Roy Davies published The Darwin Conspiracy: The Evolution of a Scientific Crime in 2008. This book claims that Darwin stole his ideas from Alfred Russel Wallace, an idea that is not really new. James Lennox, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, responded to a piece by Davies in The Wall Street Journal:
Your page-one article “Alfred Russel Wallace’s Fans Gear Up for a Darwinian Struggle” (Dec. 20) fails to mention a couple of obvious problems for those who allege that Charles Darwin stole any of his key insights from Mr. Wallace.
First, those insights can be found in notebooks dating to 1838, and a preliminary draft of “On the Origin of Species” was completed in 1844, twelve years before Messrs. Darwin and Wallace began corresponding. Second, scholars who have carefully compared their joint publications of 1858 are struck by how very different the two theories are, given Mr. Darwin’s initial reaction to the essay Mr. Wallace sent him.
A good place to start, if one is serious about this topic, is an essay published in 1985 by Malcolm Jay Kottler “Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace: Two Decades of Debate Over Natural Selection.” Mr. Kottler points out that by Mr. Wallace’s own admission Mr. Darwin’s journal from the HMS Beagle, published in 1842, was a constant inspiration and may have led him to read Thomas Malthus’s “Essay on Population,” the work that gave Mr. Darwin a key to the puzzle of natural selection in 1838, and to Mr. Wallace, 20 years later.
Work such as this, rather than the allegations of a former BBC producer and a lawyer, will help interested readers understand the complicated relationship between these two great naturalists.
And John Wilkins, a philosopher of science, had this to say in his post “Darwin worship, and demonisation” on his blog Evolving Thoughts:
Mostly they report the old saw that Darwin “stole” from Wallace all his grand ideas that we now remember him from. In particular the article reports on Roy Davies, a former BBC producer of science documentaries, who has written a book titled The Darwin Conspiracy. Davies was kind enough to send me a copy of his book, and while I have not been able to check out all the sources due to my imminent move, I must comment on it now, as it has been a while.
First a word about historical writing. I’m not exactly a historian myself, although my book on species is historical in character. But I did do a history minor, and I am well aware that if any narrative is going to be turned to polemic ends, it is the historical narrative. Historians call it Whiggism when history is turned to do duty to convince someone that some outcome is inevitable, progressive and heroic. But when the opposite is asserted, that there is a conspiracy aimed at hiding the real heroes, well we need a name for that. I will call it Toryism to balance out.
Davies book is the very model of Toryism. From a bare possibility that Darwin refined some of his ideas upon reading Wallace’s letter in 1858, Davies, and his intellectual antecedents Arnold Brackman and Loren Eiseley (who replaces Wallace with Blyth), develop the notion that Darwin was not really all that original, and in fact there was a major under-the-table bit of prestidigitation to ensure that Darwin and not Wallace got the credit for the theory of evolution.
The book is replete with the sort of breathless language no historian would use injudiciously, like “scientific crime”, “one of the greatest crimes in the history of science” (what, up there with Nazi eugenics or the lobotomy fad?), and so on. He even says “I am convinced that Charles Darwin – British national hero, hailed as the greatest naturalist the world has ever known, the originator of one of the greatest ideas of the nineteenth century – lied, cheated and plagiarised in order to be recognised as the man who discovered the theory of evolution” (p162). And this raises flags of concern. The sources used are authentic, in particular Dov Ospovat’s excellent study on Darwin’s development, but since all scholars have used these same sources for decades now, how is it that it took a journalist and producer to identify the crime? The obvious answer is, it didn’t, and he hasn’t.
Davies interprets any kind of possibility as evidence that Darwin stole. From listing the famous Brackman argument of the supposed delay in the receipt of the letter from Wallace to Darwin being evidence that Darwin rewrote his earlier manuscripts, and Hooker and Lyell were in on the game, to suggestions that Darwin was not clear on the difference between species and varieties (did it escape Davies’ attention that Darwin never sorted that out?) anything that could indicate Wallace’s priority is taken as hard evidence it did. And that is not unlike the theist’s God of the Gaps – any place where God might act beneath the notice of science, is where He does. It’s equally bad argument in either case.
And the tragedy here is that it actually detracts from the importance of Wallace. There have been several recent biographies of Wallace, such as Peter Raby’s, that deal with his achievements, and he is in many ways more radical a thinker than Darwin. But trying to do this Toryist revisionism does nothing for him. Wallace himself never claimed the slightest credit – if anything he continued, long after Darwin died, to assert that he merely kicked Darwin along a bit.
Read all of Wilkins’ post here.
I point out these responses to the book because the book is now freely available [PDF]. From the book’s website:
The success of The Darwin Conspiracy – Origins of a Scientific Crime means that the publishers are now able to offer the entire book as a free download to anyone wishing to see how Darwin plagiarised the work of Alfred Russel Wallace.
That sounds odd – because of its success we will make the book free? Wouldn’t success lead a publisher to want to make more money from the book? The publisher, Golden Square Books, seems to have only published one book (to my knowledge), The Darwin Conspiracy. Paul Hannon, the publisher, even offers a 5-star review on Amazon (UK):
The London Natural History Society recently reviewed “The Darwin Conspiracy – Origins of a Scientific Crime” and described it as:
“A thorough, engaging, historically and academically grounded presentation of the mostly uncredited contributions made by some of the forgotten heroes of the theory of evolution”
“Davies argues that Darwin was driven by a personal quest for glory, to be credited as THE author of the theory of evolution, which led him to commit the `crime’ to which Davies refers in the title of this book: that of plagiarism through a failure to acknowledge the contributions of his contemporaries in his published works.”
Publisher, Golden Square Books
Hannon also responds to a 1-star review:
This book contains detailed evidence backing up the claim that Darwin did not come up with the idea of evolution by himself but passed off the work of others as his own. If you have read the book, I respect your views on the content; but if you have not read it, then you have adopted the knee-jerk reaction of so many Darwin supporters, who refuse to look at the facts. The book contains the facts, whether you like them or not.
Paul Hannon, publisher, Golden Square Books
Seems weird that a publisher is offering praise and responding to critique on Amazon. I’ve never seen that before.
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This is an insightful assessment of the Darwin-Wallace controversy – thank you!
Dr Howard A. Jones