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Isis. 2006 Jun;97(2):260-301.

Pictures of evolution and charges of fraud: Ernst Haeckel's embryological illustrations.

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Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH, United Kingdom.


Comparative illustrations of vertebrate embryos by the leading nineteenth-century Darwinist Ernst Haeckel have been both highly contested and canonical. Though the target of repeated fraud charges since 1868, the pictures were widely reproduced in textbooks through the twentieth century. Concentrating on their first ten years, this essay uses the accusations to shed light on the novelty of Haeckel's visual argumentation and to explore how images come to count as proper representations or illegitimate schematics as they cross between the esoteric and exoteric circles of science. It exploits previously unused manuscripts to reconstruct the drawing, printing, and publishing of the illustrations that attracted the first and most influential attack, compares these procedures to standard practice, and highlights their originality. It then explains why, though Haeckel was soon accused, controversy ignited only seven years later, after he aligned a disciplinary struggle over embryology with a major confrontation between liberal nationalism--and Catholicism--and why the contested pictures nevertheless survived.

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