Charles Darwin Stole My Theory

Professor Mark Brake appeared on BBC Radio Wales this morning, on the Jamie and Louise Show.

Mark was talking about ‘Darwinia’, and the celebrations organised to commemorate Charles Darwin’s life, times, scientific ideas and their impact. The Darwin200 venerations were especially heady today, since its Darwin’s two hundredth birthday. The 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species is on 24 November.

Also featured on the show is Roy Davies, whose excellent book The Darwin Conspiracy shows how Darwin got the credit for the Theory of Evolution when it belonged to someone else, and why academics ignored all the documentary evidence that suggest Darwin perpetrated one of the greatest crimes in the history of science.



26 comments


    theagingfanboy

    February 12, 2009

    According to Roy Davis’ website for the book he also believes that Christianity is a hoax (he claims to have initiated the work leading to “The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail” and “The Da Vinci Code”) and that President Roosevelt knew about the attack on Pearl Harbour in advance. One more conspiracy eh? Can I be one of the world-wide conspiracy of scientists who are covering this up?

    Malthus

    February 12, 2009

    Administrator, this level of comment from ‘theagingfanboy’ is undeserving of both your blog and Roy Davies’ book. No such silly claims are made on Davies’ site. What’s more the case for Wallace is by now well-established, as I thought all reputable scientists knew.

    Davies is not the first to suggest Darwin was guilty of plagiarism. Cyril Dean Darlington, Professor of Botany at Oxford University refused to believe that Darwin was the origniator, as did Loren Eisley, Professor of Anthropology and the History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

    It is not a conspiracy, but rather an attempt at a democratic debate as to the origins of the idea of natural selection. Such open discussion often offends the more conventional and conservative-minded mediocrities.

    theagingfanboy

    February 12, 2009

    I direct you to http://www.darwin-conspiracy.co.uk/book/author.html – so near and yet so far, I don’t want to be a conventional and conservative-minded mediocrity, I want to be in on the conspiracy.

    Mark Banerji

    February 12, 2009

    When I was a trainee I told my boss about a brilliant idea I had. He then informed the director without crediting me. When I challenged him I was told “Because you are a trainee no one would have taken up the idea”.

    Malthus

    February 12, 2009

    And I direct you to:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearl_Harbor_advance-knowledge_debate

    where some high-ranking parties have argued the case for advanced knowledge on Pearl Harbor.

    But the point is, the fact that these programmes were made does not necessarily contradict or influence the Darwin debate. As the works of professors Darlington and Eisley testify. And we all know that Darwin AND Wallace were credited at the time …

    Keefer

    February 12, 2009

    You see M. Banerji has an important point. Darwin was posh. Wallace was not. Darwin was well-connected. Wallace was not. Darwin was a creationist, at first. Wallace was not. Darwin rubbed shoulders with the crachach. Walllace was a social activist who was critical of what he considered to be an unjust social and economic system in 19th-century Britain. Darwin was dull and conventional. Wallace was strongly attracted to unconventional ideas. The reasons they picked Darwin as the poster boy for evolution are SOCIAL and not scientific.

    Picard

    February 12, 2009

    The Story of the Neem Tree is an example of modern day piracy in science.
    The trees properties had been used over 100s of years in India. Along comes a big US Pharma patents its properties then tries to licence it back to the country!

    http://www.american.edu/ted/neemtree.htm

    Pfffft.

    February 12, 2009

    One of the greatest crimes in the history of science?

    What overdramatic fool would call plagiarism one of the greatest crimes? Plagiarism would be, at worst, a matter of bruised egos…

    Meanwhile, science has not only enabled our wealth and consumerism and our relative comfort today, but has, along the way, enabled wars, created weapons, and harmed or destroyed millions of lives.

    I have no idea whether Darwin plagiarised. I am not convinced that it matters one jot. Did Edison invent the lightbulb, or did someone else lay the groundwork? Alexander Graham Bell, the telephone, or did someone else lay the groundwork? Did the Wright Brothers invent the airplane, Whittle the jet engine, Berners-Lee the internet? Why should it matter?

    It’s called evolution. Change happens in small increments. Not every increment is remembered, not every increment builder named in history books. People are completely replacable and irrelevant. It is the ideas and the knowledge that matter. Everything else is just distraction, showmanship and razzle dazzle to convince a lazy and ignorant public they have just learned a fact that makes them clever. There may be thousands of Roy Davies’ readers running about convinced they are smart because they can sprinkle conspiracy theories about Darwin’s plagiarism into their conversations – and yet I would be surprised if even half of them could give a coherent and accurate explanation of what evolution and natural selection actually mean…

    Picard

    February 12, 2009

    I wonder if anyone arguing that it’s ok to rip off other peoples work would be happy to be operated on by somebody who had watched the procedure on Youtube.

    Paul Gill

    February 12, 2009

    very interesting piece, gutted I missed this. i gather darwin and wallace had some correspondence back in the day and some enlightend scientists now refer to the theory of evolution as the darwin-wallace theory. one thing is for certain, wallace’s theory preceeded darwins. whether darwin used this to inform his work or simply plagarised it is perhaps debatable. science is, however, littered with similar high profile incidents; perhaps most notably watson and crick and their nobel prize…

    James Stewart

    February 12, 2009

    In 1982, Elaine Morgan of Mountain Ash (most famous for her pursuit of the ‘aquatic ape’) wrote the script for a BBC dramatisation of the story of Alfred Russell Wallace. It was broadcast in the series ‘The World About Us’ under the title ‘The Forgotten Voyage’.

    The original billing for the film read:

    ‘In 1854 a young Victorian naturalist journeyed to the unexplored islands of the Far East – inhabited by native peoples and wildlife more varied and colourful than anywhere else in the world. Wallace not only discovered new creatures but also new ideas about the origin of the species that he encountered – the answer to ‘the greatest mystery’ that still preoccupied Charles Darwin and the other men of science back home in England. This film dramatises Wallace’s epic but forgotten voyage of discovery that led up to the most important scientific innovation of the nineteenth century.’

    One scene reveals the machinations which led to Wallace and Darwin’s papers being presented (in both their absences) at the Linnaen Society (with Darwin’s being given precedence). The film ends with Darwin, guilt-wracked, after Wallace’s funeral.

    Malthus

    February 12, 2009

    James Stewart’s account of the talented Elaine Morgan’s take is very interesting. It’s also worth pointing out that the more sceptical account of the story of how Darwin’s Origin came to be published started with the centenary celebration of Origin in 1959. Cyril Dean Darlington, Sherardian Professor of Botany at Oxford University, began to wonder why there seemed to be no apparent original germ of the idea of natural selection in Darwin’s work.

    Despite Darlington’s clear enthusiasm for ‘Darwinism’, he was puzzled that the Origin itself contained no account, within its abundant pages, of how Darwin had come by his theory. Like never before, Darlington went against the stream of conventional academic current, confronting the matter candidly,

    “How is it, we may now ask ourselves, that so much obscurity overhangs the development of the greatest of modern ideas? After a hundred years we are almost as uncertain of the authorship or editorship of Darwin’s writings as we are of those attributed to Homer or Hippocrates. This is due, on the one hand, to the fact that people who investigate the history of science are historians who are not entirely clear about the meaning of its ideas. They also often believe what the discoverer writes about his own discoveries, which, as we see, is not a wise thing to do. On the other hand, among scientists there is a natural feeling that one of the greatest of our figures should not be dissected, at least by one of us. The myth should be respected”.

    It seems that the debate has been with us longer than many conventional scientists believe.

    Mathus

    February 12, 2009

    Looking back over these comments has been something of an education in itself. I’ve recently come across Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit, what you might also call a Citizen’s Guide to Deciphering Bullshit. Sagan lists a number of ‘tools’ in his kit, which I think ‘theagingfanboy’ should be more aware when entering scientific debate:

    1. “Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours”, sometimes biologists treat Darwin as a God, which is somewhat missing the point, n’est-ce pas?

    2. “Ad hominem – attacking the arguer and not the argument”, rather than reading Roy Davies’ book and getting to grips with the debate, ‘theagingfanboy’ just attacks Davies himself;

    3. “Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view”, people have shown that knowledgeable biologists such as Professor Cyril Dean Darlington and Professor Loren Eisley have also had doubts about Darwin.

    After all, doubt and skepticism are also tools of science, are they not?

    theagingfanboy

    February 12, 2009

    Ouch! I think I’m qulified to join the debate, but mentioned Roy Davies’ output to emphasise that (in my opinion) that all this publicity rests on The Conspiracy. That’s what gets me. Have a debate about precedence by all means, but it’s the “unvailing” of vast conspiracys that gets to me. Is the situation of credit unclear because it’s got muddled over time? Perhaps. Is there an on-going collusion between highly-placed people who know the truth but are covering it up? Very unlikely. The book publicity says: “why have academics ignored all the documentary evidence that suggests Darwin perpetrated one of the greatest crimes in the history of science?” It’s being marketed as a conspiracy book, not an evolution book.

    Wikipedia is perhaps not the place for conspiracies, but the article I was referred to above about Pearl Harbour uses David Irving as the source for Roosevelt’s motivations. I don’t accept that for a moment.

    Bishop Wilberforce

    February 12, 2009

    The Wallace argument has been going on for decades. To set things in context:

    (1) there is more than adequate proof from Darwin’s notes and accounts of contemporaries that he had hit on the theory years before Wallace

    (2) what people obligingly forget is that Wallace had the bare bones of the idea, but had not done the years of research Darwin had done to back up the theory with decent evidence. I can’t be bothered to find the quotation, but when Darwin received Wallace’s letter, he commented in a letter that it read like a summary of his manuscript. The manuscript in question was the basic bare bones of the theory that was intended to be published after his death. But that manuscript is just basic theory, with no backing evidence. People conveniently forget now that it was the wealth of evidence (all that stuff on breeding pigeons, etc, is there for a purpose, it’s not filler) that championed Darwin’s arguments over earlier and other contemporary efforts, not just the basic idea.

    (3) Wallace and Darwin came from different social backgrounds, but moved in the same scientific circles. What nobody ever thinks of wonder ing is why Wallace just happened to write to Darwin. Maybe because Wallace had heard rumours of what Darwin was up to?

    (4) Wallace ended up with a nice sinecure of a job on his return – he wasn’t left out in the cold

    (5) Those championing Wallace should compare and contrast his and Darwin’s later works. Darwin produced all that dull, uninfluential stuff on expression of emotions, the descent of man, etc. Wallace produced books on why innoculation was a bad thing and scientific proof that fairies existed.

    TH Huxley

    February 12, 2009

    Hey Bish

    Nice to hear from you. Now then, in answer to your misconceptions:

    ‘The Wallace argument has been going on for decades’ because there is a case to be answered.
    Although the Linnean Society meeting judged Darwin and Wallace to be equally worthy of recognition as the originators of the theory of evolution, one of them had to be recognised as pre-eminent. The Linnean Society was made up of gentlemen natural philosophers. Wallace, who had written out the complete theory of evolution to which they had listened in silence, was not a gentleman. Charles Darwin, whose unconnected thoughts were contained in two extracts from a 14-year-old essay and a copy of a recent letter, was a gentleman.
    More specifically, in answer to your ‘context’:
    1) It was Wallace who wrote out the complete theory, Darwin flailed around for years, lacking a true focus to his hypothesis;
    (2) After a single, very well-publicised and long voyage, Darwin travelled rarely, crippled in Kent with illness and panic disorders of social and agora phobias. Meanwhile Wallace, younger by a decade, wandered freely about the globe, from the rainforests of the Amazon Basin, to the Malay Archipelago. Here he identified the line that divides Indonesia into two distinct parts. One in which creatures closely related to those of Australia are common, and one in which the species are almost exclusively Asian in origin. It is a mistake to portray Wallace as lacking in detailed research or experiment;

    (3) ‘What nobody ever thinks of wondering is why Wallace just happened to write to Darwin. Maybe because Wallace had heard rumours of what Darwin was up to?’ No, Darwin, with associates such as Hooker and Lyell, was merely in a position of social power, though I know scientists like to pretend science has nothing to do with social class;
    (4) ‘Wallace ended up with a nice sinecure of a job on his return – he wasn’t left out in the cold’: guilt on Darwin’s part. Having fleeced Wallace of his theory, Darwin arranged a meagre pension for Wallace to salve his conscience. Why do you think Darwin suffered for the rest of his life with those strange illnesses? Guilt, that’s what;
    (5) Not a good argument. After all, Darwin started out life a creationist. You don’t mention that. Despite Lyell’s insistence on ‘deep time’, at first Darwin still believed in an Earth history of thousands, rather than millions, of years. He was sold on the notion of quick organic change. If species did change from one form into another, Darwin supposed, there would be no time for gradual change. Rather, Darwin dealt up change in biblical and catastrophic quantities. An organism would leap from one form into another, per saltum – ‘at one bound’, to better fit the new surroundings. In this picture of evolution, an organism that was slow to adapt would expire in the alien environment. And a species could survive only if it changed in an instant, into a different form.

    And it just doesn’t follow that even if Wallace DID believe in fairies that he was wrong about evolution now, does it?

    theagingfanboy

    February 12, 2009

    I think it’s difficult to imagine what Dawin and Wallace’s original ideas were. They were both presumably brought up with a set of beliefs. I don’t know about Wallace, but Darwin was Anglican. When Darwin was in South America he found shell fossils at sea level, tree fossils at altitude, and shell fossils again at high altitude. From this he too began to conclude that the world had changed through “deep time”.

    It’s almost impossible to grasp the impact that this must have had. For one thing the very concept caused Fitzroy (the Captain of the Beagle) to lose his mind. Us biologists perhaps underestimate the impact that Darwin had on Geology. I think that Darwin himself, however he was brought up, realised that the Biblical account just couldn’t be right.

    There are some pertinent comments about this on a Wallace web page: http://www.wku.edu/~smithch/index1.htm under “Misinformation Alert!”. Includeing the fact that he was a “gent”. He seems to have been very famous in his time; hardly supporting this conspiracy theory, what?

    Helen

    February 12, 2009

    It is interesting that you mention Darwin’s religious background and the beliefs with which he was brought up. I recently read an article by Margaret Kirk in ‘The Inquirer’, a Unitarian publication that discusses his religious background and in particular the possible influence of his atheist grandfather. Apparently he was indeed an Anglican but his father’s family were free thinkers and his mother’s family were Unitarians (a denomination that questions a literal interpretation of the Bilble and accepts that insights may be gained from nature). His atheist grandfather, Dr Erasmus Darwin published ‘Zoonomia’ in 1794 in which he suggests that all warm blooded creatures have a common origin and have aquired new parts and improved over the course of time. (If anyone wishes to read this article they might be able to obtain a copy from http://www.inquirer.org.uk/ )
    Having possibly added to the confusion by suggesting that yet another person could have had the idea, I would like to make a suggestion. When the groundwork of ideas is laid then breakthroughs in knowledge will occur. In short, ideas evolve. Who gets the credit depends much on chance – where and when they are at the time and how good they are at publicising their knowledge.

    Bishop Wilberforce

    February 12, 2009

    Yes, the whole matter is class-riddled and Darwin gained his position precisely because his inherited wealth enabled him to swan around the world rather than getting a proper job. And yes, Wallace probably deserved greater recognition at the time. But he was a one-trick pony. I blanch at some of the things Darwin wrote (anyone who thinks him a liberal should look carefully at his later writings) but at least he pursued real science, whereas Wallace was simply embarrassing as he grew older. And Darwin’s supporting evidence was far more comprehensive than Wallace’s.

    I think that if we want to re-assess anyone on that voyage, it’s Captain Fitzroy. He deserves a far more sympathetic portrayal than the arch Tory blimp he is usually portrayed as being.

    Elaina

    February 12, 2009

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Elaina

    theagingfanboy

    February 12, 2009

    Fitzroy invented modern weather forecasting (or is that another conspiracy!), which lead to the naming of the shipping forecast sea area formerly known as Finisterre after him.

    Mark Brake

    February 12, 2009

    Alas, I think John is right. The idea that Fitzroy invented modern weather forecasting IS another conspiracy. Surely everyone knows it was Bert Foord (http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/bbcweather/forecasters/bertfoord.shtml) and (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bert_Foord)

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