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Official poster
2022-10-07
Press release: Public lectures reflect on long-reaching influence of Gregor Mendel on his 200th anniversary

After a year of international events celebrating the 200th birthday of GJ Mendel, the KLI Mendel Symposium: Mendel’s Legacy in Science and Society takes a critical look at the legacy of “Mendelism.” We invited twelve scholars to share their reflections on the long reach of Mendel's work in the history of science, in biology, in the education and communication of science, in medicine, and finally, in social policies and society. As we will see, the impact of scientist-priest Gregor Johann Mendel goes beyond the academic discipline of genetics.

For better and for worse, Mendelism has a long-reaching impact on how we think about ourselves, how we educate our students, and how we (re)write the history of science.

The symposium is organized by the Department of Evolutionary Biology at University of Vienna and will be hosted at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research (KLI) from October 13th to October 14th, 2022. Registration for online streaming is still open. Participants who registered to come to the KLI in person will get a chance to marvel at the biggest pea in the world—the 7-meter tall Giant Pea of Brno!

The symposium is divided into five parts. In the “history” section, we first feature wonderful stories of Mendel’s scientific life in Brno and in Vienna. The Director of the Mendel Museum in Brno, Mag. Blanka Krízova, who oversees the preservation of the original artifacts of Mendel’s scientific activities, will talk about “G. J. Mendel – the story of a humble genius.” Dr. Barbara Fischer (University of Vienna) will lay out the larger scientific and social background of Mendel’s education in Vienna, explaining how Mendel became a theoretical and empirical scientist in “How Mendel became a scientist.” Historian of science Prof. Gregory Radick (University of Leeds) will offer a broad review in “The Gregor Johann of history and the Mendel of faith: Reflections for a bicentennial.” 

In the latest developments of the science of inheritance, it is becoming clear that we do not just inherit genes, but epigenetic factors as well as behavioral and social environments. In our “biology” section, esteemed emeritus Prof. Eva Jablonka (Tel Aviv University) will situate Mendel’s work in a broader understanding of inheritance in her talk “What is inherited and how?” Dr. Isabella Sarto-Jackson, neuroscientist at the KLI and vice-president of the Austrian Neuroscience Association, will show that our brains (not just our bodies) are also shaped by a wide variety of inherited factors in “Patchwork Minds: How Mendelian, Non-Mendelian, as well as Non-Genetic Inheritance Shape the Human Brain.”

There is so much more to inheritance than just our genes. These new scientific developments, however, are not present in current curriculum. Even though we all learned about Mendelian genetics in high school, drawing little squares to calculate the frequencies of recombinations of big “A”s and small “a”s, we do not proceed beyond that point in our education system. Therefore, in the “education” section, four scholars will examine how Mendelism is taught in schools and reflect on the impact of such teaching for the public understanding of science.

Dr. Christian Bertsch, Head of Science Education at ISTA and formerly Professor of Biology Didactics at PH Vienna, will enlighten us on how Mendelism can be taught in “Teaching science as process and method of thinking – learnings from G. Mendel.” Dr. Kostas Kampourakis (University of Geneva), former editor of the journal Science & Education and current editor of the Cambridge Understanding Life series, will offer the provocative thesis that Mendel is the wrong place to start in “Getting Mendel right: How the stereotypical teaching of Mendelian genetics in schools distorts both science and history.” Echoing themes that will be addressed in the "society" session, Dr. Brian Donovan, research scientist at BSCS Science Learning, will further argue that “Genetics education needs to move beyond Mendel to combat white supremacy.” Finally, in “Engaging with the science of inheritance in informal science spaces,” Lynn Chiu (University of Vienna) will explain how taking a philosophical approach can incorporate new developments in inheritance into engaging activities in informal science spaces. The case study will be our projects at the Deck50 of the Natural History Museum of Vienna.

In the “society” session, we confront a darker side the legacy of Mendelism—its misuse and abuse in the socio-political realm. In “Social Mendelism,” Prof. Amir Teicher (Tel Aviv University) will reveal how the way Gregor Mendel's theory of heredity was interpreted led to the formation and radicalization of eugenic ideas. Prof. Maria Kronfeldner (CEU), Prof of Philosophy, in “Genes and us,” will invite us to think more critically about what we can draw from genetics about our human nature.

To end the symposium, our grand finale will be the “medicine” section of our symposium. A lecture by the famous Uni. Prof. Markus Henstschläger (MedUni Wien), Head of the Department of Medical Genetics, will tell us how genetics is used in medicine and discuss where it’s taking us: “Medical genetics – quo vadis?”

For better and for worse, Mendelism has a long-reaching impact on how we think about ourselves, how we educate our students, and how we (re)write the history of science. The KLI Mendel Symposium will provide a historical, philosophical, sociological, and conceptual dimension to round out a wonderful year of events that celebrated the achievements and extraordinary developments of Mendel’s work in genetics.

 

Further information:

Registration for online streaming is still open.

Symposium website: https://www.mendel200-vienna.com/activities/mendel-symposium

Project website: https://www.mendel200-vienna.com

Follow us @Mendel200 #Mendel200 on Twitter.

This symposium is funded by the INTERREG Austria-Czech Republic project GJM200, ATCZ278.

Contact: Lynn Chiu at University of Vienna (chien-hui.chiu@univie.ac.at)