Readers may remember the long-drawn-out saga of 19th-century embryologist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) whose altered embryo drawings, with key stages missing, were “one of the most famous fakes in biology”—but still knowingly used a century later (See Fraud Rediscovered”). The drawings were altered to make vertebrate embryos look significantly more alike than they actually do, bolstering Darwin in the school system. Now, a friend writes to say, a recent retrospective on Haeckel provides cover for the longstanding use of these drawings (an early version of deep fakes?) in textbooks:
Ernst Haeckel’s contribution to Evo-Devo and scientific debate: a re-evaluation of Haeckel’s controversial illustrations in US textbooks in response to creationist accusations
Elizabeth Watts, Georgy S. Levit, Uwe Hossfeld
Theory in Biosciences, May 2019, Volume 138, Issue 1, pp 9–29
Abstract: As Blackwell (Am Biol Teach 69:135–136, 2007) pointed out, multiple authors have attempted to discredit Haeckel, stating that modern embryological studies have shown that Haeckel’s drawings are stylized or embellished. More importantly, though, it has been shown that the discussion within the scientific community concerning Haeckel’s drawings and the question of whether embryonic similarities are convergent or conserved have been extrapolated outside the science community in an attempt to discredit Darwin and evolutionary theory in general (Behe in Science 281:347–351, 1998; Blackwell in Am Biol Teach 69:135–136, 2007; Pickett et al. in Am Biol Teach 67:275, 2005; Wells in Am Biol Teach 61:345–349, 1999; Icons of evolution: science or myth? Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong. Regnery Publishing, Washington, 2002). In this paper, we address the controversy surrounding Haeckel and his work in order to clarify the line between the shortcomings and the benefits of his research and illustrations. Specifically, we show that while his illustrations were not perfect anatomical representations, they were useful educational visualizations and did serve an important role in furthering studies in embryology. …
[Excerpt from Introduction:] in this paper we take a closer look behind the curtains at the scientist who created the original illustrations that many of the twentieth-century images are based upon—Ernst Haeckel—and examine to which degree his illustrations have been useful teaching tools and whether or not he is deserving of the accusations he has received regarding the finesse of his illustrations. …
[Excerpts from the Conclusion:] While Haeckel was incorrect in the details regarding recapitulation, he was not wrong in thinking that the similarities among embryos during development were a key proof of the theory of common descent. His attempt to make these similarities easily visible for lay audiences attracted over a century of accusations, and yet these illustrations acted as a central visualization of comparative embryology in American textbooks until the 1950s and then as inspiration for later illustrations in the second half of the twentieth century. [. . .] Yet despite the advances in scientific knowledge and the technological means of studying embryonic development, we have not seen the same advancement in the depiction of this knowledge for educational purposes. Haeckel’s illustrative grids, despite the stylization of the actual images, provided an excellent foundation for how comparative embryology can be presented clearly to students in order to enable them to more easily understand how embryonic development provides compelling proof of the theory of common descent.
So stuff that isn’t true provides an “excellent foundation” and “compelling proof of the theory of common descent?”
Wow. What a way to make people who never doubted common descent before start to do so…
After all, one can only assume that an accurate presentation would not have supported the theory.
It’s understandable that some people would do things like this and go on doing them, and, of course, attack anyone who figures the story out and publicizes it.
The part that’s harder to grasp is why such persons are surprised when many people don’t “trust science.” Or are they only pretending to be surprised? After all, they pretend about other things.
See also: Book Review In New Scientist Discusses The Long-Drawn-Out “Lies” Of Ernst Haeckel’s Fake Embryos (2015)
More On Haeckel’s Fake Embryos Possibly Starring Again In The Texas School System