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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Beyond bad

Recently I reviewed the book Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and the Murder Case That Launched Forensic Science in which author Dr Colin Beavan revealed how Henry Faulds, the true discover of the use of fingerprinting as a means of identification, was denied the due recognition for his contribution to forensic science largely through the machinations of Sir Francis Galton. The myth that Galton was the man who "discovered the innate uniqueness of fingerprints" has been perpetuated by the etablishment down to the present in all manner of popular and scientific works.

While pursuing my interest in the "truth is stranger than fiction" world of true crime writing, I stumbled upon a perfect example of this myth in a completely unrelated work. In Beyond Bad: the Life and Crimes of Katherine Knight, Australia's Hannibal (Bantam 2002), author Sandra Lee includes this paragraph:
In the nineteenth century, an Englishman named Sir Francis Galton turned his attention to the study of twins, believing they could shed some light on the theories of nurture and nature. Galton, an explorer, meteorologist and the man who discovered the innate uniqueness of fingerprints, had a pedigree. He was a cousin, of the famous evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin. Galton wanted to know if biology shaped destiny. Did genes determine behaviour? Was genius inherited? There was no better social and biological laboratory than that provided by twins.

The author has unwittingly or carelessly fostered a falsehood, one that is still accepted as "fact" by most people despite that "real fact" that a number of careful scholars have recently shown it to be incorrect. Truth is not decided by what most people believe or even, it must be emphasised, by what most "educated" people believe.

Truth is indeed always stranger than fiction.

11:44:00 am