Monday, 22 September 2014

Give the rack a turn!

Beyond a reasonable doubt?

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. How?

By simply counting how many people known to them have read Matthew (1831). Ignoring a number of other people, who Sutton 'identified' by his shoddy first-to-be-second principle of their having used what Sutton regards as 'Matthewisms,' he 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

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

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.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Matthew re-quoting Loudon via Steuart

The big beef that people who suspect plagiarism behind Darwin's and Wallace's 'discovery' of natural selection is with the following passage from Matthew (1831, On Naval Timber and Arboriculture, p. 307f):
"The use of the infinite seedling varieties in the families of plants, even in those in a state of nature, differing in luxuriance of growth and local adaptation, seems to be to give one individual (the strongest best circumstance-suited) superiority over others of its kind around, that it may, by overtopping and smothering them, procure room for full extension, and thus afford, at the same time, a continual selection of the strongest, best circumstance-suited, for reproduction. 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; and even in man himself, the greater uniformity, and more general vigour among savage tribes, is referrible to nearly similar selecting law—the weaker individual sinking under the ill treatment of the stronger, or under the common hardship."
John Claudius Loudon (public domain)
As shown here, the context of this passage is that Matthew criticised a long quote of Loudon (1806, p. 502-505), which he says to have taken from Steuart (1828, p. 400-403). Let's analyse this peculiar re-quote beginning with the original, Loudon (1806, A treatise on forming, improving, and managing country residences, vol. 2, p. 502-505):
+"Though a great deal more might be added from known facts which have come under my own observation, or which I have collected from several parts of the country, I shall only offer, in connexion with the above, a few remarks on the effects of pruning on trees. The general effects I have already stated to be of a corresponding nature with culture; that is, to increase the quantity of timber produce. The particular manner in which it does this, is by directing the greater part of the sap, which generally spreads itself in side branches, into the principal stem. This must consequently enlarge that stem in a more than ordinary degree, by increasing the annual circles of wood. Now if the tree be in a worse soil and climate than those which are natural to it, this will be of some advantage, as the extra increase of timber will still be of a quality not inferior to what would take place in its natural state; or in other words it will correspond with that degree of quality and quantity of timber which the nature of the species of tree admits of being produced. If the tree be in its natural state, the annual increase of timber occasioned by pruning must necessarily injure its quality, in a degree corresponding with the increased quantity. If the tree be in a better climate and soil than that which is natural to it, and at the same time the annual increase of wood be promoted by pruning, it is evident that such wood must be of a very different quality from that produced in its natural state.
Now though it might be shewn in some degree from vegetable anatomy, and analogy from what takes place in herbaceous vegetables, I prefer deducing from the facts already stated this proposition: that whatever tends to increase the wood in a greater degree than what is natural to the species when in its natural state, must injure the quality of timber. Pruning tends to increase this in a considerable degree; and therefore it must be a pernicious practice in so far as it is used, in these cases *.
6. Mr. Knight# has shewn in a very striking manner, that timber is produced, or rather that the alburnum or sap-wood is rendered ligneous, by the motion of the tree during the descent of the true sap. It is also sufficiently known to all who have attended to the physiology of vegetables, and greatly confirmed by some experiments recently read to the Royal Society , that
* In this Section I never consider pruning in regard to eradicating diseases, preventing injuries, or increasing the natural character and tendency of trees. For these purposes it is of great advantage.
# See Phil. Trans, for 1803—4. Mirbell's Anatomie et Physiologie Végétalés. Tom. I. art 6.
▼ These experiments were also made by Mr. Knight. I hope they have convinced that ingenious philosopher of an erroneous supposition in his Remarks on fruit Trees, published some years ago; which is, that the tree produced by a graft taken from one in a state of decay will live no longer than the parent plant. If in these last experiments Mr. K. could reason by analogy from potatoe plants to fir trees, certainly reasoning of the same nature from the propagation of decaying carnations, rockets, wallflowers, &c. by layers and cuttings, to the propagation of decaying fruit trees by grafts, is equally fair. We are certain that the former Jive long after the parent plants, why not also the latter ?
the solid texture of the wood greatly depends upon the quantity of sap, which must necessarily descend, and also on the slowness of its descent. Now both these requisites are materially increased by side branches, which retain a large quantity of sap, and by their junction with the stem occasion a contraction and twisted direction of the vessels, which obstructs the progress of the juice. That this is true in fact, is well known to those accustomed to make wine from maple or birch trees; for in this business it is found that those trees which have fewest side branches bleed more freely than the others, but during a much shorter space. These hints, therefore, afford additional evidence against pruning, and particularly against pruning fir-trees, which, as Mr.Knight justly observes, have larger vessels than most others; and therefore, when in an improved soil and climate, side branches for the purposes above mentioned are essentially necessary, if solid, resinous, and durable timber be the object in view.
From the foregoing remarks, I think, the following conclusions may be drawn respecting the management of trees :
1. That trees should be planted as much as possible in soils, situations, and climates, analogous to those of their natural state: and that it is chiefly in this state or where there are some defects relative to it, that pruning and culture can be exercised with advantage.
2. That in proportion to the superiority of the soil, &c. in which trees are placed, over the natural soil of these trees; in the same proportion pruning and cultivating the soil ought to be avoided, and thinning encouraged.
3. That particular regard should be had to the soil and situation, where either larches, or any of the pine tribe, are planted to remain as the final crop: for as the roots of these chiefly run along the surface, and as in them the great current of the sap is chiefly confined to one channel, that is, the trunk, consequently that tribe of trees is peculiarly liable to change when subjected to unnatural agency.
4. That the only way in which oak timber of safe quality can be provided for the British navy is by inclosing, preserving from cattle, and properly managing, those royal forests where oak is the natural produce of the soil;—Alas! there is reason to fear, that on some future day the neglect of this advice will be regretted. Park oak is very frequently much inferior to forest oak in durability.
5. That as the practice recommended tends to render trees characteristical of their peculiar species, it must consequently be the most agreeable to ornament, or the principles of natural taste."
When Steuart (1828) quoted this passage, however, he took some liberties of spelling and style. For example, he consistently spelled the word increase as encrease; he capitalised words (e.g., timber, tree, and pruning became Timber, Tree, and Pruning); he turned "shewn" into "shown"; he changed "read to the Royal Society" into "laid before the Royal Society." Finally, he inserted an own statement in parentheses at the end of the first paragraph so that the end of that paragraph read: "... it is evident that such wood must be of a very different quality from that produced in its natural state (that is, very inferior)." (Steuart 1828, p. 401)

For some reason Matthew (1831, p. 295-298) only transported "shown" instead of "shewn" and the statement added by in parentheses by Steuart. Steuart's capitalisations are gone, and encrease is back to increase. Unfortunately, Matthew did not re-quote the passage about the Royal Society, so that the "read to" vs "laid before" difference between Loudon and Steuart is lost on Matthew. 

Why would Matthew not quote from Loudon directly? Putting on some Sutton style, let me suggest a plagiarism case. :-) The long passage from Loudon (1806) quoted by Steuart neatly picks out something that can be criticised from a book full of passages that could with sufficient confirmation bias be taken to mean that Matthew plagiarised Loudon concerning, for example, the variation of species.
"The intention of the preceding Chapter was, to shew that there is an inexhaustible fund of variety in trees and shrubs, both with regard to beauty and use" (Loudon 1806, p. 507)
"Now, as the properties of soils and situations are various, this naturally leads to a corresponding variation of the species of tree also; and this variation at once produces ornament and utility." (Loudon 1806, p. 516)
Okay! Next time, for fairness, things that are not vacuous or spurious in Sutton (2014, Nullius in Verba) though not original to him either.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Sutton's Matthewisms dismantled

Part of chapter 4 of Nullius in Verba (Sutton 2014) is concerned with the question "Who were the first authors that were apparently first to be second in publishing unique natural selection phrases from NTA?"

NTA is Sutton's acronym for On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (Matthew 1831). The idea behind this inquiry is that Matthew (1831) has published certain phrases that convey the idea of natural selection and are unique to him, that is, nobody has ever used them before. The conclusion would be that anybody using any of these phrases after Matthew (1831) had probably read that book, but anyway transported the idea of natural selection by using that phrase.

And now brace yourself for the phrases we are supposed to take as "unique natural selection phrases" and Matthewisms that have been used by others before 1858:
[start quote:]
  • 1832 — Mudie: "rectangular branching"
  • 1833 — Ellerby: "plants so far asunder"
  • 1835 — Main: "luxuriant growing trees"
  • 1834 — Conrad: "admixture of species"
  • 1834 — Roget: "living aggregates"
  • 1834 — Low: "long continued selection"
  • 1836 — Rafinesque: "evinced in the genus"
  • 1837 —Wilson: "threatened ascendency"
  • 1837 — Anonymous: "nature's own rearing"
  • 1837 — Dovaston: "sport in infinite varieties"
  • 1838 — Anonymous translator: "portion of the surface of our planet"
  • 1840 — Buel: "infirm progeny"
  • 1840 — Swackhamer: "beat off intruders"
  • 1841 — Johnson: "adapted to prosper"
  • 1841 — Hill: "deeper richer soil"
  • 1842 — Selby: "greater power of occupancy"
  • 1844 — Low: "overpowering the less"
  • 1846 — Emmons: "habits of varieties"
  • 1846 — Alabama Supreme Court: "Infirmity of their condition"
  • 1848 — Charnock: "stiffest and most obdurate"
  • 1849 — Emmons: "deteriorated by culture"
  • 1852 — Wilkin: "figure is best accommodated"
  • 1853 — Andrews: "impressions and habits acquired"
  • 1854 — Mure: "dogmatical classification"
  • 1855 — Fishbourne: "power to permeate"
  • 1855 — Laycock: "mental or instinctive powers"
  • 1856 — Gazlay: "adaptation to condition"
  • 1858 — Powell: "restricted adaptation"
  • 1858 — Floy: "law manifest in nature"
  • 1858 — Leidy: "impressions in insects" [end of quote from Sutton 2014, chap. 4]
William Paley
Admittedly, "adaptation to condition" seems to be a good candidate for a phrase signifying natural selection at first glance. However, adaptation of traits to environmental conditions was a concept of Natural Theology (Paley 1802). There is, for example, the second Bridgewater Treatise on the Power Wisdom and Goodness of God as Manifest in the Creation by John Kidd (1833. "On the adaptation of external nature to the physical condition of man"). If the title does not suffice to show that adaptation was also a creationist concept of natural theology, having cause and effect up-side down, various passages in that book refer to external nature's "adaptation to the physical condition of man." Are we supposed to believe that the difference of including or not including the two words "the physical" transforms a unique natural-selection-phrase into a creationist concept or vice verse?

So there goes the best candidate for a unique natural-selection-phrase of the above quoted list of ostensible Matthewisms. What about "deeper rich soil?" Are we supposed to believe that no farmers or land owners have ever used that trivial combination of words in discussing their properties before 1831, because it cannot be found in the database of before Matthew (1831)?

What about "infirm progeny?" I translated it into the German "schwache Nachkommen" and did find that phrase in various sources from before 1831. This one is a natural theology from 1773 and is a translation from a French original. A French equivalent of "infirm progeny" must therefore have existed even earlier than 1773. Are we supposed to believe that translating either the French or German equivalent into English magically transmogrified it into a unique natural-selection-phrase and Matthewism?

Enough already. Have fun dismantling the other "Matthewisms" for yourself. 

Friday, 12 September 2014

The first juxtaposition of natural selection—an adjective and noun that have nothing to do with evolution

Mike Sutton (2014, Nullius in Verba) writes in his preface:
"On March 5, 2013, I set the fatal ID method [that's sophisticated googling] on Dawkins' hero Charles Darwin. The outcome was shocking. Contrary to what I and apparently everyone else believed, Darwin never coined the term "natural selection," and he never discovered the process; although many scholarly books claim he did both. In actual fact, the term was used by William Preston six years before Darwin was born. And the scientific breakthrough of natural selection theory—the entire detailed description of its evolutionary biological process, the hypothesis for it and the key examples used to explain it—are all unquestionably Patrick Matthew's unique discovery and creation."
Said work of William Preston (1803, "The Argonautics, translated into English verse with notes critical, historical, and explanatory, and dissertations. Vol III.") is an essay On the Poetical Character of Appolonius Rhodius (p. 127ff). In it, William Preston praises the style of the poetry of Appolonius Rhodius using the adjective 'natural,' in order to convey that his style has no mannerism whatsoever. Preston uses the noun 'selection,' in order to convey that his choice of words, allegories, metaphors etc. is natural in this sense. That is, the scene described by Rhodius emerges before the reader's inner retina all by itself, without any effort to imagine it needed by the reader. Here is the full passage:
"The graphical and picturesque talent, of our poet, appears, in the same kind of excellence, which has been ever admired in the author of The Seasons, and is also observable in the writings of Sterne. He catches the exhibition of the moment. He views the scene, or the transaction, which he means to introduce, with an accurate and circumstantial internal vision, clearly and distinctly laid out, in the true colours, if I may so say, on the retina of the mind's eye, as if they had been grouped and depicted by a skilful painter of portraits, history, or landscape. He gives us an accurate and natural selection, and accumulates, and groupes together, more than are commonly found united, though they are presented to us, in the face of nature, and daily occur to the observer in real existence, of local circumstances." (Preston 1803, p. 140, my emphasis)
Isn't it ironic, to see how many household terms of evolutionary theory are used in the sentence containing the juxtaposition of natural and selection? The 'face of nature,' 'local circumstances,' 'existence.' Inattentive and eclectic readers may completely miss the fact that this is a piece of art criticism that has nothing to do with evolutionary theory, especially, if Google guides them straight to the sentence in question. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

BS about Darwin

This is out of memory. I'm sure you can contribute further myths, whose utter ridiculousness shows by mere juxtaposition with other myths.

If all the myths I heard about Charles Darwin were true, and I surely did not hear all of them, then he would have been:

1. a plagiarist who stole ideas from Patrick Matthew and Alfred Wallace;
2. a victim of blackmail by Wallace extorting money from him for not blowing the whistle on his plagiarism;
3. an atheist muslim, who reverted to Christianity on his deathbed.
4. ... what else can you share?
this picture is from: here

Monday, 25 August 2014

Mike Sutton's own Supermyth

Dr. Mike Sutton is a criminologist and self-acclaimed supermyth buster. Nevertheless, he now weaves his own supermyth about Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace having plagiarised Patrick Matthew (for more posts on this issue click on the rider at the top of this blog called 'Matthew 1831.'

As pointed out in this post, he had the nerve to refer to googling as a method of big data analysis, simply because of the slight sophistication in setting Google's options other than to default. These were to search, to limit the search to specific periods of time and to search for exact phrases by using quotation marks as in searching for the exact phrase "natural selection." He did not hesitate to call that ostensibly new method Internet Date-detection and had the effrontery to abbreviate it ID.

What are we to expect behind the pompous phrase computer assisted plagiarism analysis of such a scholar? In fact, his Comparative Analysis of Phrase, Prose and Concept relied on computer assisted gut feelings:
"In the quest to discover whether Darwin's and Wallace's versions of natural selection are essentially not Matthew's, I set about looking for key Matthewian concepts, examples and phraseology in the published and unpublished works that comprise Darwin's and Wallace's papers. [...]
In determining further evidence of guilt or innocence, the premises of the analysis that informs this chapter are that if on more than one occasion Darwin's and Wallace's key concepts and prose appear too similar to Matthew's to have possibly occurred by chance, then that additional new evidence, combined with evidence from Chapter Four, is sufficient to judge that it is beyond all reasonable doubt that both Darwin and Wallace deliberately and dishonestly plagiarized Matthew's hypothesis. In which case, there can be no rational alternative left other than to conclude that both of these great icons committed the greatest science fraud ever known.
A fully systematic, expert, comparative textual analysis is beyond my current abilities and resources. Indeed, I do not know how one might best systematically research this exact question, although I suppose that running NTA and something like my Mega Darwin File through commercially available academic plagiarism checking software, such as Turn-it-in, might be one way to begin. It would be possible for me to try that, especially since my Mega Matthew File includes Matthew's entire hypothesis, and I have another containing the first edition of the Origin, along with Darwin's unpublished essays and other notes. However, I never did conduct such an analysis during the research for this book. Hopefully, in the near future, I or others will explore that particular approach and publish the findings.
In the meantime, this chapter presents the results of my more preliminary research on the topic, which made extensive use of Microsoft Word's finder tool within my Mega Darwin File. All apparently relevant findings were triangulated with ID in order to determine the apparent originality of particular key phrases used by Matthew and Darwin. This checking process was vital to avoid the pitfalls of etymological fallacies that might arise by way of my erroneously believing key phrases and words were rare or unique to Matthew." (Sutton 2014, chap. 5, my emphasis) 
While using technology, 
if you find yourself in ...
In anticipating the next generation of schnooks, that mindlessly apply some plagiarism checking software to Darwin, Matthew and Wallace, may I say that it will be as useless as Sutton's analysis, if it ain't assisted by intelligence. 

An apt analogy will save you a lot of headaches over the above quoted explanation of what Sutton has actually done. Suppose three sources contain a statements to the effect that "it is hot!" Sutton will discover these similar statements by letting Word search his sources (actually Darwin, Matthew and Wallace) and he will also use Google, in order to make sure that no other potential sourced (e.g., Wells, Blyth, Chambers) contain that statement. But his analysis will consider no other text before or after these statements that could add any context for interpretation. That way, he will completely miss the fact that the former source referred to the weather and the latter to the spiciness of food.

Here's an example that everybody can access without having to spend money on his abysmal book. In the comments section of the coverage of The Telegraph, Sutton compared Wallace's Sarawak paper with Matthew (1831):
"And there are many more audacious replications to be seen before we are done with Wallace. In the following presentation of them, I believe no further commentary is required. Wallace’s plagiarism unfolds clearly once followed by Matthew’s original text."
And, leaving various passages that hardly show any similarity in wording aside, he continues to marshall as evidence of plagiarism the following two passages and concludes:

"Wallace (1855):
‘As his hypothesis is one which claims acceptance solely as explaining and connecting facts which exist in nature, he expects facts alone to be brought to disprove it; not à-priori arguments against its probability.’
 Matthew, (1831):
'As our author's premises thus appear neither self-evident nor supported by facts it might seem unfair at least it would be superfluous to proceed to the consideration of his conclusions and corollaries.'
From this simple preliminary comparison of extracts from the Sarawak paper with NTA [Sutton's acronym for Matthew (1831)], it is patently obvious that, three years before he sent his Ternate paper to Darwin, Wallace had plagiarised Matthew’s hypotheses. The similarities in wording, concepts and ideas are too great and too numerous for Wallace to have possibly come up with them independently the Originator." (Sutton in the comments section of the Telegraphs coverage and in 2014, chap. 5) 

Even if some reader sees the striking similarity, which I do not, the problem is the context.

Wallace (1855) actually says that he will not accept a priory criticism as could have come from theologians or philosophers, but that he will only accept evidence. For example, closely allied species that are not associated geographically or geologically would serve as evidence contrary to his law. That one can glean from the very paragraphs adjoining the quoted passage.

Matthew (1831, p. 308), however, criticized a long passage from John Loudon, which he had found quoted in Sir Henry Steuart's book on arboriculture and re-quoted himself on pp. 295-298. Matthew criticised this long quote "in limine," that is, he criticises Loudon's assumptions (pp. 298-307). In attacking the particular assumption that pruning up a tree can do any good for it, Matthew (1831, pp. 307-8) works himself up one of the rare rubies in the rubbish of his book, explaining how pruning can only mar the adaptedness of a tree and gushing out with an insight informed by his idea of natural selection: 
"The use of the infinite seedling varieties in the families of plants, even in those in a state of nature, differing in luxuriance of growth and local adaptation, seems to be to give one individual (the strongest best circumstance-suited) superiority over others of its kind around, that it may, by overtopping and smothering them, procure room for full extension, and thus afford, at the same time, a continual selection of the strongest, best circumstance-suited, for reproduction. 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; and even in man himself, the greater uniformity, and more general vigour among savage tribes, is referrible to nearly similar selecting law—the weaker individual sinking under the ill treatment of the stronger, or under the common hardship.
   As our author's premises thus appear neither self-evident nor supported by facts it might seem unfair at least it would be superfluous to proceed to the consideration of his conclusions and corollaries." (Matthew 1831, p. 307-308)
As is clear from this context, the last paragraph beginning with "As our author's premises..." ends a rant against Loudon (or Steuart) and says that Matthew will not even bother to review and criticise the conclusions of this author (Loudon or Steuart), because he found his premises wanting. Admittedly, it is a bit harder to get this context and meaning, because one needs to look 10 pages astern, in order to get it.

Sutton, however, thinks that Matthew was referring to himself as "our author" and mistakes the passage as a modest gesture at why Matthew had appended his main exposition of the idea of natural selection to the appendix.
"Having refuted Darwin’s excuses that Matthew hid his discovery solely in the appendix of NTA, and that both NTA’s title and subject matter were inappropriate to contain unique ideas on organic evolution in the first half of the 19th century, it is perhaps useful to examine why Matthew did put so much of his discovery, and his discussion of its implications, into the appendix. He may have done so for two reasons. It seems likely that he believed it was the right place for a deductively derived hypothesis, as apposed to an inductive theory inspired and supported by sufficient confirmatory empirical evidence. If so, that would explain why he wrote the following in the main body of NTA (Matthew 1831, p. 303):

‘As our author's premises thus appear neither self evident, nor supported by facts, it might seem unfair, at least it would be superfluous, to proceed to the consideration of his conclusions and corollaries.’

Those further conclusions and corollaries were saved for the appendix, which may also have been used so extensively because it seemed the appropriate place for heresy." (see Sutton, A Bombshell for the History of Evolutionary Biology,
It's sad how, in trying to bust a current myth about Patrick Matthew's obscurity, Sutton creates a super-myth about Darwin's and Wallace's plagiarism. The supermyth buster has fallen into his own trap it seems.

Sutton, M. 2014. Nullius in Verba. [Don't buy, it's a waste of money!]

Another irrelavant review of Matthew (1831)

Another anonymous review from before 1858, that is falsely marshalled as evidence of the publicity of Patrick Matthew's idea of natural selection is:

Anonymous 1831. "On Naval Timber." United Serice Journal and Naval and Military Magazine 1831, Part 2, pp. 457-466, which is continued in 1831, Part 3, pp. 65-76.
Being a journal of the navy and military, it is no wonder that the reviewer has positive words for Matthew's patriotism and his appraisal of the navy as the warrant of Britain's dominion. But on Matthew's idea of natural selection he drops but one terse and devastating sentence and for the radical rants against nobility and entail, the probably noble reviewer has no sympathy whatsoever:
"In thus testifying our hearty approbation of the author, it is strictly in his capacity as a forest-ranger, where he is original, bold, and evidently experienced in all the arcana of the parentage, birth, and education of trees. But we disclaim participation in his ruminations of the law of Nature, or on the outrages committed upon reason and justice by our burthens of hereditary nobility, entailed property, and insane enactments."  (Anon. 1831, part 2, p. 457)
This reviewer did not miss Matthew's idea of natural selection, for sure, but he disclaimed it and merely calling it "ruminations of the law of Nature" left no hint for the reader to guess what that law could be about. Again, if Darwin or Wallace had read this review, they would not have gotten the slightest hunch that Matthew said anything of relevance to their own issue. This is another irrelevant citation of Matthew (1831) that is falsely marshalled as evidence of the publicity of Matthew's idea of natural selection before 1858.