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British Manipulation Of Scientific Publishing, circa 1964

Worried about some dodgy behavioural traits of some prominent British scientists? Astonished at the cavalier attitude regarding publications and dates by IPCC Lead Authors?

Stop worrying and be astonished no more. It’s common practice:

[John Maynard Smith, the famous British evolutionary biologist] coined the term “kin selection” in an article that ran off with Hamilton’s idea without giving him much credit. In the meantime, Maynard Smith was one of the anonymous reviewers on Hamilton’s seminal 1964 paper elaborating on the idea, which was delayed for nine months while Hamilton made the requested changes, thus allowing Maynard Smith’s article to appear first — something Hamilton harbored a grudge about his whole life.

Therefore (according to Sir Muir Russell), nothing in the above does “threaten the integrity of peer review or publication” (p.68, chapter 8.6 item 18).  How nice.

0 replies on “British Manipulation Of Scientific Publishing, circa 1964”

My memory of the account by Ullica Segerstrala is that Maynard Smith as referee suggested many changes to the article to improve its readability, including splitting the article into two separate parts. Maynard Smith told her that he had expected the Journal of Theoretical Biology article to be out before the Nature letter.

Rather unfair to Maynard Smith. Here is the Times obituary account

One of Haldane’s obiter dicta, delivered in Bloomsbury pubs in the Fifties, was that a man would lay down his life for two brothers, four nephews or eight cousins. This was the insight at the heart of the theory of kin selection, but Haldane never carried it further, or developed it mathematically. That was done quite independently by W. D. Hamilton, a student at University College London in Maynard Smith’s time there, but not one who could interest anyone in his ideas. In later life Maynard Smith would often lament his failure to spot Hamilton and nurture the man he once called “the only bloody genius we’ve got”. Hamilton’s extension of kin selection into a general mechanism explaining the spread of altruistic and spiteful behaviour among related populations is one of the insights at the heart of modern sociobiology.

But in 1963 Maynard Smith was one of the referees for the long paper that Hamilton sent to the Journal of Theoretical Biology setting out his mathematical treatment of the problem. Before that paper could be published, Maynard Smith had coined the phrase “kin selection” and used it in a letter to Nature. Hamilton’s deep faith in his own powers was not widely shared at that stage of his career, and he never entirely forgave Maynard Smith for what he considered a betrayal. Maynard Smith, for his part, was deeply and frequently contrite over the affair. He lost no opportunity to give credit to Hamilton for independent discovery of the idea, and for his mathematical formalism, but continued to maintain that the basic insight was Haldane’s, and free to anyone who had heard him.

There is a much fuller account in Ullica Segerstrale’s book Defenders of the Truth.

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