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The ‘Patrick Matthew Effect’ in Science

Part of the Ethics and Integrity in Educational Contexts book series (EIEC,volume 6)


Robert Merton (1968) coined the term “The Matthew Effect in Science” to explain by biblical analogy how famous scientists are sometimes credited more than those who are lesser known but more deserving. Leading Darwin scholars have admitted Patrick Matthew (1831) originated the theory he uniquely called the “natural process of selection”, which Charles Darwin (1859) re-named “process of natural selection”. The current consensus among many Darwin scholars is that Matthew cannot have priority for his theory because he failed to influence anyone. According to Darwin and all Darwin scholars thereafter, neither he nor anyone else read Matthew’s theory before 1859. However, new research has shown, contrary to what has been taught, that Matthew’s book in fact was read and cited by at least 30 scholars before Alfred Wallace’s and Darwin’s replications of 1858 and 1859. These included (i) Robert Chambers (Wallace’s admitted greatest influencer) who met and corresponded with Darwin pre-1858, (ii) John Loudon, an associate of Darwin’s associates, and (iii) Prideaux John Selby, Chief Editor of Wallace’s 1855 Sarawak paper on evolution of species. With a focus on the story of Matthew, Darwin, and Wallace, this chapter addresses the ethics of taking the step to reveal errors of fact in the publication record that have been used to misinform history.


  • Darwin
  • Plagiarism
  • Patrick Matthew
  • Matthew effect

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Sutton, M., Griffiths, M. (2023). The ‘Patrick Matthew Effect’ in Science. In: Curtis, G.J. (eds) Academic Integrity in the Social Sciences. Ethics and Integrity in Educational Contexts, vol 6. Springer, Cham.

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  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-031-43291-0

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-031-43292-7

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