Share

Oops! The 5 Greatest Scientific Blunders

Clara Moskowitz
Published: May 28, 2013

Darwin's Notion of Heredity

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Charles Darwin achieved an amazing feat when he came up with his theory of natural selection in 1859.

"Darwin was an incredible genius," Livio told LiveScience. "His idea of evolution by natural selection is just mind-boggling — how he came up with something so all-encompassing as that. Plus Darwin really didn't know any mathematics so his theory is entirely non mathematical."

This feat is even more incredible given the notion of heredity (how traits are passed from parents to offspring) that Darwin and scientists of the time subscribed to would have made natural selection impossible. At the time, people thought the characteristics of the mother and the father simply get blended in the offspring just as a can of black paint and a can of white paint blend to create gray when combined.

Darwin's error was in not recognizing the conflict between this idea and his new theory. "If you introduce one black cat into a million white cats, the theory of blending heredity would just dilute the black color away completely. There's no way you would ever end up with black cats," Livio said. "Darwin didn't understand this, he really didn't catch this point."

It wasn't until the concept of Mendelian inheritance was widely accepted and understood in the early 1900s that the puzzle pieces of natural selection fell into place. Gregor Mendel proposed correctly that when traits from two parents come together, rather than blending, one or the other is expressed.

"As it turned out, Mendelian genetics worked precisely to solve this problem. In Mendelian genetics you mix more like you're mixing two decks of cards, where each card retains its identity — not like paint," Livio said.


Featured Blogs

Another Record Rainfall in Southern France

By Christopher C. Burt
September 30, 2014

It is hard to believe that another rainstorm of equal intensity to that which I blogged about just 11 days ago has again struck the Languedoc Region of Southern France. This time the focus of the storm was centered over the city of Montpellier, Herault District, near the Mediterranean Coast.

QuikSCAT's Replacement, the RapidScat Ocean Wind Sensor, Installed on Space Station

By Dr. Jeff Masters
September 30, 2014

A QuikSCAT replacement called ISS-RapidScat was successfully launched on September 20, 2014 on a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft, which docked last week with the International Space Station (ISS.) This morning, astronauts on the ISS used the station's robotic arm to pluck RapidScat out of the Dragon and install it on the Space Station. RapidScat will measure near-surface winds over the ocean.

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

Tropical Terminology

By Stu Ostro
June 30, 2014

Here is some basic, fundamental terminology related to tropical cyclones. Rather than a comprehensive and/or technical glossary, this represents the essence of the meaning & importance of some key, frequently used terms.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.