Sunday, 22 April 2018

Why Charles Darwin did not own W.C. Wells (1818, Two Essays) before the Beagle voyage or after

John S. Warren (2017. Darwin's missing links. History of European Ideas 43(8): 929-1001) claims that Charles Darwin bought William Charles Wells's (1818, Tow Essays: One upon single vision with two eyes; the other on dew. ...) before he even embarked on the voyage of the HMS Beagle. After Charles Darwin read Herschel' Premier Discourse at Cambridge, who praised Wells's Essay on Dew as a role model for anybody attempting to do science. Warren promptly concludes:
Darwin required no prompting; he quickly acquired a copy ofWells’ ‘Essay on Dew’.259 The copy in Darwin’s library in Down House is identified in the Darwin Digital Library of Evolution, Bibliography and the ‘Key to Annotations’ as ‘Pre-B’ and ‘Down’: it was in Darwin’s private library pre-Beagle voyage, later located at Down House; that is, since the Beagle sailed in December 1831, the paper was acquired no later than 1831 (Appendix 1).260
259 Wells, Two Essays.
260 American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), 2005. Accessed January 25 and September 27, 2009. See also Appendix 1.
Appendix 1
The Darwin Library and DDLE are currently accessible on the AMNH website through the following links, as at 13th January, 2017: Darwin Manuscript Project (DMP) Website ( To go straight to the William C Wells reference, the current URL is ( (Publications in EvoLit.bib p. 23). Excerpt from AMNH, 2005. ‘Darwin Digital Library of Evolution’ ( web-page listing for the relevant section of the alphabetical letter ‘W’, showing William Charles Wells’ ‘Two Essays’ in Darwin’s private library, with immediately adjacent names. Wells’ book was acquired by Darwin before the end of 1831. The entry for Wells, 1818 is annotated, ‘*’ (the identifier for Darwin’s private library), ‘Pre-B’ (pre-Beagle voyage, but not known on board), and ‘Down’ (Darwin’s library, later located at Down House, Kent): see the Darwin Digital Library of Evolution, ‘Key to annotations’.
Whatever the historical significance of Wells's Essay on Dew (1814. Article IV.—An Essay on Dew, and several Appearances connected with it. The Quarterly Review; London Vol. 12(23): 90-99) the significance for the history of biology of the later published Two Essays lies in neither of the two essays, but in an appended "account of a female of the white race, part of whose skin resembles that of a negro ..." This last account contains an anticipation of natural selection as a means of adaptation of races to their different conditions. That is, Wells did not go as far as to suggest the origin of new species through natural selection, but he got pretty close.

Now, Warren took an information provided by Charles Darwin's Library (at the website of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, BHL) as stating that Darwin owned that book before he even embarked on the Beagle Voyage. (In fact, Warren refers to the American Museum of Natural History, but that link does not exist anymore and the AMNH now relays you to the BHL's Charles Darwin Library.) This would be unproblematic, if the key to annotations had travelled along with the alphabetical list, but it hasn't. Page 84 of this list states: 
The crucial part, here, is that in square brackets: "Down, pre-B, ED." Unfortunately, the Charles Darwin Library or BHL does not give any information as to the meaning of these abbreviations (annotations). While SCRIBD still has a relic of the original list collated by the staff of the AMNH, this only tells us that the key to the annotations can be found in the book Charles Darwin's Marginalia edited by Di Gregorio & Gill (1990, Garland, New York). Thanks a lot!

Warren (2017) took it to mean that the last location of the book, before it entered the collection at Cambridge University, was Down House and that it was bought before the voyage of the HMS Beagle. Warren studiously avoids to recognize that the "ED" hints at one of the many Erasmus Darwin's rather than our Charles, but the information at BHL and AMNH is probably wrong anyway.

H. W. Rutherford (1908. Catalogue of the library of Charles Darwin now in the Botany School, Cambridge. Compiled by H. W. Rutherford, of the University Library; with an Introduction by Francis Darwin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) was the first at Cambridge University, who collated a list of the books that actually did enter their collection of Charles Darwin's books in 1908, and Francis Darwin wrote the introduction to that catalogue.

The first thing to notice is in Francis Darwin's Introduction:
THE library of Charles Darwin has now found a permanent home in his own University, and it is perhaps appropriate that it should be in the Botany School, since it was a Cambridge professor of Botany who, more than any one man, determined his career as a naturalist.
The collection is not identical with that at Down. Thus the books he wrote and some few others from Down are in my own possession. There are also a few books of mine which, for the sake of convenience, are kept in the Darwin library: these are marked with an asterisk in the catalogue. (Rutherford 1908, p. vii, emphasis added) #
#[The books from Francis Darwin's private possession have probably been integrated into the collection by now.] Next thing to notice is the explanation of the abbreviations:
* Books thus marked were not in the Library at Down. ... (Rutherford 1908, p. xiv, emphasis added)
  And, finally, there is the entry for W. C. Wells:
*Wells (William Charles). Two Essays: one upon single vision with two eyes; the other on Dew: &c. 8vo. London, 1818. 24 (Rutherford 1908, p. 89)
That clearly contradicts the Biodiversity Heritage Library's annotation [Down, pre-B, ED], which seems to suggest Down as the location. On the contrary, the asterisk and the introductory statements by Francis Darwin state that Francis added this book to the collection, which has since been called the Darwin Library, and that it was not from Down house.

Maybe it came down to Francis Darwin from Erasmus Darwin (either one). Maybe Francis stored it with some other books of his in Down for a while, before they went to Cambridge. Maybe the collator of the BHL's list made some mistake. Whatever the explanation of the screwed-up information at the BHL, it can surely not be taken as proof that Charles Darwin owned Well's Two Essays long before he even went on the Beagle voyage.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Darwin's "Questions & Experiments" notebook. One entry, many interpretations

Here's an entry from page 3 of Darwin's "Questions & Experiments" notebook (1839-46).

The poor performance
A naive and surprised reaction will be based on the fact that the only work on forest trees one usually ever heard of is Patrick Matthew's book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture, because it has some relation with natural selection. Thinking that Matthew was the only source for anything on forest trees will lead to an interpretation as follows:

First Interpretation: The fact that Darwin shows interest in forest-trees and their variability in nursery gardens proves that he had read Matthew (1831).

However, this is not the only possible interpretation, especially if you know something about the pertinent literature from around 1831.

Second Interpretation: There were others before Matthew (1831) writing about forest trees and their cultivation. An interest in the issue does neither prove nor disprove a knowledge of Matthew (1831).

Finally, having actually read and understood Matthew (1831) can even lead to the opposite of the first interpretation.

Third Interpretation: The question whether forest-trees sport more in nurseries than in nature as a consequence of the special conditions in nurseries, like manuring, indicates that Darwin had not read Matthew (1831) or else he would not have asked this. Matthew (1831, 308) had made it clear that the variability only appears to be increased under domestication, because of the lack of natural selection there. For Darwin to get there, it would still take years of studying barnacles and other organisms.
"Man's interference, by preventing this natural process of selection among plants, independent of the wider range of circumstances to which he introduces them, has increased the difference in varieties, particularly in the more domesticated kinds; and even in man himself, the greater uniformity, and more general vigour among savage tribes, is referrible to nearly similar selecting law—the weaker individual sinking under the ill treatment of the stronger, or under the common hardship." (Matthew 1831, p. 308)
One could, then, continue with a useless controversy about this entry and what it signifies about Darwin's knowledge or ignorance of Matthew (1831) or quip something like: "Had Darwin asked whether Forrest Gump sports much in nursery gardens, I'd surely know the answer." However, the entry also provides the chance to do something more interesting.

The historical performance
Let's first look at the context of Darwin's notebook entry. The very first question at page 3 about crossing two halfbred (we'd say heterozygous) animals and their offspring being uniform already shows that Darwin was on the track of hybridizers* in particular rather than on Matthew's general observations about the variability of trees in forests and nurseries.

* [By the way, Gregor Mendel was one of these hybridizers, and he would later answer Darwin's question with a resounding "No." He started from two strains of peas that differed in one trait (e.g., colour of the flowers), but were truebred (that is, homozygous) for that trait. Crossing this parental P-generation yielded a halfbred (that is, heterozygous) F1-generation, which was was uniformly showing the dominant trait. But crossing these halfbred F1 plants with each other yielded an F2-offspring showing the parental traits in the ratio 3:1. Hence, the answer is "No!" to Darwin's first question at page 3: "If two halfbred animals exactly alike be inbred, will offspring be uniform?"]

Furthermore, Darwin's entries at page 21 of the same notebook show that he had a particular problem with trees and inbreeding. He believed that some degree of out-breeding was necessary for the health of organisms but could not understand how that should be possible in in mixed forests. Here, the scattering of trees of the same species should lead to close inbreeding between flowers of the same tree despite insects or wind.
     Darwin even wondered whether fruit trees can flower and their fruit ripen in Scotland—a question he'd never have jotted down had he been in the know of Matthew's writings.
"(2) History of fruit trees far north in Scotland — do they flower — do they live healthily, or does fruit merely not ripen. — The point to attend to is whether good & plenty of pollen is produced. & 2d if so, whether concepcion takes place, — the mere fact of seeds ripening has scarcely any no relation to hybrids." (Darwin's Q&E notebook, p. 21)
     At the same time, experiments by hybridizers, like William Herbert, had shown that hybridization can boost the variability of the offspring generally referred to as "sporting." If trees were inbred in mixed forests, and their out-breeding had similar effects as the hybridizing in experiments by hybridizers, the close proximity of trees of the same species in nurseries should lead to an increase of sporting in their offspring.
     Darwin's further question about the manuring of trees in nurseries ("are the is the ground much manured") hints at another doctrine, which had been well established among horticulturalists and animal breeders of Darwin's time, but has since been refuted. Horticulturalists and animal breeders, like Thomas Knight, believed that conditions of domestication or cultivation (such as an excess of food or shelter from harsh conditions) boost the variability of the offspring. And so did Darwin. Matthew (1831), however, did not subscribe to this doctrine. He did not explicitly refute it, but what he wrote was not in accord with it either. Concerning his personal experience with planting and growing trees he commented in the footnote that domestic trees vary no more than forest trees:
"In fairness, it may be proper to explain, that the greater part of the trees we have thus cultivated have been of Pyrus, although we commenced the practice with common forest trees—yet the pear and apple vary nothing from the oak and ash in the primary stage of life" (emphasis added, Matthew 1831, p. 215, footnote )
That means, had Darwin read Matthew (1831), he might not have asked this question about the effects of domestic conditions on variability in the first place.

The analytical performance
The scan and the transcript provided by Darwin Online are not very good. Let's take a closer look at a better scan provided by the American Museum of Natural History.

The first thing to notice, here, is that the transcription (by David Kohn) has added a footnote "a" after "forest-trees." What does it say? It says: "aDo forest-trees] ‘No’ added over ‘Do’"
Apparently, we must look closer still!

What we see, now, is that Darwin has overwritten the first word, either "Do" with "No" or vice verse. Here are samples of Darwin's "D" and "N" from other pages in the same notebook as well as the Do/No overwrite at page 3 in large.

Taking the question mark at the end of the sentence as an indication that the original sentence must have been a question, the original first letter must have been a "D" in "Do forest-trees sport much in nursery gardens?" That means, Darwin has overwritten the "D" with an "N" and thus turned a question into an answer. He apparently concluded something about the effect of either out-breeding or manuring in nurseries. So here's an interesting project for an accomplished sleuth in trying to find out what this overwrite signifies.

Monday, 16 April 2018

If-by-whiskey... no true scotsman... assume a can opener

A man uses the search and setting options of google, in order to search for specific phrases within specific time-ranges. That is, he sets "search terms" in quotation marks telling google thus to search for the exact phrase, and he chooses a custom time-range from the tools settings. He then claims that he has thereby "invented" a new research method and that google does not want its users to use its search engine in that way. Try doing such a search with any other search engine and you will experience what it is like, if the designers did not mean to build an engine with which digitized books can be searched within customized time-ranges.

It's simply impossible!!!

Nevertheless, our man wants priority rights for having invented a new research method, when in fact, John J. McKay has used the very same method years earlier, in 2009, in order to trace a mammoth literary myth back to its roots. That means that our man is not the first to have invented anything new, but only the first to be foolhardy enough to do the equivalent of claiming that using the lights of a car for searching in the dark off-road is a new invention.

Monday, 26 March 2018

The other Patrick Matthew, a medical student from Newbigging

Patrick Matthew (1790-1874) from Gourdiehill is often said to have anticipated the idea of species transmutation through* natural selection in his book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (1831).

* [If you'd like to know why I think that Patrick Matthew only suggested species transmutation with natural selection playing some role, but not the central one in the process, see here. Also click through to the article linked there for a detailed analysis of Matthew's evolutionary scheme.]

One enigma about this Patrick Matthew of Gourdiehill is his education. The only source we really have is an article by William T. Calman (1912, "Patrick Matthew of Gourdiehill." Handbook and Guide to Dundee and District, British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp. 451-457) stating:
"He [Patrick Matthew] was educated at Perth Academy and at Edinburgh University, but his stay at the latter cannot have been of long duration, for, on his father's death, he undertook, at the age of seventeen, the management of the estate of Gourdiehill, near Errol." (Calman 1912, p. 452)
Ever since, this sentence by Calman about Patrick Matthew's education has been parroted by almost every publication written on Matthew. Calman (1912, p. 451) only referred to communication with Miss Euphemia Matthew, Patrick Matthew's daughter, in general. But he did not refer to her as his particular source for the particular claim of Matthew's university education. Unless this communication was by letter and the letters have been preserved somewhere, we shall be unable to check Calman's words.

Excerpt from Calman (1912). The mistake by May referred to concerns May's claim that the Matthew family was related to Robert Bruce, which Euphemia Matthew denied.

William J. Dempster (1996, Evolutionary concepts in the nineteenth century. Natural selection and Patrick Matthew. Pentland Press) tried to verify Patrick Matthew's training at the University of Edinburgh by consulting its matriculation record, but he got the wrong Patrick Matthew. He wrote:
"According to the records in the Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Edinburgh University Library, the name of Patrick Matthew appears in the Matriculation Index in 1804-05 and again in 1808-09. His name is on the class list of Professor Gregory who held the chair of medicine. The subjects studied were anatomy, surgery, chemistry, medical practice. In 1808 Patrick Matthew attended Professor Hope's classes in chemistry. There is no evidence that Patrick Matthew graduated from Edinburgh and he appears never to have mentioned in his writings that he had attended Edinburgh University, where his studies were interrupted when he seventeen years old by the death of his father." (Dempster 1996, p. 1) 
Meanwhile, the University of Edinburgh has put its matriculation records of historical alumni online. It shows us that the Patrick Matthew in question ran a regular course of studies in medicine and was training abroad, at the Indian Medical Service, in the gap between 1805 and 1808 mentioned by Dempster (1996, p. 1). This record (see below) does not fit to our Patrick Matthew (1790-1874) for several reasons.
    First, our Patrick Matthew of Gourdiehill would have been 14 in the year that the matriculation record first registered the enrollment. Second, our Patrick Matthew never was in India. Third, our Patrick Matthew (born 20 October 1790) would have been 17 or just turned 18 in 1808, when the matriculation record registered the return to the University of Edinburgh. At that age, however, all sources recount the death of our Patrick Matthew's father and the need of him to take over the management of the family estate.   

This matriculation record is not just a glitch of the online website of historical alumni of Edinburgh University, because the other Patrick Matthew can also be found in other documents, like the file GD316 of the National Records of Scotland. This Patrick was the grandson of a John Matthew from Clashbenny and the son of a Peter Matthew from Newbigging. The following excerpt is from GD316_16_4, which gives the genealogies of Matthew families other than the one of Gourdiehill (put online by Mike Weale at The Patrick Matthew Project).

As you can see, Peter Matthew of Newbigging (red ellipse) was a son of John Matthew and had a son called Patrick Matthew (third from left), who went to East India and married there. Here's the same excerpt rotated clockwise:

Inside the red ellipse, it says, in the right half (which is the top in the non-rotated version and hence the older half): "Patrick Matthew, went to East India, and married."

The left (younger) half says: "One daughter, married, name unknown."

Furthermore, the elder brother John Matthew (at the top of the rotated image) also went to East India, and so did the younger brother George Matthew (two below Patrick) who died there. The Newbigging Matthews had quite a family tradition of going to East India.

Peter Matthew, the father of our medical student from Newbiging seems to have gone on record as yet another Patrick Matthew in an old tax roll (1797-1798) that is online here. The picture below shows that Peter/Patrick Matthew from Newbigging in the red ellipse:

At that time, our Patrick Matthew from Gourdiehill was only 7 years old and surely did not pay taxes for farm horses. Apparently, this Peter/Patrick Matthew from Newbigging also signed the preface of a book by David Young published in 1788, when our Gourdiehill chap had not even been born (see here). And there's even a fourth Patrick Matthew from Sherifftown signing the same book.

Treating the forenames Peter and Patrick as if they were identical seems to have been fairly common among officials in Scotland. Our Gourdiehill Patrick Matthew also got called Peter Matthew in a copy of the Erroll churchyard, where he's been buried (ht to Julian Derry):

In conclusion, while Edinburgh University seems to be a likely source for revolutionary ideas about geology and biology at the time, we have no palpable proof for our Patrick Matthew's education there. In the worst case, Patrick Matthew of Gourdiehill went to Edinburgh, in order to start a course of studies, but never really got any training as a student, because his father died before he really started in earnest. Or he did get some training, but it never got on record in the matriculation index. In my opinion, the simplest explanation for the record of "Patrick Matthew" that does exist in the matriculation index of the University of Edinburgh (see above) is that is is one complete record of one complete course of medical studies of only one medical student, who studied in Edinburgh from 1804 to 1806, went to the Indian Medical Service for training abroad during 1807, came back to Edinburgh in 1808 to finish his course of studies from 1808-09.
At this state of affairs, suggesting a link of knowledge transfer from James Hutton to Patrick Matthew via the Edinburgh University chemistry professor Thomas Charles Hope (see The Alfred Russel Wallace Website, is mere speculation. 

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Comparing the respective transmutation mechanisms of Patrick Matthew, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace

The original article has been published at the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 123: 864-78 (2018), A pre-print version is available here.

The elaborate acknowledgements
I'd like to take the chance to be more elaborate, here, than in the published paper. After a rash rejection by the Journal of the History of Biology, Mike Weale has, for some time, engaged in a ping-pong game of him commenting on the manuscript and me sending him corrected versions back. I also invited Julian Derry to become co-author around that time, but the plan never panned out for various reasons. Nevertheless, Julian's input via e-mail discussions was as helpful as that of Mike Weale.

Despite these important roles of Julian Derry and Mike Weale, the three of us reconstruct Matthew's views differently. (Reconstruction is inevitable for a record as incomplete as Matthew's. It's as if we have a most complete fossil record for Darwin, most of it for Wallace, but only a jaw, and a leg, and a tail for Matthew.) Let me sketch the differences between Weale, Derry and me as aptly as possible. Weale believes that Matthew proposed an early version of species transmutation through natural selection. Derry and I disagree.
    I think Matthew's scheme proposed species transmutation with natural selection also being in it, but not being the central force that does the transforming. On the contrary, Matthew's scheme suggests that natural selection works species fixing except after catastrophes have ripped remnant species apart and thrown them into habitats which they did not naturally occupy before the catastrophe. That is, natural selection only ever works (anagenetically) to adapt a lineage to its environment and the catastrophe does the lineage splitting. Natural selection does play some role, here, during the process of species transformation and lineage splitting, but not the central role that it does play in Darwin's mature theory. In the latter, natural selection and the principle of divergence were sufficient to effect divergence and speciation in symparty.
    Finally, Derry reads Matthew as having >natural selection and species transmutation, separately, but both do not work together in the transformation. Hence, out three different readings of Matthew (1831, On NAval Timber and Arboriculture) can be aptly summarized as species transmutation through natural selection (Weale), species transmutation with natural selection (me), and species transmutation and natural selection separately here and there (Derry).

The information about the enigma of Matthew's university education reached me via Mike Weale, but he insisted that his source, Anne Carroll of Perth Library, be acknowledged for it rather than him. David Lloyd was a peer reviewer who waved anonymity. He and two anonymous reviewers helped to improve the paper a lot, especially on Alfred Wallace. A rant about the second reviewer (there were four in total) could follow, but everybody knows what "reviewer no. 2" means. I must praise the gumption of the editor in chief, John Allen, however. When I challenged the one glib and uncomprehending sentence that constituted the 2nd review, he bethought himself and revised his decision from rejection to re-write. Finally, thanks to Alexandra Elbakyan for literature.

A comparison of the evolutionary mechanisms of Patrick Matthew, Charles Darwin, and Alfred Wallace highlights their differences. In Matthew’s scheme, catastrophes initiate periods of radiation and speciation until a fully stocked environment gets into stasis. Catastrophes first needed to exterminate competing species before the survivors could radiate into free niches and diversify into new species. In Darwin's early theory conditions of life, such as prevail under domestication, first need to increase the variability of a species, before natural selection can transform it. In Darwin's mature theory competition replaced conditions as the main drive behind evolutionary change and sympatric speciation becomes possible. Wallace’s theory differed from both Matthew’s and Darwin’s. Interspecific competition was neither a brake halting transmutation (as in Matthew’s) nor intraspecific competition a sufficient drive for it. While each theory integrated natural selection with variability, competition and changed conditions in distinct ways, each allowed for species transmutation somehow. The result was similar (transmutation), but the mechanisms yielding that result (the integration of natural selection with variability, competition, change in conditions) differed significantly.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

G.C. Williams and J. Maynard Smith conceived the maintenance of sexual reproduction differently

George C. Williams

George Williams conceptualized the maintenance of sexual reproduction as a problem of selection within one species or population. He began by considering organisms that include both sexual and asexual modes of reproduction within their complex life-cycles, for example, aphids & rotifers or strawberries & corals. He conceived the cost of sexual reproduction as the cost of meiosis, that is, the cost of reducing the relatedness with the own offspring from r = 1 to r = 0.5, when these organisms meet the time or conditions for switching from asexual to sexual reproduction. With this kin-selection conception he took the maintenance of sexual reproduction as a problem of selection within a population. Herein, he disagreed with Maynard Smith: 
“I think that the primary disadvantage of sexual reproduction in relation to asexual is most fruitfully formulated as a paradox of kin selection—an organism devotes resources to the production and care of a more distant (r = 0.5) rather than a close (r = 1) relative. This formulation provides a number of advantages. In its focus on genes identical by descent, kin selection is genetically explicit and relates directly to evolution. Maynard Smith’s economic argument (resources wasted on males) makes it easy to overlook the fundamental distinction between (1) the evolutionary problem of sexual and asexual reproduction as alternative character states in a population, and (2) the purely ecological question of competition between a clone and a Mendelian population.” (Williams 1978, ‘Mysteries of sex and recombination. A review of The Evolution of Sex by John Maynard Smith.’ Quarterly Review of Biology 53: 287–289. Page 298)
“I believe that understanding has been hampered by failure to distinguish the ecological from the evolutionary problem of sexuality. In important ways, insights gained from conceptual or experimental comparisons of sexual populations and competing clones (the ecological problem) may mislead in relation to sexual and clonal reproduction as alternative processes in a population (the evolutionary question with which I am concerned here).” (Williams 1980, ‘Kin selection and the paradox of sexuality.’ In Sociobiology: Beyond nature/nurture? Ed. by G.W. Barlow and J. Silverberg. Boulder, CO: Westview: 371–384. Page 372)
The fact that William and Maynard Smith cut the cake differently gets obvious from the way in which Williams treated the maintenance of recombination as not the problem he was at all concerned with:
“I assume that observed chromosome numbers and crossover rates reflect the optimum compromise between maximizing whatever benefits there are in recombination, and minimizing recombinational load. Tighter linkage must reduce recombinational load, but it does nothing to alleviate the cost of meiosis.” (Williams 1975, Sex and Evolution, Princeton Univ. Press, p. 108)
That is, reducing replication-rate by fusing gametes is not alleviated by assuming, for example, a species with a genome consisting of one homologous pair of a giant chromosome and no crossing-over between this homologous pair. [Felsenstein and Yokoyama (1976) modelled this problem.] That would exclude recombination through segregating heterologous chromosomes as well as through crossing-over between homologous chromosomes, but it would not pay the cost of reducing r from 1 to 0.5, or the cost of males, or the cost of fusing gametes, or whatever you conceive the cost of sex to be.

John Maynard Smith

John Maynard Smith conceived the maintenance of high recombination rates (not sex) as a problem of within-population selection between alleles that increase and others that decrease recombination rates. [This differs from Williams's within-population problem of a species with a complex life-cycle and both sexual and asexual modes of reproduction within it.] He accepted Williams's criticism of group-selection arguments for this issue (what he called the "balance argument" of Williams). He agreed that this problem requires an immediate individual-level explanation. But he also maintained that the competition between a sexual population and a genetically isolated asexual clone is a case of between-population selection. At this level, he did allow for long-term or group selection to play some (limited) role.

Anyway, his distinction begins in the preface already:
"I am under no illusion that I have solved all the problems which I raise. Indeed, on the most fundamental question - the nature of the forces responsible for the maintenance of sexual reproduction and genetic recombination - my mind is not made up. On sex, the relative importance of group and individual selection is not easy to decide. On recombination, group selection can hardly play a significant role, but it is not clear to me whether the short-term selective forces I discuss are sufficient to account for the facts, or whether models of a qualitatively different kind are needed." (Maynard Smith 1978, The Evolution of Sex, Cambridge Univ. Press, p. ix)

"It may help to classify the various theories; first, according to the time scale on which selection is supposed to act, and then according to the 'unit of selection' - population, individual, or gene." (Maynard Smith 1978, p. 1)

"I do not find it possible to give an unequivocal answer concerning the role of group selection in the maintenance of sexual reproduction. It has played some role, as evidenced by the taxonomic distribution of parthenogens; but it is not the only relevant force, as will be apparent from the review of the balance argument in Chapter 4, section E. But, whatever one may think of the role of group selection in the maintenance of sex, it cannot explain how it started, and it cannot explain the maintenance of high levels of genetic recombination within sexual populations." (Maynard Smith 1978, p. 6)

And so throughout the book. Maynard Smith consistently distinguishes the maintenance of sexual reproduction from that of recombination, the former being an issue of selection between isolated populations and clones, the latter being one of selection between alleles within one population.

Maynard Smith's support for "some role" of long-term or group selection in the maintenance of sex (not recombination) was also defending his earlier publication from 1958 (The Theory of Evolution, Penguin Books, pp. 138-139). It is often forgotten in potted histories about the paradox of sex, that Maynard Smith did already clearly state the cost of males in this early pop-science writing and also embraced the long-term group-selection explanation of the maintenance of sex.
"If the rate of increase of an animal population were limited by the number of eggs which each female could lay, which in turn depended on how much food a female could eat and transform into eggs, then a population consisting entirely of parthenogenetic females would increase twice as fast as would a population of equal numbers of males and females. From the point of view of reproduction, males are a waste of living material. (This argument does not hold for hermaphroditic organisms, or for those animals in which both parents help to feed the young.)      The compensating advantage of the sexual process is that it increases the range of potential variation in a population, and therefore, its evolutionary plasticity." (Maynard Smith 1958, p. 138)
"Thus the sexual process is a means of ensuring evolutionary plasticity at the expense of interfering with reproduction. [...] Now if the advantage of sexual reproduction is that it increases the range of potential variation in a population, then the advantage refers to the population as a whole, and not to any particular individual in it. It follows that sexual reproduction has been established as a rule, both in animals and plants, because selection has favoured some populations at the expense of others. This forms a contrast to the the examples discussed in the last chapter, in which the 'unit' selected was the individual and not the population." (Maynard Smith 1958, p. 139)

By the way, Ghiselin (1988, p. 16, same book as the Felsenstein-1988 quote above), reminisced an instance of Williams reviewing one of his papers and telling him about the twofold cost of sex and that he [Williams] had found it in a book by Maynard Smith (1966), which must have been the second edition of the above quoted Penguin book by Maynard Smith (see also Dagg 2016, On recognising the paradox of sex. Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology. DOI: 10.3998/ptb.6959004.0008.003).

The fact that John Maynard Smith never changed his mind about his hedged support for some role of group (between-population) selection in the maintenance of sex is clear from an interview of Richard Dawkins with John Maynard Smith in 1997 (deposited at the Web of Stories in 2008).  

Monday, 8 January 2018

Why Robert Chambers never reviewed Patrick Matthew's book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (1831)

Mike Sutton (2014, Nullius in verba. Darwin's greatest secret, ThinkerMedia; 2015, On knowledge contamination, FAG 12: 167-205) claims that Robert Chambers read Patrick Matthew's book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture from A to Z and that, therefore, Robert Chambers later transmitted Matthew's ideas on species transmutation and natural selection to Charles Darwin (and Alfred Wallace) somehow. The article on which this claim hinges is a piece called On the Training of Plank Timber in the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (vol. 1, no. 8: p. 63, 24 March 1832). Follow the link to an online repository and see the piece in question at the upper right corner of that page. As you can see for yourself, it amounts to nothing more than a recipe for pruning trees. What's more, the piece is not an original writing of the Chambers brothers but a copy-paste job done by them with some minimal changes in wording probably for escaping charges of plagiarism.

Most of the piece is identical with an earlier article by Patrick Matthew (28 July 1831. On Pruning. Quarterly Journal of Agriculture 3(no. 14): 300-308).* This article by Patrick Matthew contains a section called Directions for Training Plank Timber. It starts at page 303, ends at page 307, and Matthew introduces it by saying: "I find I cannot better illustrate the uses of the lower branches, and my views of pruning in general, than by quoting a few passages from my work on "Naval Timber and Arboriculture," published a few months previously to Mr. Gavin Cree's article." (see p. 303 within the article On Pruning). The original sections in Matthew's book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture can be found at pp. 8-14 and 300-302.

* [Hat-tip to Julian Derry for pointing out the identity between the Quart. J. Agric. and Chambers's Edinburgh J. Unfortunately, he has never found the time to put this interesting evidence online.]

Furthermore, none of the other pieces at page 63 of the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, vol. 1(8), is original. For example, the first two (of three) columns are excerpts from a longer article on fox hunting first published by Nimrod (1832, Remarks on the condition of hunters, the choice of horses, and their management; in a series of familiar letters The Quarterly Review 47: 216-243). The Chambers's copy-paste job starts at page 222 of that article with "Melton Mowbray generally contains from two to three hundred ..." becoming "Melton Mowbray, a small town in Lestercershire, generally contains from two to three hundred ..." The remaining two short pieces On Preserving Corn in Sheaves and On Thickening Hedges are both taken from The Agricultural Journal.

The piece On the Training of Plank Timber is signed: ".—Matthew on Naval Timber," so that it might even have been collated by Patrick Matthew himself from his own book. In fact, the whole Chambers's Edinburgh Journal seems to be designed as some kind of readers' digest format selecting and reprinting miscellanea from all places. The paradigm for this kind of literary periodical that avoided the stap duty levied upon newspapers was set much earlier, for example, by Walter Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine appearing between 1768 and 1784. Its full title explicated the secondary nature of the contents: The Weekly Magazine, or Edinburgh Amusement, containing the essence of all magazines, reviews, newspapers, etc., published in Great Britain; also Extracts from every new Work of Merit, whether political, literary, serious or comical.

The Chambers's Edinburgh Journal differed from this earlier literary digest in that it was designed to address the lower middle class of the society and in that it contained original essays of Robert Chambers as lead articles. These original pieces remained unsigned, whereas the secondary material always ended with a reference of the original source or signature of the original author. Robert was skeptical, initially, about the merit of such a low-priced journal (William Chambers, 1872, Memoir of Robert Chambers with autobiographical reminiscences of William Chambers. New York; Scribner, Armstrong and Co., p. 209). That means that all pieces which are signed in any way were probably NOT by Robert Chambers. What's more, Robert Chambers role for the journal remained that of a mere contributor until the number 14, at which point he joined his brother as co-editor:
"Until the fourteenth number of the work, Robert was only in the position of a contributor." William Chambers (1872, Memoir of Robert Chambers with autobiographical reminiscences of William Chambers. New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., p. 214)
The 14th number, however, was that from Saturday, 5 May 1832, whereas the recipe for pruning occurred in number 8 of Saturday, 24 March 1832. Further down, William Chambers specified Robert's role as contributor of content to the journal (ht to Julian Derry):
 "The permanent hold on the public mind which the "Journal" fortunately obtained, was undoubtedly owing, in a very great degree, to the leading articles, consisting of essays, moral, familiar, and humorous, from the pen of my brother. My own more special duties were confined for the most part to papers having in view some kind of popular instruction, particularly as regards the young, whom it was attempted to stimulate in the way of mental improvement." William Chambers (1872, Memoir of Robert Chambers with autobiographical reminiscences of William Chambers. New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., p. 216)
Here are Robert's own words describing his own contributions to the journal:
"It was in middle life that I was induced to become an essayist [my emphasis], for the benefit of a well-known periodical work established by my elder brother. During fifteen years I have labored in this field, alternately gay, grave, sentimental, philosophical, until not much fewer than four hundred separate papers have proceeded from my pen. These papers were written under some difficulties, particularly those of a provincial situation, and a life too studious and recluse to afford much opportunity for the observation of social characteristics. Yet perhaps these restraints have had some good effect on the other hand, in making the treatment of subjects less local and less liable to the accidents of fashion than it might otherwise have been. One ruling aim of the author must be taken into account: it was my design from the first to be the essayist of the middle class, — that in which I was born, and to which I continued to belong. I therefore do not treat their manners and habits as one looking de haut en bas, which is the usual style of essayists, but as one looking round among the firesides of my friends. For their use I shape and sharpen my apothegms; to their comprehension I modify any philosophical disquisitions on which I have entered. Everywhere I have sought less to attain elegance or observe refinement, than to avoid that last of literary sins — dullness. I have endeavored to be brief — direct; and I know I have been earnest. As to the sentiment and philosophy, I am not aware that any particular remark is called for. The only principles on which I have been guided are, as far as I am aware, these: whatever seems to be just, or true, or useful, or rational, or beautiful, I love and honor; wherever human woe can be lessened, or happiness increased, I would work to that end; wherever intelligence and virtue can be promoted, I would promote them. These dispositions will, I trust, be traced in my writings." Robert quoted in William Chambers (1872, Memoir of Robert Chambers with autobiographical reminiscences of William Chambers. New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., p. 217)
This suggests that, if anybody had his hands in the redacting of Matthew's recipe for pruning, then it was probably William and probably NOT Robert. Neither William nor Robert penned it, because it was not an original contribution but a secondary piece. But Robert probably did not redact it either, because he was not involved in the editorial chores at the time.

The Ph.D. thesis of Sondra Miley Cooney (1971. Publishers for the people: W. & R. Chambers – the early years, 1832-1850. The Ohio State Unversity, pp. 56ff) gives a very true-to-life account of what these editorial chores actually involved. They either received articles from authors who wanted to publicize their work or they simply took articles published in other journals and subjected them to a rigorous scrutiny that would today be regarded as a rather strict publishing policy verging, sometimes, on restrictive political and religious correctness. William Chambers had insisted from the first moment on being non-partisan in political and religious issues.  
"How these principles of decorum were applied is perhaps best illustrated by the alterations made in the story of "Malhatchee," originally published in the Southern Literary Messenger and taken from an unidentified intermediate source for use in the [Chambers's Edinburgh] Journal. Of the seventeen alterations in the text, four were made because references to the nobility of savages and approval of warfare were offensive to moral sentiments. Five references to savagery—including a scalping—were deleted or rephrased. Allusions to the "Evil Spirit" and two incantation scenes were omitted as evidence of superstitious practices. The word devil in the phrases "squaw devil" and "she devil" was altered to fiend to avoid improper language. And two love scenes, innocuous though they were, were cut out." (Cooney 1971, p. 61)
How this editorial policy was not de haut en bas is beyond me. Anyway, it illustrates the secondary nature of the edited pieces. Nothing was original in the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal except for Robert's lead essays. Besides copy-pasted secondary content, Cooney (1971, 56ff) also recounts many instances of authors sending their articles to the Chambers and having them rejected for various reasons varying from containing dialect over lacking originality (hear) to being too explicit in descriptions of war, crime or love. This illustration of the editorial work leaves no doubt that the recipe for pruning by Matthew, with which this post started, was either submitted by Matthew himself or, as the story of Malhatchee, taken from erstwhile unidentified intermediate sources* and then redacted it according to their publishing policy.
*[As we now know one of these unidentified sources could have been the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, see above.]

Robert Chambers might not have had anything to do with the publication of Matthew's recipe for pruning in the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, 24 March 1832! It is possible that William Chambers picked up the pieces from elsewhere for reprinting, or he augmented the piece from the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture (QJA) by some passages taken from Matthew's book, or he stitched it together from Matthew's book all alone (which would be a strange coincidence given the overlap with the QJA). Or, possible, William only conducted Matthew himself in stitching the piece together and Matthew produced something quite similar to his earlier article in QJA.

As you can see, the evidence can be interpreted in various ways, but Robert Chambers did not necessarily ever hold the book of Patrick Matthew On Naval Timber and Arboriculture in his own hands. He might have done so, but there is no proof for that. Even if he abridged the excerpt, he never reviewed Matthew's book. Why, then, conclude that he must have received Matthew's ideas on species transformation and natural selection, leave alone having transmitted them to Charles Darwin somehow?

Robert Chambers's further publications supply no evidence that he was in the know of Matthew's ideas about natural selection and species transmutation or his arboricultural expertise. On the contrary, a few months later the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (vol. 1(no. 49), pp. 313-314, 3 Nov. 1832) did feature an article headed "Popular Information on Science. Trees." That piece was not signed, hence, penned by Robert Chambers. In it, Robert exhorts the virtues of science for agriculture and deplores the lack of its application to the cultivation of trees. However, the only book he can make out that did mitigate this situation was Henry Steuart's Planter's Guide of 1828.

The parsimonious explanation of this situation would be to assume that Robert Chambers did not know of the existence of Matthew's book. Mike Sutton (2014), however, construes an tenacious story of how Robert Chambers did not like Patrick Matthew: (1.) because Matthew was a Chartist and criticized Henry Steuart; (2.) because Robert Chambers was a friend of Sir Walter Scott, who was a friend of Sir Henry Steuart in turn; and (3.) because of Robert Chambers's dislike of the idea of natural selection.
     Nevertheless, says Sutton, Robert Chambers did advertise Matthew's book to the readership of the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal by publishing that recipe for pruning (a clearly false interpretation of the historical facts about Robert's role in the journal at the time, see above), but then bethought himself to purposely neither cite him in the November article on trees nor in one of the following publications:

     1. The Chambers brothers later published a series called Chambers's Information for the People, in which a long essay on Arboriculture (1842, vol. 2, no. 76, pp. 401-416) did not mention Matthew (1831) even once.
     2. Robert Chambers published the Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation anonymously in 1844. Again, he did not even adumbrate the idea of natural selection in any form, despite the fact that this book argued for species transformation and against species fixity, but lacked a mechanism for it.

Despite all this, Sutton (2014) claims that Robert Chambers must have somehow transmitted the idea of natural selection from Patrick Matthew's book to Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace and that believing otherwise amounts to magical thinking.


The table at the bottom of this post provides a sentence-by-sentence comparison of the pieces on pruning in the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture (QJA) and the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (CEJ) with a colour code. The black passages are (almost) identical between the piece in the QJA and the CEJ suggesting either a copy-paste job from QJA to CEJ or a direct copying from Matthew's book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (ONTA). The blue passages are not in the QJA, so they are copied directly from ONTA, unless some not yet discovered third article published by Matthew in some not yet digitized third journal could have served the Chambers bros as a source for these passages. Either way, nothing of the piece in the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal is original and it is not a review of the book. It all just amounts to copying and pasting a recipe for pruning.

Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, 28 July 1831, Vol. 3, no. 14, pp. 300-308. Chambers‘ Edinburgh Journal, 24 March 1832, Vol. 1, no. 8, p. 63.
Legend: Added a dash before each sentence. [My comments are in square brackets.] Red passages are from Matthew’s book but only occur in the Q. J. Agriculture. Legend: Added a dash before each sentence. [My comments are in square brackets.] Blue passages are from Matthew’s book but only occur in Chambers’ Edinburgh J.
Title: On Pruning
Section: Directions for Training Plank Timber
On the Training if Plank Timber
- Divide all branches into leaders and feeders; leaders, the main or superior shoots which tend to become stems; feeders, the inferior branches. - Divide all branches into leaders and feeders—leaders, being the main or superior shoots which tend to become stems—feeders the inferior branches.
-Should more than one leader appear from the time of planting the tree till it attain the required height for the plank, shorten all but the straightest most promising one down to the condition of feeders, making the section immediately above a twig, preferring one which takes a lateral or horizontal direction. - Should more than one leader appear from the time of planting the tree till it attain the required height of the plank, shorten all but the most promising one down to the condition of feeders, making the section immediately above a twig, preferring one which takes a lateral or horizontal direction.
- Should any feeder below the required height become enlarged beyond its compeers, reduce it by cropping to equality.

- Cut off, close by the trunk, all shoots which rise at a very acute angle with the main stem; also lop off all branches which, by taking an irregular direction, incline to rub upon the more regular, and remove all splintered, twisted, and diseased branches *.
*(Footnote: These extracts are taken from a copy of "Naval Timber and Arboriculture," in which I had inserted several additional explanatory remarks.)
- Cut off, close by the trunk, all shoots which rise at a very acute angle with the main stem.

- These nearly perpendicular branches generally originate from improper pruning, springing out where a large branch has been cut away.
- Reserve all splintered, twisted, or diseased branches.
- Do not cut away any of the lower branches (feeders) till they become sickly or dead.
- By pruning up these prematurely, you destroy the fine balance of nature, and throw too much vigour for a time into the top, which, in consequence, puts forth a number of leaders.
- Do not cut away any of the lower, branches (feeders) till they become sickly or dead.
- By pruning these prematurely, you destroy the fine balance of nature, and throw too much vigour into the top, which, in consequence, puts forth a number of leaders.
- You, in a very great degree, lessen the proportional increase of the fundamental and foraging part the roots, much less proper sap or organized deposite matter being furnished by high branches than by those near the ground for the extension of the roots.
- You diminish the growth of the stem by the loss of healthy feeders; the timber increasing in proportion to the quantity of healthy branches and foliage, (the foliage being the stomach and lungs of the plant).
- You also, by diminishing the number of feeders, increase the comparative size of those remaining, which throws the upper part of the stem into large knots, improper for plank, and renders their future excision dangerous; as large feeders, when circumstances or decay require their removal, or when they are rifted off by winds or snow, leave wounds which often carry corruption into the core of the tree.
- The removal of healthy feeders is in all cases detrimental to the ultimate extension of the individual, especially in exposed or arid situations, where the plant, in consequence of lengthened bare stem, and deficiency of rooting, generally falls into excessive seeding, and becomes prematurely aged: this is exemplified in the case of the trees of narrow stripes of plantation, which generally die at an early period; whereas trees equally exposed, as in single rows, from their low branching, and consequent strong rooting, attain to great size and age.

- After the tree has acquired a sufficient height for plank, say from 20 to 60 feet, according to circumstance of exposure, climate, &c, and also as much branching above this height as may be thought necessary to carry on advantageously the vital functions, as the superior head will now sustain small injury by being thrown out into large branches and plurality of leaders (if it be oak, it will become more valuable by affording a number of small crooks and knees), - After the tree has acquired a sufficient height of bole for plank, say from 20 to 60 feet,
it will then be proper, in order to have timber as clean as possible, and regularly flexible, to lop clean off all the branches on the stem as far up as this required height; should these be covering the whole or a considerable portion of the stem, as will occur in the more open situations, where the lower branches have not gradually become sickly or dead, they ought to be removed by several successive prunings at intervals of at least two years, that the plant may not suffer an injurious check by losing too many branches at once. it will then be proper, in order to have timber as clean as possible, and regularly flexible, to top off all the branches on the stem as far as the required height.
- From the early attention to procure very numerous feeders, and to prevent any from attaining large size, the wounds will soon be closed over, leaving no external scar, and as little as possible of internal knot or breaking off of fibre.

- We consider the spring as the least dangerous time (for pruning). [Last two words added by Chambers bros.]
- Should a number of small shoots spring out in consequence of this last pruning, they may be swept down, if good plank be desired; if not, they may remain, as their presence will not greatly injure the plank, and they occasion the stem to thicken considerably faster where they grow: they constitute " the gnarled and knotted oak,"—by the way, not so strong, though more difficult to split than the clean timber.
- The oak and elm are more disposed to this sprouting out than other kinds, and some varieties or individuals of these much more so than others.
- When the disposition exists in a high degree it ought to be encouraged, which can easily be done by pricking and slightly bruising the bark, and the timber set apart for the construction of cabinet-work, the knotted warty timber affording a beautiful veneer.
- This system of pruning—encouraging numerous feeders, and one leader, while the tree is young, and of allowing or rather inducing the branches, after the tree has acquired sufficient height, to spread out into a horizontal top, is in harmony with and only humouring the natural disposition of trees, and is therefore both seemly and of easy practice.

- The perfection of naval forest economy would consist in superadding (according to instructions to be given in training of ship-timbers) a top of which every branch is a valuable bend or knee, though, in consequence of the situation, the timber will be fragile, and of light, porous texture. - The perfection of naval forest economy would consist in superadding
a top, of which every branch is a valuable bend or knee.
[The opposite sentences (blue) conclude the section of Matthew’s book (pp. 8-14), which is also headed: “Directions for Training Plank Timber” in that book. It also concludes the piece in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal.] - In pruning and educating for plank timber, the whole art consists in training the tree as much as possible, and with as little loss of branch as possible, to one leader and numerous feeders, and to the regular cone figure which the pine tribe naturally assumes. [in italics in ONTA]
- This can be best and most easily performed by timely attention, checking every over-luxuriant, overshadowing branch and wayward shoot on its first appearance; so that none of the feeders which spring forth at first may be smothered till they in turn become lowermost; and by the influence of rather close plantation, which of itself will perform in a natural manner all that we bave been teaching by art, and will perform it well.
[The following sentences (red) are from pp. 300-302 of Matthew’s book, as also indicated by Matthew at the end of that passage. That is the section, where Matthew allegedly re-quoted Loudon from Steuart and cirticised Loudon’s alleged mad pruning-up advice, when in fact Loudon had advised moderation and care in pruning.] - This closeness must, however, be very guardedly employed, and timeously prevented from proceeding too far, otherwise the complete ruin of the forest by premature decay or winds, may ensue, especially when it consists of pines.
- Of course all kinds of pines require no other attention than this (well-timed thinning), and to have their sickly moss-covered under-branches swept clean down.—Matthew on Naval Timber,
- “We admit that a tree becomes more stemmy by being repeatedly pruned up.
- We admit that, on removal of the lower branches, the upper part of the stem may have, for a few seasons, larger annual circles; but the annual circles will be diminished in thickness in a much greater proportion on the lower part of the stem.
- We admit, that the timber, from being deposited in a clean lengthened cylinder, becomes far more useful, there being less redundant matter than when scattered out into stemmy branches, to which disposition trees in open situation often incline, especially if not transplanted when small plants, but to which they are, nevertheless, much more disposed, under the common mode of pruning up at an early stage of their growth, than when left to themselves.
- We admit, that trees, by pruning, raised to lengthened stem, and thence performing less assimilation, partly compensate for this less assimilation, for some time, by making more stem deposite, in proportion to the other deposite, which extends the parts more immediately necessary to new formation—the roots and twigs; but the deficiency of productory parts soon reacts, to diminish the amount of all the new products.
- We admit, also, that pruning in the first place impedes formation of flower-buds, and will sometimes thus prevent exhaustion of trees by seeding, which is so prejudicial both to the quality and quantity of the new wood-deposite; but the consequent greater length of stem, greater exposure to evaporation, constriction of bark, diminished formation of rooting, and slenderer connecting tubes between leaf and roots, all tend subsequently to promote formation of flower-buds, although the removal of the lower branches may for a few seasons have served to prevent this.
- We therefore consider pruning, excepting in a very slight degree, to guide to one leader, and to remove the sickly, lower, moss-covered branches a few seasons earlier than they would have dropped off in the common course of decay, to be generally preventive of quantity of wood deposite, even of common marketable timber in a tree in any considerable number of years, although pruning to a greater degree is often necessary in hard wood, when fine clean timber is required,”—page 300 to 302.
- See further observations on pruning in “Naval Timber and Arboriculture.”

[An editorial comment follows directly under Matthew’s article. In it the editors of Q. J. Agric. dismiss Matthew’s views and side with Cree and Pontey. They would probably have sided with Steuart and Loudon as well, had they known the original book’s criticisms.]

Friday, 22 December 2017

The difference between communication and plagiarism

Here's a recent article published in the journal Genetics. It neither cites Mendel nor Hunt Morgan, Fisher, Muller, Wright, Watson & Crick or any other founder of that science. Yet it fluently speaks of genes, mutations and all that. Take any other article that is not concerned with the history of genetics, that is not a review with a particularly long reach backwards, and is not dealing with a topic that has been particularly reticent at being solved and understood either, and you will find the same pattern. DNA, gene, mutation, likage disequilibrium, drift, epistasis etc. etc. are simply taken for granted as the basic vocabulary which a fluent researcher knows how to use properly. Using these terms and concepts does not require references to the original historical records.

Formal communication
This is not plagiarism but simply communicating in the specialized language of a discipline. It is taking for granted that any researcher, in the currently ruling paradigm, will know these things and that they are not new coinages but belong to the heritage of the discipline. Although it is hard to imagine that the currently ruling paradigm of genetics will ever be completely overturned and superseded, let us imagine just that, in order to illustrate a difference between communication and plagiarism.

Some readers of this imagined future would deplore the poor referencing of current researchers, because they no longer know our current meaning of terms like gene or mutation. That's what makes the job of a historian so difficult. They'd have to decode our current language first, which to them is foreign. Some future readers would even jump to the conclusion that the now living geneticists were plagiarists, because they did not, according to their future standards, properly cite the original sources. But we know from our actual experience that this future judgement would not be true. Someone who uses the term double-helix, today, without giving Watson & Crick (1953) as a reference, is simply using common knowledge that does not need special reference. On the contrary, if current authors attempted to reference each and every snippet and term they used, this would make their article completely illegible.

Back from the future into the past, there must likewise have been items of common knowledge in the past, say the pre-Darwinian time, that required no special reference. If we look at literature from that period, we find that Cuvier, Buffon and many other have often not been cited, where we would wish for such a citation. Have they therefore been plagiarists?

Informal communication
Academic articles are special in that they aim to give proper references for every bit of information that cannot be taken for granted as common knowledge among the peers. Such standards of citation would shred daily communication such as a talk in a cafe or pub into an incomprehensible staccato. Even those visitors that do talk science there do not constantly interrupt their communication by parenthetical ellipses giving references to their statements. Only a small number of publications will be mentioned explicitly.

That does not hinder an idea from an unmentioned publication transpiring and inspiring a researcher. However, (s)he will not know the ultimate source of the idea. (S)he might sleuth it up in a literature recherche or not, if (s)he belives it to be originally hers/his.

The conversationalists, who contribute in such an informal manner, habitually get a general thanks for help/discussions/feedback/comments in the acknowledgements but usually not a specific thanks for a specific idea or inspiration. Again, that is not plagiarism but simply what happens when scientists communicate informally.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Horizons of Patrick Matthew (1831)

Thematic breaks and asides
The book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; with Critical Notes on Authors who Have Recently Treated the Subject of Planting by Patrick Matthew (1831) is not one long argument. This is clear from its miscellany contents ranging from ship building over tree botany to matters of forestry and arboriculture (see here for an illustration of the structure of the book) and from the thematic breaks that occur between these contents. The biggest part of the book is made up of reviews of earlier publications on the matter of tree planting and growing, though savage and biased criticism would better describe it (see here, here, or here, for example).
   Furthermore, the book has neither been written continuously nor been produced smoothly. Posterity can gather this straight from the horse's mouth, because Matthew introduced various passages of his book with statements like:
  • "After throwing together several of our own observations [on the structure of vessels, the utility of British forest trees for naval timber, practical matters of nursing, planting, training, pruning etc.], we bethought ourselves of examining into the ideas and experience of recent writers on the same subject." (p. 138)
  • "Since writing the above, we have looked over some experiments by Messrs Barlow, Beaufoy, Couch, and others, on the strength of timber." (p. 221, see Barlow, 1826 and citations therein)
  • "After the preceding parts of this volume had gone to press, we received a copy of Cruickshank's Practical Planter." (p. 309)
  • "In taking a retrospective glance at our pages from the press, ..." (p. 388)
  • "Since this volume went to press, there has been some changes of scenery on the political European stage, ..." (p. 390)
(See also this Wikipedia entry on valuable information about the book's structure and production.)

Horizontal lines
While the thematic breaks in the contents tell us something about the miscellany topics of the book (see first paragraph) and Matthew's asides tell us something about his discontinuous writing and thinking (see second paragraph), there is a third intriguing feature of the book—horizontal lines interrupting the main text (horizontal lines that merely underline headings or sub-titles will be ignored). These text-interrupting horizontal lines occur at the pages 135, 221, 294, 358, 381, 390:


Only two of these six horizontal lines are identical. Those at page 294 and 358:

p. 135:


p. 221:

p. 294:

p. 358:

p. 381:

p. 390:

Thematic breaks
The first thing to note about these horizontal lines is that they do not consistently mark thematic breaks, that is, some thematic breaks are accompanied by such a marker (e.g., pp. 221, 381, 390), but not all thematic breaks in the book are marked that way. For example, the complete thematic break at page 388 is not marked by a horizontal line. Here, Matthew ends his important addendum that is still relevant for the history of evolutionary ideas, today, and begins a corrigendum about his figure at page 27 (part d of that figure) and about his directions for forming larch roots into knees with the words: "In taking a retrospective glance at our pages from the press ..." However, this break is not marked by a horizontal line or another conspicuous visual element (no heading or anything either). Instead, one line is merely left blank and the text simply continues with one of Matthew's asides (see middle page in the following image):

Equally unmarked thematic breaks occur elsewhere in the book as well.
   Second, the horizontal line at page 135 does not mark a thematic break, but rather a thematic elaboration. That is, after emphasizing the importance of the marine for the superiority of the British economy at pages 130-134, a horizontal line occurs at the top of page 135 and Matthew continues to elaborate that this importance of the marine for the British economy should be reflected in a direct political representation of the marine in the British parliament. [This elaboration contains another elaboration in the form of a footnote at page 135 referring to the end-note E in the appendix. This Note E (p. 376-7), in turn, rants against ships being taxed by their length and widest breadth rather than by their tonnage leading to ill designed ships being deep and bulky rather than streamlined.] He ends this elaboration about the representation of the marine's interests by stating that, in the absence of such a direct representation in the parliament, the hopes of Britain rest with its sailor kings:
"The existence of Britain depends upon her Marine, and the king should always be bred a sailor—the heir-apparent and presumptive being always sent to sea. In the case of a female, if she did not take kindly to the sea-service, a dispensation might be allowed, on her marrying a sailor, and the foolish law prohibiting our Royal Family from marrying a Briton be put aside." (p. 137). 
Likewise, the horizontal line at page 294 marks the beginning of an elaboration of another sort. Here, Matthew switches from criticizing Steuart's Planter's Guide to criticizing an author (Loudon) that Steuart has quoted at length in one of his (Steuart's) end-notes (see here, here and here).
   Again, the horizontal lines are neither consistently associated with the asides by Matthew quoted above. While some of the horizontal lines occur atop of an aside from Matthew (e.g., at pp. 221, 390), not all of the asides are accompanied thus (e.g., pp. 309, 388).

These horizontal lines do not structure the text for the ease of the reader!
What was their function?

The significance of horizontal lines in Matthew (1831)
Given that Matthew was a re-iterative writer adding passages in proof or even while the book was already in press, the horizontal lines may have been marks for the publishers (Adam Black, Edinburgh & Longman et al., London) or the printers (Neill & Co., Edinburgh) telling them where to insert the late additions of Matthew. If this was true, then the thematic breaks would reveal something about Matthew's thinking and his asides about his discontinuous writing, but the horizontal lines would indicate the cleavage sites, where the publishers or printers inserted Matthew's late additions. Some of them were inserted singly others together as indicated by thematic breaks or asides. Testing this hypothesis about the function of the horizontal lines by reverse engineering yielded the following surprise.
   Apparently, the elaboration on Steuart's long quote of Loudon (starting after the horizontal line at the bottom of p. 294), Matthew's spliced re-quote of it (see here, here and here) and his criticism following this re-quote of Loudon (extending from pp. 295-308) got inserted along with the whole part criticizing Cruickshank's Practical Planter. That the Cruickshank part is a late addition can be gathered from the horse's mouth introducing it as follows:
"After the preceding parts of this volume had gone to press, we received a copy of Cruickshank's Practical Planter. We endeavour to give a short view of the contents." (Matthew 1831, p. 309). 
As the printer of Cruickshank's Practical Planter was the same as Matthew's (Neill & Co. Printers, Edinburgh), he may well have received the copy from them.
   The amazing thing that happens, when the identical horizontal lines in Matthew (1831, pp. 294 + 358) are taken as the joints for dissecting and splicing out the intron (the Loudon loop + the Cruickshank part) [Best use the Project Gutenberg html-version for this job.], is that the result is a rather well composed neat ending for the book:
"We begin to think, from our disposition to ramble from the Allanton system [meaning Steuart, who lived at Allanton House and had proposed a system of transplanting large trees in whole], that we tire of Sir {294} Henry; and we believe, should he follow us thus far, that he will be tired of us. On looking back on what we have written, we are almost disposed to accuse ourselves of being splenetic; but the truth is, we regard the whole art as very unimportant, if not positively pernicious, at least in the way in which it has been exemplified by Sir Henry, as a throwing away of valuable labour to no purpose, if it ought not indeed to be considered as a mere pander to luxury and caprice. We have no sympathy with the aristocratical object of the book, and as little with the aristocratical tone in which it has been bepraised by Sir Walter Scott. We should also have no greater pleasure in the discovery of a royal road to virtue than we should have to the discovery of one to science,—the four cardinal virtues being, as every body knows, writing books, building houses, and raising trees and children, but we should hope, neither by proxy, nor by the Allanton System. While, however, we thus state our opinions with freedom, we do not hesitate to add, that Sir Henry’s volume has afforded us more information, or, at least, more materials for reflection, than any other of the works which we have brought under the notice of our readers.
{text between horizontal lines at pages 294 and 358 spliced out}
    We have now brought before the reader a pretty fair picture of the Forestry of the present day. Some may wonder that the written science of arboriculture should be so imperfect and inaccurate; but the knowledge of the art, and the power of communicating that knowledge, are of so different a {359} character, it not unfrequently happens, that those write who cannot act, and those who can, are incompetent to write—sometimes unwilling; besides, correct opinions on this subject, as on most others, are only just beginning to be formed. We have endeavoured to assist in disentangling the correct from the erroneous. It is impossible for the most wary always to avoid misconception of facts, but man merits the name of rational only, when he evinces a readiness to break from those misconceptions, to which the narrow-minded, the proud, the vain, and the creature of habit and instinct, cling so obstinately. As a friend, we have stood on no ceremony with our brother arboriculturists. We have laid ourselves open to their criticism, and we hope they will shew as little ceremony with us."
This is a crisp, apt and fluid ending of the main text of the book in place of the distinctive halting flow and discontinuity between sections (ignoring for the moment the equally discontinuous appendix with a list of end-notes followed by the evolutionary addendum, a corrigendum, a colophon and, finally, the errata). That is, where the actually published book reads like the protracted ending of a poor narrator, who does not know the difference between suspense and wavering, the spliced book reads like a good ending by an able narrator. 

External evidence from other contemporary books

Books with no text-interrupting horizontal lines
The one long argument On the Origin of Species by Darwin (1859) has not one horizontal line interrupting the main text. Only two underline the title of the book and the title of the contents page (see image below). Nor do any such lines crop up in later editions, where Darwin added or edited his earlier versions.

   In order to exclude the possibility that horizontal lines became unpopular after 1831, but cluttered all books up to that date, take a look at Volume I of Erasmus Darwin's Zoonomia, first published in 1794 by J. Johnson and printed in St. Paul's Church-yard in London. The title page has two horizontal lines that separate a stanza from Virgil, which is inserted between the author and publisher information. Another pair of horizontal lines separates an entreaty, that the reader may endure a string of definitions necessary at the very beginning of the book. This is inserted between the summary and the text of that chapter (see image). No text-interrupting horizontal lines occur in the remainder.

   Another book from about 30 years before 1831 is the English translation of George Cuvier's Lectures on Comparative Anatomy (1802, vol. I). Here the translators apparently economized on pages by separating chapters through horizontal lines instead of page breaks. This book comes in parts called lectures and each lecture falls into chapters called articles. When one article ended in about the upper two third of a page, a horizontal line would separate it from the next article continuing on the same page. If, however, an article ended close to a page break, no ink or space would be wasted for a horizontal line and the next article simply start at the next page. Lectures were not separated thus, but a new lecture begins at a new page regardless of the space left empty. Again, horizontal lines do not wantonly occur in the middle of chapters/articles.
   A book cited by Matthew (1831, p. 221) in one of his asides has no text-interrupting horizontal lines either (ignoring one that separate a footnote and others that separate adverts appended after the end of the book as well as the usual underlines of titles and sub-headings). This is Peter Barlow (1826). An Essay on the Strength and Stress of Timber, founded upon experiments performed at the Royal Military Academy, third edition. Printed for J. Taylor at the Architectural Library in London.
   Finally, Matthew's own Emigration Fields (1839) has no text-interrupting horizontal lines and no aside, either, of the form: "Since this work went to press ..." This is despite the fact that the publishers forced Matthew to augment his first draft (see Matthew 1839, p. v), which was exclusively on New Zealand, by similar chapters on North America, Mexico and Australia.
   Adam Black was now joined by his brother Charles as the Edinburgh publishers, and his London publishers had exchanged Rees (in Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green) by Longmans (in Longman, Orme, Brown, Green and Longmans). The printers were, again, Neill & Co. in Edinburgh. This suggests to take the discontinuous writing style and high frequency of text-interrupting horizontal lines as a special feature of the book On Naval Timber rather than attributing it to the author, the publishers, or the printers. Matthew's publishers and printers had probably gone through a steep learning curve in dealing with him as an author the first time and simply would not move a thumb or cogwheel before the fat lady had sung the second time.

These examples just serve to show that well written books did not need such bric-a-brac, neither before nor after 1831, and that the parties involved in 19th century book production were not in the habit of wantonly sprinkling horizontal lines as decorations all over their texts.

Books with text-interrupting horizontal lines
Like Matthew's book, Cruickshank's Practical Planter(1830) has been printed by Neill & Co., though his publishers were William Blackwood (Edinburgh) and T. Cadell (London). Matthew may even have learned about it from the printers given how he added his critique of Cruickshank while the rest of the book was already in press and given his aside saying that "we received a copy" (Matthew 1831, p. 309). Cruickshank contains but one horizontal line in the main text at page 53, and it marks a paragraph that has definitely been added as an afterthought. The whole chapter before is just an enumeration of different trees with a paragraph or two of superficial observations on its habitus, timber etc. But at the end of that chapter, he bethought himself to say something about the special mode of propagation (not by seed) of some of the trees, in particular: the lime, willows, poplars by layers or cuttings respectively.

   Steuart's Planter's Guide (1828) was, again, published by William Blackwood (Edinburgh) and T. Cadell (London) with no separate printer being speciefied (Blackwood did inhouse printing, pers. comm., Julian Derry). Again, the whole book contains but one text-interrupting horizontal line at page 274, but this one is tricky.

The text following that marker reads like a direct address of the readers breaking the fourth wall. One could conclude, at first glance, that the horizontal line signals this to the reader and has no function in showing the publishers or printers, where to insert a late addition. However, on perusing the book more extensively, one soon realizes that Steuart's style is that of soliloqui. In speaking with himself (or his other self), he points to "those" trees or "those," to "those" readers or "those" and observes their different needs. He does address the readers in this way at various places (e.g., pp. 4, 230, 234), but none of these other direct addresses got marked by horizontal lines. It is therefore likely that this horizontal line at page 274 also marks a late addition by Steuart.