Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Abscheulich! - Atrocious! -- Stephen Jay Gould On Haeckel's Fraudulent Drawings in Modern Textbooks

There has been a fair amount of discussion recently about the use of Haeckel's fraudulent drawings to sell evolution to the unwitting high school student masses in government sponsored schools. See here and here.

Here is what Stephen Jay Gould had to say, including a quote from Michael Richardson:
We should therefore not be surprised that Haeckel's drawings entered nineteenth-century textbooks. But we do, I think, have the right to be both astonished and ashamed by the century of mindless recycling that has led to the persistence of these drawings in a large number, if not a majority, of modern textbooks! Michael Richardson, of the St. George's Hospital Medical School in London, a colleague who deserves nothing but praise for directing attention to this old issue, wrote to me (letter of August 16, 1999):
If so many historians knew all about the old controversy [over Haeckel's falsified drawings], then why did they not communicate this information to the numerous contemporary authors who use the Haeckel drawings in their books? I know of at least fifty recent biology texts which use the drawings uncritically. I think this is the most important question to come out of the whole story.

The whole article is worth reading, especially for Gould's description of comments by Louis Agassiz about his discovery of Haeckel's fraud:

I must confess to a personal reason, emotional as well as intellectual, for long and special interest in this tidbit of history. Some twenty years ago, I found, in the open stacks of our Museum's library at Harvard, Louis Agassiz's personal copy of the first (1868) edition of Haeckel's Naturliche Schop-fungsgeschichte (The Natural History of Creation).

The title of the article, "Abscheulich! - Atrocious!" comes from Agassiz's comments.

By the way, Gould also says this about the Darwin to Hitler connection:

I won't even discuss Haeckel's misuse of Darwinian notions in the service of a strident German nationalism based on claims of cultural, and even biological, superiority--a set of ideas that became enormously popular and did provide later fodder for Nazi propagandists . . .


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