JOURNAL: Darwin Special Issue of ‘History of Science’

The December 2009 issue of History of Science (Vol. 47, No. 4) is devoted to Darwin:

Iwan Ryhs Morus

Charles Darwin Solves the “Riddle of the Flower”; or, Why Don’t Historians of Biology Know about the Birds and the Bees?
Richard Bellon

Darwinian Struggles: But Is There Progress?
Michael Ruse

The Eclipse of Pseudo-Darwinism? Reflections on Some Recent Developments in Darwin Studies
Peter J. Bowler

The Undead Darwin: Iconic Narrative, Scientific Controversy and the History of Science
Amanda Rees

Darwin Online and the Evolution of the Darwin Industry
John van Wyhe

Essay Reviews

Origins: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1822–1859(Anniversary edition), edited by F. Burkhardt, and other works by Charles Darwin
Jim Endersby

Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution, and Worlds Before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform, by Martin J. S. Rudwick
Adelene Buckland


Darwin Round-Up

Monday, November 16th is the deadline for submissions to Charlie’s Playhouse’s “Ask the Kids” [about evolution] project.  More information here.

I somehow neglected to share Ben Fry’s very cool digital rendition of the six editions of On the Origin of Species and the changes therein: “The Preservation of Favoured Traces.”

The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences blog that accompanies their new Darwin as a geologist exhibit (my pics) has a short write up on the “Darwin in the Field” conference I attended last July, here. Also, the newsletter of the Palaeontological Association (they provided funding for the conference, including travel money for myself and a post-doc at the Smithsonian) has a report of the conference written by, well, me! You can see it at the bottom of page 56 in this PDF.

Two freely available articles from Bioscience: “The Darwinian Revelation: Tracing the Origin and Evolution of an Idea” [PDF] by James Costa and “Ten Myths about Charles Darwin” [PDF] by Kevin Padian [previous posts with Padian].

Nature has started a series on Darwin and culture called “Global Darwin”: “Darwin and culture,” “Global Darwin: Eastern enchantment,” and “Global Darwin: Contempt for competition.” These pieces explore a variety of reactions to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Also titled “Global Darwin” is a 2009 lecture by Jim Secord. Access it here. At the same site are lectures by Janet Browne and Rebecca Stott.

Here is a page for the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit Rewriting the Book of Nature: Charles Darwin and the Rise of Evolutionary Theory, and two sets of pictures on Flickr showing a Darwin exhibition (Darwin’s Legacy) at the National Museum of Natural History, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Darwin Online has put up the annotated copy of On the Origin of Species owned by Darwin’s third son, and experimental assistant, Francis.

Videos of many lectures from the University of Cambridge’s Darwin Festival in July are up on YouTube.

Darwinfest: Bold Ideas Change Worlds, at ASU, has its own website. Darwin biographer Janet Browne will give a lecture on November 13th. Previous lectures from throughout 2009 are available for download.

Historian of science Jim Endersby will talk on “Darwin, Hooker, and Empire” on November 18th  in conjunction with the American Philosophical Society’s exhibition Dialogues with Darwin: An Exhibition of Historical Documents and Contemporary Art. Website here, and a fun Flickr photo set of post-it notes that visitors filled out and placed on a tree of life diagram. Another recent lecture of Endersby’s, “Smashing Species: Joseph Hooker and Victorian Science” for the Royal Society, can be downloaded as an mp3.

Christ’s College, Cambridge has a website for Darwin, with lots of resources.

“Who can head the words of Charlie Darwin…”

Cambridge Library Collection’s Life Science series offers reprints of many historically important books (71 titles), many of which are on Amazon.

Via Genomicron, “This View of Life: Evolutionary Art for the Year of Darwin”:

Evolutionary art is the topic of many books this year: Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture by Jonathan Smith; Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts by Jane Munro; Darwin: Art and the Search for Origins; The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture by Barbara Larson and Fae Bauer; Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution by Phillip Prodger; Reframing Darwin: Evolution and Art in Australia by Jeanette Hoorn; and Darwin’s Pictures: Views of Evolutionary Theory, 1837-1874 by Julia Voss.

In Evolution: Education and Outreach is an article by U. Kutschera called “Darwin’s Philosophical Imperative and the Furor Theologicus: “In 1859 Charles Darwin submitted a manuscript entitled “An Abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties through Natural Selection” to John Murray III, who published the text under the title On the Origin of Species. On many pages of this book, Darwin contrasts his naturalistic theory that explains the transmutation and diversification of animals and plants with the Bible-based belief that all species were independently created. On the last page of the first edition, published in November 1859, where Darwin speculated on the origin of the earliest forms of life from which all other species have descended, no reference to “the Creator” is made. In order to conciliate angry clerics and hence to tame the erupted furor theologicus, Darwin included the phrase “by the Creator” in the second edition of 1860 and in all subsequent versions of his book (sixth ed. 1872). However, in a letter of 1863, Darwin distanced himself from this Bible-based statement and wrote that by creation he means “appeared by some wholly unknown process.” In 1871, Darwin proposed a naturalistic origin-of-life-concept but did not dare to mention his “warm little pond hypothesis” in the sixth definitive edition of the Origin (1872). I conclude that the British naturalist strictly separated scientific facts and theories from religious dogmas (Darwin’s “philosophical imperative”) and would not endorse current claims by the Catholic Church and other Christian associations that evolutionary theory and Bible-based myths are compatible.”

EEO also has a piece about the traveling Darwin exhibition by Chiara Ceci, “Darwin: Origin and Evolution of an Exhibition”: “Two hundred years after his birth, Darwin, originated by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, is the most important exhibition about the English scientist ever organized for the general public. This traveling exhibition has appeared in many versions worldwide, and a study of the relationships between local developers of the various editions of the exhibition underlines how a scientific exhibition and, more generally, science communication can succeed in striking a good equilibrium between universal content and cultural determinants.”

“Discover the principles of evolution through animations, movies and simulations” at Evolution of Life.

Several articles have appeared this year in the Journal of the History of Biology touching on Darwin and evolution in general: “Capitalist Contexts for Darwinian Theory: Land, Finance, Industry and Empire” (M.J.S. Hodge); “The Origins of Species: The Debate between August Weismann and Moritz Wagner” (Charlotte Weissman); “Edward Hitchcock’s Pre-Darwinian (1840) ‘Tree of Life'” (J. David Archibald); “Tantalizing Tortoises and the Darwin-Galápagos Legend” (Frank J. Sulloway); “‘A Great Complication of Circumstances’ – Darwin and the Economy of Nature” (Trevor Pearce); “Charles Darwin’s Beagle Voyage, Fossil Vertebrate Succession, and ‘The Gradual Birth & Death of Species'” (Paul D. Brinkman); “Darwin and Inheritance: The Influence of Prosper Lucas” (Ricardo Noguera-Solano and Rosaura Ruiz-Gutiérrez); and “Of Mice and Men: Evolution and the Socialist Utopia. William Morris, H.G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw” (Piers J. Hale).

A Darwin article in Plant Biology: “From Charles Darwin’s botanical country-house studies to modern plant biology”: “As a student of theology at Cambridge University, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) attended the lectures of the botanist John S. Henslow (1796-1861). This instruction provided the basis for his life-long interest in plants as well as the species question. This was a major reason why in his book On the Origin of Species, which was published 150 years ago, Darwin explained his metaphorical phrase `struggle for life’ with respect to animals and plants. In this article, we review Darwin’s botanical work with reference to the following topics: the struggle for existence in the vegetable kingdom with respect to the phytochrome-mediated shade avoidance response; the biology of flowers and Darwin’s plant-insect co-evolution hypothesis; climbing plants and the discovery of action potentials; the power of movement in plants and Darwin’s conflict with the German plant physiologist Julius Sachs; and light perception by growing grass coleoptiles with reference to the phototropins. Finally, we describe the establishment of the scientific discipline of Plant Biology that took place in the USA 80 years ago, and define this area of research with respect to Darwin’s work on botany and the physiology of higher plants.”

And another in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences: “Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875”: “The traditional characterization of Charles Darwin as a strong advocate of physiological experimentation on animals was posited in Richard French’s Antivivisection and medical science in Victorian England (1975), where French portrayed him as a soldier in Thomas Huxley’s efforts to preserve anatomical experimentation on animals unfettered by government regulation. That interpretation relied too much on, inter alia, Huxley’s own description of the legislative battles of 1875, and shared many historians’ propensity to foster a legacy of Darwin as a leader among a new wave of scientists, even where personal interests might indicate a conflicting story. Animal rights issues concerned more than mere science for Darwin, however, and where debates over other scientific issues failed to inspire Darwin to become publicly active, he readily joined the battle over vivisection, helping to draft legislation which, in many ways, was more protective of animal rights than even the bills proposed by his friend and anti-vivisectionist, Frances Power Cobbe. Darwin may not have officially joined Cobbe’s side in the fight, but personal correspondence of the period between 1870 and 1875 reveals a man whose first interest was to protect animals from inhumane treatment, and second to protect the reputations of those men and physiologists who were his friends, and who he believed incapable of inhumane acts. On this latter point he and Cobbe never did reach agreement, but they certainly agreed on the humane treatment of animals, and the need to proscribe various forms of animal experimentation.”

“Darwinism Comes to Penn” [PDF], in The Pennsylvania Gazette: “A century-and-a-half after the November 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species, a Penn microbiologist looks back at how Darwin’s ideas were received by some of the University’s leading thinkers.”

In the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, “WWDD? (What Would Darwin Do?)” [PDF], looks at evolution research and publishing: “We have just celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. While I hope we all rejoiced in the success of evolutionary biology and its continued growth, we should not become complacent. Although these are indeed events to celebrate, we still face the real threat of general ignorance of Darwin’s ideas. World leaders (or would-be world leaders) still promote superstition, stories and unthinking acceptance of dogma over scientific evidence. Evolutionary biologists have succeeded in investigating the magnificence, the wonder, the complexity, and the detail of evolution and its role in generating biodiversity. Evolutionary biologists have been less successful in making this relevant to those who are not biologists (and even, alas, some biologists). Is evolutionary biology likely to thrive when governments demand an immediate return on their research investment? How do we begin to educate others as to the value and importance of evolutionary research? I do not begin to claim that I can fathom the mind of Darwin, but I cannot help wondering – what would Darwin do today? Would he respond? How would he respond? And, what would be the form of his response?”

Jerry Coyne on “Why Evolution is True”:

Daniel Dennett on “Darwin and the Evolution of Why”:

A new book “offers a primer in the history of the development of evolution as a discipline after Darwin’s book and in how evolution is defined today”: The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species (Princeton University Press, 2009) by UCR biologist David Reznick. You can read the introduction on the publisher’s page for the book.

Richard Dawkins closes his latest book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by going through and detailing each line of the famous closing paragraph (“There is grandeur in this view of life…”) of On the Origin of Species. It’s available online, for you, to read, and ponder.

“The Evolution of Charles Darwin,” a 4-part series on CBC Radio One: “Ideas pays tribute to Charles Darwin and celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of his transformational and contentious book, On the Origin of Species. Darwin’s theory of evolution through Natural Selection completely changed how we think about the world. In this 4-part series, Seth Feldman guides us through the life and ideas of Charles Darwin, a creative genius. The series is produced by Sara Wolch.” Via Adrian.

Via The Evolution List, The Darwinian Revolutions Video Series: “This series of six online videos is a brief introduction to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and its implications.” The short videos are: Darwinian Revolutions, Evolutionary Ancestors, Lamarck’s Theory, One Long Argument, Mendel-Eclipse of Darwin, and The Evolving Synthesis.

The November 2009 issue of Naturwissenschaften is devoted to Darwin. The articles are “Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, directional selection, and the evolutionary sciences today” [PDF] (Ulrich Kutschera); “Darwin’s warm little pond revisited: From molecules to the origin of life” [PDF] (Hartmut Follmann and Carol Brownson); “Charles Darwin, beetles and phylogenetics” [PDF] (Rolf G. Beutel, Frank Friedrich and Richard A. B. Leschen); “The predictability of evolution: Glimpses into a post-Darwinian world” [PDF] (Simon Conway Morris); and “Evolutionary plant physiology: Charles Darwin’s forgotten synthesis” [PDF] (Ulrich Kutschera and Karl J. Niklas).

Two more articles consider Darwin and the origin of life. In Endeavour James E. Strick offers “Darwin and the origin of life: public versus private science”: “In the first twenty years after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, an intense debate took place within the ranks of Darwin’s supporters over exactly what his theory implied about the means by which the original living organism formed on Earth. Many supporters of evolutionary science also supported the doctrine of spontaneous generation: life forming from nonliving material not just once but many times up to the present day. Darwin was ambivalent on this topic. He feared its explosive potential to drive away liberal-minded Christians who might otherwise be supporters. His ambivalent wording created still more confusion, both among friends and foes, about what Darwin actually believed about the origin of life. A famous lecture by Thomas H. Huxley in 1870 set forth what later became the ‘party line’ Darwinian position on the subject.” In Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, Juli Peretó, Jeffrey L. Bada and Antonio Lazcano offer another analysis in “Charles Darwin and the Origin of Life”: “When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species 150 years ago he consciously avoided discussing the origin of life. However, analysis of some other texts written by Darwin, and of the correspondence he exchanged with friends and colleagues demonstrates that he took for granted the possibility of a natural emergence of the first life forms. As shown by notes from the pages he excised from his private notebooks, as early as 1837 Darwin was convinced that “the intimate relation of Life with laws of chemical combination, & the universality of latter render spontaneous generation not improbable”. Like many of his contemporaries, Darwin rejected the idea that putrefaction of preexisting organic compounds could lead to the appearance of organisms. Although he favored the possibility that life could appear by natural processes from simple inorganic compounds, his reluctance to discuss the issue resulted from his recognition that at the time it was possible to undertake the experimental study of the emergence of life.”


PZ Myers live-blogged on Pharyngula talks given at Chicago’s big Darwin festival, Darwin/Chicago 2009. Science Life also has a piece about the conference.

From the August 24, 2009 issue of Significance, two Darwin articles: “Darwin, Mendel and the evolution of evolution” by R. Allan Reese: “The history of science is full of myths. Darwin has his fair share; but Gregor Mendel, his fellow scientist and contemporary, has suffered even more. R. Allan Reese disentangles what we like to believe about Mendel from what we should believe—and finds a modern species whose origin was not by conventional evolution;” and “Cousins: Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Galton and the birth of eugenics” by Nicholas W. Gillham: “Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin’s cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.”Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin’s cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.”

In Archives of Natural History of October 2009 is a short article, “Letters from Alfred Russel Wallace concerning the Darwin commemorations of 1909” by Henry A McGhie.

GUEST POST: Review of “Creation” by science educator James Williams

James Williams, a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex, had thoughts about the new Darwin film Creation, and I invited him to share his review here. James, if you remember, gave this nice talk about creationism for the British Humanist Association:

And to James’s review of Creation:

Creation – the ‘myth’ of Darwin’s life

2 October 2009

It promised so much, yet delivered a turkey! The BBC (one of the backers/makers) of the film Creation, starring Paul Bettany, can be relied upon, usually, to deliver a quality account of scientific ideas and concepts, yet in the latest and highly publicised cinema release Creation they failed miserably. It was, in my view, a waste of a good film.

Granted the actors and actresses, especially the girl who played Annie Darwin (Martha West) were very good, they played their parts well and I could appreciate their characterisations. But what let the film down was its attention to the chronology of Darwin’s life. There is no excuse for this. There are probably more Darwin biographies published than exist for any other scientist. Scholars such as Peter Bowler, Janet Browne, James Moore and many others have written the great man’s life in more intricate detail than many people care to have knowledge of.

Granted, the film did give some excellent and accurate portrayals of events, but why deliver them out of sequence and why leave out some important details, yet include others?

Most people, for example, are unaware of Emma Darwin (Charles’s wife) except that she was his first cousin (mentioned in the film) and that she was ‘ultra’ religious – a Unitarian in fact. Very few people know that she was an accomplished pianist (this was evident in the film) who had studied at the Paris Conservatorie under Chopin. Yet in the film also, we are left with the impression that the Darwin family consisted of 5 children when in fact there were ten (not all survived early childhood). Their eldest child – who would have been nearly twenty years of age – didn’t merit a mention.

Annie was the central focus of the film. Annie was, indeed, the apple of Charles’s eye. He adored her. That much is true. The film is based on the book ‘Annie’s Box’ by Randal Keynes (Charles’s great grandson) and I use the term based in loose terms! Annie was born in 1841 and died in 1851 aged nine. The film is set in 1858-59, seven years after Annie’s tragic death. Yet the filmgoer is left firmly with the impression that she is alive in 1858 and dies sometime in 1858/9. This is unforgivable – even granting poetic/dramatic licence. Darwin is portrayed as having ‘given up religion’ while Annie was still alive when it is well documented that he gave up going to church with Emma and the children after the death of Annie. There is also an allusion to some form of steel box which contains the ‘secrets’ that Charles was to unleash on the world – secrets that would lead to the ‘death of God. But this is not Annie’s box, her box was a small personal one, in which she stored precious (to her) items she collected.

Where do I begin to point out the flaws and errors – there were so many. Darwin being ‘urged’ to write his book on evolution – which he apparently names ‘On the Origin of Species’ when he had in fact been writing a very large book on evolution for many years. ‘Origin’ was just an ‘abstract’ of this magnum opus and its full title was conferred not by Darwin but by the publisher John Murray.

At least Alfred Russel Wallace (my personal hero) did get a mention – but only just. It was the receipt of Wallace’s letter by Darwin that prompted Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker to urge Darwin to write Origin, not a visit by Huxley.

Darwin was distraught by the letter he received from Wallace (accurate in the film), but what put pressure on him was not Annie’s health (she was already dead at this point remember) but the health of his newborn son Charles – who did actually die during the period of his receipt of Wallace’s letter – and the fact that children in the village were sick and dying. Just how Emma could be pregnant with Charles junior, at the same time as worrying about Annie’s health, defies biological understanding.

The film makers were determined to make Annie the focus of Darwin’s angst during the writing of ‘Origin’ and deemed this to be the dramatic ‘device’. When you look at the REAL story of how Darwin was almost forestalled and what was happening in his life during June/July of 1858 and through to the publication of ‘Origin’ in 1859 – there was drama enough without having to destroy historical accuracy.

In some ways I’m glad that Creation has not found a major distributor in the USA [Michael: it now has]. People who see this film who know little or nothing about Darwin will learn some trivial facts about him. They will not uncover the true story of  Darwin during this period and will learn little about the events surrounding the discovery of the greatest scientific idea of the 19th, 20th and 21st century – the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Unlike the film ‘Inherit the Wind’, which fictionalised the Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s, where some details were changed for dramatic effect, yet the main thrust of the events remained relatively intact, Creation will serve only to mis-educate the people who see the film, but never delve any deeper into Darwin the man and the true story behind the development of the theory of evolution.

You may think that I am a pedant, but to me such historical distortion is like shifting the start of the second world war to 1950 for no good reason. This was not ‘whiggish’ or revisionist history it was just a melange of historical events.

If you are presenting a movie as anything approaching historical fact, ate least you should get the facts right!

Roy Davies’ “The Darwin Conspiracy” freely available as PDF

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.”

Paul Hannon,
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.

We need more imagery of the young Darwin

Darwin portrait by Jeffrey Morgan, on the cover of "Charles Darwin's Letters" (CUP, 1998)

Darwin portrait by Jeffrey Morgan, on the cover of "Charles Darwin's Letters" (CUP, 1998)

That popular imagery of Darwin too often portrays him as old and bearded has been discussed much recently (and acted upon!), and there seems to be an effort to bring in the image of a young Charles Darwin to academic and popular audiences. A smattering of the young Darwin:

Blog posts: Tetrapod Zoology: Why I hate Darwin’s beardThe Ethical Palaeontologist: Darwin’s ImageBeagle Project Blog: An Open Letter to Simon Gurr: more hair please; “Darwin’s not a stuff-shirted Nigel Bruce”; Young Darwins in February: Bora 1, Greg 0; Got evolution?; Young Darwin sculpture by a young Darwin sculptorDispersal of Darwin: Beagle-Bobble; Darwin Portrait by Carl Buell; This one’s for you, Karen; Pictures of the Young Darwin.

Recent books: The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Thomson; Darwin in Cambridge by John van Wyhe; Young Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle by Ruth Ashby; The Voyage of the Beetle by Anne Weaver; The Curious Mind of Young Darwin; The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer; One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathyrn Lasky; Animals Charles Darwin Saw by Sandra Markle; What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosayln Schanzer; Darwin by Alice B. McGinty; What Mr Darwin Saw by Mick Manning; Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure by A.J. Wood and Clint Twist; Charles Darwin, the Discoverer by Vargie Johnson; and The Darwin Story: A Lifetime of Curiosity, a Passion for Discovery by H.M. Ahn and T.S. Lee.

Performance: A Glimpse of the Young Darwin; biology instructor Greg Bole’s impersonation of a young(ish) Darwin.

Films: The Young Charles Darwin (trailer on YouTube; review at The Friends of Charles Darwin); Creation (forthcoming Darwin biopic featuring Paul Bettany as a young and middle-aged Darwin).

Art: Young Darwin’s evolution adventures; the logo for The HMS Beagle Project; Anthony Smith’s bronze sculpture of a young Darwin (hanging out with me! & a mini version of this sculpture makes its own voyage); Charles Darwin as a graduate student; Russian paintings of a young Darwin; a new Dover colouring book; Darwin and Galapagos; a young Charles Darwin; young Darwin image for The Great Plant Hunt; Young Charles Darwin (comic illustration); set of images from The Curious Mind of Young Darwin; statue of a young Darwin in Portugeuse exhibit.

Darwin was, for much of his life, unbearded and not an old man. He was only 22 when he embarked on HMS Beagle (he did, however, grow a beard during the voyage – Darwin wrote in his diary while in Tierra del Fuego: “They received us with less distrust & brought with them their timid children. — They noticed York Minster (who accompanied us) in the same manner as Jemmy, & told him he ought to shave, & yet he has not 20 hairs in his face, whilst we all wear our untrimmed beards”). Darwin was 50 when he published On the Origin of Species. So why is it that he is more often than not portrayed like this?

Old, bearded Darwin

Old, bearded Darwin

And not like this?

Young, adventurous Darwin

Young, adventurous Darwin

Probably because an image of an old man shows more respectability. And the beard shows his wisdom. But a young Darwin shows a curious mind, and, I think, can enable a younger generation to follow his story, as many of the recent books about Darwin for young readers seem to grasp on. What prompted this post, however, was coming across a book in a small Montana town toy store this past weekend. The book is part of the Who Was? series, telling the lives of notable historical figures (others include Einstein, Franklin, Magellan, King Tut, Mark Twain, and Shakespeare). Who Was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson (Grosset & Dunlap, 2005) features illustrations by Nancy Harrison. Harrison also painted the image on the front of the slim book. This is it:

Time-traveling Darwin

Time-traveling Darwin


Here we have Darwin, writing in one of his notebooks on the Galapagos Islands, amongst the tortoises with HMS Beagle hanging out in the background. This image has to be in 1835, when the Beagle visited the islands. Yet pictured here is an anachronistic Darwin from the 1870s, iconic beard in hand, er, on chin. Please, illustrators for children’s Darwin books, be accurate. If we are to see Darwin as a person, then let’s see him as he was in a particular time.

The cover of this book was too good not to spend the five bucks on it. As for the text of it, overall a nice treatment of Darwin for children.

If you know of any other neat examples of young Darwin art, books, or blog posts, let me know so I can add them.

ARTICLE: ‘Charles Darwin’s Beagle Voyage, Fossil Vertebrate Succession, and “The Gradual Birth & Death of Species”’

Online first from the Journal of the History of Biology:

Charles Darwin’s Beagle Voyage, Fossil Vertebrate Succession, and “The Gradual Birth & Death of Species”

Paul D. Brinkman

Abstract The prevailing view among historians of science holds that Charles Darwin became a convinced transmutationist only in the early spring of 1837, after his Beagle collections had been examined by expert British naturalists. With respect to the fossil vertebrate evidence, some historians believe that Darwin was incapable of seeing or understanding the transmutationist implications of his specimens without the help of Richard Owen. There is ample evidence, however, that he clearly recognized the similarities between several of the fossil vertebrates he collected and some of the extant fauna of South America before he returned to Britain. These comparisons, recorded in his correspondence, his diary and his notebooks during the voyage, were instances of a phenomenon that he later called the “law of the succession of types.” Moreover, on the Beagle, he was following a geological research agenda outlined in the second volume of Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which implies that paleontological data alone could provide an insight into the laws which govern the appearance of new species. Since Darwin claims in On the Origin of Species that fossil vertebrate succession was one of the key lines of evidence that led him to question the fixity of species, it seems certain that he was seriously contemplating transmutation during the Beagle voyage. If so, historians of science need to reconsider both the role of Britain’s expert naturalists and the importance of the fossil vertebrate evidence in the development of Darwin’s ideas on transmutation.