Monday, 22 September 2014

Beyond a reasonable doubt?

[See here for all my 13 or so posts on Pattrick Matthew and plagiarism claims made on his behalf.]
Beyond a reasonable doubt is a standard of proof fraught with ambiguities. Criminologists even do experiments with mock jurors, in order to find out how different wordings instructing them about this standard of proof affects their decision (for example, here).

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

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

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


  1. No - wrong again. Good grief you still publish a desperate pseudo-scholarly dishonest representation. Outside of your magical thinking - I actually write in the book that readers should make up their own minds about the tests of both 'balance of reasonable probabilities' and of 'beyond reasonable doubt. Here is proof: e.g: - remember I tried to explain words are not magic spells. Whatever hocus pocus you cook up here can never change what I actually wrote and had published in my book. If ever it does you win the Randi Prize of $1m

  2. Anyway, thank you for buying my book and for at least trying to weigh it objectively. The fact that you need to resort to such a desperately dishonest representation seems to suggest that I must really have something that you can not deal with rationally. Perhaps some real - honest - scholars can give it a thorough pounding. I live in hope.

  3. This weighting of the objective uniquely discovered facts is a subjective test. I never suggest otherwise. Your pseudo scholarship ' hocus pocus' does no more than a disservice to any future serious and honest scholarly works that seek to refute the conclusions I reach in my book. If I wanted I could display your desperate dishonest scribblings to the world and name you personally a prime example of the sort of person that writes muddle-headed desperate nonsense. But I won't - there are bigger fools than you more worthy of our ridicule. Here is what I actually - in the real world - wrote about the subjective test of guilt:

  4. Go test your subjective weighing on yourself. Count how many of your friends and acquaintances have read Matthew (1831) by now. If more than your subjective criteria, then you must consider all the other, who say they have not read it, liars.

  5. By the way, if you are talking to an audience that is trained in natural sciences, you should say up front that your speaking of evidence and probabilities etc. has different meanings in your department. Because no scientist will ever admit to you that you've proven your case, and (s)he's talking science then. And even if we were talking law, if I was on a jury with you and nobody else, the judge would need to let Darwin and Wallace go free. I do not see how you want to sample a jury to get your desired result.

  6. And I have not even brought in the historian's perspective. Historian will not even admit a case won, if it was won according to current standards of litigation or science (they call that Whiggish), because historians wants to retrieve and apply the standards that ruled back in Darwin's time.