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; see also Sutton 2014, p. 114f)
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, p. 50; see also Sutton 2014, p. 122)
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; see also 2014, 140)
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, 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, 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, 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; see also Sutton 2014, 185-187)
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 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: https://www.ntu.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0031/796900/Code-of-Practice-for-Research-201819.pdf.
- 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-online.org.uk]
- 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: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044102888526&view=1up&seq=9]
- 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: https://www.ntu.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/204300/procedure-for-investigating-alleged-research-misconduct.pdf.
- Selby, P.J. 1842. A history of British Forest-trees, indigenous and introduced. John van Voorst. [Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/historyofbritish00selb/page/n10]
- 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: www2.le.ac.uk/offices/researchsupport/integrity/code-of-conduct/6-research-misconduct/6-2-types-of-misconduct-in-research.
- 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. [http://darwin-online.org.uk]