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.