Thursday, 26 February 2015

Matthew re-quoting Loudon via Steuart, Part 2

Patrick Matthew (1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture) criticised the works of other scholars of arboriculture without making bones about it. In one case, however, he was not so daring. He packaged his criticism of John Claudius Loudon in the form of criticising a long quote by Henry Steuart of Loudon. 
"We shall finish our remarks on Sir Henry's work by making some observations upon a quotation made by Sir Henry Steuart from A Treatise on the Forming and Improving of Country Residences by the Author of the Encyclopaedia of Gardening etc.— an author who combines talent successful industry and enlightened benevolence in no common degree We are sorry to appear before this author whom we have long esteemed in opposition yet we regret the less as we consider him one of the few who prefer accuracy and truth to an old opinion and whose name stands too high to be affected by a casual misconception." (Matthew 1831, p. 295)
As you can see, Matthew refers to the "Author of the Encyclopaedia of Gardening" rather than simply naming Loudon. This is quite strange, because Matthew was, otherwise, very outspoken and did not fear to openly criticise other scholars. In a previous post, I have already shown the further strange fact, that Matthew did not transport all the alterations that Steuart has taken the liberty to introduce into his quotation of Loudon. In some cases, Matthew reverted to the original usage of Loudon. This suggests that Matthew's re-quote was a dummy, and that Matthew did have Loudon's original at his disposal. He surely knew the Encyclopaedia of Gardening, for he chose to call Loudon "the Author" of that work rather than simply giving his name.

This strange evasiveness of the, otherwise, forthright Patrick Matthew suggests that he has lifted ideas from Loudon and did not want to credit that fact. By re-quoting Loudon via Steuart, he could pretend to not know the rest of Loudon's publications. Therefore, I searched the Encyclopaedia of Gardening for passages relevant to the idea of natural selection. Although Loudon's work has more to do with landscape design than natural history, the following passage indicates that the idea of competition and survival of the best adapted was already widely spread among scholars of that time (my emphasis):  
"    6871. Sir W. Chambers and Price agree in recommending the imitation of natural forests in the arrangement of the species. In these nature disseminates her plants by scattering their seeds, and the offspring rise round the parent in masses or breadths, depending on a variety of circumstances, but chiefly on the facility which these seeds afford for being carried to a distance by the wind, the rain, and by birds or other animals. So disseminated they spring up, different sorts together, affected by various circumstances of soil and situation; and arrive at maturity, contending with other plants and trees, and with the browsing of animals. At last, that species which had enjoyed a maximum of natural advantages is found to prevail as far as this maximum extended, stretching along in masses and angular portions of surface, till circumstances changing in favor of some other species, that takes the prevalence in its turn. In this way it will generally be found, that the number of species, and the extent and style of the masses in which they prevail, bears a strict analogy to the changes of soil and surface; and this holds good, not only with respect to trees and shrubs, but to plants, grasses, and even the mossy tribe." Loudon (1824. "An Encyclopaedia of Gardening." London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Brown and Green, p. 957)  
As already mentioned in my earlier post, Loudon also had a lot to say on the variety within species. The only thing still missing, here, was the idea of the transformation of species through the natural selection of varieties. That was a matter of simply putting the pieces of the puzzle together rather than of unmatched genius. We can conclude that Matthew has lifted the ideas of competition and natural selection from other sources and not thought them up himself. He did not cite the sources of the parts of the puzzle he solved. In this, his conduct met the same standards as that of other Victorian naturalists.

P.S.: The particular passage from Loudon quoted above sets us on a new search for the works of Sir W. Chambers and Price, because it could mean that they were not only recommending the imitation of natural forests, but also suggested natural selection and adaptation to circumstances as the reason for this recommendation.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

David Hull on priority—stops short of crediting impact

David Hull (1990. "Science as a Process." P. 51):
"According to the conventional mores of science, one scientist can work twenty years developing a theory; another may spend only a couple of weeks on his theory. If the second scientist publishes first, the officially this scientist is supposed to receive all the credit for the contribution. Of course, the system does not always work this way. For example, Darwin is endlessly castigated for not behaving more honorably toward Wallace. What he actually should have done upon receiving Wallace's paper was to write to Wallace asking permission to have it published, wait the year necessary for Wallace to receive the letter and for Wallace's reply to get back to England, and then publish Wallace's paper. After that, he could properly publish his own work.
I find this scenario of proper scientific etiquette absurd in the extreme, but even if Darwin had been foolish enough to behave so irresponsibly, the subsequent history of Darwinism would have been little altered. Darwin still would have received most of the credit. But, one might justifiably object, historians are not supposed to be able to reach such contrary-to-fact conclusions. In this case, however, the conclusion is unexceptional because, after Darwin and Wallace published, an obscure author established priority over both men. In 1831 Patrick Matthew (1790 - 1874) had published a clear statement of natural selection in an appendix to a book on naval timber and arboriculture. If Wallace deserved priority over Darwin because of his 1858 paper, then Matthew surely deserved priority over both men because of his 1831 paper. All sorts of reasons can be given for ignoring Matthew's claim to priority for natural selection: he published his views in an out-of-the-way place, he did not develop them in sufficient detail, he did not continue to develop his theory in later publications, and so on. The problem with these excuses is that they apply to numerous unappreciated precursors to whom we have awarded retrospective credit."
In accordance with my previous post, I read this as not accepting cheap excuses and crediting Matthew with priority full stop. I also read this as saying that Darwin would nevertheless have gotten most of the credit, historically, simply because it was his book that had a major impact on natural history/biology and not Matthew's.

Related posts

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Priority vs impact—Matthew vs Darwin

Priority is a very important issue for scientists, who are still alive (Merton 1957). Apart from that, however, there is a historical process of science going on. In this process, some publications do become paradigmatic. That is, they become examples for how to do a certain kind of research.* These paradigm studies then get imitated, cited, re-cited etc. etc. In short, they get lots of credit. Using a modern expression that is also closer to the current concerns of living scientists, we can say, these paradigmatic studies have had a high impact on their respective field.

Unfortunately, the paradigmatic studies often get mixed up with the ones that were prior, but had no high impact, leading to myth making and hero stories. That is, popularizers often praise paradigmatic studies at the expense of earlier ones that have priority and produce Whiggish stories and Great Man theories about lone geniuses. The studies with high impact therefore often eclipse those of priority by osmosis (Merton's Matthew effect) or amnesia (Stigler's law). The prior studies that failed to become paradigmatic simply get forgotten in many potted histories and abridged statements.
     [The same happens on a daily basis, whenever a scientist chooses to cite an article from a high impact journal (e.g., Nature or Science) and ignores the fact that these are often the end-result of long research histories that usually find their prior outlets in theses, in abstracts and proceedings of meetings or conference, or in other low-impact publications. It just serves to show that scientists credit impact with high importance, even though many think that priority was all that mattered.]

A clear distinction between being prior (the first to publish something) and having impact (the exemplary study to be imitated and cited) can help to clear up messy issues about crediting priority and crediting impact.

Example 1: Mendelism
With the distinction between being first (prior) and being prototype (paradigm example), it is quite easy to understand why Gregor Mendel did not only get credited for his priority in coining some genetic concepts, like recessiveness and dominance, but also got credit for producing studies that became paradigmatic examples for how to do genetics research. We can also understand why he and not his re-discoverers (Correns, De Vries or Tschermark) became eponymous for that kind of research. The latter did not re-discover studies by Mendel that were no use except for their proposing the concepts of recessiveness or dominance, for example, they re-discovered studies that became paradigm examples for how to do genetics. (No Matthew effect or Stigler's law in action here!)

Example 2: Darwinism
The distinction between being first and being the example to be imitated can also help understand the case of Darwinism, because priority and high impact do not fall together. Here, Patrick Matthew (1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture) has priority for formulating the law of (macro-)evolution through natural selection. But it was Darwin's On the Origin of Species that had the crucial impact on naturalists and transformed the study of natural history into evolutionary biology. For good reasons. Matthew's book is simply not a paradigm example for how to do evolutionary biology and it never will become one. It is a mixture of political agenda, lots of knowledge on the practical matters of tree growing, tree breeding, tree training etc. and some sharp insights about natural selection.

Darwin's On the Origin of Species, however, was a paradigm example for naturalists/biologists, even though he might not have priority for any one detail in it. What other naturalists tried to do after the Origin of Species was to imitate it and expand it. That is also why they called that what they were doing Darwinism and not Matthewism. Darwin became eponymous, because he was the role model to be imitated. Although Alfred Wallace was discussing priority (not impact) for the theory of natural selection, at face value, he said as much in a letter to Darwin:
"As to the theory of "Natural Selection" itself, I shall always maintain it to be actually yours and yours only. You had worked it out in details I had never thought of, years before I had a ray of light on the subject, and my paper would never have convinced anybody or been noticed as more than an ingenious speculation, whereas your book has revolutionized the study of Natural History, and carried away captive the best men of the present age. All the merit I claim is the having been the means of inducing you to write and publish at once." Wallace to Darwin (29 May 1864)
This makes no sense, if the "theory of "Natural Selection" itself" is being construed as a tiny detail within Darwin's book. That detail has been around in various publications (even within some belonging to natural theology) for years and failed to revolutionize the study of Natural History. It was the whole Darwinian paradigm that revolutionized the study of Natural History.

Even Patrick Matthew himself admitted that his field of expertise was different from pure natural history in a letter to Darwin:
"My line lies more in the political & social, Your's in tracing out the admirably balanced scheme of Nature all linked together in dependant connection—the vital endowed with a variation-power in accommodation to material change." Matthew to Darwin (3 Dec 1862)
Which was, IMHO, the reason why Matthew's book did not become a paradigm example for how to do evolutionary studies of natural history and why he did not become eponymous for such research.

I have always criticised the way in which some Darwinists tried to reduce Darwin's deed to the discovery** of natural selection. That is, some tried to reduce Darwin's deed to a case of priority for one tiny detail within his revolutionary study. Other writers apparently take the fact that Darwin revolutionised the study of natural history as a benchmark of his priority. That is, they mistake having impact with being prior.

Evidence on the history of the idea of natural selection shows that Darwin does not have priority for the idea of (macro-)evolution through natural selection. Anyway, he had impact and became paradigmatic for the study of natural history. Conversely, Patrick Matthew's On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (1831) never has been and never will be considered a paradigmatic (to be imitated) study in natural history. Even though Matthew's insights into the effects of natural selection are scattered throughout the book,*** it is a miscellany of political, arboricultural, naval and other issues peppered with some sharp insights about the evolutionary effect of natural selection.

The only thing that protects certain writers on Darwinism from facing the embarrassment of having published nonsense about Darwin's priority, lies in the fact that their opponents keep linking their claim for Matthew's priority with far-fetched claims about plagiarism on Darwin's and Wallace's part. That is, the opponents mix a claim against the priority of Darwin with one against his originality, while many Darwinists mistake his having had impact with priority. Confusion is rife on all sides.

Related posts

* I use the term paradigmatic in the restricted and specific sense of being an example for how to do a certain kind of research that consequently gets imitated and cited. Don't tell me about Kuhn's multiple and unspecific usage.

** I even find the term discovery of natural selection a misnomer, because it has not been discovered like America or a planet. It has been deduced or something.

*** The argument that Matthew confined his insights about natural selection to an appendix is not only false but also insubstantial. It is false because Matthew's insights about natural selection are scattered throughout the book (see here and here). It is insubstantial because, had Matthew published an appendix that was a paradigm example of how to do natural history studies, we'd now credit him for the impact he never had. His appendix, however, is not such a paradigm in natural history studies, because it is itself a miscellany of endnotes on political, arboricultural, naval and other issues peppered with insights about natural selection (see here). In fact, the appendix falls into two parts, a list of endnotes and an appendix to this list (see here).
     Ironically, both sides use the appendix argument the wrong way round. The defenders of Darwin's priority say that Darwin (and others) overlooked Matthew's ideas on natural selection, because it was stuffed into an appendix. This is a poor defence. Just because Darwin defended himself this way does not mean it explains why Matthew had no impact. I'm sure the history of science knows of paradigmatic appendixes that have become examples of how to do a certain kind of research and are now duly credited for their impact.
     [Here, Descartes's Discourse may be an example of a publication with paradigmatic appendices: "But the first publication of the Discourse also included three appendices. Each was longer than the Discourse itself, and each reads more like a scientific journal paper than an appendix. They’re included with the main text to demonstrate the application of Descartes’ “method” to scientific problems. Two of the appendices, Optics and Meteorology, are purely scientific. The third, Geometry, is mathematical. All three are of interest in their own right. For example, in Optics, Descartes works out his laws of refraction. One of the laws is now standard knowledge for all students of optics. ..."]
     The opponents of Darwin's priority however use the scattering of Matthew's insights about natural selection throughout the book as a counter-argument, as if proving Darwin wrong on his statement that Matthew had confined his insights about natural selection to the appendices transmogrified Matthew's book into a paradigm study. That's even poorer, because scattering his insights about natural selection across the main text and appendices of a book and concerned with various other issues was exactly what prevented the main text or appendix from becoming a paradigm for natural history studies.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Permutations of "the process of natural selection"

Mike Sutton claims that the fact that Darwin used a permutation of Matthew's phrase "natural process of selection" makes it likely that Darwin plagiarised Matthew (1831) applying the following "logic."
"Most tellingly, research in Google's Library Project of 30+ million publications reveals that 'natural process of selection' is a term apparently coined by Matthew (1831) that was uniquely four word shuffled into the only grammatically correct alternative 'process of natural selection' by Darwin." (Sutton 2014, p. 56)
The argument is about the likelihood that two researchers independently came up with essentially the same phrase. In other words, how likely is it that two researchers who independently thought up the same idea would also independently take to the same phrase? If, out of the possible phrases that Darwin could have come up with, in order to express the same idea as Matthew (1831), the chance that he hit on the same phrase only with the words in it shuffled, was as small as winning the lottery, then it would indeed by highly unlikely.

But before he even gets there, Sutton already reduces the population of possible ways to express the idea of evolution through natural selection by his own premise. If, indeed, that idea could only be expressed in two different ways, then Matthew coming up with his one and Darwin with the other was as likely as throwing a coin two times will come up heads first and tails second.

Of course, Sutton does not mean that. He believes that there is a gazillion of other possible ways to express the idea of evolution through natural selection. But let's not assume that and check it instead.

Both Matthew and Darwin were dealing with plant and animal breeding and the household term among breeders for what they were doing was selection.

I personally think that the likelihood that both independently fell upon selection was very high, but let's admit that alternatives existed, for example choice and culling. For the benefit of doubt, let's assume that Darwin's probability to also choose 'selection' was 1/3 (given the prior probability for Matthew to also have chosen 'selection' = 1). The likelihood that Darwin also chose 'selection' then was not as high as in tossing a coin twice, but it was far higher than winning a lottery.
Now, given the prior that both have independently chosen 'selection,' how likely would it have been that both also independently chose 'natural,' in order to distinguish their idea about selection going on in nature from the process (oops - should have used 'thing' rather than 'process' here:-) that breeders are employing? I personally think that the likelihood of this would have been 100%, because the alternatives sound awful: innate selection, involuntary selection, inartificial selection? Those are bs alternatives, when you want to distinguish the process of selection by humans from that going on in nature. 

Same goes for 'process.' I have already, inadvertently used the term process above. There are some alternatives, admittedly, but by far not as many and as good ones as Sutton tries to make us believe. Just look at some alternatives: course of natural selection, law of natural selection, mechanism of natural selection, way of ..., procedure ..., working ..., action ... . I'd say 'law' would have been an alternative both might have fallen back on. And they did both speak of a law elsewhere.

Alternatives that do not start with selection or a synonym of it in the first place are also not many. 'Survival of the fittest' is an obvious one. But for now, I conclude that the restrictions of language are far greater than assumed by Mike Sutton. The likelihood that both Mathew and Darwin independently arrived at 'natural process of selection' and 'process of natural selection' respectively was not infinitely small, if they had both independently arrived at the same idea of evolution through natural selection.

Apart from logic, language skills are another issue here. It's simply not true that 'natural process of selection' and 'process of natural selection' are the only two grammatically correct permutations of the four words into one phrase. See: The selection process of natural varieties led to ...

I'll leave the fun of searching for published permutations to the reader.

Related posts

A third passage on natural selection in the Appendix to (Matthew 1831)

On 13 April 1860, Darwin wrote to Hooker about Matthew:
"The case in G. Chronicle seems a little stronger than in Mr. Matthews book, for the passages are therein scattered in 3 places." (Darwin Correspondence Project, entry 2758)
Only two of the three passages that Matthew gave in the Gardener's Chronicle were from the appendix of On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (Matthew 1831): one from Note B (pp. 364-5) and the other from the afterthought following on Note F (pp. 381-8). The other passage given by Matthew was from the main text of his book (pp. 106-8). Nevertheless, Darwin later wrote in his Historical Sketch of 1861:
"Unfortunately the view was given by Mr. Matthew very briefly in scattered passages in an Appendix to a work on a different subject, so that it remained unnoticed until Mr. Matthew himself drew attention to it in the 'Gardener's Chronicle,' on April 7th, 1860." (see Darwin Online)
One may, therefore, conclude that Darwin mixed up things and later that all the three passages given by Matthew in the Gardener's Chronicle were from the appendix. Arguably, however, Matthew's appendix does contain a third passage that is about natural selection. It's from Note C, an racist piece that nevertheless includes an idea about how migration could affect natural selection:
"Notwithstanding that change of place, simply, may have impression to improve the species, yet it is more to circumstances connected with this change, to which the chief part of the improvement must be referred. In the agitation which accompanies emigration, the ablest in mind and body—the most powerful varieties of the race will be thrown into their natural position as leaders, impressing the stamp of their character on the people at large, and constituting the more reproductive part; while the feebler or more improvident varieties will generally sink under the incidental hardships." (Matthew 1831, p. 373)

Related post

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Where does Note F of the Appendix of Matthew (1831) end?

Many writers dealing with Matthew (1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture) refer to the very last part of the appendix as though it belonged to Note F of that appendix.

Mike Weale did recognize the difference in this place of the The Patrick Matthew Project, but not in one of his preprints: "The crucial fourth item — macroevolution by natural selection — is covered in Note F of Matthew's appendix." (Weale's preprint, page 5). I hope he can amend this, before the paper gets published.

The makers of Darwin Online, for example, digitised the parts as thought hey were one Note F (see here). You need to click on their link: "[page] 381" there, to get an image of the book's page and see the difference.

Anyway, the book itself contains two clear indications that the last part of the appendix does not belong to Note F of that appendix.

Firstly,  the table of contents lists it ("Accommodation of organised life to circumstance, by diverging ramifications, . . . 381") as equivalent in hierarchy to the Notes A to F that come before it:

Part of the table of contents of Matthew (1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture)

Secondly, the passage of the main text containing the footnote, which refers to Note F of the appendix, is about the geology of the sea. Note F of the appendix also deals with this subject up to the top of page 381, where the big horizontal line marks a break of content and issue. See for yourself.

Main text with footnote referring to Note F of Appendix (Matthew 1831)

Note F of appendix on sea geology ends with horizontal line, the afterthought begins with criticising dogmatical classification of plants (Matthew 1831)

I used to call this last part an "appendix to the Appendix" in other posts on this blog and call it an afterthought here. It surely doesn't belong to Note F by content. The break between sea geology and botanical classification is too abrupt even for Matthew to think so.

I would not be surprised to learn, sometime in the future, that this last part really was a late attachment concatenated only after Matthew had already finished the book.

Related posts

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Clearing the mess about Patrick Matthew

Here is a website with resources on Pattrick Matthew I can only recommend to anybody interested in this third discoverer of natural selection as a mechanism of evolution.

It's called The Patrick Matthew Project and run by Michael E. Weale.

This preprint is also recommended.The following quote says it all:

"What little discussion there has been of Patrick Matthew has centered on the rather unedifying question of whether he deserves intellectual priority (Dawkins, 2010; Dempster, 1996; Wainwright, 2008; Wells, 1973). To me, this is missing the point. It is not that Matthew unfairly lost out to Darwin and Wallace — their intellectual contributions were much greater. Rather, we are the ones who are losing out by disregarding Matthew's work. It merits our interest precisely because it is distinct from that of Darwin or Wallace. It is time for a reappraisal of Matthew's version of macroevolution by natural selection."

Chapeau to Mike Weale!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Advocacy in Darwin-conspiracies

One of the most disingenuous strategies employed by Darwin-conspiracy theorists is the following.

1. Evidence on the reception of Matthew (1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture) by various contemporaries is taken for a claim about the likelihood that Darwin and Wallace had heard of it before 1858. For example: "It is more likely than not."
2. From there you slide to claims about the likelihood that they had read it before 1858.
3. And from there you slide to claims about the likelihood that they had received the idea of natural selection from it before 1858.
4. You then replace the likelihood claim with one of absolute certainty ("100% proven"). But you change the content of the claim, underhand, from Darwin and Wallace having had knowledge about Matthew (1831) prior to 1858 to various contemporaries having read and reviewed Matthew (1831) before 1858.

On Mike Sutton's blog it reads like this:

"... evidence - that it is now more likely than not that Darwin and Wallace plagiarized Matthew's prior published hypothesis and that each lied when they claimed no prior knowledge of it."
"Wallace and Darwin claimed not to have read Matthew's (1831) book and have been newly proven 100% wrong (by me) in their claim that no naturalists known to them read it!"

Did you notice how the content of the claim changed underhand?

From: "Darwin and Wallace plagiarized Matthew's"
to: "Darwin and Wallace claimed not to have read Matthew's (1831) book"
and from there to: "their claim that no naturalist known to them read it!"

Or did you instead gather that the plagiarism is now claimed to be 100% proven?

Sutton's book is thick with smokescreens of this sort.

P.S.: It aches my heart to see naive defenders giving Sutton one field day after another, by commenting on his blog or elsewhere in ways that only betray their own ignorance of the historical facts. Of course, one wants to counter calumniators of that ilk, but - please - do your homework first.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The stolen, plagiarised and burned manuscripts of John Hunter (1728-93)

John Hunter, PD-art
John Hunter was an illustrious surgeon and naturalist who had lived from 1728 to 1793. He collected anatomical specimens and established a museum for them. He was no great writer, it seems, and could more easily illustrate his ideas through his museum. When he got seriously ill, however, he tried to write his ideas down, in order to preserve them for posterity. After his death, a Mr. William Clift F.R.S. became the keeper of this Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons and of Hunter's unpublished manuscripts until 1800, when he retired.

During this time Clift copied a number of these manuscripts before Hunter's brother in law, Edward Home, removed them unauthorized from the museum in 1812. The other trustees of the museum protested and requested that the manuscripts be restored to the museum, but Home claimed to prepare a catalogue for the museum as wished by Hunter. The catalogue was not forthcoming, however, and the other trustees were all dead by 1823. In that year Home told Clift that he had committed Hunter's manuscripts to the flames. In defence against accusations, Home now claimed that this had been Hunter's last wish, but nobody who had known Hunter believed him. On the contrary, why would Home not have burned them in 1812 or else why would he not have produced the catalogue first? This lead to rumours that Everard Home's numerous publications on comparative anatomy have been plagiarisms of Hunter's unpublished manuscripts (Ottley 1835, p. 152f).

Meanwhile, Clift tried to prepare for publication those manuscripts of John Hunter that he had copied, but did not manage to do so. Before he died in 1849, he placed his copies of Hunter's manuscripts into the hands of Richard Owen, who had succeeded him as conservator of the Hunter's museum. (This museum must not be mistaken with the so-called Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, which John's brother William Hunter bequeathed to the University of Glasgow in 1783). Owen edited and eventually published them in 1861 as Essays and Observations. As seems to have been customary for posthumous publications at that time, Owen placed before the papers by Hunter an "Advertisement" explaining their provenience. Owen did not mention what Home, later Sir Everard Home, had done with the original manuscripts. This can be read in the Hunter biography by Drewry Ottley (1835, Chapter 7, pp. 145-154).

We can assume that the contents of the Essays and Observations edited by Owen and published in 1861 must have been written before 1793, the year that John Hunter died. So let's take a look at these papers, which Hunter meant to preserve his ideas for posterity, after he had realized that his museum might not be the proper medium for doing so. It might be disbanded or the exhibits re-arranged.  

Surprisingly, this collection of Essays and Observations is far more than a mere comparative anatomy of a surgeon with a liking for anatomical specimens and monstrosities. It is a veritable cosmology and theory about natural history. Page 1 begins with a paper titled Observations on Natural History. It contains speculations about the nature of matter, but also clearly states that species are variable and domesticated species are more so than wild ones. A sub-chapters beginning at page 37 is particularly striking through its sub-heading and clearly states the idea of common descent. (The Statements in squared brackets are annotations made by Richard Owen):
"                            On the Origin of Species 
 "Does not the natural gradation of animals, from one to another, lead to the original species? And does not that mode of investigation gradually lead to the knowledge of that species? Are we not lead on to the wolf by the gradual affinity of the different varieties in the dog? Could we not trace out the gradation in the cat, horse, cow, sheep, fowl, etc., in a like manner?2
2 [The best attempt to answer this supreme question in zoology has been made by Charles Darwin in his work entitled "On the Origin of species by means of Natural Selection," etc. 8vo, 1859.]
"It may be difficult to find out the original of any animal that is not probably now found wild. It will be difficult to say which is the original cow, whether the East India cow or the European; but, as the East Indian has the least variety of the two kinds, it is therefore more probably the original cow than the European. Besides, this animal came from the East, and was more likely to go through varieties in new countries. [i.e. under new external influences] than in its original country."
Hunter thought that species used to be uniform initially, but then tended to vary because of external factors. But he clearly saw (some) variants as hereditary as he made clear in the next sub-chapter titled Varieties of Animals.

A new chapter beginning at page 39 is again striking for its title and the idea that humans are basically animals (Waved brackets are my annotations):
"                              On the Natural History of Man.
"{...first paragraph not shown...} Is not the Human Being a congeries of every animal? Has he not the instinctive principles of every animal, with this difference, that he chooses or varies the mode of putting those principles into action? He adapts the instinctive principle to the situation or to the whim. He must eat; but he varies the mode of eating: {...}
"Nothing shows more the superiority of the Human over the brute, than the variety of ways in which he shall perform any natural and instinctive action."
Although Hunter continues with arguments for the superiority of man, this was not the sort of superiority usually meant by Homo sapiens supremacists. The sub-chapter on "The Difference between Man and the Monkey" damages this H. sapiens supremacy even more by simply stating:
"The monkey in general may be said to be half beast and half man; it may be said to be the middle stage." (p. 43)
There's a lot of material of interest to behavioral ecologists. Hunter turns out to have been a good entomologist with a particular liking for studying social insects, he always had an eye on sexual organs and reproduction etc.

The part on natural history ends with a some thoughts on biogeography that are interesting as well:
"                                    Geographical Distribution of Animals
The locality of some animals would make us believe that their formation was of late date when compared to the world; or else that the present face of the globe was very old original. The first we can hardly suppose, and as to the last "very old," if that was the case it would still show that the origin of animals was progressive and of course local."
This part ends rather abruptly with a paragraph consisting of one mere sentence suggesting that Clift did not manage to transcribe the whole or Hunter did not finish his manuscript. The observations on physiology that follow may be of interest to the history of physiology and medicine. After all,  Hunter was famous as a surgeon during his life time. It is not my interest, here, and I leave it to the readers to take a look for themselves. Alternatively, Wendy Moore has written an award-winning biography of John Hunter, The Knife Man, that gives due attention to these aspects and many others.

Now, imagine that the above ideas inspired John Hunter, when he established, expanded and arranged his museum. Imagine further that the intelligentsia of London flocked to this museum. Wouldn't the visit have inspired many of them, in turn, to speculate about the origin and variety of species, their common descent or geographical distribution and other things evolutionary? And wouldn't they naturally think that whatever idea they conceived from these musings were theirs and not Hunter's? I think that this is exactly the way in which many evolutionary ideas were around in all sorts of cultural products, not just "in the air."


P.S.: W.J. Dempster (The Illustrious Hunter and the Darwins. Sussex: Book Guild, p. 95) claims that Charles Darwin has read Hunter's unpublished papers between 1836 and 1844. He cites the notebook, wherein Darwin recorded which books he has read, as evidence. As far as I can tell, this claim is false. The notebook only mentions a collection of paper by Hunter that had previously been published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Richard Owen added notes and John F Palmer edited them before they were published as:
  • Hunter, John. 1837. Observations on certain parts of the animal œconomy, with notes by Richard Owen. Vol. 4 of The works of John Hunter, F.R.S. with notes. Edited by James F. Palmer. 4 vols. London. 1835-7.

One can gather as much by reading the advertisements of this posthumous collection. (The link leads to somewhere in the preface, you need to scroll up to the pages before the table of contents.)

After 1861, of course, Charles Darwin could read Hunter's previously unpublished papers just like anybody else, because Owen had edited and published them that year. And Darwin does not fail to cite Hunter in The Descent of Man. Part II of the book is on Sexual Selection. The very first page of this part (p. 253) states that Darwin's distinction of primary and secondary sexual characters is taken from Hunter.
"WITH animals which have their sexes separated, the males necessarily differ from the females in their organs of reproduction; and these afford the primary sexual characters. But the sexes often differ in what Hunter has called secondary sexual characters, which are not directly connected with the act of reproduction; for instance, in the male possessing certain organs of sense or locomotion, of which the female is quite destitute, or in having them more highly-developed, in order that he may readily find or reach her; or again, in the male having special organs of prehension so as to hold her securely." (Darwin 1871. The Descent of Man, p. 253)
This is of course as cryptic as citations often were at that time, but page 273 gives a fuller citation in a footnote:
"The female, on the other hand, with the rarest exception, is less eager than the male. As the illustrious Hunter13 long ago observed, she generally "requires to be courted;" she is coy, and may often be seen endeavouring for a long time to escape from the male....
13. 'Essays and Observations,' edited by Owen, vol. i. 1861, p. 194." (Darwin 1871, p. 273)
It is true, however, that Darwin also cited Hunter's distinction of primary and secondary sexual characters in the first edition of The Origin of Species (1859, p. 150):
"The term, secondary sexual characters, used by Hunter, applies to characters which are attached to one sex, but are not directly connected with the act of reproduction."
Unfortunately, the citation is again of the sloppy kind so prevalent at the time. However, this is no cogent proof that Darwin must somehow have had access to the unpublished papers of John Hunter before 1861, because Hunter also used the distinction in papers published during his life-time. This can be seen from pp. 45ff of the collection of papers previously published in the Philosophical Transactions and then re-published in 1837. (The link does again transport you to the preface instead of page 45. You need to scroll down this time.) Anyway, even if Darwin did not confer the original publications in the Philosophical Transactions, he had the collection of 1837 at hand and recorded it as read in his notebook list of read books.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Hoax anticipation of Darwinism and germ theory of disease (Sleeper 1849/1913)

An almost forgotten hoax anticipation of natural selection and the germ theory of disease left some interesting traces in the Wallace correspondence, the proceedings of the Linnean Society,  Nature and elsewhere. The records are such that even Milton Wainwright, who elsewhere argued against the priority of Wallace and Darwin, concludes that it is probably a hoax.

The first trace I could find in the Wallace Letters Online archive is a letter from Alfred R. Wallace to some Ben R. Miller Esq. dated 18 January 1913. In it Wallace thanks Miller for a pamphlet by George Washington Sleeper, which Miller had sent him. Wallace agreed that it anticipated the idea of evolution through natural selection and also the germ theory of disease. The dead letter office returned this letter to Wallace, however, as can be seen from the note on the top right as well as from this later letter of Wallace to Poulton. E. B. Poulton seems to have been more lucky in contacting Miller, and Miller seems to have forwarded addresses of members of the Sleeper family to Poulton including that of G. W. Sleeper's son John F Sleeper. Unfortunately, the initial letter of Miller to Wallace is not (yet) in the online archive. The fact that Poulton managed to contact Miller, however, may also mean that Wallace forwarded that initial letter by Miller to Poulton. It may be worthwhile to look for it among Poulton's correspondence rather than Wallace's.

E. B. Poulton, Wikimedia Commons
At 2 April 1913, Wallace forwarded the booklet with a letter to E. B. Poulton. It said:
"About two months ago an american [sic] drummer sent me the enclosed booklet which he had been told was very rare and contained an anticipation of Darwinism. This it certainly does [...] His anticipation, however, of diverging lines of descent from a common ancestor and of the transmission of disease germs by means of insects are perfectly clear and very striking."
The only sense I can make of the drummer’ is that Miller might have been a civil war veteran drummer boy using it as a badge of honour to call himself so. Without the initial letter from Miller to Wallace, however, this is pure speculation. By the way, Poulton reprinted this letter in his presidential address to the Linnean Society of London, 24 May 1913 (A Remarkable American Work upon Evolution and the Germ Theory of Disease). But he changed "an american 'drummer'" into "an American."

Wallace, who died in November 1913, was convinced about the authenticity of Sleeper (1849). He entrusted Poulton with dealing with that issue, because Poulton had already publicised the work of James Cowles Prichard, which included some prescient ideas, though not evolution through natural selection.

Poulton must have received an earlier notice of the Sleeper anticipation from Raphael Meldola, however. At 3 April 1913, he sent a postcard to Wallace, in which he mentioned Meldola's grapevine and suggested that Wallace should prepare an article about the anticipation for the journal Bedrock. A scan of this postcard is in the Wallace Letters Online. As it is not yet transcribed and neither mentioned in any of the other records, I will add what I could decipher:
"To: A. R. Wallace FRS, Broadstone, Dorset. St Helens Cottage, St Helens, Isle of Wight, Apr. 3. 1913. Have just received a letter from Meldola who tells me of a wonderful American anticipation of natural selection and other important discoveries. Have you another copy to spare? I should very much like to read it. It would be very appropriate if you would write an article for Bedrock on it to appear in the July number. I can easily arrange this if you can manage it. Kindest regards E. B. Poulton"
Anyway, Poulton did the job in the end. He discussed the pamphlet of George Washington Sleeper (1849) in his presidential address to the Linnean Society, 24 May 1913. This event was reported on in Nature (22 January 1914. "A Remarkable Anticipation of Darwin." Volume 92: pp. 588-589).

Poulton was uncertain about the authenticity of Sleeper's booklet, however. At 3 June 1913, Wallace opens a letter to Poulton by:
"My dear Poulton, I am very glad you have changed your view about the "Sleeper" Lectures being a "fake". The writer was too earnest & too clear a thinker to descend to any such trick. And for what? "Agnostic" is not in Shakespeare, but it may well have been used by some one before Huxley."
This hints at Poulton's doubt, which he already mentioned in his presidential address from 1913. By July 1914, these doubt had become a certainty. Poulton had employed various bibliographical experts checking the paper, the type, the signature on the contract with the printer etc. Poulton reported in his presidential address to the Linnean Society of 25 May 1914 ("Continued Investigation into a Remarkable American work upon Evolution and the Germ Theory of Disease"), their verdict was negative. The Sleeper document was a hoax. The internal evidence showed anachronisms, like the use of the term agnostic before Thomas Huxley had coined it (pressing Sleeper's son to claim that his father had coined it). The paper used for the pamphlet was old, but the type seems to have not been in existence in 1849. The quality of the product was amateurish and not up to the standards of the printer ostensible contracted. The signature of the printer on the contract was compared with signatures of that printer from the 1850s and signatures of the same printer from much later (e.g. 1890). The signature on the contract resembled that of the later dates, not that of the earlier ones. That was the evidence finally convincing Poulton and the experts of the fraud. The conclusion was, again, reported in Nature (30 July 1914. "A Forged "Anticipation" of Modern Scientific Ideas."Volume 93: pp. 563-564).

The Appendix of Poulton's presidential address from 1914 also reprinted the whole pamphlet (G. W. Sleeper 1849. Shall we have common sense. Some recent lectures. Boston: Wm. Bense) as faithfully as possible.

The only thing that remained in the dark was the identity of the forger—was it G. W. Sleeper, his son J. F. Sleeper or that drummer, Ben Miller, who sent the booklet to Wallace? (Ben Miller claimed to have bought it either in Cleveland or Cincinnati, but the existence of the shop he mentioned could not be verified fore either town.) In this respect, the hoax is equals the whodunit-suspense of the Piltdown man found in 1912.

All this is not my apostil, however. I find it remarkable how deeply and soundly relaxed Alfred R. Wallace reacted, when confronted with this anticipation. He told Poulton that Sleeper cannot, in his opinion, be a hoax, for he was too earnest a writer. Poulton resolved that by concluding self-deception of the forger whoever it was. But this is not my apostil. My apostil is: Would Wallace have been that relaxed about an anticipation coming towards him, if he had himself a dark secret to hide about plagiarising Matthew and blackmailing Darwin, who also plagiarised Matthew? (As suggested by some Darwin-conspiracy theorists.)

P.S.: #canihavpdf

Friday, 24 October 2014

False alternatives in creationism and Darwin-conspiracy theories

A curious similarity exists between creationists and ID-ologists on the one hand and Darwin-conspiracy theorists on the other. The former are unable or unwilling to consider the gradual evolution of organisms or traits from predecessors. The latter are equally unable or unwilling to consider the gradual evolution of Darwinian ideas from predecessors. 

The creationists and ID-ologists claim that it is impossible for complex organisms or traits to evolve by mere chance. Their examples are something like the impossibility of an airplane assembling from a storm in a junkyard or the ostensible irreducibility of complex traits. The Darwin-conspiracy theorists claim the impossibility that the full blown theory of evolution by means of natural selection precipitated independently and from scratch in the minds of Matthew, Wallace and Darwin around the same time. They, too, ignore the predecessors and assume an impossible event that was not necessary for the outcome.

Their false alternatives have no bite
What both have in common is the logic fallacy of false alternatives. Either emergence through mere coincidence or creation, these are the false alternatives of creationists. Either independent discovery from scratch or plagiarism, these are the false alternatives of Darwin-conspiracy theorists.

Where the former see the whole of nature as a big conspiracy pointing towards a creator, the latter see the convergence of ideas as a conspiracy of Darwinists against Wallace, Matthew, or Blyth alternatively.

If we consider the predecessors, however, it is clear that natural selection was not a yet undiscovered idea. On the contrary, it existed in many different contexts (see here, here, here, here and here).

T.R. Malthus (WikimediaCommons)
In particular, Matthew, Wallace and Darwin all admitted that Thomas R. Malthus (1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population ) was a major source of inspiration for their insight into the importance of natural selection.

Let's see, then, whether anything in Malthus's essay comes so close, that we can comprehend the independent emergence of the idea of evolution through natural selection. (Six times between 1813 and 1858 by Wells 1813/1818, Adams 1814, Matthew 1831, Spencer 1852, Wallace 1858 and Darwin 1858.)

Malthus (1798, p. 11) starts from two simple postulates:
"I think I may fairly make two postulata.
First, That food is necessary to the existence of man.
Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state."
From these postulates he deduces a law of nature (Malthus 1798, p. 13f):
"Assuming then my postulata as granted, I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.
Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.
By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal.
And he illustrates the effect of that law of nature (Malthus 1798, p. 15):
"The race of plants and the race of animals shrink under this great restrictive law. And the race of man cannot, by any efforts of reason, escape from it. Among plants and animals its effects are waste of seed, sickness, and premature death. Among mankind, misery and vice."
Malthus's law of nature can justly be called by its current name, which is natural selection. The only thing that is still missing, is the idea of heritable variation acting in concert with this natural selection. That a lot of variation is heritable, however, was a triviality for plant and animal breeders of all stripes. Is it then not comprehensible, how various scholars independently combined these explanatory parts into similar or even identical theories of evolution through natural selection?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Natural selection before Hutton (1794)—Townsend (1786)

Joseph Townsend, public domain
Although Thomas Mathus says to have been unaware of Joseph Townsend's Dissertation on the Poor Laws by a well-wisher to mankind (first published 1786, republished 1817), when he wrote the first edition of his Essay on the Principle of Population (Malthus 1798), he acknowledged Townsend and others in the later editions of his Essay ....

In Townsend's Dissertation ... is a passage containing a short statement of natural selection (survival of the fittest). It is also highly reminiscent of later population ecological reasoning.

But it must be remembered that it is given in a context of discussing the poor laws and not organic evolution. That is, it is not proposed as a mechanism for the transformation of species. It could not possibly do so on its own without heritable variation and the other parts of the Darwinian explanatory system in place. On the contrary, natural selection has often be taken to stabilize rather than transform species.

The passage begins with an example of an island that is regularly visited by English sailors, because of a population of goats used for food.
"When the Spaniards found that the English privateers resorted to this island for provisions, they resolved on the total extirpation of these goats, and for this purpose they put on shore a greyhound dog and a bitch. [reference omitted] These in their turn increased and multiplied, in proportion to the quantity of food they met with; but in consequence, as the Spaniards had foreseen, the breed of goats diminished. Had they been totally destroyed, the dogs likewise must have perished. But as many of the goats retired to the craggy rocks, where the dogs could never follow them, descending only for short intervals to feed with fear and circumspection in the vallies, few of these, besides the careless and the rash, became a prey, and none but the most watchful, strong, and active of the dogs could get a sufficiency of food. Thus a new kind of balance was established. The weakest of both species were among the first to pay the debt of nature; the most active and vigorous preserved their lives. It is the quantity of food of food which regulates the number of the human species." (Townsend 1817, Sect. VIII, p. 44f)
He then gets back to his topic of poor laws, commons and his economic/political agenda.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Anticipating natural selection—the case of the mysterious Dr. Wright

In his Historical Sketch, Charles Darwin mentioned: 
"In 1813, Dr. W. C. Wells read before the Royal Society 'An Account of a White Female, part of whose skin resembles that of a Negro'; but his paper was not published until his famous 'Two Essays upon Dew and Single Vision' appeared in 1818. In this paper he distinctly recognises the principle of natural selection, and this is the first recognition which has been indicated; but he applies it only to races of man, and to certain characters alone."
Darwin probably got that information from an 'Advertisement' situated between an autobiographical memoir of Wells that opens the book and the table of contents. It announced that the Account of a Female of the White Race [...], was "read before the Royal Society in 1813, but was never printed until now. It was put by the author into the hands of the editor, with an express permission to publish it" (Advertisement in Wells 1818, p. lxiii). The exact dates of reading and printing this account is interesting, because it is the part in which Wells anticipated the idea of natural selection (see section on Wells here).

In my previous post, however, I highlighted another anticipation of the idea of natural selection in A Treatise on the Supposed Hereditary Properties of Diseases by Adams (1814). Naturally, it would be interesting to know whether any connection between Adams (1814) and Wells (1813/18) existed. On this question Kenneth M. Weiss (2008. "Joseph Adams in the judgement of Paris" Evolutionary Anthropology 17: 245-249) has mused:
"One of life's ironies is that if he [Adams] had his wish and had been a member of the Royal Society he might have been present in 1813, the year before his book was published, to hear Wells read his paper on the origin of human racial variation. In that paper he [Wells] suggested, in the passage I quoted from earlier, that dark skin color had evolved in the ‘‘middle regions of Africa’’ as a byproduct of adaptation to some tropical disease. Adams might have stood up at Question Time and expressed his more focused (and correct) explanation. Instead, history remembers Wells."
Looking for hints of a connection myself, the treatise by Adams (1814) turned out to consist of 32 pages of main text (pp. 9-41) followed by 80 pages of notes (pp. 45-125). His excuse for this imbalance is in the preface:
"The work being intended for the general reader, every technical expression is carefully avoided; and in order that the attention may not be distracted from the chain of reasoning, every thing not necessary to illustrate the doctrine is added, in the form of Notes, at the end." (Adams 1814, p. vii)
Unfortunately, the main text does neither contain any references to the notes. Instead, a note quotes the passage of the main text upon which it expands in italics. The notes refer back to the main text, but the main text does not refer to the notes. The notes can easily be overlooked, when concentrating on the main text. Anyway, page 79 of Adams (1814) contains his note 17 that refers back to a passage on page 33 (quoted in italics) and goes as follows:
"Note 17, Page 33.—" By these means a race is gradually reared with constitutions best calculated for the climate: a law which, I suspect, has been too much overlooked, in our inquiries after the causes of the more marked varieties in the human species."
The last volume of the Philosophical Transactions contains a very full and ingenious dissertation on this subject, by Dr. Wright. It cannot be necessary, if the reader is satisfied with the attention that has been paid to the work before him, to hint, that though Dr. Wright's paper appeared earlier than the present publication; yet, that this part of the question had not been overlooked by the author."
Apart from the cryptic language and complex construction of the passage crediting Dr. Wright, I could find nothing of the sort in the Philosophical Transactions from around 1814—neither on the subject nor by a Dr. Wright.

Unless there is a yet undiscovered anticipation of natural selection by some Dr. Wright, hidden somewhere, I tentatively conclude that Adams (1814) has written out of memory and gotten the name of Wells wrong. In that case, however, Adams must somehow have known of Wells's reading before the Royal Society in 1813 (contrary to what Kenneth Weiss 2008 concluded). Maybe the Royal Society made the read papers available to visitors before printing them and Adams concluded that this paper by Wells must end up in the next volume of the Philosophical Transactions.

Anyway, this episode shows how low the standards of reference and citation used to be at that time. Today, an author could screw the name and year of a citation, but we'd still find it as long as the source, volume and pages were given correctly. An author could alternatively screw the source and volume, but we'd still find the paper looking for the author, year and title. Apparently, Georgian and Victorian scientists could simply drop names and assume that their contemporary readers knew exactly which publication they referred to.

To clinch that case of poor citation standards, Adams (1814) referred to Colonel Humphreys as Colonel Humphries at page 34, though he got the name right in the note 18 on page 84. But neither in the main text nor the note does Adams tell, where to look for said publication. I happened to find it by chance, when searching the Philosophical Transactions of the year 1813 for the ominous paper by Dr. Wright that does not seem to exist.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Yet another anticipation of natural selection (Adams 1814)

Kenneth M. Weiss (2008. "Joseph Adams in the judgement of Paris" Evolutionary Anthropology 17: 245-249) has drawn attention to yet another anticipation of natural selection. Darwin did not mention it in his Historical Sketch and historians of science usually overlook it. It can be found in a book by Joseph Adams (1814. A Treatise on Hereditary Disease. London: J. Callow). 

Those who have followed my many critical posts on Mike Sutton's logomachy will notice a particular irony about this anticipation: It cannot be found by Sutton's googling technique!

This is so, because a concept can be expressed in many different ways, whereas Sutton applies a reduction in which a phrase is a concept and has a fixed meaning. He then tries to establish Pattrick Matthew (1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture) as the sole "discoverer" of natural selection—the phrase, the concept and the meaning. 

Adams, however, wrote down the idea without the typical phrases one would type into a search engine. Mind that the context is a treatise about hereditary disease (Weiss 2008 even highlights various anticipations of insights of Mendelian genetics).

Adams (1814, p. 32f):
"In a state of nature the race of all gregarious animals is probably progressively improving, as far as is consistent with their capacity for improvement. The strongest male becomes the vir gregis, and consequently, the father of most of the offspring. In a ruder state of human society, or rather in its earliest formation, something of the same kind may prevail; but in a more advanced stage, sufficient provision is made by the preferences which health and intellect will for the most part produce in either sex.
Another provision arises out of climate; which we have seen is, in some cases, the only means of exciting a diseased susceptibility into action. Those constitutions, which are peculiarly susceptible of such diseases as are excited by climate, fall an early sacrifice; hence, the propagation from sources gradually lessens, and the disease would cease altogether, were it not that parents, free from such susceptibility, occasionally produce an offspring in whom the susceptibility originates.  [...]
By these means a race is gradually reared with constitutions best calculated for the climate: a law which, I suspect, has been too much overlooked, in our inquiries after the causes of the more marked varieties in the human species."
He continues with examples of artificial selection by breeders, especially the ill consequences of inbreeding, ruminates on eugenic laws against inbreeding, and so on. See for yourself or read the article by Weiss (2008), who also discussed other anticipations including Matthew's.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Give the rack a turn!

Beyond a reasonable doubt?

[See here for all my 13 or so posts on Pattrick Matthew and plagiarism claims made on his behalf.]

Beyond a reasonable doubt is a standard of proof fraught with ambiguities. Criminologists even do experiments with mock jurors, in order to find out how different wordings instructing them about this standard of proof affects their decision (for example, here).

Nevertheless, Mike Sutton tries to sell that standard as a simple litmus test and claims to have proven that Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace plagiarized Patrick Matthew beyond a reasonable doubt.
"The accumulation of weighty new evidence presented in this book proves beyond all reasonable doubt that both Wallace and Darwin were both indirectly influenced by others who read NTA [On Naval Timber and Arboriculture] and also directly influenced by reading NTA themselves, before either penned a word on the same subject." (Sutton 2014, p. 14)
How does this weighty and new evidence prove the plagiarism of Darwin and Wallace? By simply counting how many people known to them have read Matthew (1831). I will ignore a number of other people identified by their use of what Sutton regards as 'Matthewisms.' Sutton is satisfied with seven scholars belonging to the social circle of Darwin and Wallace and three of them playing what he calls 'pivotal roles' in their scientific career.

The fact that they cited Matthew (1831) suffices for Sutton to conclude:
"Consequently, it does not matter whether or not Darwin or Wallace read the works of Loudon (1832), Chambers (1832) and Selby (1842) that cited Matthews’s book. Moreover, it does not matter whether or not it can be established that Loudon, Chambers and Selby, or those such as Blyth, and Wallace, whose pre-1858 work on evolution Loudon and Selby respectively edited and published, particularly understood the full details and implications of Matthew’s discovery. Because the fact of the matter is that Loudon, Chambers and Selby all read Matthew’s book that contained those very ideas."
That's neat. It neither matters whether Darwin and Wallace actually read the works citing Matthew (1831) nor whether the scholars citing Matthew (1831) actually received the idea of natural selection from their perusal and transported it in their own writings. The simple numbers add up to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Darwin and Wallace have plagiarized Matthew.

As Sutton's litmus test is so simple, simplistic even, you can check its efficiency yourself. Think of books that you have on your must-read list for a long time, but never got round to read. Now do a survey among your friends and acquaintances, how many of them did read it. If three close friends and seven acquaintances read it, you have also read it beyond any reasonable doubt. Your conviction of not having done so is unreasonable. In fact, if you ever use something you heard someone say about that book on a party, you are convicted of plagiarism!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Argument map of Nullius in Verba – Darwin's greatest secret

[See here for all my 13 or so posts on Pattrick Matthew and plagiarism claims made on his behalf.]

The following is an argument map illustrating the reasoning of Mike Sutton (2014, Nullius in Verba). As there really is nothing in the words, you can now see for yourself.

As you do see, Sutton dug up good evidence for arguing the case that Pattrick Matthew has not been a recluse Scot sitting in some earth hole writing stuff that nobody ever read. Whether he is busting a myth, here, or beating a strawman, I do not know. But he seems to have found pop-science writers like Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer say something to that effect and gotten very upset.

Alas, Mike Sutton inevitably mistakes the evidence he found as good, also, for arguing another case. Namely, that Darwin and Wallace plagiarized Matthew. To paraphrase Sutton, this is no tri-coincidence in the historical record, but a tri-conclusion on his part: 1. many have read Matthew (1831), 2. therefore Darwin and Wallace must also have read Matthew (1831) and 3. therefore they must have plagiarized Matthew.

You can also see that I've given the general evidence in the upper half of the second column and some specific examples in the lower. Despite these different starting points Sutton's triple-jump fails are all equally epic.

  • Blyth, E. 1835. "An attempt to classify the “varieties” of animals, with observations on the marked seasonal and other changes which naturally take place in various British species, and which do not constitute varieties." Magazine of Natural History 8: 40-53.
  • Blyth, E. (1836). "Observations on the various seasonal and other external changes which regularly take place in birds, more particularly in those which occur in Britain; with remarks on their great importance in indicating the true affinities of species; and upon the natural system of arrangement. The" Magazine of Natural History, 9, 393-409.
  • Blyth, E. (1837). "On the psychological distinctions between man and all other animals; and the consequent diversity of human influence over the inferior ranks of creation, from any mutual or reciprocal influence exercised among the latter. Mag"azine of Natural History, new series, 1, 1-9.
  • Matthew, P. (1831) On Naval Timber and Arboriculture. Edinburgh, Adam Black.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Three facts about Darwin, Blyth, Loudon, and Matthew

[See here for all my 13 or so posts on Pattrick Matthew and plagiarism claims made on his behalf.]

Three links between Darwin and the above mentioned scholars are established historical facts that, nevertheless, need further evidence. It would be a fair thesis topic for a student at some history of science (not criminology:-) department, I guess.

But before presenting these facts and setting readers on a wild goose chase for fraud and plagiarism, I want to suggest a different historical context and frame of interpretation.

Historical frame of interpretation
Firstly, tracing the history of the idea of natural selection has frustrated many a historian, because it is a continuous flow of thoughts and words with almost insensible gradations. Ideas flow from abstruse  philosophizing, lofty poetry, wild speculation, political agendas, rants of a madmen towards the momentous publication when everybody suddenly realised that now it was pure science. This does not only refute the myth that the idea of natural selection fell from heaven and precipitated in the brains of Darwin and Wallace. It also refutes the equally false myth that it fell from the sky and precipitated in Matthew's mind (or that of any other predecessor for that matter).

Secondly, Darwin almost had to be silent about his predecessors given that they were lofty poets abstruse philosophers, political agitators etc. If I may use an analogy, Darwin's position was  not unlike that of an advocate of defense, who needed to fight free, against all odds, a culprit facing a sure death sentence. He must not associate his summing up to any of the shysters who have tried and failed before him lest it would damage his case. The reception of the Vestiges surely warned him of that danger.*

Thirdly, they all pilfered like looters, according to our standards, including Matthew and Darwin. However, it was accepted practice back then, if you put on your own spin onto the received idea. For example, Charles Darwin turned natural selection from a principle conserving species (sensu Blyth) into one transforming them. He would therefore be allowed to brand it 'made by Darwin.' Likewise, Patrick Matthew turned the variation in trees from a fact used for ornamentation and utility (sensu Loudon) into a fact about a natural law and brand it 'made by Matthew.' 
    Back then, theories seem to have been accepted or rejected as wholes, that is, some false detail seems to have made a theory fair game for exploit. Times have changed and we, now, try to find references for every minor detail of a publication. It has already lead some scholars to deplore the poor style and bad reading through excessive referencing (e.g., here).  
   To apply our standards of referencing to Darwin or Wallace would simply be Whiggish. Those were gold rush days, back then, when land was simply taken, when slight modifications of any device were patented without specific citation of the predecessors being thus modified.**  

Three facts of historical interest
Loren Eiseley
1. Loren Eiseley's (1979) chapter on "Charles Darwin, Edward Blyth, and the theory of natural selection" (go here and klick mirror [1] for a free download) argues a pretty good case that Darwin pilfered Blyth on natural selection. But Eiseley, unlike Dempster, Dower or Sutton, has grace and style in arguing his case.

Eiseley explains how Blyth used the concept of natural selection (though not the words) as a principle keeping species immutable, whereas Darwin turned it into the opposite. He admits that Darwin could hardly associate his work with the poetic ejaculations, philosophic speculations, or political rants of his predecessors without severely damaging the scientific standing of his work. Darwin was surely more able and willing to acknowledge predecessors in the third edition, after his case was won with the first. But he did not mention Blyth in his historical sketch. Darwin reduced Blyth to the role of taxonomist and field observer.

2. A link between Matthew (1831) and Loudon (1832. "Matthew Patrick On Naval Timber and Arboriculture with Critical Notes on Authors who have recently treated the Subject of Planting." Gardener’s Magazine. Vol. VIII. p.703). Matthew (1860) made it himself in his letter to Gardener's Chronicle

It is clear that Loudon has not only read Matthew (1831), but also received his idea of natural selection and mentioned it explicitly as being concerned with the "origin of species and varieties."

Darwin, however, was on board the HMS Beagle when this review got published and will probably have missed it. May he not also have missed it after his return to England? There is no proof that Darwin has read Loudon's review, but that would be needed to establish the claim that Darwin must have read Matthew (1831). Later citations of Matthew by Loudon, as far as I have seen, do not mention the concept of natural selection or the origin of species, but only practical matters of pruning, planting and training trees.***

3. A third fact is mentioned by Eisely (1979, 71), again. Namely the following passage in Darwin's essay of 1844 published only posthumously:
"In the case of forest trees raised in nurseries, which vary more than the same trees do in their aboriginal forests, the cause would seem to lie in their not having to struggle against other trees and weeds, which in their natural state doubtless would limit the conditions of their existence."
While this is strikingly reminiscent of a similar passage in Matthew (1831, p. 308),
"Man's interference, by preventing this natural process of selection among plants, independent of the wider range of circumstances to which he introduces them, has increased the difference in varieties, particularly in the more domesticated kinds;"
there is again no smoking gun showing that Darwin has gotten the inspiration for his statement from Matthew. In fact, Matthew may have gotten it from elsewhere and that may be the common, unacknowledged source of Matthew and Darwin. Matthew got his idea of variation in trees from others including Loudon (1806) and spin doctored it (see last post).

A lot of homework needs to be done, to trace back how Matthew's idea of natural selection did not fall from heaven, but imperceptibly grades into his sources in turn. I do not see the onus of doing that homework on me or anybody else denying plagiarism claims of conspiracy theorists.****



* Mike Sutton (2014. Nullius in Verba), of course, makes a conspiracy thing out of this talking about an obscure Victorian rule forbidding Victorians to cite Vestiges, instead of realising what a botch Vestiges truly was. He even thinks that Vestiges somehow transported Matthew's idea of natural selection, when the opposite is true. It fell victim to the savage reception of the Victorians, including later Darwinians like Huxley, because it failed to mention Matthew (1831) or his idea of natural selection with a single word. If anything, Vestiges is proof that Chambers either did not read Matthew (1831), or he read it, but did not receive the idea of natural selection from his perusal. Surely, the so-called review of Matthew in the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal on Saturday the 24th of March 1832. Volume 1 of that journal containing numbers 1-52 was published in 1833 by Orr and Smith, London. is nothing more than a recipe for planting, pruning and training trees. It neither proves that Rober Chambers has read Matthew (1831), because the column could even have been written by Matthew, nor that Chambers received the idea of natural selection, because it says nothing on the issue and is exclusively concerned with practical matters of tree education.

** See here for many examples of the engineering kind, with patents giving the most general and unspecific hint that the patent in question is a modification of animal traps of a similar kind, but not one specific citation of a previous patented or unpatented trap.

*** Where Hugh Dower claims that Darwin must have read Loudon's review after his return from his voyage, and consequently also Matthew (1831), Sutton adds his special soldered-up logic allowing him to take any non-sequitur. He simply takes the fact that Loudon was also the editor of the journal, in which Blyth published his papers on natural selection as a conservative principle, as a short circuit through which the whole of Matthew (1831) got transmitted somehow to Darwin. He also claims the direct link to Matthew via Loudon's review, for good measure. Nuclear fusion of neurons?

**** Sutton (2014) added no new facts, but a special method combining googling with a soldered-up logic that allows him to take any non-sequitur. His game of regarding anything that has less than six degrees of separation as incriminating evidence against Darwin and Wallace proves nothing beyond the fact that they were all members of a close-knit community. The three facts above raise interesting historical questions, but, please, with Eiseley's grace and style.