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Lester R. Aronson collection on the Kammerer/Noble midwife toad scandal

Identifier: Mss .A76

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of 9 folders of material (photocopies, clippings and reprints of articles; handwritten and typewritten letters and notes; and photographs) collected by Aronson in preparing his 1975 review of Arthur Koestler's 1971 book, The case of the midwife toad, about a 1926 scientific dispute between G.K. Noble and Paul Kammerer. The collection includes the typescript of Aronson's article, The case of The case of the midwife toad, which appeared in Behavior genetics vol. 5, no. 2, and material originally collected by Noble, for whom Aronson worked when he first came to the Museum. In the years before World War I Kammerer performed experiments on the midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans) and the sea squirt (Ciona intestinalis) which he claimed demonstrated the discredited Lamarckian theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. His interpretation provoked skepticism, particularly from the British biologist and geneticist William Bateson. In 1926, Noble traveled to Vienna where he and Hans Przibram, director of the Institute, determined that the forelimb of the Alytes specimen had been injected with India ink, either as a forgery, as Noble believed, or to enhance the faded results of an old experiment, as Przibram suggested. Kammerer denied knowledge of or complicity in any tampering with the specimen; he committed suicide the following month. Included in the collection are early articles (1903-1909) by Kammerer extracted from German publications, a 1907 article on heredity by Bateson (extracted from Science vol. 26, no. 672), photographs of Noble's pencil drawings of the Alytes specimen, the text of Kammerer's suicide letter (in Science vol. 64, no. 1664) and an undated signed handwritten letter from Przibram.

folder 1. Kammerer data ([Contents of] Noble's original folder) -- folder 2. Kammerer : reviews, reprints, excerpts -- folder 3. Kammerer material : similar cases -- folder 4. Bateson -- folder 5. Kammerer experiment. Ciona exp. Notes on book -- folder 6. Kammerer's articles and papers. 1 -- folder 7. Kammerer's articles and papers. 2 -- folder 8. LRA [Aronson] manuscript on Koestler and Kammerer -- folder 9. Selected materials on Kammerer affair.


  • 1903-1990 (bulk 1923-1975)
  • Majority of material found within 1923 - 1975


Language of Material

Some articles in German.

Restrictions on Access

Please contact Special Collections; materials are sometimes restricted.

Biographical sketch

Lester R. Aronson was a biologist and animal behaviorist at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) from 1938 to 1977; curator, 1949- and chairman 1958-1977, Dept. of Animal Behavior; chairman emeritus 1977- ; he died in 1996.

Biographical sketch

Paul Kammerer was a biologist at the Vienna Biologisches Versuchsanstalt (Institute for Experimental Biology). He committed suicide following accusations of falsifying experimental evidence.

Biographical sketch

Gladwyn Kingsley Noble was a herpetologist and animal behaviorist at the AMNH from 1917 to 1940; curator, Dept. of Herpetology and Experimental Biology, 1924-1940.


0.75 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transfer from AMNH Department of Animal Behavior.

General Note

Items originally in folder 9 (clippings, handwritten and typewritten letters and notes, and photographs) are encapsulated and bound in 1 vol. and stored in Box 2.

Lester R. Aronson collection on the Kammerer/Noble midwife toad scandal, 1903-1990 (bulk 1923-1975)
Language of description
Script of description
The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation provided support to make this finding aid available in ArchivesSpace (2016-2017). Minimal level collection record created with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Hidden Collections grant, 2010.

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
(212) 769-5420