Supporters of the revolutionary scientist Charles Darwin have been struggling to maintain credibility this week as critics have unearthed supposed evidence that he ‘manipulated’ data in his efforts to promote evolution over the established paradigm of divine creationism. The issue, thought by many to be beyond debate, has until now enjoyed the support of the vast majority of scientists and educated laypeople who have considered the evidence before them and found it to be overwhelmingly in favour of evolution. The new allegations suggest that Darwin was “selective” about which data he used to show trends, and focus on the fact this his most famous evolutionary trend (pictured) is lacking many key data points and so-called missing links but is still presented by Darwin as a fait accompli, something that has been described by some as a “trick” of data. Critics state that because the underlying facts of evolution can never be unequivocally proven, this discovery of a leading scientist glossing over holes in the data is enough to significantly shift the balance of evidence back to the established alternative of intelligent design, backed up by thousands of years of reliable peer-reviewed literature in a set of books originating in the Middle East. Most scientists argue that it was natural for Darwin to be selective about the presentation of data, but opponents do not stop there and suggest that Darwin himself was unsure of his thesis and that he only published it in order to steal the limelight from Alfred Russel Wallace who may otherwise have stolen his fame – allegedly further undermining the validity of his theories.
The furore over evolutionary evidence has inspired some journalists to jump on the band-wagon and turn their science-bashing sights on Galileo, also usually considered to have been a reputable, trust-worthy and ground-breaking scientist. As one new report states: “Galileo was one moment passionately promoting the heliocentric ideas of Copernicus and claiming that sun did not revolve around the earth, the next minute he was openly confessing to heresy in front of the Roman Inquisition. Now does that not smack of contradiction and dishonesty? If he was so sure then the threat of mere holy torture shouldn’t have put him off his ideas.” The report goes on to further discredit Galileo by accusing him of scientific dishonesty in deceiving future generations: “Why is it that so many people today believe that Galileo was the first to propose that the world is round, when even Aristotle had been teaching the same centuries prior? Because he deliberately manipulated his legacy to make us think so – his theories are clearly not to be trusted”.
The wave of scandal does not stop there. Newtonian mechanics has also been brought into question after supposedly authentic eye-witness documents were found to describe that Newton’s apple did not in fact land on his head but instead fell onto the ground somewhere in front of him. In a Daily Mail survey, one respondent said “This is just typical of these dishonest scientists. If he can lie about where the apple fell, why should we believe his other so-called ‘laws’? Show him the arm of the real law, that’s what I say”. Further allegations suggest that there may in fact have been no apple at all, and that the whole episode is one great web of lies and dishonesty. These claims are yet to be substantiated.
The Union for Common Sense released a statement suggesting that the spate of media allegations about dishonest scientists may not in fact be wholly independent of one another, as one fast-selling story spurs another of the same ilk and insignificant actions or discrepancies become exaggerated into great accusations of dishonesty. The statement implored for calmness and sangfroid and, for matters which are never likely to definitively ‘proven’ outright, a return to fundamental principles and an assessment of risk based on the strength of those principles. And even The Economist agrees.