Saturday, May 12, 2012

DARWIN at his ethical worst : the Janet Browne biography

   Admitably GCR did rather hit out at Thomas Huxley in the blog post about Bernie Lightman at Kings College University.
   But no one was more critical of the hierarchical nature of Victoria Science than Thomas Huxley - and rightly so !
   Janet Browne, Darwin's biographer, frequently takes a useful forensic accounting approach to her subject's efforts.
    Pointing out that the cost of even the basic microscope his doting father gave him as a boy, was worth the annual income of *several* farm labourer families.
   Their kids might have better powers of observation that Charles, but were unlikely to make much of them without the ability to own a basic microscope.
   Darwin, not Wallace, got the fame for the Theory of Evolution, she points out, in part because the incredibly high cost of scientific illustrations favoured the rich amateur over the poor amateur -- both scientist and average reader responded better to lavishly illustrated articles in an age starved for visual information of distant or obscure events.
   And because Darwin could afford to use the (private) letter post to further his public aims by spending what was then the equivalent of a large middle class annual income simply on postage and paper.
   GCR asked Browne on a her visit to Dal whether some of the revelations* she uncovered had lowered her estimation of the personal character of Darwin, as it had done for us, and she was less than fulsome in her defense of Darwin it seemed.
   *Such as him stealing/borrowing a document he particularly wanted from the grieving widow of a poorer colleague, because he was sure he could get away with it. 
   Huxley's oblique response to rich amateurs (like his friend Darwin) was to publicly urge that if institutions (and thus ultimately the public) provided the equipment and lab rooms (and salaries), and individual scientists simply provided the brain power to use them, Society could then make use of the best brains around .
   Then the British would no longer be simply 'getting by' scientifically , by being content to just use 'good-to-average brains, but with rich daddies' ....

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