Biography of Famous Scientist Paul Kammerer Part 2

About the famous or infamous scientist Paul Kammerer, biography and history as he claimed to have made breakthroughs in the field of acquired characteristics but was proved a fraud and a hoax.


Paul Kammerer (1880-1926)

Even more astonishing was a second set of experiments, concluded in 1919, that involved midwife toads. Unlike other species of toads, these toads lack so-called "nuptial pads"--small calluses on the male's forelimbs which allow him to grip the female better while mating. Since midwife toads copulate on land rather than in water, they appear to have no need for such pads, because their bodies are less slippery than those of toads mating in a liquid environment.

However, claimed Kammerer, when he had forced midwife toads to mate in water over a series of generations, the offspring gradually developed nuptial pads as an acquired hereditary characteristic.

Immediately after revealing his findings, Kammerer found himself showered with almost universal acclaim. His fellow scientists praised him widely, and Cambridge biologist G. H. F. Nuttall eagerly announced, "He has made perhaps the greatest biological discovery of the century."

The Communist leadership in Moscow also took a particular liking to Kammerer and his studies. It found his theories more attractive than Darwin's, specifically the hypothesis that humans (and other creatures) can be changed by modifying the environment. The Russians eventually invited the Austrian to assume a professorial position at the University of Moscow. Kammerer said that he would gladly accept the honor, but not until he had completed further experiments in his laboratory at the Institute for Experimental Biology in Vienna.

Kammerer was pressured to make his actual evidence available to other scientists. Strangely, he not only refused to do so but managed to evade such requests for a full seven years. Finally, in 1926, Kammerer acceded to the growing demands. A committee of investigators journeyed to Kammerer's laboratory and examined his data. Among the evidence was a midwife toad that allegedly had sprouted nuptial pads, but by this time it was dead and preserved in a jar of alcohol.

In August, 1926, the British scientific journal Nature published the findings of the investigators. They concluded that nuptial pads simply did not exist on the toad. The so-called pads were nothing more than areas where India ink had been injected into the toad's forelimbs. When the toad was immersed in water, the ink dissolved and the spots disappeared. And in the salamander experiments, the "disappearing" yellow spots had in reality been areas diminished by more India ink.

As the scientific community reacted with outrage, Kammerer denied having played any part in the hoax. He speculated that his original evidence had been tampered with by someone else, but he could not pinpoint exactly who this someone could be.

Humiliated by the turn of events, Kammerer sat down and wrote, "There is no doubt... that... almost my whole life work has become dubious... I hope to find tomorrow sufficient courage and fortitude to end my wretched life."

The afternoon following this expression of despair, Kammerer, wearing a dark suit walked into the Theresien hills outside the village of Puchberg in Austria and shot himself. To this day, no one knows for certain whether Kammerer perpetrated the incredible hoax himself or was sabotaged by someone with access to his laboratory.

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