Stranger Fruit

It is a truism that creationists such as Jonathan Wells can’t get enough of Haeckel’s embryos, pictures they see as conclusive evidence that evolutionary biology is a fraud foisted on innocents by liberal, godless, evilutionists. “Informed” commentators on the right such as Ann Coulter hew to that party line. Reading Wells or Coulter one would imagine that it was modern creationists who discovered the fraud. Sadly for their revisionist history, that is not the case. Nick Hopwood has just published a paper in Isis (the premier journal in history of science) that examines the history of the embryo drawings ["Pictures of Evolution and Charges of Fraud: Ernst Haeckel's Embryological Illustrations" Isis, 2006, 97:260-301]:

Comparative illustrations of vertebrate embryos by the leading nineteenth-century Darwinist Ernst Haeckel have been both highly contested and canonical. Though the target of repeated fraud charges since 1868, the pictures were widely reproduced in textbooks through the twentieth century. Concentrating on their first ten years, this essay uses the accusations to shed light on the novelty of Haeckel’s visual argumentation and to explore how images come to count as proper representations or illegitimate schematics as they cross between the esoteric and exoteric circles of science. It exploits previously unused manuscripts to reconstruct the drawing, printing, and publishing of the illustrations that attracted the first and most influential attack, compares these procedures to standard practice, and highlights their originality. It then explains why, though Haeckel was soon accused, controversy ignited only seven years later, after he aligned a disciplinary struggle over embryology with a major confrontation between liberal nationalism and Catholicism–and why the contested pictures nevertheless survived.

I haven’t read it as yet as my print copy has only just arrived, but it looks like creationist claims of an ongoing cover-up by evolutionists as taking another beating.

Comments

  1. #1 Carl Zimmer
    July 12, 2006
  2. #2 Sean
    July 13, 2006

    In an effort to grasp a creationist’s P.O.V., I made myself sit through Dr. Kent Hovind’s presentation “100 Reasons Evolution is So Stupid!” One of the things that raises Hovind’s hackles is the subject of Haeckel’s embryo drawings. At the 1:10:35 mark of the presentation, Hovind proclaims the drawings to be patently false and that they were drawn because Haeckel’s reaction to The Origin of Species was, “Wow this is a great theory. All we need now is some evidence.” Ironically, Hovind’s turn of phrase sounds like something that might have been said during the formation of ID theory.

    After reading Hopwood’s paper, Haeckel’s perception of his drawings seemed similar to that of a police witness involved in the drawing of a composite sketch. Some of individual elements may not be “spot on” but the drawing, as a whole, is meant to be a faithful representation.

  3. #3 Nat Whilk
    July 13, 2006

    Could you quote a specific example of an assertion by creationists about Haeckel’s drawings that this article refutes? Thanks.

  4. #4 Hexene
    July 13, 2006

    Sean
    Kent Hovind is no “Dr.” but I feel your pain sitting through his silly diatribe. Oh! A news flash Kent Hovind and his wife was arrested today on 58 counts including income tax evasion, making threats against investigators and filing false complaints against Internal Revenue Service agents.
    http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060713/NEWS01/60713013

  5. #5 Steve Greene
    July 14, 2006

    Could you quote a specific example of an assertion by creationists about Haeckel’s drawings that this article refutes?

    It’s in Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution, and has been repeated ad nauseum in creationist rhetoric from that.

    See:

    Wells and Haeckel’s Embryos: A Review of Chapter 5 of Icons of Evolution
    by P. Z. Myers (2003)

  6. #6 Sean
    July 14, 2006

    Hexene says: Kent Hovind and his wife was arrested today on 58 counts including income tax evasion, making threats against investigators and filing false complaints against Internal Revenue Service agents.

    Thank you for the news flash. When I was watching the presentation, the way Hovind carried himself reminded me of a snake oil salesman. Seems my first impression wasn’t too far off the mark.

  7. #7 Bruce Thompson
    July 16, 2006

    Haeckel was trying to balance popularizing science with trying to gain acceptance of embryology within the scientific community. He erred on the side of popularizing science and it has been uncritically carried over in text books for over a hundred years. With advances in developmental biology why his drawings were never updated I’m not sure. This whole issue could easily have been side stepped by replacing his drawings with updated photographic evidence since the drawings are simply out of date.

  8. #8 Joel
    July 17, 2006

    Still haven’t seen any reference to a modern creationist claiming discovery of the fraud.

    Actually, creationist Louis Agassiz, a Haeckel contempory, was one of the original disputers.

    This is truly an icon of evolution, well crafted like a National Geographic rendering of an ear bone fossil find, into a whole primitive creature.

    This icon remained in the textbooks despite the inaccuracies because is represented what the Darwinists believed to be true.

    This idea of embryos as primitive organisms is still prevalent today, allowing for the experimentation being done on human embryos.

    So, Woo Suk Hwang reports what evolutionists believe and want to be true. His findings get the peer review wink and nod seal of approval, yet the methodology is fradulent.

    What do you see on “science” blogs, that Kent Hovind is a dork, just give the scientists time and money, and Hwang’s results will be repeated. Another icon in the making.

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