Monday, June 19, 2017

A libel story


A visit to the Biligirirangan Hills just as the monsoons were setting in led me to look up on the life of one of the local naturalists who wrote about this region, R.C. Morris. One of the little-known incidents in his life is a case of libel arising from a book review. I had not heard of such a case before but it seems that such cases are on the increase and is a big risk for anyone who publishes critical reviews. There is a nice guide to avoid trouble and there is a plea within academia to create a safe space for critical discourse.

This is a somewhat short note and if you are interested in learning more about the life of R.C. Morris - do look up the Wikipedia entry on him or this piece by Dr Subramanya. I recently added links to most of his papers in the Wikipedia entry and perhaps one that really had an impact on me was on the death of fourteen elephants from eating kodo millet - I suspect it is a case of aflatoxin poisoning! Another source to look for is the book Going Back by Morris' daughter and pioneer mountaineer Monica Jackson. I first came to know of the latter book in 2003 through the late Zafar Futehally who were family friends of the Morrises. He lent me this rather hard to find book when I had posted a note to an email group (a modified note was published in the Newsletter for Birdwatchers, 2003 43(5):66-67 - one point I did not mention and which people find rather hard to believe is that my friend Rajkumar actually got us to the top of Honnametti in a rather old Premier Padmini car!).

I came across the specific libel case against Morris in a couple of newspaper archives - this one in the Straits Times, 27 April 1937, can be readily found online:


LIBELLED HUNTER GETS £3,000 DAMAGES
Statements  Made In Book Review.

Major Leonard Mourant Handley, author of "Hunter's Moon," a book dealing with his experiences as a big game-hunter, was at the Middlesex Sheriff's Court awarded £3,000 damages for libel against Mr. Randolph Camroux Morris. Mr. Morris did not appear and was not represented. The libel appeared in a review of "Hunter's Moon" by Mr. Morris that appeared in the journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Mr. Valentine Holmes said Major Handley wrote the book, his first, in 1933. and it met with amazing success.

Mr. Morris, in his review, declared that it did not give the personal experiences of Major Handley. Mr. Morris wrote :"There surely should be some limit to the inaccuracies which find their way into modern books, which purport to set forth observations of interest to natural  scientists  and  shikaris.


"The recent book. 'Hunters Moon.' by Leonard Handley, is so open to criticism in this respect, that one is led to the conclusion that the author has depended upon his imagination and trusted to the credulity of the public for the purpose of producing a 'bestseller' rather than a work of sporting or scientific value."

Then followed some 38 instances of alleged Inaccuracies.


Mr. Holmes said that at one time Mr. Morris was a close friend of Major Handley, but about 1927 some friction arose between Mrs. Morris and Mrs.  Handley. In evidence. Major Handley said that, following the libel, a man who had been a close friend of Ms refused to nominate him for membership of a club The Under-Sheriff. Mr. Stanley Ruston said there was no doubt that the motive of the libel lay in the fact that Major Handley had seized some of the thunder Mr. Morris was providing for his own book.

Naturally this forced me to read the specific book which is also readily available online



The last chapter deals with the hunter's exploits in the Biligirirangans which he translates as the "blue [sic] hills of Ranga"! It is also worth examining Morris' review of the book in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society which is merely marked under his initials. I wonder if anyone knows of the case history and whether it was appealed or followed up. I suspect Morris may have just quietly ignored it if the court notice was ever delivered in the far away estate of his up in Attikan or Honnameti.

The review is fun to read as well...

Meanwhile, here is a view of the Honnametti rock which lies just beside the estate where Morris lived.
Honnametti rock

Memorial to Randolph Camroux Morris
Grave of Mary Macdonald, wife of Leslie Coleman, who in a way
founded the University of Agricultural Sciences. Coleman was perhaps the first
to teach the German language in Bangalore to Indian students.

Sidlu kallu or lightning-split-rock, another local landmark.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

German influences in Indian ornithology

I have noted before that many non-English works in science, even from Europe, are often given a quick pass-over. I have perhaps mentioned the case of things ranging from the failure to cite junior synonyms [example, Ixos fisquetti Eydoux & Souleyet, 1842 from a French source has been missed as a synonym of Pycnonotus priocephalus (Jerdon, 1839) by nearly all taxonomic synopses] to glossing over major works like those of the German anatomist and cladist Max Fuerbringer. Some of this may be due to the wars but there is a sense that even much later works often do not give enough credit where it is due. 

In Tim Birkhead's preface to his history of ornithology, Ten Thousand Birds, he notes the ratings of his friends for the most influential ornithologists: 
"David Lack was the clear leader (30 votes), followed by Ernst Mayr (23), Niko Tinbergen (21), Robert MacArthur (11), Peter Grant (11), Nick Davies (11), Erwin Stresemann (11), Charles Sibley (11), Konrad Lorenz (9), and Donald Farner (8)."
Title page of Volume 7 part 2 of Handbuch der Zoologie (1934)
This is obviously quite a questionable sample size of voters but the presence of three Germans in the list (with Stresemann at the root of the academic genealogy of the other two - Mayr and Lorenz) should be a useful indicator. A much richer view of influence and the genealogy of ornithology in Germany can be found in the writings of Jürgen Haffer. Haffer, who died a few years ago, was a student of Ernst Mayr who in turn was a student of Stresemann. Stresemann's influence was far reaching, even into India through Salim Ali who spent some time with Stresemann at the Zoological Museum, Berlin. An invitation to visit Berlin for a Wikipedia related meeting allowed me to pursue my curiosity on Stresemann's work and the Salim Ali connection. Ali notes in his biography that it was through the Germans and their Heligoland observatory that he picked up his studies of live birds in the hand and ringing.* In 1914, at the age of 25, while still a doctoral student in medicine, Stresemann was given an offer to write an entry on the birds in the Handbuch der Zoologie series as bigger names in German ornithology were too busy to help. This offer was to be crucial to his later career and it came from Willy Kükenthal. The draft version which followed a structure suggested by Kukenthal arrived in 1920, delayed by the First World War, and when it was published in 1934, it consisted of 900 pages. The book led Stresemann to his future career in the Berlin museum picked in preference to many other bigger and dominant names. In producing the book, Stresemann had clearly conducted a great deal of research into the literature, both new and old, before him which also led him to later reflect on the historical development of ornithology - leading to another magnificent work which was also translated into English as Ornithology from Aristotle to the Present - a (signed) copy of which apparently went to Salim Ali and was passed on to the late S.A. Hussain (who mentioned it over a coffee one evening not too long ago). Now Birkhead's ornithological history does not do a good job of telling us what went into Stresemann's Handbuch der Zoologie. This book had 2200 printed copies but only 536 were sold by 1934 and 156 in 1944 and the remaining copies were burnt at the end of World War II (see Bock, 2001). I  browsed through a copy of the book in the library of Zoological Museum at Berlin and have extracted the table of contents which gives a good overview of the topics covered (I have removed the page numbers and hopefully there are no major transcription errors, use translate.google.com to see what they mean but be prepared for mis-translations):

Stresemann (left) in Finland during the Ornithological Congress of 1958. Photo from the Alexander Wetmore album courtesy of Smithsonian Instituion / Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Einleitung [Introduction]
Definition
Erforschungsgeschichte [Research history]

Haut und Hautgebilde [Epidermis]
Haut: Cutis - Epidermis - Schnabel [beak] - Stirnplatten - Nagel [nails]: Zehennägel- Fingernägel - Sporen - Federn [feathers] - Konturfedern [contour feathers] - Augenwimpern [eyelash], Tastfedern - Pelzdunen - Puderfedern - Pinselfedern - Fadenfedern - Afterschaft - Nestdunen - Stellung der Federn [position of feathers] - Anordnung der Federn [arrangement of feathers] - Schwingfedern [flight feathers] - Deckfedern [coverts] - Diastataxie [diastaxy] - Afterflügel - Oberarmdecken [upper wing coverts] - Steuerfedern [control feathers] - Mauser [moult] - Schnelligkeid des Federwachstums [rate of feather growth?] - Mauserperioden [moult period]- Umfang der Mauser - Doppelte und dreifache Mauser [double and triple moult] - Reihenfolge des Federwechsels [sequence and  - Abhängigkeit der Mauser von äusseren und inneren Einflüssen - Schuppen [scales]: Deck-, Lauf-schuppen - Fersenschuppen - Hautdruesen - Färbung von Haut und Hautgebilden [colours of skins and skin formation]: Melanine und Lipochrome - Bildungsort der Lipochrome - Periodischer Faerbungswechsel [periodic colour change] - Federzeichnung - Farbenindruck - Schillerfarben - Farbaberrationen [aberrant colours] - Komplizierte Mutationen

Skelett [Skeleton]
Schädel [skull] - Ersatzknochen - Deckknochen - Bewegungen im Schädel - Unterkiefer - Zweiter Schlundbogen - Driter Schlundbogen - Pneumatizität der Schädelknochen - Wirbelsäule - Rippen - Brustbein - Schultergürtel - Vordere Extremetität - Pneumatizität des Rumpf [pneumatization of the hull] - und Extremitätenskeletts - Ossifikation der Markknochen [Ossification of the medullary bone]

Muskelsystem [Muscular system]
Viszeralmuskulatur - Somatische Muskulatur - Augenmuskulatur [eye muscles] - Parietale Muskeln - Glatte Federnmuskeln [smooth feather muscle] - Hautmuskeln - Rote und weisse Muskulatur - Muskelkerne

Nervensystem [Nervous system]
Rückenmark [spinal cord] - Spinalnerven - Gehirn - Gehirnnerven III-XII - Kleinhirn - Mittelhirn - Zwischenhirn - Vorderhirn - Autonomes Nervensystem - Paraganglien - Parasympathisches System

Sinnesorgane [Sense organs]
 Hautsinnesorgane - Geschmacksorgan - Geruchsorgan - Hörorgan - Labyrinth - Scheckenteil - Vestibularteil - Bogengangteil - Mittelohr - Paratympanisches Organ - Äußerer Gehörgang - Auge - Retina - körper - Akkomodation - Cornea - Sclera - Bulbus - Augenmuskeln - Lidapparat - Assoziation beiderAugen - Augendrüsen

Verdauungssystem [Digestive system]
Mund-Rachenhöhle - Zunge - Histologie der Mund-Rachenhöhle - Drüsen - Faerung der Mundhöhle  Oesophagus - Magen - Druesenmagen - Muskelmagen - Innervierung des Magens - Darm - Duodenalschleife - Ileum - Diverticulum caecum vitelli - Blinddärme - Enddarm - Struktur der Darmwand - Kloake - Bursa Fabricii - Innervierung des Darmes - Verdauung - Leber - Pankreas

Klementaschenderivate und Thyreoidea [Respiratory system]

Atmungsorgane
Atemweg - Pharyngo-nasale Luftsäcke - Kehlspalt - Stutzgerüst des Kehlkopfes - Trachea - Freie Bronchien - Syrinx - Syrinxmuskeln - Innvervierung der Syrinx - Sexualdimorphismus im Syrinxbau - Lunge - Pulmonale Luftsäcke - Histologie der Luftsäcke - Bronchialbaum - Physiologie der Atmung - Funktionen der Luftsäcke - Thoraxbewegungen - Kammerung der Leibeshöhle

Zirkulationsorgane [Blood circulation]
Herz  - Wärmeschutz -Schutz gegen Ueberhitzung  - Körpertemperatur - Arterien: Schicksal der Aortenbögen -Arterien der vorderen Extremität - Arterien der hinteren Extremität - Intersegmentale Arterien - Arterien des Darmkanales - Arterien der Nieren und Keimdrüsen - Venen: Embryonale Entwicklung  - Gebiet der Vena cardinalis posterior - Gebiet der Vena cava posterior - Gebiet der Vena hypogastrica - Nierenpfortaderkreislauf - Gebiet der Venae portae - Gebiet der Vena cardinalis anterior - Gebiet der Vena jugularis - Gebiet der Vena vertebralis communis und  Vena  subclavia  - Blutzellen:   Leukozyten  und  Erythrozyten  -Thrombozyten - Lymphgefäßsystem  — Milz

Urogenitalsystem [Urinogenital system]
Harnapparat — Harn  — Nebenniere — Geschlechtsapparat. Entwicklung: Urgeschlechtszellen - Entwicklung der Keimdrüsen  — Entwicklung des Müllerschen Ganges - Zustand beim Männchen: Hoden — Reste der Urniere beim Männchen - Nebenhoden - Samenleiter - Übertragung des Sperma - Phalloides Organ - Zustand beim Weibchen: Schwund des rechten Ovars und rechten Ovidukts - Geschlechtsumwandlung - Ovar  — Reste von Urniere und Wolffschem  Gang beim Weibchen — Ovidukt

Keimzellen [Germ cells]
Ei. Eierstockei — Dotterbildung - Große Wachstumsperiode des Eies - Bilateraler Bau der Oozyte und des Follikels - Follikelsprung - Hau des Reifeies - Sekundäre Eihüllen -   Kalkschalc - Färbung der Schale - Schalendicke - Eiform - Legeakt- Eiweiß - Verhältnis des Dottergewichts zum Eiweißgewicht - Zusammensetzung des Eiweißes - Eigröße - Spermium.

Embryonale Entwickelung [Embryo development]
Befruchtung - Furchung - Gastrulation -  Primitivstrelfen -Kopffortsatz - Mesoderm -Orientierung der Embryonalanlage - Drehung auf die linke Seite -Eihäute-Dottersack- Resorption des Dotters -   Gefäße des Dottersackes - Amnion -Serosa -Allantois - Gefäße der Allantois - Eiweißsack - Bau der Eiweißsackwandung - Resorption des Eiweißes - Verbindungen der Allantois gefäße - Stellung des Embryo im letzten Drittel der Bebrütung - Schlüpfakt -Abbau lies Schalenkalkes - Aufnahme des Dottersackes in die Bauchhöhle-Stellung des Eies während der Bebrütung-Physiologie der Hmbryonalentwickeluug - Ent-Wickelungsdauer -Brutdauer.

Postembryonale Entwickelung [Post-embryonic development]
Nestflüchter und Nesthocker - Dottervorrat -  Gewichtszunahme -  Nahrungsmenge - Erste Befiederung - Nestlingsdunen - Färbung des Dunenkleides- Tragdauer des Jugendkleides -   Eigenschaften der ersten Plugfedern -  Färbungs entwickelung - Nestlingszeit -  Proportionsverschiebungen -   Nahrungsaufnahme der Jungen - Leitmale

Geschtechtsdimorphismus [sexual dimorphism]
Geschlechtschromosomen - Zahlenverhältnis der Geschlechter - Gynandromorphe - Sexualhormone -Geschlechtsunterschiede in der Färbung - Größenverschiedenheit der Geschlechter - Geschlechtsunterschlede im Skelettbau - Geschlechtsunterschiede und Werbung - Unterschiede im Stimmapparat - Periodischer Wechsel des Geschlechts-dimorphismus- Geschlechtsunterschiede im Mauserverlauf - Geschlechtsdimorphismus und Brutpflege - Übertragung männlicher Eigenschaften auf das Weibchen - Rassenunterschiede im geschlechtlichen Färbungsabstand - Mutative Vergrößerung des Geschlechtsdimorphismus

Fortpflanzung [Reproduction]
Werbung. Erreichung der Geschlechtsreife -  Fortpflantungsperiode - Zusammenhalt der Geschlechter-  Verlobung- Balz -  Psychische Selektion- Begattung -Nest. Ort der Eiablage - Nestbautrieb-    Nestform-    Standort des Nestes- Baukunst als ererbte Anlage - Baustoffe - Verarbeitung der Baustoffe - Dauer des Nestbaues - Aushöhlen von Holz und Erdreich - Benutzung von Ameisen- und Termltenbauten -  Fehlen des Nestbautriebes - Wiederbenutzung des alten Nestes  — Bautätigkeit nach Brutbeginn - Organveranderungen zur Nestbau-Zelt — Ei: Eiabläge und Klima -    Eierzahl [number of eggs] — Beziehungen zwischen Eigewicht und Zahl der Eier [Relations between egg weight and number of eggs] — Nachlegen -  Nachgelege —  Brut [brood] — Polyandrie — Legeabstand - Bebrütung - Schutzfärbung der Eier -   Anteil der Geschlechter am Brutgeschäft  — Bebruting durch beide Gatten - Ablösung beim Brüten — Verständigungsmittel der Gatten  - Triebhandlungen im Dienste der Brutsicherung — Bebrütung durch nur einen Partner -      Brutflecke - Kompensation mangelnder Brutflecke — Bebrütung über die normale Brutdauer hinaus  -   Schlüpfakt  — Jungenpflege  — Verhalten der Nesthocker - Verhalten der Nestflüchter -   Zusammenhalt der Familien  — Geselliges Brüten -  Polygynie — Ehelosigkeit — Geselliges Leben der Pinguine  — Erbrütung der Eier durch Bodenwarme - Brutparasitismus — bei Cuculiden — Färbunganpassung der Kuckuckseier — Größenanpassung der Kuckuckseier — bei Icteriden - bei Ploceiden — bei Indicatoriden  — bei Heteronetta  — Rasche Embryonalentwickelung der Brutschmarotzer — Schädigung der Wirtsvögel.

Lebensdauer [life spans]

Tag- und Nachtvögel [day and night birds]

Ernährung [nutrition]
Nahrung — Nahrungswahl — Nahrungsaufnahme — Erweiterung von Spalträumen — Bogenförmige Schnäbel  — Zusammenspiel von Schnabel und Zunge — Mundwerkzeuge der Nektarsauger — Saugakt — Ornithophile Blüten — Zungen-apparat der Spechte — Nahrung der Spechte — Mundwerkzeuge der körnerfressenden Passeres — Mundwerkzeuge der Papageien — Jagd auf fliegende Beutetiere — Nahrungsaufnahme bei den Raubvögeln— Scharren — Nahrungsaufnahme aus dem Wasser — Vorrat-Sammeln — Zerkleinerung der Nahrung durch Zerrupfen oder Zerschlagen — Prüfung der Nahrung mit dem Geschmackssinn — Tastsinn im Bereich der Mundwerkzeuge — Bildung des Werkzeuges nach dem Bedürfnis — Ausnutzung der Nahrung. Zellulosereiche Nahrung  — Darmbakterien — Fleischnahrung — Gallen-farbstoffe - Resorption und Anbau pflanzlicher Farbstoffe — Endozoische Samen-verbreltung durch Vögel

Stoffwechsel und Energiewechsel [Metabolism and energy metabolism]
Chemie des Eies — Zusammensetzung des Dotters — Zusammensetzung des Eierklars — Zusammensetzung von Schalenhaut und Kalkschale — Stoffwechsel des Embryo— Stoffwechsel des Erwachsenen. Erhaltung des ernährungsphysiologischen Gleichgewichts — Mineralstoffwechsel — Eiweißabbau und Harn — Grundumsatz und Leistungszuwachs — Periodisches Schwanken des Fettansatzes — Stoffwechsel im Hunger — Hungerresistenz und Körpergröße — Wasserhaushalt.

Bewegung [Movement]
Bewegungen  der  Wirbelsäule —  Brustwirbelsäule —  Halswirbelsäule — Schwanzwirbelsfiule — Bewegungen der hinteren Extremität — Schlafstellung - Ortsbewegung: Laufen und Hüpfen — Gang  — Ortsbewegung der Schwimmvögel auf festem Boden — Klettern — Bewegungsform und Bauplan — Längenverhältnis der Zehenglieder — Längenverhältnis von Lauf und Unterschenkel — Bewegungen der vorderen Extremitat — Flügelskelett — Schultergürtel — Schultergelenk — Ellenbogengelenk — Handgelenk — Gelenke zwischen Mittelhand und Fingern — Flügelmuskeln — Muskeln zur Bewegung des — Muskeln zur Bewegung des Vorderarms — Muskeln zur Bewegung der Mittelhand und der Finger — a) Ursprung am Oberarm — b) Ursprung am Vorderarm — c) Ursprung am Metacarpus — Flügelfläche — Propatagium und Metapatagium — Schwungfedern — Bau der Schwungfedern — Spannung der Schwungfedern — Wirkung des Luftdruckes an den Federstrahlen — Erteilung des Vortriebes — Flug: Ruderflug — a) große Vögel — b) kleine Vögel — Flügeltypen — Hubflügel — Schnellflügel — Schwebeflügel — Zahl der Flügelschläge — Zusatzbelastung — Hüpfender Flug — Schwebeflug der Kleinvögel — Gleitflug — Schwirrflug — Rütteln — Flugleistung — Flugarbeit — Ausnutzung der Windkräfte  — Statischer Segelflug — Dynamischer Segelflug  — Änderung der Höhe — Änderung der Richtung — Abflug — Landüng — Aufgaben des Schwanzes — Verlust des Flugvermögens — Schwimmen — Tauchen — Fußtaucher — a) Kormorane — b) Podiceps, Colymbus, Tauchenten — Flügeltaucher — Wechselbeziehungen zwischen Tauch- und Flugvermögen — Tauchleistungen

Tonerzeugung [Sound generation]
Syrinx und Trachea als Zungenpfeife — Akustik der Zungenpfeifen — Akustik der immwerkzeuge der Vögel — Wirkung der Stimm-Muskeln — Paarige und unpaarige Stimmapparate — Veränderung des von den schwingenden Membranen erzeugten Tones — Resonanzapparate — Biologische Bedeutung der Stimmlaute — Instrumentalmusik

Geographische Verbreitung [Geographical distribution]
Alter des Vogelstammes, der Arten und Rassen — Arten-Zahl — Ausbreitungsschranken
— Verbreitungsmittel — Räumliche Sonderung der Populationen als Vorbedingung der
Artenvermehrung — Artvermehrung als Folge ökologischer Umstellung — Diskontinuierliche Verbreitung als Ergebnis erdgeschichtlichen Geschehens — Regionale Verbreitung der Vögel

Wanderungen [Migration]
Ökologische Ursachen der Wanderungen — Winteraufenthalt — Dauer des Aufenthaltes im Überwinterungsgebiet — Ökologische Ansprüche an das Winterquartier — Traditionelles Festhalten am Winterquartier — Beziehungen zwischen Urheimat und Winterquartier — Überwandern südlicher Populationen durch nördliche — Unbeständige Lage der Winterquartiere — Winteraufenthalt der Albatrosse — Räumliche Ausdehnung des Überwinterungsgebietes — Wanderwege — Ökologisch begründete Umwege — Schleifenförmiger Zugweg — Historisch begründete Umwege — Verlassen der traditionellen Zugbahnen — Breite der Zuggebiete — Leistungen: Beispiele für lange Wanderwege — Beispiele für lange Flugstrecken — Häufigkeit und Dauer der Rasten — Vergleich der täglichen Flugleistungen während der Brutzeit und der Zugzeit — Energiequellen — Orientierung — Optische Orientierung — Flug in großen Höhen — Richtungssinn — Richtungsgefühl und Richtungstrieb — Andressiertes Richtungsgefühl — Artgedächtnis — Steigerung der Orientierungsfähigkeit durch Selektion — Verdriftung — Aufsuchen neuer Brutgebiete — Veranlassung zum Aufbruch — terscheidung zwischen Wettervögeln und Instinktvögeln — Verkettung von Zugtrieb und r;pflanzungszyklus — Zusammenhänge zwischen Zugtrieb und endokrinem System — Beeinflussung des Zuges durch meteorologische Faktoren — Windrichtung — Beziehungen zwischen Zugzeiten und Dauer des Fortpflanzungszyklus — Beziehungen zwischen Zugzeiten und Länge des Wanderweges — Veranlassung zur Einstellung der Wanderung — Trennung nach Alter und Geschlecht — a) im Herbst — b) im Frühjahr —Geselliges Wandern —Zug und Mauser — Stammesgeschichtliches Alter der Zugvögel

Parasiten [Parasites]
Vermes: Trematoden — Cestoden — Nematoden — Acanthocephalen — Pentastomiden — Arthropoden: Acari — Flöhe — Wanzen — Fliegen — Mallophagen

Stammesgeschichte [Evolutionary history]


Stresemann's work is also well illustrated and it makes use of graphs to show how conclusions were arrived at. For instance there is a graph that shows the numbers of male and female larks collected at Danish lighthouses which points to protandry in Spring migration. It clearly was a truly illuminating and broad overview of ornithology in the 1930s and one that was widely appreciated. It is unclear if Salim Ali went through the contents of this work. The only major biography of Stresemann is by Jürgen Haffer, Erich Rutschke and Klaus Wunderlich - all three of whom are no more. Their biography includes several interesting sections but the ones that stand out are by Haffer and include scientometric approaches to examining the life and work of Stresemann. Unfortunately most of the book is in German and there is only a short summary in English. Haffer provides a chronological view of Stresemann's research focus over time using a graphical timeline.

A chronology of Stresemann's research focus from Haffer et al., 2000.
Haffer's phylogeny of avian taxonmy

Photo: Z thomas (Creative Commons)

Haffer notes that one of Stresemann's major works was his review of literature and I think this reflective approach to a field is especially important. It is clear that this showed the direction for further research for ornithology in Germany. It is not surprising that there are technical terms from German still in use in ornithology like zugunruhe (or migratory restlessness). In fact it was Stresemann who coined the German word "einemsen" in 1935 for describing the behaviour of birds anointing themselves with live ants. Salim Ali who was clearly in touch with Stresemann at that time found a suitable English verb for it as "anting" in a note published in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society - a word that has stayed ever since in the ornithologists dictionary.

The correspondence archive** at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin has only two letters from Ali to Stresemann [Reference: S IV Nachl. Stresemann/Akte Salim, A.; MfN d. Hub, HBSB]. One written (typed) on 24 July 1964 is in response to a letter of condolence to Salim Ali on the death of Loke Wan Tho. The other (29 April 1966) is a bit of an apology for not studying the moults of birds:

33 Pali Hill, Bandra
Bombay-50
29 April 1966

Dear Stresemann,

Many thanks for the prompt reply to my query about age, moult, and leg colour in Philomachus. This clarifies the position nicely.

I feel guilty and unhappy not to make fuller use of the exceptional opportunities one gets for studying moults etc. when handling such large numbers of birds for ringing. But unless we can have a much larger team of helpers in our migration study camps than circumstances permit - including some devoted entirely to moult study - this is very difficult. We have to collect arthropod parasites and blood samples from the birds for virus studies, and the various operations connecting with ringing - measuring, weighing, etc - use up all the time and facilities available. How, and for how long, to detain the birds during and after all these operations without harming them, when several hundred birds have to be dealt with under more or less alfresco conditions is another problem. All the same it seems a great pity that such wonderful opportunities cannot be more fully utilized!

With warmest regards, Yours ever
Salim
As can be seen from the graph of Haffer, Stresemann really moved into the study of moult towards the 1960s and until the end of his life. He was greatly aided in his research on moult by his (second) wife Vesta, an ornithologist in her own right about whom rather little has been written. Salim Ali notes in his autobiography that Stresemann was his guru and that he routinely wrote enquiries to which detailed replies would be sent without fail but in a difficult cursive handwriting. Perhaps someone can find the archives of Ali's letters and see what is to be learnt there. Ali notes that Stresemann was warm and welcoming in his letters even before he met him, a reason for Ali to choose Berlin over the British Museum. He also wondered how Stresemann managed to keep up with his correspondence given the number of people who wrote to him.

I suspect that a reflection on the state of knowledge of Indian birds with respect to their patterns of moult will not be particularly uplifting but reflect we must. The maintenance of a system of privileges (most often passively by not fighting against privilege) for a few ringers will ensure the poverty of local expertise that still continue.

The entrance to Waldfriedhof Dahlem (4 April 2017)
That afternoon, I went round to Waldfriedhof Dahlem (the Dahlem forest cemetery) to look for Stresemann's grave - which curiously is shared with that of his guru Ernst Hartert. It must be the only tombstone shared by two unrelated ornithologists. Actually Stresemann had wished to be beside his mentor after his death and was cremated with the ashes interred into the grave of Hartert. The grave is maintained by the Berlin district but despite weaving through the blocks, I failed to spot it!


* Ali's early ringing in India included field assistance from the Swiss ornithologist Alfred Schifferli (1912–2007, for a biography in German see - apparently Schifferli's namesake father essentially founded Swiss ornithology and a son Luc also continued in the same field) - there is a mention in Zafar Futehally's auto-biography of a field assistants who had grouped the the three bird-ringers as the three "Alis" that included "Schiffer-Ali" !
** Salim Ali evidently gifted about 200 bird specimens to the collection of the Berlin museum, the species list suggests that it was mostly from peninsular India.


Acknowledgements

I visited the archives of the Museum für Naturkunde on the 4th of April and the library on the 5th of April 2017. Thanks are due to Dr Sabine Hackethal and Sandra Miehlbradt, archivists at the Museum of Natural History Berlin for tracing the correspondence between Ali and Stresemann and for allowing their contents to be shared here. Thanks are also due to Martina Rißberger, librarian at Museum für Naturkunde Berlin for access to the Handbuch der Zoologie 7-2 and the biography of Erwin Stresemann. Thanks also to Kalpana Das for assistance.

References
Postscript
One of the reasons for posting this is to point out that Indian scientists and amateurs alike have a rather narrow view of the field of ornithology. In fact at a meeting to set up an ornithologists association many big-wigs were asked if poultry came under ornithology and then those present decided that their field should only comprise of the study of wild birds. Even today bibliographic compilations on India will routinely skip references to parasitology, ethno-ornithology, paleontology, molecular biology, behaviour, biomechanics and a host of other areas while tending to focus mainly on bird sight records and regional avifaunal lists - the last was one of the things that Stresemann explicitly banned from the Journal fur Ornithologie during his editorship

Monday, March 13, 2017

The mismeasure of birds


This is a remarkable painting by Henry Stacy Marks (1829-1888). He titled it "Science is Measurement" based on suggestions from his artist and scientist friends. Like a good painting, it is open to interpretation.


According to Stacy Marks, he was inspired to consider the scene when he went to measure some skeletons to draw some accurate illustrations. He thought what he was doing would be interesting to depict and he made this scene for his diploma from the Royal Academy in 1879. The title actually came later - and is probably influenced by the discussions of the day. In 1871, Lord Kelvin in his address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science noted:
Accurate and minute measurement seems to the non-scientific imagination a less lofty and dignified work than looking for something new. But nearly all the grandest discoveries of science have been the rewards of accurate measurement and patient long-continued labour in the minute sifting of numerical results.
 By 1883, Lord Kelvin had repeated the idea enough to make it sound more pompous:
I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.
It is unclear where Stacy Marks and his friends came across the version that seems to differentiate science from art and it appears that Marks and the other artists saw it as being somewhat absurd. His commentary in the elevation of the dead bird (a greater adjutant from Calcutta, incidentally), the "scientist" looking up at the dead bird (while pictures of the living animal lie on the floor), the contrasts of the dark and well dressed man with the light and unfleshed bird all make for an interesting setup.

Now there is something to be said about the measurement of birds - it might looks easy and objective but there are enough pitfalls. Measurement of anything looks easy but getting multiple people to measure in the same way is fraught. There are errors in how things are measured but there are also absolutely horrific things one can do after making measurements. Here is an example of a set of individual birds and their measurements from W.E. Brooks published in Stray Feathers 1875 - the author, a railways engineer, places the measurements of each individual bird in a single row.


What this table does tell us is that the observer recognizes that birds have their parts having proportionate parts. A slightly larger winged bird probably has a slightly longer beak. The proportion may however not be linear during the growth phase of a bird as some parts tend to grow faster than others. Two hundred and twenty five years later, an ordinary reader like me can take this data and put it through a simple Principal Components Analysis and see that the data has internal relationships which allow me to reduce it to a single dimension consisting of a linear combination of the variables that explains 99.8% of the variation among the specimens. The principal component consist of the following variable loadings.

PC1 PC2 PC3 PC4 PC5 PC6
Length -4.93 0.11 -0.01 -0.00 -0.00 -0.00
Wing -0.54 -0.11 0.11 -0.00 0.00 0.00
Tail -0.94 -0.18 -0.08 0.00 -0.00 0.00
Bill 1.89 0.04 -0.02 -0.02 0.00 -0.00
Tarsus 1.34 0.03 0.00 0.01 0.00 -0.00
Mid toe and claw 1.47 0.06 -0.00 0.01 0.01 0.00
Hind toe and claw 1.70 0.05 -0.01 -0.00 -0.01 0.00

This further opens up the possibility of comparing two populations for comparison in meaningful ways. You can even predict missing measurements based on multivariate regression.

The remarkable thing is that this simple approach to documenting bird measurements has been lost subsequently in India. It is unclear how the idea of reducing all data to ranges (maxima and minima) was come upon but a likely reason may have been to reduce space usage. The use of ranges seems to have been introduced by Stuart Baker but surprisingly, with no addition of even simple ideas as means and medians, was continued by Dillon Ripley and Salim Ali in their Handbook - and there was no improvement made to this by later cataloguers like Humayun Abdulali and Saraswathy Unnithan which vastly reduces the value of the work that they published. Reduction of data could have been accomplished through many means, graphical and numerical. This failure to improve upon methodology is especially difficult to understand given that Salim Ali counted J.B.S. Haldane and P.C. Mahalanobis as his friends (Mahalanobis of course pioneered morphometrics in physical anthropology and introduced what is now known as the Mahalanobis distance). Interestingly, I asked a few ringers of the BNHS about the protocols they used for morphometrics and was told that they only thought it worthy to measure waders and that all other birds just showed slight variations that were unworthy of recording!

Typical entry from the Handbook (1978, volume 1. p 10 for Daption capensis)

Meanwhile, ringers in other parts of the world have produced such excellent works as this one from Deutsche Ornithologen-Gesellschaft, this one from South Africa or this one. Even this rather old work from 1931 is worth examining.

I wonder if anyone has ever thought of a global morphometric database for any organism group.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Naturalists in court and courtship

The Bombay Natural History Society offers an interesting case in the history of amateur science in India and there are many little stories hidden away that have not quite been written about, possibly due to the lack of publicly accessible archival material. Interestingly two of the founders of the BNHS were Indians and hardly anything has been written about them in the pages of the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society where even lesser known British members have obituaries. I suspect that this lack of obituaries can be traced to the political and social turmoil of the period. Even a major two-part history of the BNHS by Salim Ali in 1978 makes no mention of the Indians founders. Both the founders were doctors with an interest in medical botany and were connected to other naturalists not just because of their interest in plants but also perhaps through their involvement in social reform. The only colleague who could have written their obituaries was the BNHS member Dr Kanhoba Ranchoddas Kirtikar who probably did not because of his conservative-views and a fall-out with the reformists. This is merely my suspicion and it arises from reading between the lines when I recently started to examine, create and upgrade the relevant entries on them on the English language Wikipedia. There are also some rather interesting connections.

Sakharam Arjun
Dr Sakharam Arjun (Raut) (1839-16 April 1885) - This medical doctor with an interest in botanical remedies was for sometime a teacher of botany at the Grant Medical College - but his name perhaps became more well known after a historic court case dealing with child marriage and women's rights, that of Dadaji vs. Rukhmabai. Rukhmabai had been married off at the age of 11 and stayed with her mother and step-father Sakharam Arjun. When she reached puberty, she was asked by Dadaji to join him. Rukhmabai refused and Sakharam Arjun supported her. It led to a series of court cases, the first of which was in Rukhmabai's favour. This rankled the Hindu conservatives who believed that this was a display of the moral superiority of the English. The judge had in reality found fault with English law and had commented on the patriarchal and unfair system of marriage that had already been questioned back in England. A subsequent appeal was ruled in favour of Dadaji and Rukhmabai was ordered to go to his home or face six months in prison. Rukhmabai was in the meantime writing a series of articles in the Times of India under the pen-name of A Hindoo Lady (wish there was a nice online Indian newspapers archive) and she declared that she would rather take the maximal prison penalty. This led to further worries - with Queen Victoria and the Viceroy jumping into the fray. Max Müller commented on the case, while Behramji Malabari and Allan Octavian Hume (now retired from ornithology; there may be another connection as Sakharam Arjun seems to have been a member of the Theosophical Society, founded by Hume and others before he quit it) debated various aspects. Somewhat surprisingly Hume tended to being less radical about reforms than Malabari.

Dr Rukhmabai
Dr Edith Pechey
Dr Sakharam Arjun did not live to see the judgement, and he probably died early thanks to the stress it created. His step-daughter Rukhmabai became one of the earliest Indian women doctors and was supported in her cause by Dr Edith Pechey, another pioneering English woman doctor, who went on to marry H.M. Phipson. Phipson of course was a more famous founder of the BNHS. Rukhmabai's counsel included the lawyer J.D.Inverarity who was a big-game hunter and BNHS member. To add to the mess of BNHS members in court, there was (later Lt.-Col.) Kanhoba Ranchoddas Kirtikar (1850-9 May 1917), a student of Sakharam Arjun and like him interested in medicinal plants. Kirtikar however became a hostile witness in the Rukhmabai case, and supported Dadaji. Rukhmabai, in her writings as a Hindoo Lady, indicated her interest in studying medicine. Dr Pechey and others set up a fund for supporting her medical education in London. The whole case caused a tremendous upheaval in India with a division across multiple axes -  nationalists, reformists, conservatives, liberals, feminists, Indians, Europeans - everyone seems to have got into the debate. The conservative Indians believed that Rukhmabai's defiance of Hindu customs was the obvious result of a western influence.

J.D.Inverarity, Barrister
and Vice President of BNHS (1897-1923)
Counsel for Rukhmabai.
It is somewhat odd that the BNHS journal carries no obituary whatsoever to this Indian founding member. I suspect that the only one who may have been asked to write an obituary would have been Kirtikar and he may have refused to write given his stance in court. Another of Sakharam Arjun's students was a Gujarati botanist named Jayakrishna Indraji who perhaps wrote India's first non-English botanical treatise (at least the first that seems to have been based on modern scientific tradition). Indraji seems to be rather sadly largely forgotten except in some pockets of Kutch, in Bhuj. I recently discovered that the organization GUIDE in Bhuj have tried to bring back Indraji into modern attention.

Atmaram Pandurang
The other Indian founder of the BNHS was Dr Atmaram Pandurang Tarkhadkar (1823-1898)- This medical doctor was a founder of the Prarthana Samaj in 1867 in Bombay. He and his theistic reform movement were deeply involved in the Age of Consent debates raised by the Rukhmabai case. His organization seems to have taken Max Muller's suggestion that the ills of society could not be cured by laws but by education and social reform. If Sakharam Arjun is not known enough, even lesser is known of Atmaram Pandurang (at least online!) but one can find another natural history connection here - his youngest daughter - Annapurna "Ana" Turkhud tutored Rabindranath Tagore in English and the latter was smitten. Tagore wrote several poems to her where she is referred to as "Nalini". Ana however married Harold Littledale (3 October 1853-11 May 1930), professor of history and English literature, later principal of the Baroda College (Moreshwar Atmaram Turkhud, Ana's older brother, was a vice-principal at Rajkumar College Baroda - another early natural history hub), and if you remember an earlier post where his name occurs - Littledale was the only person from the educational circle to contribute to Allan Octavian Hume's notes on birds! Littledale also documented bird trapping techniques in Gujarat. Sadly, Ana did not live very long and died in her thirties in Edinburgh somewhere around 1891.

It would appear that many others in the legal profession were associated with natural history - we have already seen the case of Courtenay Ilbert, who founded the Simla Natural History Society in 1885. Ilbert lived at Chapslee House in Simla - now still a carefully maintained heritage home (that I had the fortune of visiting recently) owned by the kin of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ilbert was involved with the eponymous Ilbert Bill which allowed Indian judges to pass resolutions on cases involving Europeans - a step forward in equality that also led to rancour. Other law professionals in the BNHS - included Sir Norman A. Macleod and  S. M. Robinson. We know that at least a few marriages were mediated by associations with the BNHS and these include - Norman Boyd Kinnear married a relative of Walter Samuel Millard (the man who kindly showed a child named Salim Ali around the BNHS); R.C. Morris married Heather, daughter of Angus Kinloch (another BNHS member who lived near Longwood Shola, Kotagiri) - and even before the BNHS, there were other naturalists connected by marriage - Brian Hodgson's brother William was married to Mary Rosa the sister of S.R. Tickell (of Tickell's flowerpecker fame); Sir Walter Elliot (of Anathana fame) was married to Maria Dorothea Hunter Blair while her sister Jane Anne Eliza Hunter Blair was married to Philip Sclater, a leading figure in zoology. The project that led to the Fauna of British India was promoted by Sclater and Jerdon (a good friend of Elliot) - these little family ties may have provided additional impetus.


In 2014, someone in London asked me if I had heard of an India-born naturalist named E.K. Robinson. At that time I did not know of him but it turns out that Edward Kay Robinson (1857?-1928) born in Naini Tal was the founder of the British (Empire) Naturalists' Association. He fostered a young and promising journalist who would later dedicate a work to him - To E.K.R. from R.K. - Rudyard Kipling. Now E.K.R. had an older brother named Phil Robinson who was also in the newspaper line - and became famous for his brand of Anglo-Indian nature writing - a style that was more prominent in the writings of E.H. Aitken (Eha). Now Phil - Philip Stewart Robinson - despite the books he wrote like In my Indian Garden and Noah's ark, or, "Mornings in the zoo." Being a contribution to the study of unnatural history is not a well-known name in Indian natural history writing. One reason for his works being unknown may be the infamy that Phil achieved from affairs aboard ships between India and England that led to a scandalous divorce case and bankruptcy.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Research techniques - Wikipedian ways

Over the years, I have been using Wikipedia, as a kind of public research note book. I sometimes fail to keep careful notes and I regret it. For instance, some years ago I was reading through some scanned materials on an archive and came across a record of the Great Indian Hornbill in the Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu. It was carefully noted by some British medical officer who was visiting the place and he commented on the presence of the species in the region as part of a report that he submitted on the sanitary and medical conditions of the district. Google searches did not see or index the document and I thought I would find the content when I wanted it but I have never managed since to find it again. Imagine how useful it would have been to me and others if I had put in a reference to it in the Wikipedia article on the hornbill species with a comment on its past distribution. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_B._Fairbank

Not long ago, someone on the email list Taxacom-L sought information on Samuel B. Fairbank - a collector of specimens in India. I knew the name as he was one of the collaborators of Allan Octavian Hume (who even named a species after him) and decided that I knew enough to respond to the request for information. I looked around on the Internet and found that there was enough material scattered around to put together a decent biography (I even found a portrait photo whose copyright had thankfully expired) and it led to a Wikipedia entry that should spare anyone else looking for it the effort that I put in. Of course one follows the normal Wikipedia/reseach requirements of adding citations to the original sources so that anyone interested in more information or in verifying the sources can double check it.

These additions to Wikipedia may strike you as something that is not very different from what an ant does when it (actually usually she) goes out foraging - when she finds food, she eats a bit and then returns to the nest leaving behind a trail marker on the ground that says "this way for food". Other ants that are walking by spot the message written on the ground and if interested go on and help harvest the food resource. The ants that find the food again add a trail marker - now the strength of the trail marker chemical indicates veracity and possibly the amount of food available. This kind of one-to-many communication between individuals mediated via environmental cues has a term - stigmergy. Now the ant colony has been termed as a "super organism", a kind of distributed animal, with eyes, legs and even a brain that is distributed across little seemingly independent entities. Now there is a lot of research on how super-organisms work - it is an area of considerable interest in computer science because - the system is extremely resilient to damage - a colony goes on as if nothing has happened if you went and crushed a whole bunch of ants underfoot. How far this metaphor helps in understanding the organic growth of Wikipedia is uncertain but it certainly seems to be a useful way of conveying the idea of how contributors work. From a biomimicry perspective it could even inspire ways of designing the interface and system of Wikipedia - imagine if visitors could mark their attention to specific lines and the links that the followed. Subsequent visitors could perhaps see links that led to particularly useful additional articles or references.

I sometimes run workshops to recruit new people to contribute to Wikipedia and my usual spiel does not include any talk on "how to edit" Wikipedia but deals with why contribute and about how to incorporate Wikipedia into one's normal day-to-day activities. I sometimes take pictures from walks, record bird calls and research topics for my own learning. I compare what I learn with what Wikipedia has to say and where it fails, I try and fix defects. This does not actually come in the way of my learning process or work much but I like to think that it helps others who may come looking for the same kinds of things.

Incorporating Wikipedia into normal learning practice - should only need a small incremental effort.

The real problem in some parts of the world, such as in India, is that not everyone has access to good enough routes to learning - experts are often inaccessible and libraries are often poorly stocked even if they happen to be available. Of course there are privileged contributors who do have access to better information sources than others but these are the people that often look at Wikipedia and complain about its shortcomings - it seems likely therefore that the under-privileged might be better at contributing. In recent times, Russian underground sites like sci-hub have altered the ecosystem in a kind of revolution but there are also legal channels like the Wikipedia Reference Exchange that really go a long way to aiding research.

Of course there are an endless array of ways in which one could contribute - by translating from one language to another - if you are proficient in two languages - there is the gap finder which allows you to find what entries are on one language and missing on another - http://recommend.wmflabs.org/ . If you are interested in challenging your research abilities and want to see how good you are at telling good and reliable resources from websites with "alternative facts and news" then you should try finding references for dubious or uncited content from https://tools.wmflabs.org/citationhunt/en .

One of the real problems with Indian editors on Wikipedia is that a large number of them support their additions with newspaper and media mentions and many of them do not know what reliable sources mean. Information literacy is key and having more scholarly information resources is important. I have therefore tried to compile a list of digital libraries and resources (especially those with India related content).

Here they are in no particular order:
Although all of these are accessible, you may need little tricks like finding the right keywords to search, using the right google operators in some cases and for some people finding references for obscure things is fun. And some of us, like me, will be happy to help others in their research. With this idea, I created a Facebook group where you can seek references or content hidden behind a paywall. This assistance is provided in the hope that you can summarize your research findings on Wikipedia and make life easier for the ants that walk by in the future.