Observer Forum

Letters

The Wrong Stuff

Tom Wolfe is well known for his fiction. One of his most recent contributions to this area occurred at the May 2006 Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science, at which Mr. Wolfe was a panel member in a discussion of “The Mind in the Media.” Mr. Wolfe told the audience of 1,300 that Charles Darwin was a plagiarizer who had made his fame on the ideas of another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace. In my more than 30 years researching and writing in the history of psychology, I have never heard or read anyone who would make such a claim. My fear is that there were many in the audience who are not knowledgeable in the history of science, who would accept Mr. Wolfe as some kind of authority, and thus would believe the nonsense he spouted with such indignation.

The evidence for Darwin’s priority in proposing natural selection as the mechanism for evolution of the species is without debate. Wallace sent Darwin his manuscript in June 1858, approximately 20 years after Darwin had arrived at a similar idea. The first account of Darwin’s theory was a 35-page manuscript he wrote in 1842. It was expanded to around 230 pages in 1844. At times, Darwin shared the manuscript or portions of it with a number of scientific colleagues, including naturalist Asa Gray, geologist Charles Lyell, and botanist Joseph Hooker. The documentation of his ideas is contained not only in these manuscripts but in a vast correspondence in the 1840s and 1850s.

To label Darwin a plagiarizer flies in the face of responsible scholarship. Scientists and historians work to get the story straight; novelists may not work under such a burden, and they are entitled to their opinions, but “facts is facts” and never the twain (to invoke another great storyteller) shall meet.

Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr.
Texas A&M University

hI index more inclusive

Henry Roediger’s “Academic Observer” essay [Observer, April 2006] about the h index highlights the benefits of this new, robust system of measure of scientific impact on the field. But, as already observed by Hirsch, the index is strongly dependent on the research field.

The number h of papers with the least h citations has been proposed to evaluate individuals’ scientific research production. Several colleagues and propose – in a paper to be published in Scientometrics in July (http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/0509048) – a complementary index to measure an individual’s impact across fields: hI = h/<N> = h2/Nt, where <N> is the average number of co-authors (Nt being the total number of authors) in the considered h papers. A researcher with index hI has hI papers with at least h citations if he/she had published alone. We have obtained the rank plots of h and hI for four Brazilian scientific communities. Contrasting to the h-index curve, a normalized hI index presents a perfect data collapse into a unique universal curve allowing comparison among different research areas. Recently we have confirmed this property for German science data, including now medicine, engineering, social sciences and psychology. Another advantage of the hI index is that it is an index that penalizes bad practices of overinclusion of co-authors.

Osame Kinouchi
Ciências e Letras Universidade de São Paulo

References

  • Hirsch, J.E. (2005). An index to quantify an individual’s scientific research output. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, 102, 16569-16572.
Observer Vol.19, No.7 July, 2006

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