Or How His Existence Took Me to a World of Self-aggrandising Academics
Over the last 20 or so years, I have read an awful lot about the 19th century Scottish arboriculturist, Patrick Matthew. That includes books, websites and academic papers published in journals. I was previously probably naïve, but I thought academia was concerned with bringing together all available information and viewpoints, and trying to build a coherent picture. Instead, I have found that academics are extremely selective with regard to the material they use in the self-aggrandising promotion of their pre-conceived (and often entrenched) viewpoints, misrepresentation of opponents’ viewpoints, and belittling (to the point of ignoring) potential rivals. Ironically, many of these academics become really shocked at the suggestion that Charles Darwin did much the same.
When I wrote “The Alternative Life” between 1993 and 1994, I knew nothing about Patrick Matthew. My research for that book consisted of biochemistry and nuclear physics textbooks, together with modern writers such as Dawkins, Gould, Gribbin & Cherfas, Hoyle & Wickramasinghe, Milton, Morgan, Sheldrake and Velikovsky. (For more information on how I came to write that book, see selected Chapters from my 1998 Autobiography). On completion of the book, I decided to research the history of evolutionary thought, which involved my reading (in order of first publication rather than my reading) Lamarck’s “Zoological Philosophy”, Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” and “The Descent of Man”, Haeckel’s “The History of Creation” and “The Wonders of Life”, and Butler’s “Life and Habit” and “Evolution – Old and New”.
It was undoubtedly Samuel Butler’s 1879 “Evolution – Old and New” which first brought Patrick Matthew to my attention, though Butler does no more than praise Matthew for having got to ‘evolution by natural selection’ first (as has subsequent accepted evolution history). It cannot be emphasised enough that both Darwin and Wallace ceded priority to Matthew in the 1860s, and that has been accepted by modern evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins, though many writers do still describe Darwin (and Wallace) as the (co-)originator(s) of ‘evolution by natural selection’. Though Butler was very critical of Darwin for not acknowledging predecessors, and for his emphasis on the ‘natural selection of random variations’, Butler always fully acknowledged that Darwin had successfully brought the issue of evolution to public attention. In those respects, as well as many others, I became fully Butlerian in my views.
I didn’t read Dempster’s “Evolutionary Concepts in the Nineteenth Century” and Eiseley’s “Darwin and the Mysterious Mr.X” until the early 2000s. Though Dempster clearly wants history to be re-written so that Matthew is universally acknowledged to be the originator of ‘evolution by natural selection’, he does no more than imply that Darwin could, and possibly would, have known about Matthew’s views before he wrote “On the Origin of Species”. Eiseley provides evidence that Darwin probably did know about Matthew before 1842, but it is essentially inconclusive, and Eiseley stops short of a direct accusation of dishonesty. I was then inclined to give Darwin the benefit of the doubt.
In 2006, I started my website (then hughdower.com) with the first 8 essays, and the only mention of Matthew was in the essay about Darwin, which was essentially what I had written about Darwin in my second book “Lamarck’s Due Darwin’s Luck”. In October 2008 I was contacted by Milton Wainwright (of Sheffield University), whose Letters to the Guardian I had previously noted, following his finding “The Alternative Life” in a second-hand bookshop, and reading it. Wainwright follows Dempster in wanting Matthew to be much better acknowledged in science history as the originator of ‘evolution by natural selection’. It became clear to me that Wainwright believed Darwin knew about Matthew, but didn’t have any hard evidence. I had become aware that 2009 was going to be a Darwinfest, and I wanted the public to realise that there was much more to evolution than Darwin, so I researched and wrote my website essay “Darwin’s Influences”.
As part of my research, I looked into Leopold von Buch (who Darwin mentions in his later Historical Sketch) on both Darwin Online and the Darwin Correspondence Project. I discovered the ‘discrepancy’ (as I described it then) of Darwin having written about von Buch’s evolutionary views in his 1837 notebook and denying all knowledge (before 1858) of von Buch’s views in an 1881 letter to Joseph Hooker. That resulted in my writing the ‘Appendix’ (to my book, ”Lamarck’s Due Darwin’s Luck”), for use if I was ever challenged in my subsequent claim that Darwin had told an unequivocal lie. My Google searches had also shown me that Malcolm Kottler had also discovered this ‘discrepancy’ as early as 1977, but he had put it down to amnesia on Darwin’s part. Having discovered this clear dishonesty on Darwin’s part, I decided to look further into the Patrick Matthew case, mainly through researching on Darwin Online and the Correspondence Project. The result was my website essay, “Darwin’s Guilty Secret”. As indicated in the Postscript, I tried to get it published by either broadsheet newspapers or serious journals during the summer of 2009, but none were having it.
I also informed Wainwright of the essay. He copied and pasted it into his own website, as written by me but without asking my permission, which I thought was a bit ‘off’, though I didn’t actually mind. In 2011, Wainwright had an article published in “Fungi” magazine, which contained an extensive section about Patrick Matthew, but he didn’t cite my essay, despite it being the best evidence in existence that Darwin had known about Matthew by 1842. I came to the conclusion that, just like Darwin, most academics do not like acknowledging anyone they think they can get away with not acknowledging.
In January 2012, I was contacted by Howard Minnick, a great, great, great grandson of Patrick Matthew’s and an American Mormon. Minnick has consistently been full of gratitude and praise for my role in the Matthew issue, though he follows Dempster and Wainwright in wanting his ancestor to be lionised, which is, and was, far from my aim. I think I told him early on that I am not a great fan of the concept of ‘evolution by natural selection’, so I don’t think anyone should be lauded for having originated it. I had come to the view that Darwin should only be praised for having written “The Origin”, and not for his alleged originality or integrity. To me, Matthew was no more than of anecdotal interest to the history of science. As far as I could see, no-one with any kind of clout was looking at my website, and I lost interest, particularly in the issue of Patrick Matthew.
In August 2014 I received an email from Mike Sutton, then a lecturer in Criminology at Nottingham Trent University. A month earlier, he had both delivered a paper at a Criminology conference (which was published in a Criminology Journal) and published an e-book, “Nullius in Verba – Darwin’s Greatest Secret”, both of which expounded his contention that Darwin had not only known about Matthew but also plagiarised Matthew. As a previously loyal Darwinist, he had used a sophisticated search engine that he and a colleague had devised, and ‘discovered’ that Matthew, not Darwin or Wallace, was the originator of ‘evolution by natural selection’. Sutton definitely seems to approach this issue as a Criminologist. Since that discovery, he has ‘detected’ a possible past crime (technical plagiarism), which had a perpetrator (Darwin) and a victim (Matthew), and he has been gathering evidence to re-open a ‘cold case’ in order to bring about what he regards as ‘justice’. Though he had not cited me in his Criminology paper, he had in his book, and he subsequently sent me the brief extracts from the book which pertain to me. He never told me how or when he had discovered my website essay, but it has to be either through Googling in respect of Matthew or from Wainwright or Minnick, both of whom were early contacts.
Sutton also had (and still has) a website, patrickmatthew.com, which gave the impression that he had uniquely discovered evidence that Darwin had lied about, and plagiarised, Matthew, though he did in some places acknowledge the work Eiseley and I had previously done. One of the things I became aware of was that Sutton’s sophisticated search engine had uniquely revealed that a Victorian naturalist/artist by the name of Prideaux John Selby had cited Matthew’s book in his own 1842 book, “A History of British Forest-Trees”. For my part, I decided that, if Sutton’s book came to the attention of influential academics, that could mean that my role might become recognised, in which case I would capitalise on that. If it didn’t, there was no point in my going down that road again. My contact with Sutton did not resume until 2016, after which our correspondence became intermittently quite intense. However, in the meantime there were things going on of which I was completely unaware.
During 2014, a King’s College genetics researcher called Mike Weale had also been looking into Matthew from an admiring standpoint, and had created a website, The Patrick Matthew Project, with a Leave a Reply section. Sutton had been the first to respond on 17 September 2014, notifying Weale of his book, which Weale had bought by November. The Leave a Reply section became a very long (by which I mean book length) correspondence between them, very friendly at first and civil till April 2016, with occasional interruptions from early 2015 by Howard Minnick, Joachim [Dagg] and Milton Wainwright. Sutton, Minnick and Wainwright all had my email address but none of them told me about the website or correspondence. If I had known about it, I would have contributed to it.
Weale was also writing a paper about Matthew for the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. On his website are two versions, the pre-peer-reviewed version (dated December 2014), and the peer-reviewed version (dated February 2015). It is very notable that between December 2014 and February 2015 his pre-peer-reviewed version had expanded from 49KB to a peer-reviewed version of 62KB (which seemingly became the version published in August 2015). That cannot have been purely due to what his peer reviewers had said, since it represents a real expansion of material, including citing Selby’s citation of Matthew, and Sutton’s Criminology paper, but not “Nullius in Verba”. He also thanks Mike Sutton and Joachim Dagg for stimulating discussions from both sides of the plagiarism debate. Weale can only have known about Selby through Sutton’s writing, yet he does not acknowledge Sutton for that information, giving Sutton just cause for an accusation of research plagiarism. This is the subject of an ongoing bitter dispute between Sutton, on the one side, and Weale, Dagg, and the Oxford University Press (who publish the Linnean Journal), on the other.
Weale also wrote an essay, titled “Matthew’s Influence?”, which he posted on his website in March 2015. He cites my essay, “Darwin’s Guilty Secret”, in respectful but dismissive terms, and completely dismisses Sutton’s contention that Darwin plagiarised Matthew. That means Weale, and undoubtedly Dagg, both knew about my essay in early 2015. Dagg first wrote about “Nullius in Verba” on his blogsite in September 2014, and in 2017 he wrote a scathing review of it under the name Joda. Another University of Edinburgh ‘academic’, Julian F Derry, who had been critically aware of Sutton’s views since early 2016 and had joined the PMP ‘Leave a Reply’ discussion in 2017, wrote an equally scathing review of “Nullius in Verba” as J.F. in 2018. Sutton has also been in bitter dispute with Derry over harassment of him and his work colleagues for many years, which I have known about through post-2016 correspondence. In turn, Derry has a website, https://mrsuttonntu.wordpress.com/, which assembles evidence against Sutton. Recently, Sutton has made an accusation of ‘conflict of interest’ in respect of Derry running a ‘Darwin paraphernalia’ business whilst writing articles effectively hero-worshipping Darwin.
In March 2018, Dagg had an article about Matthew published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, in which he cites Weale (and thanks him and Julian Derry for stimulating discussions), and cites Selby’s citation of Matthew, but does not mention Sutton (or me) at all, despite having known about both of us for three years. That gave Sutton just cause for an accusation of research plagiarism against him too, since Dagg has left plenty of evidence that he had read “Nullius in Verba”. (To be fair to Dagg, his article is concerned with comparing the views of Matthew, Darwin and Wallace, and is not in any way concerned with plagiarism allegations.) Jumping ahead a little, in June 2020 Dagg and Derry co-authored a paper about Matthew in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, in which they do cite, in passing, Dempster’s book and Sutton’s book (which had been published as a paperback in 2017), but give no indication of what either book is about. In simple terms, what Dagg and Derry pedantically maintain is that Darwin’s version of ‘evolution by natural selection’ is significantly different from Matthew’s version, so the issue of priority is an irrelevancy and plagiarism could not have happened.
We now return to my role in all this. I had joined Twitter in 2017, and that had become another arm of my correspondence with Sutton. During one of our exchanges in January 2019, we were interrupted by Derry, effectively claiming that Darwin had never acted dishonestly. I mentioned the issue of lying about von Buch, about whom Derry knew absolutely nothing (meaning he couldn’t have read my essay very thoroughly), and he said he would look into it. This exchange had four consequences. Firstly I got Sutton to put my ‘Appendix’ (which I had written for just such an eventuality) on ‘my’ new section of his website. Secondly Derry sent me a private PDF file of his refutation of my views on both Matthew and von Buch. Thirdly I wrote (in one day) the short essay, “My Personal Evolution” (of which this essay is effectively an expansion), and sent it to Derry as a jpeg. Lastly Dagg was prompted by our exchange to research and write his blogsite essay of March 2019, in which he makes abundantly clear that it is written as a direct refutation of my claim in “Darwin’s Guilty Secret” that Darwin told an unequivocal lie about von Buch. He even cites my ‘Appendix’ on Sutton’s website. I have no complaint about my treatment by Dagg up until then, and his blogsite essays show that he is a thorough and scholarly researcher, though somewhat given to pedantry. I was indeed flattered that both Dagg and Derry had gone to so much trouble just to attempt to refute my statement.
Staying with chronology of events, rather than my finding out about them, in August 2020 Dagg and Derry had an article published in the Annals of Science, claiming to refute the notion that Darwin had lied to Hooker about von Buch. When I found out about it through Twitter, there was a £35 fee to view it, so I complained to Dagg on Twitter that I wasn’t going to pay that but I thought I had the right to know what it said, since I was/am the only person in existence advancing that notion. Dagg kindly sent me the PDF of the article. After I had read it my reply was as follows:
Dear Joachim (and Julian, since I’m sure you will share this)
Thank you for sending me the PDF of your article. I’m afraid that’s the last nice thing I will be saying, since you really should have at the very least informed me about it, if not sent it to me, at the time it was published. I feel like Samuel Butler must have felt 142 years ago. See www.hughdower.co.uk/butler/
What I find most objectionable in your article is the following paragraph:
Darwin provides a popular target for allegations of deceit and plagiarism (Baden Powell, Butler, Eiseley, Brackman, Brooks, Williams, Darlington, Davies, Beddall, Dempster, Rhawn, Dower, Sutton, Smith, Wilson, Wolf, etc.), yet, amongst evolutionary biologists and historians of science, his reputation remains unblemished. Ignoring claims of a conspiracy, the question must be asked, what information are these other people missing? When claiming priority for earlier expositions of natural selection, they expose how oblivious they are to the long history of evolutionary thought. When claiming natural selection was the core of Darwin’s theory, they reveal an ignorance of his works, likely resulting from their haste to find fault with his personality, rather than his ideas. To date, Darwin’s prudent assimilation of evidence, his discourse, and his bearing in the face of adversity, have all withstood accusations of deceit and dishonesty.
Virtually all the people listed were/are either evolutionary biologists or historians of science or both, particularly in the sense of having done a lot of research. I don’t know about all of them, but certainly Butler, Eiseley, Darlington and myself had/have a thoroughgoing knowledge of ‘the long history of evolutionary thought’. Eiseley was a Professor of Anthropology and the History of Science, for crying out loud. By Smith, are you referring to the Wallacist, Charles H Smith? As for ‘an ignorance of his works’, I would guess that every one of them, and particularly the four (or five) I mention above, had/has at the very least read “On the Origin of Species” and “The Descent of Man”. One thorough look through my website would reveal that my interest in, and knowledge of, evolution goes far and away beyond any ‘haste to find fault with his personality, rather than his ideas.’ In fact, as revealed at the end of www.hughdower.co.uk/essays/six-of-the-best/ in “My Personal Evolution”, which Julian read in January 2019, I had no interest in trying ‘to find fault with his personality’ until Darwin’s own evidence happened to tell me I should. That was in either late 2008 or early 2009, and it took the form of my chance discovery that Darwin had lied to Hooker about von Buch. Your paragraph is indefensible rubbish.
Now to my part in your article. You give me two measly footnote citings, yet it is self-evident from your earlier blogspot article (https://historiesofecology.blogspot.com/2019/03/hooker-20-aug-1881-asks-darwin-about.html) that the whole article was written as an attempted refutation of my statement in “Darwin’s Guilty Secret” about Darwin’s unequivocal lie. Your 19th century fellow countryman, Ernst Krause, excused himself from any wrongdoing in the Samuel Butler debacle on the grounds of his not having named Butler. As I’m sure Butler would have thought then, I think it is inexcusable of you not to have named me in the text of your article, rather than implicitly lump me in with all the other hypothetical revisionists, literalists or conspiracists. Are you aware of anyone else, apart from Kottler long ago, who has noticed that ‘discrepancy’ who hadn’t got it from me? You name Kottler in the text, and you couldn’t possibly have known about him other than through my ‘Appendix’, so you should have cited me as a source for that information as well. All in all, I think you owe me a good reference in your future writing.
Furthermore, your claim that, in only one instance among several, Darwin had meant to put Baer, not Buch, as the person whose views he had never read before writing “The Origin…”, is preposterous. Is that what passes for scholarly reasoning these days? Darwin’s written statement is a lie until and unless you can provide credible evidence, not wishful speculative conjecture, that it isn’t. It makes far more sense to think that Darwin had never read von Baer at all. Why would he read a German text, which would have nothing new to say, after 1861, which is the earliest you admit Darwin could have learned about it? As ever, he just didn’t want to reveal his ignorance about von Baer to Hooker, so he wrote about von Buch instead. You question why Darwin would have volunteered a lie when he didn’t need to say anything at all. By the same token, I wonder why you have written an article trying to refute one sentence of my writing without making that clear, and without proper referencing, when you didn’t need to write anything at all.
I apologise if you find all of the above rather brutal. I’m usually a nice guy.
Using that email as a template, I also wrote the Postscript to my ‘Appendix’, and put the ‘Appendix with Postscript’ on my own website.
I now return to Sutton, who at long last sent me the Word file of “Nullius in Verba” in September 2020. I read it fairly quickly and sent him my many criticisms. I have never shirked from telling Sutton where his claims are outrageous, sometimes to the point of being erroneous, and where I disagree with his approach. I like to think he is being honest when he tells me he respects and appreciates that. Apart from frequently (and falsely) claiming originality for his own findings, his most outrageous frequent claim is that he has 100% proved that Darwin plagiarised and lied about Matthew. He hasn’t. There is still no smoking gun. At best, he has increased the evidence that Darwin coulda, shoulda, woulda known about Matthew’s book (though not necessarily his ‘views’), but that still doesn’t pass muster (or ‘musta’). As I put it in an (unpublished) expansion of my website essay, “Six of the Best – Of Darwin’s Lies”:
The lie concerning Matthew is consistently disputed by all loyal Darwinists. They take each piece of evidence in turn and claim it is inconclusive. They can’t see the wood for the trees (appropriately enough, since this is all concerned with a book “On Naval Timber and Arboriculture”). What they are effectively saying is that Darwin didn’t read book reviews, didn’t follow up on references in books, successfully ordered a book (which had been unsuccessfully published 29 years earlier) in only four days from the one and only bookshop in London that he wrote to, and co-incidentally used very similar expressions and arguments as Matthew had done. An analogy Mike Sutton has used in respect of refutation of his evidence is that, according to Darwinists, just because ancient roads were discovered between London and York doesn’t necessarily mean anyone travelled on them.
The bulk of Sutton’s newly-uncovered evidence concerns numerous Victorians, including naturalists, who were known to Darwin and who either cited, or left evidence that they had read, Matthew’s book. My problem with a lot of that new evidence is that I do not believe that Darwin would have put “I think that no one will feel surprised that neither I, nor apparently any other naturalist, had heard of Mr. Matthew’s views…” into public print if there was anyone alive who knew that was a lie in respect of the ‘I’ (the fact that it is a lie in respect of ‘any other naturalist’ being an irrelevancy). That rules out word-of-mouth (or private letter) transmission of information from all but a very few of Sutton’s alleged ‘contacts’, though I fully concede that he has increased the number of places that Darwin could (and possibly would) have read about Matthew.
As a result of Sutton’s research, one of the people that I now think could have told Darwin about Matthew is Edward Blyth, who could have known about Matthew from his friend Robert Mudie. Blyth was in India in 1860 and would not have read the Gardeners’ Chronicle anyway since he was exclusively interested in animals. One of the other untenable claims Sutton makes in defence of his contention is that magazine editors would have gossiped to clients about their other clients. That might have been the case, but it cannot be the basis of a rational argument. Similarly, Sutton assumes that Victorian gentlemen would have talked to each other about controversial issues such as evolution. Again, they might have done, but you can’t assume it, and the reclusive Darwin frequently claims that was not the case. He himself only told a handful of people about his interest in the origin of species before 1858, and none of them (apart from Blyth) are realistic candidates for having told him about Matthew.
Sutton has a legitimate grievance with the Oxford University Press, and with Weale, Dagg and Derry, not to mention all the loyal Darwinists from what he (unoriginally) calls “The Darwin Industry” who have rubbished his writings purely on the basis of distaste for his contentions and ‘attitude’. In the publicity for his 2022 book, “Science Fraud”, Sutton has continued to follow his inclination to verbally assault and insult the very people that he most needs to bring on side in order to get anywhere near achieving his aim (which seems to be the removal of Darwin’s statue from the Natural History Museum, to be replaced with one of Matthew, and Darwin’s universal reputation becoming that of a thief and liar). Sutton may succeed in getting unbiased members of the general public to believe him, but they are not going to organise protest marches, and the Scientific Establishment is not going to keel over and say, “You Win”. Apart from anything else, the consequences of his hypothetical victory would be highly undesirable. As far as I am concerned, victory would mean rational, objective debate of ideas, not popularity contests between self-aggrandising people (whether dead or alive).
The biggest irony is that Weale, Dagg and Derry are all agreed that Patrick Matthew should have received more recognition than he has, but they all stop short of accusing Darwin of plagiarism or duplicity, even though their own behaviour suggests that plagiarism and duplicity are still rampant even in modern academia.
My own attitude now to the ‘Patrick Matthew case’ is that, if in all other respects Darwin had shown himself to be the honest ‘gentleman’ that loyal Darwinists portray him as, I would find it plausible, but very unlikely, that Darwin had not read Matthew’s views before 1860. However, as shown in my essay, “Six of the Best – Of Darwin’s Lies” (which I had all the information for by 2011), Darwin was not an honest gentleman when it came to protecting his coveted originality. Therefore, he almost certainly lied to posterity in connection with Patrick Matthew. I genuinely do not understand how any intelligent, unprejudiced person could calmly, rationally and objectively read about those lies, and the evidence concerning Matthew, without coming to the conclusion that Darwin was a human being with human foibles. However, that really is not very important (as E.M.Forster said, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”). It doesn’t make any difference to Darwin’s magnificent achievement.
Recently, I have been living in a fantasy world, which might have some truth in it. Sutton has given me cause to believe that he has been cyberstalked by Derry over a long period of time. That is confirmed by Derry’s website, which is a catalogue of Sutton’s online statements. Derry would no doubt call it surveillance, just as Sutton would call his similar evidence gathering ‘building a case’. I guess that’s what comes of being a Criminologist. Both through Derry cyberstalking Sutton, and Dagg being one of my Twitter followers, they will have seen plenty of my interactions with Sutton. I have been mindful of that possibility. I have also been mindful of the possibility that they might be noticing new material on my website. That is one of the reasons I posted this essay, and this subsequent paragraph. My fantasy is that for once in my intellectual life, I am getting loyal Darwinists to pay attention to me, even if they are doing so secretly. My fantasy continues that they are much more worried about me (and almost convinced by my argument concerning Matthew) than they are about Sutton, but they still don’t want to give either of us any publicity. Right from the word “Go”, the people who disagree with my contention(s) have made it their policy not to give me any publicity.