Monday, 24 February 2020

Samuel Butler's historical analysis of evolutionary theory

Samuel Butler (1879; 1887) saw the big difference between Charles Darwin (and Alfred Wallace) and his predecessors not in the idea of natural selection by itself but in the idea that natural selection worked on undirected (non-teleological) variation. In this he clearly showed Patrick Matthew to belong to the old, teleological, theorists of evolution together with Buffon, Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck. While Butler has been correct in his analysis, he was wrong in his conclusion, for he favored the teleological conception of evolution over the new one.
     This introduced an unfortunate plot-twist. Butler's early voice remained unheard, pointing out that the idea of natural selection was a very old one and that the difference Darwin and his predecessors did not lie in the "discovery" of natural selection. Instead, the false myths of a discovery of natural selection and of the identity of Matthew's theory with Darwin's got carved in stone.
     The below quotes from Butler's books Evolution, Old and New (1879) and Luck or Cunning (1887) serve to show that he distinguished conceptions of evolution based on their teleology, that he favored the teleological conception, and that he counted Matthew among the teleological evolutionists (but not Darwin).

  • Butler, S. 1879. Evolution, Old  and New; or, the theories of Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck, as compared with that of Mr. Charles Darwin. S. E. Cassino.
  • Butler, S. 1887 [re-issued 1922]. Luck, or Cunning, as the main means of organic modification? Jonathan Cape.
"Not one person in ten thousand has any distinct idea of what Buffon, Dr. Darwin, and Lamarck propounded. Their names have been discredited by the very authors who have been most indebted to them; there is hardly a writer on evolution who does not think it incumbent upon him to warn Lamarck off the ground which he at any rate made his own, and to cast a stone at what he will call the 'shallow speculations' or 'crude theories' or the 'well-known doctrine' of the foremost exponent of Buffon and Dr. Darwin. Buffon is a great name, Dr. Darwin is no longer even this, and Lamarck has been so systematically laughed at that it amounts to little less than philosophical suicide for anyone to stand up in his behalf." (Butler 1879, p. 61)

"It will appear that the evolution of evolution has gone through the following principal stages:—
I. A general conception of the fact that specific types were not always immutable. [Butler associates this view with Anaximander, Lucretius, Bacon, and Raleigh.] 
II. A definite conception that 'animal and vegetable forms were so extensively mutable that few (and, if so, perhaps but one) could claim to be of an original stock; the direct effect of changed conditions being assigned as the cause of modification, and the important consequences of the struggle for existence being in many respects fully recognized. The fact of design or purpose in connection with organism, as causing habits and thus as underlying all variation, was also indicated with some clearness, but was not well understood. This phase must be identified with the name of Buffon" (Butler 1879, p. 62)

"Before I had finished writing this book I fell in with Professor Mivart's 'Genesis of Species,' and for the first time understood the distinction between the Lamarckian and Charles-Darwinian systems of evolution." (Butler 1887 [1922], p. 16)

"Natural selection (meaning by these words the preservation in the ordinary course of nature of favourable variations that are supposed to be mainly matters of pure good luck and in no way arising out of function) has been, to use an Americanism than which I can find nothing apter, the biggest biological boom of the last quarter of a century;" (Butler 1887, p. 70)

"Stripped of detail the point at issue is this;—whether luck or cunning is the fitter to be insisted on as the main means of organic development. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck answered this question in favour of cunning. They settled it in favour of intelligent perception of the situation—within, of course, ever narrower and narrower limits as organism retreats farther backwards from ourselves—and persistent effort to turn it to account. They made this the soul of all development whether of mind or body." (p. 71)

"According to Messrs. Darwin and Wallace, and ostensibly, I am afraid I should add, a great majority of our most prominent biologists, the view taken by Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck is not a sound one. Some organisms, indeed, are so admirably adapted to their surroundings, and some organs discharge their functions with so much appearance of provision, that we are apt to think they must owe their development to sense of need and consequent contrivance, but this opinion is fantastic; the appearance of design is delusive; what we are tempted to see as an accumulated outcome of desire and cunning, we should regard as mainly an accumulated outcome of good luck." (p. 80)

"At any rate it will be admitted that Mr. Darwin did not make his title-page express his meaning so clearly that his readers could readily catch the point of difference between himself and his grandfather and Lamarck; nevertheless the point just touched upon involves the only essential difference between the systems of Mr. Charles Darwin and those of his three most important predecessors [Buffon, Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck]. All four writers agree that animals and plants descend with modification; all agree that the fittest alone survive; all agree about the important consequences of the geometrical ratio of increase; Mr. Charles Darwin has said more about these last two points than his predecessors did, but all three were alike cognisant of the facts and attached the same importance to them, and would have been astonished at its being supposed possible that they disputed them. The fittest alone survive; yes—but the fittest from among what?
     Here comes the point of divergence; the fittest from among organisms whose variations arise mainly through use and disuse? In other words, from variations that are mainly functional? Or from among organisms whose variations are in the main matters of luck? From variations into which a moral and intellectual system of payment according to results has largely entered? Or from variations which have been thrown for with dice? From variations among which, though cards tell, yet play tells as much or more? Or from those in which cards are everything and play goes for so little as to be not worth taking into account? Is 'the survival of the fittest' to be taken as meaning 'the survival of the luckiest' or 'the survival of those who know best how to turn fortune to account'? Is luck the only element of fitness, or is not cunning even more indispensable?" (p. 84f)

"Buffon, Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck believed in natural selection to the full as much as any follower of Mr. Charles Darwin can do. They did not use the actual words, but the idea underlying them is the essence of their system. Mr. Patrick Matthew epitomised their doctrine more tersely, perhaps, than was done by any other of the pre-Charles-Darwinian evolutionists, in the following passage which appeared in 1831, and which I have already quoted in 'Evolution Old and New' (pp. 320, 323)." (p. 85)

"It is indeed true that the younger Darwin gave the words 'natural selection' the importance which of late years they have assumed; he probably adopted them unconsciously from the passage of Mr. Matthew's quoted above, but he ultimately said, 'In the literal sense of the word (sic) no doubt natural selection is a false term,' as personifying a fact, making it exercise the conscious choice without which there can be no selection, and generally crediting it with the discharge of functions which can only be ascribed legitimately to living and reasoning beings. Granted, however, that while Mr. Charles Darwin adopted the expression natural selection and admitted it to be a bad one, his grandfather did not use it at all; still Mr. Darwin did not mean the natural selection which Mr. Matthew and those whose opinions he was epitomising meant. Mr. Darwin meant the selection to be made from variations into which purpose enters to only a small extent comparatively. The difference, therefore, between the older evolutionists and their successor does not lie in the acceptance by the more recent writer of a quasi-selective power in nature which his predecessors denied, but in the background—hidden behind the words natural selection, which have served to cloak it—in the views which the old and the new writers severally took of the variations from among which they are alike agreed that a selection or quasi-selection is made.
     It now appears that there is not one natural selection, and one survival of the fittest only, but two natural selections, and two survivals of the fittest, the one of which may be objected to as an expression more fit for religious and general literature than for science, but may still be admitted as sound in intention, while the other, inasmuch as it supposes accident to be the main purveyor of variations, has no correspondence with the actual course of things; for if the variations are matters of chance or hazard unconnected with any principle of constant application, they will not occur steadily enough, throughout a sufficient number of successive generations, nor to a sufficient number of individuals for many generations together at the same time and place, to admit of the fixing and permanency of modification at all. The one theory of natural selection, therefore, may, and indeed will, explain the facts that surround us, whereas the other will not. Mr. Charles Darwin's contribution to the theory of evolution was not, as is commonly supposed, 'natural selection,' but the hypothesis that natural selection from variations that are in the main fortuitous could accumulate and result in specific and generic differences." (p. 87f)

Monday, 5 August 2019

"Walther May (1868-1926), Freethinker, Socialist, Zoologist and Historian of Darwinism" by Gaston Mayer (1987)

The below articles is translated from: Mayer, Gaston. 1987. Walther May (1868-1926), Freidenker, Sozialist, Zoologe und Historiker des Darwinismus. Mitteilungen des badischen Landesvereins für Naturkunde und Naturschutz, N.S. 14(2): 483-495. [For further posts on Walther May click on his name in the label menu above.]

Walther May (1868-1926), Freethinker, Socialist, Zoologist and Historian of Darwinism
Gaston Mayer, Karlsruhe*

Freethinker, socialist, zoologist, and historian of Darwinism, these are the stations of the life, clouded by tragic, of the professor of zoology at the technical college/university of Karlsruhe, Dr. Walther May (1868-1926). He detailed his career/development himself in a biographical sketch (1904, see here), so that the following only took the basic facts from it complemented through other sources for the time reported as well as for his later years.
    Walther Viktor May was born on 12.6.1868 in Marburg as son of captain Alexis Ferdinand Conrad May (1835-1870), who fell at Gravelotte, and of Elisabeth Karoline Walther (1842-1922).[1] He entered junior high school in Kassel on Michaelis 1878 (29 Sept) where he soon got into natural sciences and especially into Darwinism. He corresponded with Ernst Haeckel as a 16 year old already, in order to quench his thirst for knowledge. The liberal ideas of the French revolution also attracted him mightily. As a pupil he already published essays in various periodicals during the years 1886 to 1889 and a book "Statement of Beliefs of a Truth-seeker," wherein he summarized his freethinking and socialist views. After the end of his schooldays, Easter 1889, he went to Leipzig on 20 April, in order to study natural sciences at the university.Filled with the teachings of Darwin and Haeckel but also of Marx and Engels, he tried to spread thee with juvenile enthusiasm and found an opportunity in the newly founded freethinker club/union "Humboldt," which was largely supported by laborers, and became its chairman. The university's own court, however, forbade him this activity and also visiting any worker assemblies/gatherings, and it punished him with 4 days detention room [Karzer]. When he trespassed the prohibition thereafter and tried to talk about the world's creation and end, he got expelled from Leipzig university and relegated from visiting any other German university as well. Now he was "a free man," as he wrote himself, and wandered through Saxony from town to town, and he talked about Monism, Darwinism and Socialism. He reached Chemnitz on the 22.10.1891 and became editor of the social-democratic journal "Die Presse." As such he got into conflict with the press-law. He was accused of having justified theft from need/poverty and incriminated him
Address of the author: G. Mayer, Friedrich-Wolff-Str. 77, D-77500 Karlsruhe 1

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

"What Ernst Haeckel means in my life" (Walther May 1914)

Walther May's second autobiographic article occurred in a collection of articles published in order to honor Ernst Haeckel on the occasion of his 80s birthday:

[For further posts on Walther May click on his name in the menu of labels above.]

In this article, May replicates much of his earlier autobiographic article honoring Darwin, which I have translated in an earlier post. That earlier post also gives some context concerning Walther May and why I translate his articles. (My hope to get any further insight into the question how May came to write the first article containing biographic information about Patrick Matthew (1790-1874) was in vain, unfortunately.)  

I will not replicate my translation in like fashion below but refer you to the earlier blog post for the identical sections. The interesting part comes after the departure of this article from its predecessor, anyway: when May dissents Haeckel's monistic ideology and contradicts his plant to organize a German Monistenbund. This seems to be a juicy detail, given that the article was published in a volume sponsored by that very Deutsche Monistenbund (apparently Haeckel had succeeded and the detractors of his plan failed) and meant to honor and thank Haeckel. 

The first few paragraphs of the earlier article are not reproduced by May in his current one. May picks up at the passage:

"My mother used to hold the Daheim, not because she would pay homage to its religious direction, but because it contained nice novels and pictures."

Daheim means "at home," but here refers to a periodical: Daheim. Ein deutsches Familienblatt mit Illustrationen. You can imagine this to be the German equivalent of English periodicals like the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, an educational outlet with an agenda to enlighten the wider public (lower ranks) and foster their (self-)improvement while maintaining a conservative perspective.

The current article continues to replicate the earlier one until:

"Darwin now seemed to be the absolute character of the naturalist researcher, as the hero of scientific method."

Thereafter, the text departs from the earlier as follows:

"His agnosticism concerning the final questions, his tentative defense of his own theories, influenced me in a way similar to my earlier studies of Goethe and made me cautious

Saturday, 22 June 2019

"Darwin in the Mirror of my Life." (Walther May 1903-04)

Walther May (1868-1926) was an assistant professor (no tenure) for forest zoology in Karlsruhe, Germany, who also wrote historical publications concerning the science of Goethe, Humboldt, Darwin, Haeckel and others. Given the recent revival of interest in Humboldt and the question what Darwin owed to the romantics, May's publications may merit a look. (I don't know them yet. Judging from the article translated below, they May be a bit pathetic.)

As I am generally more interested in what happened at the fringes rather than in the mainstream of science, my interest in May arose from his publication dealing with Patrick Matthew (1790-1874), the guy who published an apt formulation of the principle of natural selection in an appendix to a book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture in 1831. The article by May (1911. Darwin und Patrick Matthew. Zoologische Annalen 4: 280-295) was the first to give any biographical information about Matthew.

As it happened, Walther May's life also skated along the fringes of a German mainstream, and it was quite interesting and a little bit tragic. Alas, the only literature that can tell us anything about it are his own accounts and an article by Gaston Mayer (1913-2008):
May, Walther (1903-04). Darwin im Spiegel meines Lebens. Verhandlungen des Naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins in Karlsruhe 17: 3-32.
May, Walther (1914). Was Ernst Haeckel in meinem Leben bedeutet. In H. Schmidt (Hrsg. im Auftrag des deutschen Monistenbundes), Was wir Ernst Haeckel verdanken. Ein Buch der Verehrung und Dankbarkeit (pp. 273-286). Leipzig: Unesma GmbH.
Mayer, Gaston (1987). Walther May (1868-1926), Freidenker, Sozialist, Zoologe und Historiker des Darwinismus. Mitteilungen des Badischen Landesverbands für Naturkunde und Naturschutz, N.S. 14(2): 483-495.
[For translations of the second and third article click on "Walther May" in the menu of lables shown above the posts of this blog.]

Mayer is dead and so are the witnesses that he could still ask. For a start, I will translate the above articles into English. Those will be very long posts. Therefore, an abstract first:

May's Life Abridged
May's youth was guided by radical and romantic views, first Haeckel's and monism rather than Darwin's and naturalism, then Engles's and socialism rather than Marx's original writings. As a student, he was an active member of the free-thinker union, called Humboldt, in Leipzig. His talks during associations about monism, socialism and all that earned him an incarceration for four days by the University of Leipzig and a ban to talk at such meetings ever again. He did not care and was consequently sacked by the university and relegated forever from any German university.
    As a free man, he traveled Saxony from town to town and gave talks. Eventually, he became an editor for the journal Die Presse in Chemnitz in November 1891. A Christmas article for that journal, in December 1891, got him into conflict with the draconian Prussian press law. The harmless article merely justified the stealing out of poverty and need during the Christmas festivities. By 4th of March 1892, however, he got imprisoned for 1 year and 10 months in Zwickau for the 'crimes' of profanity, blasphemy, and calling for civil disobedience.
   Almost two years in prison for writing an article that sounds as if it would fit to the spirit of a Charles Dickens novel! He read Goethe during his time in jail and, for some odd reason, the scientific publications of the great romantic steered May away from his social romanticism. He wanted to become as 'objective' as Goethe. He also wrote a letter to the socialist party, while in prison, cancelling his membership.    After his release in January 1894 he began working as a corrector in the printing business of his uncle in Berlin. This was not a happy time, the only relief being his traveling to Tegel in the North of Berlin in order to visit the haunts of Alexander Humboldt. Finally, when he already showed first symptoms of lead poisoning, a private talk given before the family of his uncle moved the latter to write to Ernst Haeckel and beg him to help. And Haeckel helped! He visited the family in September 1894, listened to the young man, found his crimes most trifling, saw that the relegation of Leipzig university could not bind the one of Jena legally, and he helped May to get a stipend.
    Thus, in October 1895, began the happiest time in Walther May's life. Jena became his Shangri-La. He followed the traces that Goethe, Schiller, Humboldt, Döbereiner (chemist) and others had left in Jena and studied under Stahl, Kükenthal, Verworn, Johannes Walther and, foremost, the old but still active dean Haeckel. Paradoxically, again, the lectures of the great monist moved May away from radical monism and closer towards scientific research, but that was not due to an alienation between May and Haeckel.

If you got the impression of a hopelessly romantic young man, who did not study the originals in his youth and instead got indoctrinated by secondary ideologues, that was my impression too. However, beginning with his studies of Goethe during his prison sentence, he did study the originals, listen to the originals, and also started to read Darwin's original publications. And that, in his own words, turned him from a ideological fighter into a skeptical researcher. I will leave the abridgement at this happy point in May's life and leave the tragic sequel to the translation of Gaston Mayer's article in a later post. 

Translation of Walther May (1903-04):
Verhandlungen des Naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins in Karlsruhe    [vol. 17, p. 3]

Darwin im Spiegel meines Lebens.
By Dr. Walther May. [1868-1926]

When I leaf through the book of my life, I feel the Darwinian spirit whiff through it from early on. As a five year old boy [1873], with a silver Groschen in my pocket, I walked to the fair [market] in order to buy a toy, for the first time in my life at my own choice. I can still see myself standing in front of the colorful things of the ten-penny-booth [10 penny = 1 Groschen] on the Casseler Meßplatz yearning for a small wooden monkey with a red Röckchen [in old German literature, the word Rock does not necessarily mean a skirt for females but can also stand for uniforms or smart dress. The diminution Röckchen, here, did probably not mean a tutu but only that the monkey was small and hence its Rock was so too] on a yellow pole, not daring to ask for it. Finally, I overcome my inborn shyness, purchase the monkey and bring it home beaming with joy.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Mike Sutton is a Fraud

Misrepresentation as a type of research misconduct
Nylenna et al. (1999) reviewed rules on research misconduct listing the following Danish definition:
Intention or gross negligence leading to fabrication of the scientific message or a false credit or emphasis given to a scientist. (Nylenna 1999, 58)
The University of Leicester lists types of research misconduct including:
Misrepresentation of data, such as by suppression of relevant findings, or knowingly, recklessly or by gross negligence presenting a flawed data interpretation (Types of misconduct in research 2020, item 5.i)
Nottingham Trent University, the former employer of Mike Sutton, also lists misrepresentation as a type of research misconduct in both its Code of Practice for Research and its Procedure for Investigating Alleged Research Misconduct.
Misrepresentation of data and/or interests and/or involvement (Code of Practice for Research 2019, p. 11, item 9.2.3)
Misrepresentation, defined as a deliberate attempt to misrepresent falsely or unfairly the ideas or work of others, whether or not for personal gain or enhancement. (Procedure for Investigating Alleged Research Misconduct 2015-16, p. 4, item xvi)
That is, if someone deliberately biases the interpretation of data in such a way as to deceive the readers, it will be a case of research misconduct.

Sutton’s misrepresentation of Selby (1842)
Mike Sutton's treatment of evidence from Prideaux John Selby (1842) concerning the evolutionary ideas of Patrick Matthew (1831) fulfills this definition, because he negligently proceeds from a historical source (Selby 1842) to an interpretation that perverts the historical message of that source into its opposite. Sutton writes:
In his own book on British forest trees, several times Selby adapted Matthew’s apparently unique phrase "greater power of occupancy" to "great power of occupancy" and was apparently first to be second once with Matthew's full original version (Selby 1842, p. 391), where he cited Matthew (1831) and revealed his apparent lack of understanding of one of Matthew's key concept of natural selection. (Sutton 2017, p. 43)
Selby did not understand Matthew’s power of occupancy as a concept of the comparative competitive advantages with respect to different conditions, so that a species could have the largest stamina under conditions that were not optimal for its growth but still worse for the growth of competitors.
The soil upon which most of the Abietinae prevail, is usually of a dry and cool quality; thus, the débris of granitic and other primitive rocks, and barren sandy districts, are very commonly occupied by Pine and fir forests, sometimes of enormous extent; the thick and close manner in which they grow, and the dense shade they produce, effectually preventing the vegetation of other species. Matthew, however, in his able treatise on naval timber seems to think that its indigenous location in such districts arises not so much from preference of soils of the nature above-mentioned, as from its having more power of occupancy in such soils than any other plant of the country; and this opinion he endeavours to support by stating that the Pinus sylvestris, planted in a good or rich soil, attains larger dimensions and its best timber properties, and that it is only driven from this superior soil by the greater power of occupancy possessed by the oak and other deciduous trees, an opinion in which we cannot altogether acquiesce, as we see no reason why the fir, if it grows with such additional vigour in a richer soil, as Mr. Matthew asserts, should, at the same time, be unable to maintain a contest with the oak or other trees. (Selby 1842, 391)
Where Matthew (1831) understood that pines could grow much better on rich soils in warmer climate, if competitors were kept at bay, Selby (1842) believed that pines do prefer poor soils and cooler climate. He, therefore, lacked the prerequisite for understanding Matthew’s idea that, after a catastrophe, remnant species would readily spread into free niches that had been cleared of competitors. He thus could not understand how natural selection could have transformed species, after catastrophes, even if Matthew had made the connection clear in his appendix. Despite Sutton's insistence to the contrary, the main text of Matthew (1831) says nothing about species transmutation. The appendix is the only place where he juxtaposed the ideas of natural selection and species transformation, but the relation of the two remained under-determined (Dagg 2018).
     In fact, Selby simply assumed that a species forming extensive tracts, occurring in masses, or forming natural forests had not only the greatest power of occupancy, there, but also optimal conditions and, vice verse, species that did not form the main tree species did also prefer other conditions of soil, climate etc. (see Selby 1842, 55, 101, 120, 299, 308f, 349, 364). For example, the oak did not exclude the pine from rich soils, but the pine preferred poor soils.
     This evidence suggests that Selby could not put the fragments of Matthew’s evolutionary aphorisms together, which were sprinkled over a text dealing mainly with practical matters of tree cultivation. Nevertheless, Sutton proceeds step by step to pervert his interpretation of this evidence into the opposite. He first turns Selby’s incomprehension of the prerequisite to understand Matthew’s idea of how catastrophes lead to species transformation into an “obvious enthusiasm” for the idea of natural selection:
Given Selby’s obvious enthusiasm for NTA [short for Matthew’s book: On Naval Timber and Arboriculture], repeatedly evidenced in his citations of Matthew’s natural selection concept of "greater power of occupancy" and his obvious respect for its author’s knowledge of arboriculture, it seems highly unlikely that he would not have discussed NTA, at the very least with other connected gentlemen of science. (Sutton 2017, 50)
He then spin-doctors Selby’s rejection of Matthew's concept of competition into a purposeful but dishonest pose on Selby's part: 
Here then we see an example of exactly what Secord (2000) is talking about in terms of a gentleman scientist of the 1840s keeping himself on safe ground by politely critizising Matthew on a point of botanical and arboricultural expertise. By so doing, Selby has managed to critizise one important element of Matthew's natural process of selection without mentioning it outside of the practical issue of Selby’s apparent failure to understand why there might be a multi-factored natural process of selection in nature. (Sutton 2017, 59)
The evidence suggests nothing of the kind. Instead, this evidence tells us that Selby did simply not understand those statements, scattered throughout the text and in the appendix, that were alien to the practical issues of arboriculture and could only be comprehended with a theory of evolution through natural selection already in mind (Dagg 2018). That is, Selby was not equipped to comprehend Matthew's evolutionary aphorisms, but Sutton claims the opposite.

Misrepresenting Selby’s role in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History
Alas, this is not the only misrepresentation by Sutton concerning Selby. For example, he puts Selby with other peripheral persons into “the epicentre of Darwin’s and Wallace’s” personal network, when that was clearly occupied by Joseph Dalton Hooker, Charles Lyell and others.
In this book I prove that other naturalists did read NTA, and this new knowledge is 100 percent veracious because those naturalists actually cited Matthew's book in the published literature. That three naturalists who cited NTA pre-1858—Loudon (1832), Chambers (1844) and Selby (1842)—were right at the epicenter of influence and facilitation of Darwin's and Wallace's published, so-called independent, discoveries of natural selection is a unique and new discovery about the greatest scientific discovery ever made. (Sutton 2014, p. 14)
For the record, Sutton has also dishonestly misrepresented the mentions of Matthew’s book by the others as well as the roles of the persons mentioning it, John Claudius Loudon and Robert Chambers in the above quote.
     Sutton also wrongly portrays John Selby and William Jardine as the chief editors of the journal in which the so-called Sarawak-law paper by Wallace (1855) occurred.
We can be absolutely 100 percent certain of the fact that Wallace and Darwin were indirectly influenced by Matthew via Loudon, who edited and published Blyth's 1835 and 1836 papers on evolution; the naturalist and editor, Robert Chambers, who famously published on the same subject in many editions of his influential and bestselling Vestiges of Creation; and Selby, who edited and published Wallace's 1855 Sarawak paper on natural selection. (Sutton 2014, p. 14-15)
Wallace's (1855) Sarawak paper’s editor and publisher, Prideaux John Selby (1842), read and cited NTA thirteen years earlier. Moreover, the naturalist William Jardine, co-editor of Wallace’s Sarawak paper, had the book in his possession for some time because he purchased Selby's copy (see Jackson 1992). (Sutton 2014, p. 72)
For a start, the fact that William Jardine purchased for Selby a copy of NTA (Jackson 1992), that Selby then cited it and that the two of them later jointly published Wallace's 1855 Sarawak paper, which is his first paper on evolution, creates massive doubt that Wallace arrived at his ideas independently, because this newly discovered fact brings Wallace, most incriminatingly, right into the center of Matthew's orbit, albeit via Wallace's immediate scientific associates who so greatly facilitated his career as an evolutionist. (Sutton 2014, 78-79)
When Wallace (1855) published his Sarawak paper in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History, the roles of Jardine and Selby in that journal were rather limited. It is true that William Jardine had founded a journal called Magazine of Zoology and Botany in 1836 and jointly conducted it with Prideaux John Selby and George Johnston (see Brock and Meadows 2003, 123ff). The journal was a financial failure, however, and Jardine had to subsidise it heavily. By 1837, they decided to sell their journal to Richard Taylor, and so did William J. Hooker (father of Joseph D. Hooker) for his failing Companion to the Botanical Magazine. Taylor fused the two journals into one, which first appeared in March 1838 as: “Annals of Natural History; or, Magazine of Zoology, Botany, and Geology. (Being a continuation of the ‘Magazine of Zoology and Botany,’ and Sir W. J. Hooker’s ‘Botanical Companion.’)” Taylor also gave the names of the former editors of the failed journals as conductors together with his. Taylor also bought the Magazine of Natural History from Edward Charlesworth, in 1840, who had bought it from its founder John Claudius Loudon two years previously. Taylor’s journal thus became: “The Annals and Magazine of Natural history, including Zoology, Botany, and Geology.” Keeping the former editors of the failed journals as co-conductors on the title page had two advantages. They contributed material to its contents and probably kept some subscribers to the failed journals from as subscribers to the successor journal.
     As Taylor financed this journal, however, he conducted it on his own authority and availed himself of the help of his illegitimate son William Francis. [Together they were the founders of Taylor & Francis (Sheets-Pyenson 1981; Brock & Meadows 1998).] Jardine, Johnston and Selby even lamented about their waning influence on the journal’s contents in their private correspondence (Sheets-Pyenson 1981a, 240). On 6 June 1837, Taylor made his editorial politics clear to Jardine:
With regard to the conduct [...], it did not strike me that any difficulty would arise in adjusting our shares of responsibility [...] Whatever might be sent by yourself & your co-operators (who I am glad to learn are disposed to assist), or by Sir W. Hooker [J. D. Hooker’s father, former editor of another journal fused in Taylor’s] in his department, would be inserted, of course, in such quantities as our space in each number wd admit; but though I should in all doubtful cases be glad to avail myself of the opinion of such able advisers, yet I am likely also to receive contributions from friends here of such undoubted eminence, that you wd not think it necessary that I should forward them to you. (Taylor to Jardine, 6 June 1839, quoted in Brock and Meadows 1998, 124)
That is, articles sent directly to Taylor and Francis in London were unlikely to get into the hands of Jardine or Selby, who were free to contribute their own articles or those of friends they deemed worthy, but they were not generally involved in the daily editorial chores at Taylor’s publishing house in London. [Of the three former editors of the Magazine of Zoology and Botany, William Jardine, John Selby, and George Johnston, the latter was diligent in contributing articles.]
     Despite the move to London, the absorption of competing journals and continuity with them, the Annals and Magazine of Natural History was not an immediate economic success (Sheets-Pyenson 1981; Brock and Meadows 1998). Taylor strove to save costs wherever possible. He even wanted to save the postage for sending proofs of the contributions by his sub-editors back north and do the proof-reading in-house (Sheets-Pyenson 1981a, 236; 1981b, 25). While Jardine could keep Taylor from this by suggesting a scheme to sent the proofs at a cheaper postage (Sheets-Pyenson 1981a, 236), Taylor would not have forwarded direct submissions to his London office northward, apart from exceptional cases that he, Francis, or his London staff could not handle themselves.
     Wallace’s mediator in London, Samuel Stevens, probably sent Wallace’s Sarawak paper directly to Taylor and Francis in London, and they probably edited and published it there without sequestering opinions from their Northern consultant naturalists. Jardine had retired by 1850, anyway, whereas Selby lingered on on the title page of the journal until 1860 (Brock and Meadows 1998,appendix 5). However, Selby loathed the chores of reviewing and proof-reading, even when he still was one of three chief-editors before Jardine sold their journal to Taylor (Sheets-Pyenson 1981a, 231). His contribution to Taylor’s successor journal remained below what was expected of him from its very beginning in 1838 (Sheets-Pyenson 1981a, 238; Jackson 1992, 10).

Sutton (2014; 2017) clearly stated that Selby (1842) did not comprehend Matthew’s conception of competition. Hence Sutton’s spin doctoring this into an allegedly deliberate move by Selby is a deliberate move by Sutton in turn. He dishonestly misrepresents Selby (1842) in order to mislead his readers. Again, Sutton (2014; 2017) cited Brock and Meadows (1998) as well as Jackson (1992). Hence, he was fully aware of the limited roles that Selby and Jardine played in Taylor’s Annals and Magazine of Natural History.
He deliberately misleads his readers to regard them as connoisseurs of Matthew’s evolutionary ideas, as central figures in the publication of Darwin’s and Wallace’s works, and to assume a publishing process similar to today’s peer review with reviews, corrections and proofs being sent back and fro around the world with an inevitable correspondence between author (Wallace) and editor (allegedly Selby). Taken together, this is a clear case of research misconduct.

  • Brock, W.H. and Meadows, A.J. 1998. The Lamp of of Learning. Two Centuries of Publishing by Taylor & Francis. Taylor & Francis.
  • Code of Practice for Research. 2019. Nottingham Trent University. Accessed 01.02.2020:
  • Dagg, J.L. 2018. Comparing the respective transmutation mechanisms of Patrick Matthew, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 123(4), 864-878.
  • Darwin, C. 1858. I. Extract from an unpublished work on Species, by C. Darwin Esq., consisting of a portion of a Chapter entitled 'On the variation of Organic Beings in a state of Nature; on the Natural Means of Selection; on the Comparison of Domestic Races and true Species.' II. Abstract of a Letter from C. Darwin, Esq., to Prof. Asa Gray, Boston, U.S., dated Down, September 5th, 1857. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London. Zoology 3(20 Aug): 46-53. []
  • Darwin, C. 1859. On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. John Murray.
  • Jackson, C.E. 1992. Prideaux John Selby: A Gentleman Naturalist. The Spredden Press.
  • Matthew, P. 1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture. Adam Black, Edinburgh; Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, London. [Hathi Trust:]
  • Nylenna, M., Andersen, D., Dahlquist, G., Sarvas, M. & Aakvaag, A. 1999. Handling scientific dishonesty in the Nordic countries. The Lancet 354: 57-61.
  • Procedure for investigating alleged research misconduct. 2015-16. Nottingham Trent University. Accessed 01.02.2020:
  • Selby, P.J. 1842. A history of British Forest-trees, indigenous and introduced. John van Voorst. [Internet Archive:]
  • Sheets-Pyenson, S. 1981a. From the north to the Red Lion Court: the creation and early years of the Annals of Natural History. Archives of Natural History 10(2): 221-249.
  • Sheets-Pyenson, S. 1981b. A measure of success: The publication of Natural History journals in early Victorian Britain. Publishing History 9: 21-36.
  • Sutton, M. 2014. Nullius in Verba: Darwin's Greatest Secret. Thinker Media, Inc.
  • Sutton, M. 2017. Nullius in Verba: Darwin's Greatest Secret. CreateSpace, Independent Publishing Platform.
  • Types of misconduct in research. 2020. University of Leicester. Accessed 29.01.2020:
  • Wallace, A.R. 1858. On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the Original Type. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London. Zoology 3(20 Aug): 53-62. []

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Darwin's correspondence concerning Hooker's address to the British Association for the Aadvancement of Science (1881)

The correspondence between Darwin and Hooker, which concerns the latter's address for the 51st meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS), delivered at York on 1 September 1881, has never been published as an ongoing discourse. However, the context usually turns out to be important in historical issues. Stitching together isolated quotes from decades apart and from various sources can easily lead to a patchwork of facts that biases their interpretation.

Therefore, this post is a transcription of the whole Hooker-Darwin correspondence on Hooker's BAAS-address. Both hands are very difficult to read and I had some help by Roland Jackson (@RolandJackson, author of The Ascent of John Tyndall) with some of Hooker's letters. When transcriptions already existed in the form of published collections of either Darwin's or Hooker's letters, I used them. As mentioned above, however, none of the available publications give this BAAS-1881 related correspondence between Darwin and Hooker in full. That is, available transcriptions lack a lot of context. The following transcriptions remain a cloze in places. However, the links to scans of the originals at Cambridge University are given before each transcript, so that readers can confer to them. Suggestions for missing words are welcome.

P.S.: On 20 August 1881, Hooker asked Darwin about a publication of Karl Ernst von Baer (1859. Ueber Papuas und Alfuren). Translations of the relevant passages of Baer's essay can be found in the previous post. Darwin's reply, on 21 August 1881, also refers to Leopold von Buch (1825. Physicalische Beschreibung der Canarischen Inseln; 1836 in French). Translations of the relevant passages of Buch can be found in an earlier post.

DarwinHooker Correspondence: Feb.–Sept. 1881

Uncertain words in square brackets: []. Illegible words indicated by 6 spaces: _____. [My own comments are in square brackets and in green.]

Darwin to Hooker, 26 Feb. 1881
Part transcript: More Letters of Darwin.

“My dear Hooker
It was a real pleasure to me to see your hand-writing again, for it is a long time since I have heard of you. What a bore about the [mumps]; but I am very glad that you will soon have complete rest & change, in which [latter] I have [unbounded] faith. I suppose that Lady Hooker goes with you & I hope she may enjoy herself. Pray give her my kindest [simpathy]. I had vaguely thought whether I would pay you a call at Kew, but thought that you would [firstly] be too busy, & it seems that you will be on the road before I could come.
I shd think that you might make a very interesting address on geograph. Distrib. [Could] you give a little history of the subject. I, for one, shd like to read such history in petto; but I can see one very great difficulty, that you yourself ought to figure most prominently in it; & this you would not do, for you are just the man to treat yourself in a dishonourable manner! I shd very much like to see you discuss some of Wallace’s views, especially his ignoring the all powerful effects of the Glacial period with respect to alpine plants. I do not know what you think, but it appears to me that he exaggerates enormously the influence of debacles or [slips] & new surface of soil being exposed for the reception of wind-blown seeds. What kinds of seeds have the plants which are common to the distant mountain-summits in Africa? Wallace lately wrote to me about the mountain-plants of Madagascar being the same with those on mountains in Africa, & seemed to think it proved dispersal by the wind, without apparently having inquired what sort of seeds the plants bore. I suppose it wd be travelling too far (though for geographical section the discussion ought to be far reaching) but I shd like to see the European or Northern element in the C. of Good Hope flora discussed. I cannot swallow Wallace’s view that European plants travelled down the Andes, tenated the hypothetical Antarctic continent (in which I quite believe), & thence spread to S. Australia & the Cape of G. Hope.
Mosley told me not long ago that he proposed to search at Kerguelen Land the coal beds most carefully, and was absolutely forbidden to do so by Sir W. Thomson, who said that he would undertake the work, and he never one visited them. This put me in a passion. I hope that you will keep your intention and make an address on distribution. Though I differ so much from Wallace, his “Island Life” seems to me a wonderful book.
Farewell. I do hope that you may have a most prosperous journey. Give my kindest remembrances to Asa Gray”

Hooker to Darwin, 12 June 1881

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Karl Ernst von Baer (1859) independently arrived at species modification and common descent

The very year that Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species, Karl Ernst von Baer published an essay that is remarkable in that it he also arrived at the conclusion that species can transform (though not in a teleological/Lamarckian way) and that common descent explains the patterns of geographic distribution of organisms (Baer 1859. Über Papuas und Alfuren. Ein Commentar zu den beiden ersten Abschnitten der Abhandlung Crania Selecta ex Thesauris Anthropologicis Academiae Imperialis Petropolitanae. Aus den Memoires de l'Académie Impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg, Sixieme série, Sciences naturelles, Tome VIII, besonders abgedruckt).

Rudolph Wagner had quoted excerpts of Baer's essay in one of his own essays in 1861 (Zoologisch-anthroplgische Untersuchunge. Die Forschung über Hirn- und Schädelbildung des Menschen in ihrer Anwendung auf einige Proleme der allgemeinen Natur- und Geschichtswissnschaft. Göttingen: Verlag der Dietrichschen Buchhandlung. (Besonders abgedruckt aus dem neunten Bande der Abhandlungen der Königl. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen) and concluded:
"Man sieht, wie hier zwei verschiedene Naturforscher, Darwin und Baer, ohne von einander zu wissen, auf ähnliche Ideen kommen, nur dass dabei dieser [Baer] besonnener, limitierter zu Werke geht." (Wagner 1861, p. 52)

One sees, here, how two different naturalists, Darwin and Baer, arrive at similar ideas without knowing of each other, only that this one [Baer] goes about it more level-headed and restricted. (My translation)
Therefore, Charles Darwin (1866. ) added Baer to the Historical Sketch of the 4th edition of his Origin of Species saying:
"Von Baer, towards whom all zoologists feel so profound a respect, expressed about the year 1859 (see Prof. Rudolph Wagner, 'Zoologisch-Anthropologische Untersuchungen,' 1861, s. 51) his conviction, chiefly grounded on the laws of geographical distribution, that forms now perfectly distinct have descended from a single parent-form." (Darwin 1866, p. xxi)
By the way, this Rudolph Wagner was not Moritz Wagner with whom Darwin had a spat about Leopold von Buch. Moritz Wagner, ironically, embraced Buch just like Darwin had done many years before him (see previous post), but tried to champion Buch's as the better theory. In particular, Moritz Wagner insisted on the need of geographic isolation/ separation as a prerequisite to speciation. This later disagreement seems to go back to Darwin's principle of divergence, which allowed Darwin to regard isolation not as a necessary prerequisite but a facilitating factor.
      In the following quote of Baer's (1859) original, the excerpts that Wagner (1861) gave are highlighted. The page numbers are in the 70s for the offprint (Sonderdruck) and in the 300s for the periodical (Memoires de l'Académie). My English translation follows below the German original.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Leopod von Buch's Description of the Canary Islands impressed the young Charles Darwin

Darwin's Notebook B (1837-38), on the transmutation of species, states:
"Von Buch. — Canary Islands, French Edit. Flora of Islds very poor. (p. 145) 25 plants. St. Helena without ferns, analogous to nearest continent: poorness in exact proportion to distance (?) & similarity of type (?)" (Darwin 1837-38, p. 156)

"I can understand in one small island species would not be manufactured. but why they should be manu Does it not present analogy to what takes place from time? Von Buch distinctly states that permanent varieties become species p. 147, p. 150, not being crossed with others. — Compares it to languages. But how do plants cross? — — admirable discussion." (Darwin 1837-38, p. 158)
Leopold von Buch, Wikimedia commons, public domain

Leopold von Buch is undoubtedly a very important predecessor of Charles Darwin. It is, therefore, interesting to take a closer look at Buch's statements that influenced Darwin. Darwin's notes in his Notebook B (see quotes above) relate to Physicalische Beschreibung der Canarischen Inseln (Leopold von Buch 1825, p. 130 and 133f), which Darwin read in its French translation by C. Boulanger, Description Physique des Iles Canaries (Léopold de Buch 1836, p. 144f + 147ff). As German is my mother-tongue, I will depart from the original German passages and translate them into English.
"Der bekannte französische Naturforscher Du Petit Thouars fand auf der Insel Tristan d'Acunha in 37°21' südlicher Breite, und deren Spitzen sich in die Wolken verlieren, von phänerogamen Pflanzen nicht mehr als 25 verschiedene Arten, von denen einige an das Cap, andere an das beinahe gleich weit entfernt gelegene Amerika erinnern, und in St. Helena steigt ihre Anzahl, nach Roxburgh's (sic) Catalog, ebenfalls auf nicht mehr als 36 Arten." (von Buch 1825, 130)

The famous French naturalist Du Petit Thouars discovered no more than 25 species of phanerogamous plants on the island Tristan d'Acunha in 37°21' southern latitude, whose peaks trail off into the clouds, some of them are redolent of the Cap and others of the almost equally distant America. And on St. Helena their number rises to no more than 36 species according to Roxburgh's catalogue. (My translation)
The next passage from Buch (1825, 133f or 1836, 147ff) seems odd in that Buch first describes a process of species transformation on continents and thereafter seems to describe the identical process in closer detail for islands, yet he separates the two descriptions by the sentence "Nicht so auf Inseln" (Not so on islands), as if he was about to propose a very different process for islands. The only difference, however, is that the varieties on continents need to depart from each other spatially to vast distances, whereas the same isolation is supposed to be possible on much smaller spatial scales on islands.
"Die Individuen der Gattungen auf Continenten breiten sich aus, entfernen sich weit, bilden durch Verschiedenheit der Standörter (sic), Nahrung und Boden Varietäten, welche, in ihrer Entfernung nie von anderen Varietäten gekreuzt und dadurch zum Haupttypus zurückgebracht, endlich constant und zur eigenen Art werden. Dann erreichen sie vielleicht auf anderen Wegen auf das Neue die ebenfalls veränderte vorige Varietät, beide nun als sehr verschieden und sich nicht wieder miteinander vermischende Arten. Nicht so auf Inseln. Gewöhnlich in enge Thäler oder in den Bezirk schmaler Zonen gebannt, können sich die Individuen erreichen und jede gesuchte Fixirung einer Varietät wieder zerstören. Es ist dies ungefähr so, wie Sonderbarkeiten oder Fehler der Sprache zuerst durch das Haupt einer Familie, dann durch Verbreitung dieser selbst, über einen ganzen District einheimisch werden. Ist dieser abgesondert und isolirt, und bringt nicht die stete Verbindung mit andern die Sprache auf ihre vorige Reinheit zurück, so wird aus dieser Abweichung ein Dialekt. Verbinden natürliche Hindernisse, Wälder, Verfassung, Regierung, die Bewohner des abweichenden Districts noch enger, und trennen sie sie noch schärfer von den Nachbarn, so fixirt sich der Dialekt, und es wird eine völlig verschiedene Sprache. —
     Deswegen eben, ist es so wichtig, den Standort genau anzugeben, und zu bezeichnen, an welchem die Pflanzen auf den Inseln sich finden. Er hat fast jederzeit etwas Eigenthümliches. Ist er durch natürliche Hindernisse, durch Bergreihen, welche mehr scheiden, als bedeutende Entfernungen über dem Meer, von andern Orten sehr getrennt, so kann man immer dort ganz neue, in anderen Theilen der Insel nicht vorkommende Pflanzenarten erwarten. Vielleicht hat ein glücklicher Zufall, durch eine besondere Verbindung von Umständen den Saamen über die Berge gebracht. Sich selbst an der abgeschlossenen Stelle überlassen, wird dann auch hier im Laufe der Zeiten die aus den neuen Bedingungen des Wachstums entstandene Varietät zur eigenen Art, welche sich immer mehr von ihrer ersten ursprünglichen Form entfernt, je länger sie ungestört in dieser eingeschlossenen Gegend erhalten wird." (von Buch 1825, p. 133)

On continents, the individuals of a genus spread, depart far from each other, develop through the differences in the location, nutrition and soil varieties which, in their distance, never cross with other varieties and thus never get drawn back to the main type, eventually get constant and become their own species. They may then reach on another route, again, the also altered previous variety, both now as very different species that do no longer mix with each other. Not so on islands. Usually banished in steep valleys or narrow zones, the individuals can reach each other and destroy each sought fixation of a variety. This is similar to the oddities or mistakes in language that are first propagated by the head of a family and then, spread with the family itself, become native to a whole district. If the latter is separated and isolated, and if the first contact with others does not bring the language back to its previous purity, then the deviation will become a dialect. If natural barriers, forests, constitution, government connect the inhabitants of the deviant district and separate them even sharper from the neighbors, then the dialect will get fixed and it will become a completely different language. —
     Therefore, it is important to indicate the location/site/habitat exactly and to specify on which ones the plants on the islands can be found. It [the location] almost always has something peculiar. If it is isolated from other locations by natural barriers, mountain ranges, which separate more than considerable distances over the sea, then one can expect to find new plant species that do not occur in other parts of the island. Maybe a lucky coincidence has brought the seeds over the mountain range by some special combination of conditions. Left to their own in the isolated location, the variety that develops because of the new conditions of growth will, in the course of time, become an own species which departs the farther from its first original form the longer it remains undisturbed in this isolated area. (My translation)
The next passage from Buch (1825, 134 or 1836, 149) is significant because it shows that

Friday, 1 February 2019

My Brontosaur Theory on Counterfactual Histories of Science

So called counterfactual histories are scenarios of what could have come to pass, if some contingent event of the past had turned out differently. It is controversial whether exploring such counterfactual alternative paths to the actual history has any merit for academic historiography. This is even more true for the history of science, because science is often assumed to approach one reality. Alternative paths in a counterfactual history must inevitably reach the same or a very similar state of knowledge, so the assumption.  

Therefore, historians of science usually claim that counterfactual narratives usually result in an alternative state of science that is pretty close or even identical to the actual state of science. This claim is supported by the assumption that a plausibility constraint prevents counterfactual histories from becoming incompatible with the actual science. That is, if a counterfactual history would end in a state of science that was incompatible with the actual science, then it would turn into science fiction and cease to belong to academic historiography. In other words: Counterfactual histories of science cannot be incompatible with the current state of science and be plausible at the same time!

Plausible counterfactual narratives that do end in identical or closely similar states of science are variously referred to as being contingent in a benign or weak sense (e.g., Soler 2008; Hesketh 2016; Tambolo 2018). One could think of this as two potential paths that departed at a contingent point of the past, but only one path got realized. If both had been realized, the gap between them would have remained rather thin and they would eventually have converged again. Think of the outline of a worm rather than a brontosaur

A popular example of a counterfactual narrative that has been taken to be benign or weak in this sense is Peter Bowler's Darwin Deleted (2013). It ends in an alternative state of science that is identical in its scientific content and only differs in its social context. In Darwin Deleted, Charles Darwin dies prematurely but, in the end, the resulting evolutionary theory is identical to the current one. The difference between the counterfactual and the actual science is that some social discontents (like social Darwinism, Nazi eugenics) got associated with alternatives to natural selection (e.g, Lamarckism, Spencerian ideas, orthogenesis) and sunk together with them. That is, they did not get associated with natural selection, which came in later. Therefore, natural selection came out clean in Bowler's counterfactual and Bowler's aim of his counterfactual was, in fact, to prove that there is no necessary association between natural selection and its social discontents.

I am not interested, here, in these social issues or Bowler's beef with the Intelligent Design proponent Weikart, who apparently wants to burden Darwin with some responsibility for the holocaust etc. Instead, I want to refute the above claimed necessary association between the plausibility of counterfactual histories of science and their compatibility with the actual science.

If this association was necessary, then any history of science (even one about actual not counterfactual research) would appear to be outlandishly improbable to us, because it went through states that are utterly incompatible with the current state of knowledge. Take Bowler's Darwin Deleted, for example. It is completely incompatible with the current state of evolutionary biology somewhere in the middle, because alternatives to natural selection like Lamarckism, use-inheritance, blending inheritance etc. rule there. At the same time, this intermediate state of science is not only plausible but grounded in what many actual scientists and philosophers did indeed believe for a long time after Darwin and before the Modern Synthesis. That is, even actual history confronts us with states of science that are incompatible with the current state and yet plausible to the highest possible degree.

In other words, the gap between the path of Bowler's counterfactual and the actual history of evolutionary biology is not worm shaped!

Hence my theory, which is mine, ahem ahem: The gaps between most counterfactual and actual histories of science are thin at the beginning, much, !much! thicker in the middle, and then thin again in the end. That is my Brontosaur Theory of counterfactual histories of science. It is mine and belongs to me and I own it and what it is too.

I have a second theory, which is the second part of my first theory and it is also mine. This is it: AHEM!!! By chopping brontosaur counterfactuals in half and truncating them, the gap between the counterfactual and the actual history will become cone shaped. That is, the gap will gape and never close again. I call this my Hyolith Theory on Counterfactual Histories of Science.

Reconstruction of Haplophrentis, a hyolith. From Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

1. Bowler, P.J. 2013. Darwin deleted. Imagining a world without Darwin. The University of Chicago Press.
2. Hesketh, I. (2016). Counterfactuals and history: Contingency and convergence in histories of science and life. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 58, 41-48.
3. Soler, L. (2008). Revealing the analytical structure and some intrinsic major difficulties of the contingentist/inevitabilist issue. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 39,
4. Tambolo, L. 2018. So close no matter how far: counterfactuals in history of science and the inevitability/contingency controversy. Synthese,

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

How the theories of Matthew, Darwin, and Wallace came to be seen as identical

The following blog post tries to explain how it came about that Patrick Matthew, Charles Darwin, and Alfred Wallace all thought about their evolutionary theories (first published in 1831 by Matthew and in 1858 jointly by Darwin and Wallace)  as essentially identical, when closer analysis reveals significant differences (e.g., Dagg 2018). How could they, and many people ever since, have overlooked the differences?

Huxley's review of Darwin's Origin of Species
Thomas H. Huxley anonymously reviewed Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859). His review was first published in the Times (26 December 1859, pp. 8-9). The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (3 March 1860, pp.192-193) reproduced it. Therein, Huxley gave examples of breeds (pigeons, swine, cattle) that grossly deviated from their wild ancestors and explained the process of artificial selection employed by the breeders before stating: 
"But in all these cases we have human interference. Without the breeder there would be no selection, and without the selection no race. Before admitting the possibility of natural species having originated in any similar way, it must be proved that there is in nature some power which takes the place of man, and performs a selection sua sponte. It is the claim of Mr. Darwin that he professes to have discovered the existence and the modus operandi of this natural selection, as he terms it; and, if he be right, the process is perfectly simple and comprehensible, and irresistibly deducible from very familiar but well nigh forgotten facts." (Huxley 1860, 193, col. 3)
He then continued with the over-reproduction of all organisms, the struggle of survival and the survival of the fittest resulting from it. That is, Huxley's review was a simplification and popularization of Darwin's theory that every lay-reader of the time could comprehend. Most strikingly, Huxley's review completely lacked the principle of divergence by which Darwin laid so much stock, but which is now largely forgotten or, if not, causes much perplexity among biologists. 

Darwin mentioned it in a letter to Asa Gray, 5 September 1857, (Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 2136, accessed on 8 Jan. 2019, stating: "One other principle, which may be called the principle of divergence plays, I believe, an important part in the origin of species." In a later letter to Joseph D. Hooker, 8 June 1958, (Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 2282, accessed on 8 Jan. 2019,, he stated that the principle of divergence and natural selection will together form the key-stone of his book to come (On the Origin of Species). And in his Autobiography, edited by Nora Barlow (1958, 120), Darwin recounted an eureka moment, when he came across this principle while in a carriage on a road and he likened his solution to the one of Columbus and his egg. 

Why was the principle of divergence important to Darwin? 
Biologists, today, see island biogeographies everywhere. A hilltop in a flat country can be an island just as an isolated valley in the mountains. Rivers and other geographic barriers can create one island biogeographic setting for some species and a totally different setting for others depending on their ecological niches. Biologists see island biogeographies where Darwin saw none. Furthermore, they know about genetic drift as a mechanisms that accelerates evolutionary change in small populations in these settings. 

Darwin, however, had found from taxonomic studies that taxa on continents were not only larger than on islands but also that their members (e.g., genera, species) were more divergent from each other than on smaller islands. He also believed that the smallness of the populations on islands would retard the process of evolution there simply by making favorable variants a rare occurrence. Therefore, he needed a principle that would explain this pattern. In other words, he needed something that would drive lineages apart on continents and in the absence of catastrophes or islands. 

What was the principle of divergence?
His principle of divergence achieved this by proposing that the internal competition between varying individuals within species was disruptive enough to allow lineage splitting. Advantageous sports dodged being swamped somehow and, instead, managed to exterminate the intermediate (parental) form. If more than one such variant occurred simultaneously, and the variants could no longer interbreed after the extinction of the parental form, lineage splitting (speciation) had occurred without geographic isolation of the variants (in sympatry). Geographic isolation could facilitate this lineage splitting, but is was not a necessary prerequisite.

In this principle of divergence, Darwin's theory differed not only from Wallace's (who had an island biogeographic setting for lineage splitting) and Matthew's (who had catastrophes doing the lineage splitting), but also from Huxley's simplified review and from current evolutionary theory. The latter is, in my humble opinion, closer to Wallace's island biogeographic scheme than to Darwin's original scheme from 1859.   

Matthew's priority claim
Matthew had read Huxley's review in the Gardeners' Chronicle from 3 March 1860 and sent his priority claim to that periodical at 7 March 1860. This is evident from the date and signature given by Matthew at the end of his letter to the journal. (It took the editors until 7 April 1860 to publish Matthew's claim.) It is unlikely that Matthew had consulted Darwin's book at length or in any detail within those four days. It seems far more likely that he had simply taken what he could gather from Huxley's review and written his priority claim on the spot, collating passages from his book that fit the simplified account given by Huxley. 

Darwin's reply to Matthew's claim
Darwin's response was equally hasty (within 6 days). It got published on 21 April 1860 in the Gardeners' Chronicle (pp. 362-363). However, Darwin had sent his response to Joseph D. Hooker for approval on 13 April 1860 (Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 2758, accessed on 8 January 2019, Basically, Darwin had ordered Matthew's book (see letter to Charles Lyell, 10 April 1860, Darwin Correspondence Project, Let. 2754, accessed 8 Jan. 2019,, in order to make sure that the passages given by Matthew in his priority claim were scattered passages in a book on an otherwise different subject. This he made sure, in order to excuse himself for having overlooked Matthew's book in his long pondering on the subject. His response read:
"I have been much interested by Mr. Patrick Matthew’s communication in the Number of your Paper, dated April 7th. I freely acknowledge that Mr. Matthew has anticipated by many years the explanation which I have offered of the origin of species, under the name of natural selection. I think that no one will feel surprised that neither I, nor apparently any other naturalist, had heard of Mr. Matthew’s views, considering how briefly they are given, and that they appeared in the appendix to a work on Naval Timber and Arboriculture. I can do no more than offer my apologies to Mr. Matthew for my entire ignorance of his publication. If another edition of my work is called for, I will insert a notice to the foregoing effect."
Wallace's review of Butler's Evolution Old and New
Alfred Wallace only returned from the Malay Archipelago in 1862. Consequently, he remained largely ignorant about Matthew's ideas until Samuel Butler sent him a complimentary copy of his book Evolution, Old and New (1879). Butler (1879) claimed that Darwin's theory was nothing but Lamarckism redux and that Matthew's theory was worlds apart in this. However, Butler mistook Matthew's catastrophism as necessarily putting him in one camp with Cuvier and opposite to Lamarck. Matthew had in fact married Cuvier's catastrophism to transmutationism (Lamarckian or otherwise). Apart from this nonsense, Butler also re-quoted the passages that Matthew had already re-quoted in his priority claim against Darwin in 1860 (except for one paragraph about spontaneous generation). Apparently, Wallace read these passages from Matthew only now for the fist time. He replied in a letter to Butler:
"To my mind, your quotations from Mr. Patrick Matthew are the most remarkable things in your whole book, because he appears to have completely anticipated the main ideas both of the Origin of Species and of Life and Habit." (Wallace to Butler, 9 May 1879
Wallace published a review of Butler's book in the journal Nature (12 June 1879, Vol. 20: 141-144), in which he had the following to say about Matthew: 
"We come next to Mr. Patrick Matthew, who in 1831 put forth his views on the development theory in a work on arboriculture; and we think that most naturalists will be amazed at the range and accuracy of his system, and will give him the highest credit as the first to see the important principles of human and “natural selection,” conformity to conditions, and reversion to ancestral types; and also the unity of life, the varying degrees of individuality, and the continuity of ideas or habits forming an abiding memory, thus combining all the best essential features of the theories put forth by Lamarck, Darwin, and Mr. Butler himself."
Wallace continued with re-quoting yet again, some of the re-quotes by Butler of Matthew. 

Thus, a persistent historical pattern had been firmly established. From now on, every other decade, someone would stumble over Matthew (1831), be very surprised about his prescience and re-quote the same old passages once over, in order to emphasize how very identical these were to Darwin's and Wallace's theories. This would reiterate itself for the next century and a half without any proper historiography of the Patrick Matthew case ever emerging from this reiteration of a legend.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Patrick Matthew's evolutionary clock (1831)

Patrick Matthew is generally considered to be one of the predecessors of Charles Darwin concerning the integration of natural selection into an evolutionary scheme. Concerning the species problem, Matthew (1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture, p. 381) wrote:
"Throughout this volume, we have felt considerable inconvenience, from the adopted dogmatical classification of plants, and have all along been floundering between species and variety, which certainly under culture soften into each other. A particular conformity, each after its own kind, when in a state of nature, termed species, no doubt exists to a considerable degree. This conformity has existed during the last forty centuries. Geologists discover a like particular conformity—fossil species—through the deep deposition of each great epoch, but they also discover an almost complete difference to exist between the species or stamp of life, of one epoch from that of every other." (highlight added)
Here, Matthew was dealing with the problem of the stability of species, that is, why do species not disintegrate into one mêlé of amorphous variation without any clear species boundaries (gaps between species)? This problem had two sub-problems: 1. Why does spontaneous variation (sports) not lead to such a mess? 2. Why does hybridization not lead to such a mess? Matthew's answer was natural selection. Oddly, from our current perspective, he later referred to it as the problem of species fixity: 
"In my discovery of the fixity of species by natural competitive selection, I have overturned the only argument worth overturning brought forward by ancient superstition against the law of development. I have shown that we [farmers] can go ahead of college-bred, closet-taught naturalists, and leave them to follow in our wake at the distance of thirty years. This is nothing remarkable, as most of them are mere bundles of old-world prejudices. May I therefore hope for assistance from my brother-farmers, that we may keep ahead?" (Matthew 1861. Utility of change of place in seed, and still more in life continued by tubers or cuttings. The Farmer’s Magazine, Ser. 3, Vol. 19: 283-285, p. 285, highlight added)
Species fixity, here, did not mean that species were absolutely fixed in their morphology and physiology. The problem was to explain why species and varieties remained stable, despite the occurrence of sports and hybrids, but why demarcating species and varieties properly was so difficult at the same time. It starts out as a practical problem of classifying organisms, it then takes on a taxonomic dimension (how to define species and varieties), and it turns, in modern parlance, into a problem of the evolutionary maintenance of species (and varieties). In agreement with this, Matthew called himself the "solver of the problem of species" on the title page of the political pamphlet Schleswig Holstein (Matthew 1864) and not "discoverer of the principle of natural selection" as Charles Darwin (1865, 22 and 28 October. To J. D. Hooker. Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 4921.) wrongly wrote to Joseph Hooker. 

Despite this stability of boundaries between species and varieties, Matthew thought they could still adaptation (lineage adaptation or anagenesis) to changing conditions, for example, in climate. The splitting of species (lineage splitting or cladogenesis), however, only occurred in short periods after global catastrophes had exterminated most species and thereby rendered an open field for the radiation of the surviving organisms into empty niches so to speak. Hence, Matthew's scheme is one of long periods of stability of species punctuated by short periods of quick radiation and lineage splitting. Naturally, the question arises how long Matthew thought that these periods of stability and radiation were. The only hint he ever gave us, however, are the forty centuries of conformity highlighted in the first quote from Matthew (1831, p. 381) given above. 

These 40 centuries only make sense in the context of chronologies being popular at that time, which told the history of the world along the lines of biblical events. Trying to align scientific findings from geology with the stories of the old testament was its own genre and was not regarded as unscientific (even Kepler and Newton engaged in it). The chronology of James Ussher, Archbishop Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, from 1650 was particularly popular. He dated the first day of creation to 23 October 4004 BC and the Noachian flood to 2349 BC.

The Noachian flood was thought to have occurred 4179 years before Matthew wrote his book in 1830, that is, roughly 42 centuries. Having no other numbers to go by than Matthew's 40 centuries of conformity, it would mean that the time for the evolutionary radiation after the last global catastrophe, the Noachian flood, were a mere 200 years after which lineage splitting (cladogenesis) stopped and the environments were fully stocked again. They could still change in response to changes in climate etc. (lineage adaptation) but no longer split. Species boundaries were then stable for 4000 years. This evolutionary scheme can be depicted in a pie chart with 200 years of radiation and 4000 years of stability.

The only other number from Matthew to go by is his statement: "millions of ages of regularity which appear to have followed between the epochs" (Matthew 1831, p. 383). Apparently, Matthew thought that the above depicted clock had turned millions of times. Make that 1 million and the age of Life on Earth would have been 4.2 billion years, which would be quite close to the current estimate of 3.9 billion years. 2 million revolutions or more would, of course, render Matthew's scheme out of whack with modern estimates.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

A Punxsutawney Phil degree in history of science

This post is about how aspects of the movie Groundhog Day (with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell) can be seen as a parable for a specific controversy in the history of science. But first I need to say a thing or two on that controversy.

The contingency-inevitability controversy is about the question whether the history of science would inevitably have had to lead to our current science, no matter what contingent path had been chosen in the past, or whether it could have lead to true alternatives, that is, sciences that are as successful as our current one but remarkable different in its theories, methods, machinery etc. [Some classical references: Hacking, Ian. 1999. The social construction of what? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Hacking, Ian. 2000. How inevitable are the results of successful science? Philosophy of Science, 67, S58–S71. A more recent collection of works on that issue: Léna Soler, Emiliano Trizio & Andrew Pickering (Eds.). Science as it could have been. Pittsbugh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.]

The most often quoted statement in this controversy is from Hacking (2000, S61, original emphasis):

"Take any results R, which at present we take to be correct, of any successful science. We ask: If the results R of a scientific investigation are correct, would any investigation of roughly the same subject matter, if successful, at least implicitly contain or imply the same results? If so, there is a significant sense in which the results are inevitable."

[I even quoted it myself in a paper once and refrained from pointing out the redundancy in "implicitly contain or imply" lest I'd be seen as a smart-ass or too stupid to sense an irony by Hacking. But a blog-post seems fair enough to indulge.]

The extreme positions on the contingency-inevitability continuum are: 
1. Extreme Contingentism: History of science is totally contingent. If scientists had taken an alternative turn at some point in the past, we would live with an entirely different science. It might not even be compatible with our current science yet be as successful (e.g., in statistics of healing sick patients).  
2. Extreme Inevitabilism: History of science is totally inevitable. No matter what alternative turn scientists might have taken in the past, we would live with exactly the same science as we have today.

Suppose the film-makers of Groundhog Day had been adherents of extreme contingentism. Then, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) could have planned nothing, because Butterfly Effects would have thwarted all his attempts to anticipate what will happen the next (same) day from what he experienced the previous (same) day. The boy would not always fall from the same tree, the man in the restaurant not always choke on a chunk of steak etc. Phil Connors should become mad by round 10 and the film-makers unable to tell a narrative. The film would be DaDa. 

Suppose, instead, the film-makers had been adherents of extreme inevitabilism. Then, Phil Connors could have changed nothing, no matter how hard he tried. All his attempts would be futile and the film would have no ending, just an open end telling us that it will go on and on forever.

Apparently, the film-makers chose an intermediate route, in order to be able to tell an interesting narrative. While Phil Connors is able to remember what had happened the previous (same) day and react differently, all others do not and behave just the same. In this way, Connors is a contingent factor (loose cannon at times) in an otherwise predictable world. Therefore, Phil Connors can work at trying to change his fate. If the rest of his microcosm was unpredictable or he had no power to change his own behavior and thereby tilt the microcosm towards another direction, then a film without a story would have resulted.

Interestingly, many historians of science think that authors who try to devise what-if scenarios of what might have come to pass, alternatively, (so-called counterfactual histories) are bound by similar narrative constraints. They can allow one or a very few factors of the past to deviate contingently, but the rest must remain predictable. Otherwise, their counterfactual history would become Dadaistic (everything contingent) or boring (everything determined) but either way have no merit for historiography.

P.S.: Of course there are other messages in the movie, like the one that love is a liberating force, but I was exclusively trying to explore analogies with a particular history-of-science issue.