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Public Communication of Science and Technology


The bishop eaters
The publicity campaign for Darwin and the Origin

Edward Caudill   University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

This is a study of a publicity campaign by Charles Darwin and his two foremost champions on behalf of The Origin of Species. Darwin’s allies were Thomas Huxley, a bright, vociferous young anatomist, and Joseph Dalton Hooker, a rising young star in botany and confidant to both Darwin and Huxley. They shared strategies and advice, and both intentionally and accidentally complemented one another’s efforts in the public arena. Thus, this is an exploration of the efforts of the three to gain public acceptance of Darwin’s theory, and this is not a study of the concept of speciation. These three scientists, promoting what became the most important scientific idea of the 19th century, were both influenced by public debate and attempted to guide discourse on the theory of natural selection. Scientists and the public were rather rapid in accepting Darwin’s theory, which “won” in little more than a decade. This quick conversion of so many people to what was initially a radical idea was not done solely on the scientific merits of natural selection. One catalyst for change was a concerted publicity campaign.

The two most important works of Darwin’s career provide the boundaries of this research. The Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871). By the time Descent was published, natural selection had been accepted by most of the scientific community. The research is based on the archival collections at Imperial College in London, Cambridge University, and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.

While much of the clamor over The Origin centered on its implications for humanity and God, Darwin said very little about the development of humanity in The Origin, and he did not address the impact of natural selection on human beings. Darwin, the center of the scientific firestorm, shunned the public. In temperament and public presence, Huxley was Darwin’s antithesis. His nickname, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” was appropriate. Hooker, in contrast to Huxley, was much more tactful and politic in dealing with anti-Darwinians. During the 1860s, the Darwinian triad was systematically both scientific and public-minded. Over the course of the decade, their pitch was aimed at an increasingly broader public, and the lust for rhetorical bloodletting declined. The three ushered in a new era in science not just in terms of Darwin’s momentous scientific achievement, but also in the way in which they consistently and deliberately responded to the public, and planned for presentation to the public. The aggressive cultivation of public opinion was not necessary from a purely scientific perspective, but it was if one were to influence the direction and force of opinion in a democratic society.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.