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Are the Effects of use and Disuse Inherited?


THE question which constitutes the title of this essay still continues—and is likely for some time to continue—the most important question in the field of Darwinian thought. On the one side we have the school of Weismann, which answers the question with an unequivocal negative. On the other side we have the writings of Darwin himself, which entertain the so-called Lamarckian factors as subsidiary to natural selection, or as lending considerable aid to natural selection in carrying out the work of adaptive evolution. Again, we have the writings of Herbert Spencer, which attribute a still higher proportional value to the Lamarckian factors; while, lastly, we have the self-styled neo-Lamarckians, who regard these factors as of even more importance than natural selection. Amid so great a conflict of opinions on a matter of such extreme importance, any survey of the actual evidences in favour of the Lamarckian factors cannot fail to be opportune, even though the value of such an attempt must depend upon the care and the judgment with which it is undertaken. Now, we are glad to say that the essay before us is, in all respects, as admirable as it is opportune. Scientific in spirit, and logical in execution, it deals with its subject in a manner at once concise and exhaustive. Restricting his ground for the most part to the domain of fact, Mr. Ball has made a full inventory of the cases, or classes of cases, which have hitherto been adduced in evidence of the transmission of acquired characters, and briefly weighs the value of the evidence in each. In the result he concludes that there is no real evidence for any of the cases; and as his work is throughout performed in a thoughtful and painstaking manner, we deem it the most instructive contribution which has hitherto appeared upon the subject of which it treats. Of course the writings of Galton and Weismann present the greater merit of having been the first publicly to challenge the doctrines of Lamarck; but this they did on grounds of general reasoning, and by viewing the evidences of those doctrines, as it were, en masse. The merit of Mr. Ball's work, on the other hand, consists in its detailed analysis of each of the facts and arguments which have ever been brought forward in support of what he conveniently calls “use-inheritance.”l He thus restricts himself to the one question of fact, whether or not there is any good evidence of the transmission of acquired characters, without embarking upon any general theory of heredity. And, as already remarked, he has done this purely analytical work in an exceedingly able manner. So much, indeed, is this the case, that we can find but little to say in the way of criticism; and that little must take the form of pointing out the particular cases where it seems to us that his examination is not quite so thorough as it usually is.

Are the Effects of Use and Disuse Inherited?

An Examination of the View held by Spencer and Darwin. By William Platt Ball. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1890.)

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ROMANES, G. Are the Effects of use and Disuse Inherited?. Nature 43, 217–220 (1891).

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