far as I can without more help from. It needs especially comments and revisions to make it a balanced treatment. This is such a huge topic that no article can be perfect, but I've tried to make sure it hits the really important aspects of the history of biology, without going into too much or too little detail in any one area. Inevitably, it falls short in many areas, but it's hard for me to get any further with it without some interaction.

I also would like some help sources and revising the most recent developments and other areas that I don't have good sources for (e.g., the history of RNAi, and of stem cell and senescence research).

Another thing that would be helpful is more images, especially for the 20th century. If you know of appropriate illustrations, please suggest or add them.--ragesoss 06:13, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

Review by Awadewit[edit]

What a pleasure to read such excellent articles. I have reviewed the sections up through the 19th century. I will do the 20th century later. Overall, I think it is very good. Most of my comments deal with the prose.

  • I thought that the caption to the "Tree of Life" illustration was kind of cheesy.
  • The history of biology traces human study of the living world from ancient to modern times. - something about this sentence is awkward - I kept getting hung up on "human study"
  • There are a lot of links in the lead, which to my eyes makes it more difficult to read; is there any way to cut them down?
  • In the 18th century through to the late 1800s - awkward
  • Into the 19th century - awkward - why not just "In"?
  • explorer-naturalists such as Alexander von Humboldt investigated the interaction between organisms and their environment, and the ways this depends on geography - not clear what "this" refers to
  • The end of the 19th century saw the disproof of spontaneous generation and the rise of the germ theory of disease - "disproof of" seemed odd to me
  • I wonder if the lead isn't too detailed - too many fields named and too many scientists named. Rather than an overarching picture of the history, I felt like I was being beseiged by lists and names.
  • Heading: "Etymology" of what? Perhaps that could be made clearer.
  • Before biology, there were several terms used for study of animals and plants. - "used for the study of"
  • Do you really need the paragraphs on "Biological knowledge in early cultures"? It isn't really "biological knowledge" anyway - not as we think of it now. It seemed a stretch to include it. Why are we discussing their agricultural practices but not those of people throughout time?
    • This section is intended as a brief treatment of what the state of biological knowledge was before the traditions of systematic knowledge that begin with the Greeks. I tried to be even-handed and general about it; while it could be cut and it isn't very relevant to the rest of the narrative, I think it's something some readers will be looking for. If others agree with Awadewit, I have not problem with removing that section.--ragesoss 19:28, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
  • Natural philosophy and natural theology encompassed the conceptual basis of plant and animal life, dealing with problems of why organisms exist and behave the way they do, though these subjects also included what is now geology, physics, chemistry, and astronomy. - I would not include "natural theology" in this sentence; the link doesn't support you either. The two "disciplines" were not identical (as you know).
    • I think it's important to mention natural theology here, as the extension of natural philosophical inquiry into the world of wild plants and animals (in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when the naturalist approach was really established as an important endeavor) was significantly driven by natural theology. Neither of our current pages does justice to the significance of natural theology as a driving factor in early modern science or the degree of overlap between the two (though of course, they certainly weren't identical).--ragesoss 19:28, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
      • Fair enough, but this sentence is misleading. It needs to somehow indicate that natural theology focused on the religious consequences of natural philosophy or something like that. Awadewit 20:07, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
  • However, the interwoven path of biological thinking and investigation in the Western tradition is usually traced back to secular tradition of ancient Greek philosophy. - this sentence is vague; it is also missing a "the" - "to the secular tradition"
  • Though his early natural philosophy work was speculative, Aristotle's later biological writings demonstrate great concern for empiricism, biological causation, and the diversity of life. - awkward; "natural philosophical"?; how can Aristotle demonstrate concern for empiricism? - diction is odd
  • A few scholars in Hellenistic period under the Ptolemies - "in the Hellenistic period" - what is with all of the missing articles? :)
  • Claudius Galen became the most important authority for medicine and anatomy. - "authority on medicine"
  • You should probably explain the teleological idea of life; that is not a commonly-known word or concept.
  • Caption: De arte venandi, by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, was an influential medieval natural history that explored bird morphology. - "medieval natural history text" perhaps?
  • In 1543, Andreas Vesalius inaugurated the modern era of Western medicine with his seminal human anatomy treatise De humani corporis fabrica, which was based dissection of corpses. - "was based on"
  • Vesalius was the first in a series of anatomists who gradually replaced scholasticism with empiricism in physiology and medicine. - you might explain this a bit
  • Briefly describe beastiaries - a phrase will do.
  • This was part of a larger transition in world views that continued into the 17th century, as the traditional metaphor of nature as organism was replaced, with the rise of the mechanical philosophy, by the nature as machine metaphor. - awkward to have the "with the rise of mechanical philosophY" interrupting your nice metaphor story
  • Botanists such as John Ray worked to incorporate the flood of newly discovered organism shipped from across the globe into a coherent taxonomy - "organisms"
  • Debate over another flood catalyzed the development of paleontology - "another flood" is cute but confusing
  • Don't we still use the Linnaean system or something related to it? Shouldn't that be mentioned?
  • By 1900, much of these domains overlapped - "many of these domains"
  • Caption: In Micrographia, Robert Hooke had applied the word cell to biological structures, but it was not until the 19th century that scientists considered cells the universal basis of life. - Make it clear that the picture is from Hooke. Also, why do you have a 17th century picture in the 19th century section?
    • The picture is here because the section with Hooke is already full of pictures, and this is the best illustration I can find to illustrate cell theory (in the sparsely illustrated 19th century section. It also makes explicit a connection (between microscopy and cell theory) that is only implicit in the main text. At least, that was my reasoning. --ragesoss 20:25, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
      • Right, I understand that, but it seems like you should have a 19c picture in the 19c section, doesn't it? Awadewit 21:05, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
        • Alas, it does seem that way. I've moved the Hooke picture up (now, at least at my image size setting, it physically bridges the 17th and 18th century section with the 19th century section, for added symbolic impact). I wish I had I could find more nice 19th century images to decorate this article (not to mention 20th century images).--ragesoss 21:57, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
  • while debates over vitalism vs. mechanism continued apace - not clear what this means to a reader who doesn't already know because you haven't mentioned what "vitalism" is up until now
  • One central issue was the distinction between organic and inorganic substances - "one central issue" of what?
  • a field that developed quickly after the discover of the first hormone, secretin, in 1902 - "discovery"
  • importance and diversity of experimental physiology methods - "physiological"
  • created a more successful evolutionary theory based on natural selection - more successful or more accurate?
    • More successful is the key; while we can now look and see that it is more accurate, many would have argued at the time that while Darwin's work, framed by his natural selection theory, was more successful at demonstrating evolution (because of the strong evidence), the theory itself was not accurate. Maybe some day I'll write an article on the eclipse of Darwinism, which is a big, gaping hole in history of evolutionary thought; hopefully someone else will get to it before I do. (Basically, this is the point of every book Peter J. Bowler has ever written.)--ragesoss 20:44, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
      • I see. Perhaps this could be briefly explained in the article for curious folks like myself? Awadewit 21:05, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
        • Between "Though natural selection would not be accepted as the primary mechanism of evolution until well into the 20th century, most scientists were convinced of evolution and common descent by the end of the 19th century." and the explanation of alternate theories in the "classical genetics and evolutionary synthesis" section below, I think it covers it appropriately. What kind of further explanation do you have in mind?--ragesoss 22:03, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
          • You do realize that those statements do not repeat your explanation, right? :) My point was, when I was reading and I reached "successful," I thought to myself: "is this article saying that Darwin's theory won out because it was accurate or for some other reason?" Saying that scientists were convinced at a certain time doesn't mean that they were convinced because of its accuracy; the sentence gives no reason for why they were convinced, actually. What convinced them? Also, as to the later section, I know what those alternate theories are, but I don't think your average reader is going to, so I'm not sure that that section is as persuasive as you think. You must ask yourself - are readers going to click on each theory? I have my doubts. Do what you think best. I just wanted to raise this issue. Awadewit 22:41, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
              • You're right. It's easy to forget how much background knowledge you bring to the topics you're familiar with. I've tried to do your concerns justice with some expansion.--ragesoss 23:04, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
                • It's so hard to put oneself in the position of an inquiring, yet still ignorant (I don't mean in a bad way), reader. What is the best way to introduce the material? What order should it go in? How much should be included? It's just like teaching. Awadewit 06:10, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
  • Though natural selection would not be accepted as the primary mechanism of evolution until well into the 20th century - by scientists or the public?
    • Both. Scientists possibly more so than the public.--ragesoss 20:44, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
      • Perhaps this could be mentioned in the article for the sake of clarity? Awadewit 21:05, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
        • For the sake of scope, this article is focused on scientists'/scholars' work and ideas, and the second half of the sentence explicitly refers to scientists. I don't think added mention of the public also not accepting evolution is helpful.--ragesoss 22:08, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
  • I would mention Origin of Species in the "Evolution and biogeography" section.
  • I would emphasize the importance of evolution more - it was the single most important biological discovery during the nineteenth century. That needs to be made clear. I would say, in general, that each section should try to explain to the reader what was more important and/or influential and what was less. That way everything doesn't seem of equal import. Harvey, for example, should receive extra attention. Awadewit 18:44, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

Thank so much for this. I've tried to address everything I didn't reply to specifically. I eagerly await the review of the second half.--ragesoss 20:51, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

part 2[edit]

  • However, most work was still in the natural history mode - "most work was still done in the"?
  • "(which were not actually present in Mendel's work)." - I see no reason for the italics.
  • Soon after, cytologists proposed that chromosomes were the hereditary material. - might you mention what "cytologists" are? That is not a common word.
  • Between 1910 and 1915, Thomas Hunt Morgan and his fly lab forged these two ideas - the "and his fly lab" clause is awkward - it kind of sounds like flies were working in the lab - was it fly experiments?
  • Building on his work on heredity and hybridization - who does the "his" refer to (this is at the beginning of a paragraph)?
  • The second paragraph of "Classical genetics" is disjointed and a bit hard to follow. You need to link the sentences and ideas together more coherently.
  • Is the gene-centered view of evolution really that controversial?
  • "Further developments in evolutionary theory" seems to have two major topics - why don't you divide the section into two separate paragraphs? Right now, the paragraph seems a little disjointed.
  • In the early 20th century, naturalists were faced with increasing pressure to professionalize and add rigor and preferably experimentation to their methods (as the newly prominent laboratory-based biological disciplines had done). - no parallel structure and a lot of "and's"
  • Perhaps you could briefly describe "quadrat" since you invoke it as an example?
    • I didn't realize quadrat was a redirect to square. I've made it into a stub. That it is a quantitative method of field biology is as far as I think it needs to go in the history of biology article.--ragesoss 07:59, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
  • Zoologists and botanists did what they could to mitigate the unpredictability of the living world - vague - explain further - second half of sentence is not enough
  • set the pace for the kinds of quantitative methods that spread to the developing ecological specialties - "set the pace" doesn't seem quite right - metaphor is off
    • I changed the metaphor to "[the studies] were pioneers among the succession of quantitative methods that colonized the developing ecological specialties.", as in pioneer species, ecological succession, and colonization. Is that too cheesy and/or convoluted?
      • Well, of course, "colonizing" has a negative connotation to it. Awadewit 14:25, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
        • One might view the professionalization of ecology as the death of natural history.--ragesoss 15:18, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
  • Following the rise of classical genetics, many biologists—including a new wave of physical scientists in biology—pursued the question of the gene and its physical nature. - This sentence suggests that the "Origins of molecular biology" section should follow the "classical genetics" section.
    • Yeah, it should.--ragesoss 07:59, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
  • The adoption of simpler model systems like the bread mold Neurospora crassa made it possible to connect genetics to biochemistry, most importantly with Beadle and Tatum's "one gene, one enzyme" hypothesis in 1941. - I understand this sentence, but I have a feeling a lot of people wouldn't, especially the "simple model systems" part.
  • By 1953 James D. Watson and Francis Crick showed that the structure of DNA was a double helix and showed its probable connection to replication. - "showed" twice
  • And, once again, Rosalind Franklin gets left out. I would include her; her discoveries were essential for DNA.
  • Please explain in your caption about the "central dogma" that Crick was being ironic about the word "dogma."
  • In 1965 it was shown that normal cells in culture divide only a fixed number of times (the Hayflick Limit) then aged and died. - verb tenses - "divide . . . age. . . and . . die"
  • The last paragraph of the "Expansion of molecular biology" needs to be better explained for the lay reader (those are HOX genes, right?)
    • I'm still not sure what to do with this paragraph. It's been sitting around for long while, but I don't have any sources on hand for the history of stem cells and developmental genetics, and I also haven't figured out how I can take this content and make it fit somewhere logical. I've been hoping someone would come along and take the problem off my hands. I'll figure something out.--ragesoss 08:58, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
  • "Molecular systematics" also needs to be de-jargonized and explained better for the lay reader.
  • I felt as if the 20th century section also suffered from a lack of priority - the discovery of DNA should glow as the most amazing biological achievement of the century with the mapping of the genome a technological achievement that provides the basis for nearly unlimited work. I felt that the thrill of discovery was missing a little here as well as the importance of some of these topics.
    • Double helix, bah. About 2/3 of the prestige of the discovery of the double helix is due to Watson's fantastically successful myth-making. From a strictly intellectual history perspective (not that I endorse that as the best way to do history of science), it's only marginally more important than 10 or 20 other pieces of 20th century biology, and probably less important than 3 or 4 others. Nonetheless, I've expanded and emphasized it a bit more.--ragesoss 08:58, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
      • Well, if that is the case, those 3 or 4 others should receive priority (I was just relying on my history of biology class which emphasized DNA). My larger point is, again, priority - some things should really stand out as important. Awadewit 14:25, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
        • I have tried to emphasize DNA; I think it's in keeping with the best history of molecular biology/biochemistry sources in terms of proportionality. I think the main place for emphasis is the introduction. It's hard for me to justify added emphasis to a few main things when there are so many other things that could be added, at the cost of one extra sentence at a time. Although I suspect that over time, the emphasis on parts of the history of biology that are already well-known will see some gradual accretion within the article.--ragesoss 15:18, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

Overall, an excellent article. Awadewit 06:08, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

    • Phew! I think it will be ready to move on to the next stage, once that problem paragraph gets dealt with.--ragesoss 08:58, 23 April 2007 (UTC)