Thursday, 29 October 2015
Darwin's Golden Rule: A recipe for plagiarism
Darwin, Francis (Editor). 1887. The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. London: John Murray. Volume 1.
Charles Darwin wrote:
'The success of the 'Origin' may, I think, be attributed in large part to my having long before written two condensed sketches, and to my having finally abstracted a much larger manuscript, which was itself an abstract. By this means I was enabled to select the more striking facts and conclusions. I had, also, during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer.'
Darwin's Golden Rule has been held up by many writers (e.g., Gilovitch 2008, p. 62) as a prime example of him being an incredibly good scientist, who was well aware of the phenomenon of confirmation bias, and so sought to overcome it in his work. But Gilovitch misses something quite profound in the "Golden Rule".
Why, before I. did no one else ever notice before that far from being an admiral trait, this lop-sided habit of Darwin's would create a bias towards plagiarism of facts he liked?
Sutton (2014) Nullius in Verba: Darwin's Greatest Secret. Thinker Boks. USA:
'Gilovitch failed to spot that Darwin unintentionally admits here that this entire system is flawed in that it leads to a plagiarizing bias. Because, if Darwin tended to better remember facts he liked and so felt no need write them down immediately, he would be more likely to fail to make a written record of who originated those facts.'
This would explain how Darwin had no problem plagiarising Matthew's (1831) prior publication of the full hypothesis of natural selection, probably as he memorised it or jotted down notes, but failed to record the source of his so-called "independent discovery" of natural selection in his "memorandum" of opposing facts.