Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Review: The Darwin Conspiracy by Roy Davis

In the ”The Darwin Conspiracy”, author Roy Davis attempts to convince his audience of the fact that Charles Darwin is history's biggest thief, having stolen his famous theory of natural selection from a significant number of contemporaries and predecessors. Davis builds his argument by extracting pieces from previous works that highlight and push forward this historical conspiracy theory. He also provides numerous comparisons between the letters and other texts of Darwin and other notable prominent evolution-oriented researchers to highlight what he says are irrefutable evidence of Darwin's plagiarism. Within these numerous extractions, as well as records of Darwin's irregular behavior, Davis draws together a wide array of correlations and incidents and weaves them together to form a directed accusation that Charles Darwin's illustrious career is founded upon multiple accounts of intellectual larceny. Davis furthermore goes into reasons as to why Darwin and his theories were able to avoid being uncovered for so long. Ultimately, readers are lead to believe that driven by his own lust for fame and chronic insecurities that lead to desperate behavior as well as the willingness of his two colleagues to be his of accomplices, and finally, a bit of serendipity, Charles Darwin deliberately and knowingly presented the accomplishment of others' as his own.

Davis argues that the primary source from which Darwin stole material from to form his natural selection theory was the work of the young Alfred Russell Wallace. However, in his attempt to paint a vivid portrait of Darwin as a crook, Davis essentially claims that Wallace and Darwin's final produced theories were practically identical. Though I have not directly read Wallace's works, a little research at key secondary sources on his and his work leads me to perceive Davis' attempt to draw profound parallels between Darwin and Wallace as the same as drawing parallels between apples and oranges.

Another weakness I found in Davis' strong allegations resides in what I feel are petty, superficial similarities between Darwin's works and others. One example is how Davis points to Darwin's use of the word 'inosculate' in his “1836 Red Notebook” as telling evidence that he stole from the work of Edward Blyth who preceded him. Another example that bothered me was the apparent striking similarities between Darwin's natural selection and the unpublished works of Patrick Matthew, an amateur researcher who wrote about a “natural process of selection” a quarter of a century before both Darwin and Wallace. From this similarity, Davis immediately concludes plagiarism. More instances of Davis passing off these superficial similarties as irrefutable proof that Darwin actively stole his ideas prevail throughout “The Darwin Conspiracy.” Despite their volume, I feel they lack substance and so I remain unconvinced.

On a lighter note, I felt the book was fun to read despite its innate sensationalism. It introduced a completely new portrayal of Darwin to me, one different from that of a wide-eyed curious, astute naturalist or a frail yet scholarly homebody. In “The Darwin Conspiracy,” readers are presented with a highly-paranoid and manipulative Darwin unaware of how grateful he should be for his inherited fortune and dedicated colleagues. This book ultimately was, for me, a breath of fresh air in the Darwin canon, but not necessarily a refreshing one.


No comments: