Monthly Archives: March 2013

How Stephen Jay Gould wrote Macbeth – Not giving credit where it’s due: lazy referencing and ignoring precedence

There are two linked things that really annoy me when I come across them in the scientific literature; first the habit of citing citations within a paper alphabetically rather than chronologically, for example, cereal aphid fecundity is affected by the growth stage of their host plant (Leather & Dixon 1981; Watt, 1979).  Flattering as it is to get my name ahead of my old friend Allan Watt’s by virtue of the position L in the alphabet, my paper was a follow-up to Allan’s and therefore he has scientific precedence and the citation should read (Watt, 1979; Leather & Dixon, 1981).

The second, which is perhaps much more serious, is the habit some authors in recent years have adopted; namely, inappropriate citation of authors in relation to discovery of a particular fact.  So for example, suppose an author writing a paper about barley infestation by cereal aphids, wants to support his/her arguments by saying that barley is probably more susceptible to aphid attack because as it grows quickly there is a trade-off in respect to  reduced plant defences.  Instead of going to a primary source, the author remembers reading in another paper, for sake of this argument, a paper by Rowntree et al., (2010) studying growth of the grain aphid Sitobion avenae on barley, where those authors in their discussion mention that barley is probably poorly defended against herbivory, in turn citing Coley et al., (1985). Our fictional author in his/her paper, now states, “in my experiment barley plants were more susceptible to aphid attack than the slower growing grass, Festuca ovina, probably because plant resistance against herbivory in barley, was reduced due to the trade-off between rapid growth and defensive chemistry (Rowntree et al., 2010)”.  This is of course, a totally inappropriate citation, because a) Rowntree and colleagues did not report any such data and b) the paper by Coley et al., did not deal with barley.  We thus have a totally erroneous chain of citations.  In this case I have invented the whole scenario.  I can assure you however, that as an Editor, referee and reader, I have come across similar erroneous citation chains on many occasions in the recent past and not just in undergraduate student project reports or MSc and PhD theses.

Macbeth

So how could Stephen Jay Gould have written Macbeth, which I am sure you all know is actually by William Shakespeare.  Well, in Dinosaur in a Haystack (Gould, 1996), in an essay entitled Dinomania, Gould quotes the first line of Macbeth’s soliloquy, “If it were done, ‘twere well it were done quickly”.  Now, whilst no scientist, or I hope any scholar, would state in a piece of work, something like “Macbeth wondered if he should kill King Duncan (Gould, 1996)”, many authors seem to have no problems with doing exactly the same sort of thing in their introductions or discussions in scientific papers.  Please, please, check your sources and give credit where it’s due.

Coley, P.D., Bryant, J.P. & Chapin, F.S., (1985) Resource availability and plant herbivore defense Science, 230, 895-899. http://biologylabs.utah.edu/coley/ColeyPubs/07-Res_Avail.pdf

Gould, S.J. (1996)  Dinosaur in a Haystack, Jonathan Cape, London

Rowntree, J. K., A. McVennon & Preziosi, R.F.  (2010). Plant genotype mediates the effects of nutrients on aphids. Oecologia ,163,  675-679. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00442-010-1609-1#page-1

Postscript.  Less serious, but equally annoying (at least to me), and also an example of poor scientific practice, is the habit of only citing work that refers to your own particular study area, and either ignoring or not looking for studies involving the same concepts but for example, involving insects instead of mammals or being too lazy to search the older literature.   I have previously published a short diatribe about this subject (Leather, 2004) so will not repeat myself here.

Leather, S.R. (2004) Reinventing the wheel: on the dangers of taxon parochialism and shallow reference trawling.  Basic & Applied Ecology, 5, 309-311. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S143917910400012X

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Living inside your grandmother – the wonderful world of aphids

How many of you realise that when you look at an aphid you are simultaneously looking at first, a clonal organism and secondly a mother, her daughter and her granddaughters, all housed in the same body?  This is the wondrous phenomenon known as telescoping of generations.  Aphids, except just before overwintering, give birth to live young (viviparity), and without the need of a male (asexual reproduction/parthenogenesis).  Thus for most of the time when you look at an aphid, you are looking at one member of a clone i.e her sister-self-daughter.  Not only that, but you are looking at not only the aphid in front of your eyes, but at her daughters and her daughter’s daughters, all of which are neatly lined up in tidy rows within the ovarioles of their respective mothers.  With aphids, it is not just maternal effects you have to consider, but also grand-maternal effects, so any experiments should take into account the host-plant and environmental conditions that the ‘grand-mother’ experienced, not just those of the ‘mother’.

aphid telescoping generations

Reproduced from Dixon (1973)

In addition, as the eggs are hatched within the aphids before they are born, their total development time, compared with those insects that lay eggs which hatch externally to their mothers, is significantly reduced, thus giving them a head-start in the population development race.  This is suggested as one of the reasons why aphids are so successful as pest insects.

Generally speaking, this wonderful world of internal generations is hidden from us, unless we cruelly dissect the clone mother and extract her ovarioles.  In some aphids however, such as the small willow aphid, Aphis farinosa, where the offspring are a completely different colour from their mother, the next generation of aphids becomes clearly visible without the need to cut open the mother.

Aphis farinosa

And before you ask, as far as I know, there is no evidence that the generations within a generation go on ad infinitum, like a hall of mirrors, although it would be really cool if they did.

No wonder I love aphids so much.

Dixon A.F.G. (1973)  The Biology of Aphids, Edward Arnold, London

P.S. Tony Dixon’s little Biology of Aphids book is a great introduction to the subject, unfortunately out of print, but the good news is that it is still possible to buy second-hand copies for less than £5. Another great and very readable book, is Aphid Ecology, also by Tony and again out of print, except as an e-book.  The really bad news is that the cheapest copy I have been able to find is priced at £43.31 prior to shipping, so if you want to read it the best option is to borrow it from the library.

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From Company Solicitor to Victorian Lunatic Asylum

ALEXANDER WILLIAM DOW LEATHER

 A BIT OF A BLACK SHEEP

1837-1890

One of the things that sticks in my mind from my youth is how relatives of my grandmother’s generation (those born in the 1870s and 1880s) who spoke of my great-great Uncle Alexander William Dow Leather, always in the following breath sighed and uttered the phrase “poor Pritchard”.  This of course made the subject of my great- great Uncle Alec (as he was apparently known) one of great interest to the budding family historian that I then was.

There was not a great deal known about my great-great uncle, at least in our branch of the family.  In fact I was to find out that there was surprisingly little known about him at all.  All we really knew was that he was the eldest son of my great-great grandfather John Wignall Leather (1810-1887).  My great-grandfather John Henry Leather was born in 1842 and was the youngest child of the family, preceded by Walter (1840-1869) and Florence Mary (1838-1886), so we knew that Alec must have been born in about 1836.

Some years later my first cousin once removed, Michael Leather of Knaresborough, supplied me with some additional information.  It transpired that Alec had been a solicitor and had led a somewhat riotous youth, drinking and womanising.  Once, whilst under the influence, he had fallen off his horse into a pond in Askham Richard.  Michael supplied the further information that he had been married twice, first to “poor Pritchard” whom he had deserted, leaving her and their two children in Herfeford where she had relatives.  These two children were Francis Holdsworth and Isabella Gertrude Leather.  Francis Holdsworth Leather became in time Michael’s godfather.  According to Michael, Alec had a second family – Percy, Mabel and Alan.   He also knew that Francis Holdsworth Leather had three children, one of them John Francis, died of influenza shortly after Michael was born in 1918.

The Yorkshire IGI informed me that Alexander William Dow Leather was christened in St Peter’s, Leeds on 24 May 1837.  His names puzzled me for some time, because they were so unfamilial; George, William, John and James were the normal first names at that time for our branch of the family.  I later found out that the family doctor was named Dow.  The 1860 Post Office Directory of the West Riding informed me that Alexander William Dow Leather was a solicitor at 4 Finsbury Park, Leeds.  The 1864 Woollen Districts Directory listed him at 1 Bond Street, Leeds, which was also the business address of his father John Wignall Leather.

I searched the St Catherine’s House Indexes assiduously and found that Alexander William Dow Leather had married Ellen Elizabeth Pritchard at Great Barfield Parish Church, Middlesex on 12 June 1860.  His wife was born in Hereford in 1839 and was described as the daughter of Thomas Pritchard, Gentleman of Park Gate, Essex.  At last I had found “poor Pritchard”, but where Alec had met her I still do not know.  Ellen died in Hereford in 1872, by which time Alec had disappeared from the Leeds Directories.  I continued searching through the indexes and found that his eldest son Francis Holdsworth was born in 1864 in Kensington, and his daughter Isabella in 1862 in Leeds.  She subsequnetly maried the Revd John Swire at Tupsley Parish Church, Hereford in 1882 and died in Wantage in 1891. The youngest child, Alexander Ernest, was born in 1866 and died the following year as a result of a scald, a surprisingly common form of death, even in middle-class families.

Some time later I obtained a copy of John Wignall Leather’s will (made in 1886) and this fuelled my interest in Alec to an even greater extent.  It told me that Alec’s second wife was called Jenny and that she and her children were living in Leeds.  Kelly’s Directory of Leeds 1888 confirmed this, indicating that she lived at 52 Samuel Street.  The Leeds Grammar School records show that her son Percy Alexander Leather attended Leeds Grammar School’s commercial division in the 1880s and that his tuition was paid for by his grandfather John Wignall Leather.  The two codicils to the will excited my interest greatly.  Here was John Wignall in his final illness (the last codicil is witnessed by his surgeon) and yet he took the time to alter his will to make sure that his eldest son Alec would not in any circumstances be allowed any of his money, particularly that left to his daughter-in-law Jenny.  What could Alexander have done or be doing, to have caused this much anxiety to his father?  I was hooked.  I had to find out more about Alec.

What about his second family?  I found his second marriage to Jane (Jenny) Potter, daughter of Edward Potter, Farmer, at the Parish Church of St Margaret West, Essex on 5 April 1873.  This confirmed that Alec was a bit of a gad-about and certainly not a full-time resident of Yorkshire.  At about this stage in my research, the Yorkshire Family Historian published an article I had written about my search for Yorkshire Leathers.  In this article I mentioned the infamous Alec and named his children as given to me by my cousin Michael.  I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from David Burnet of Guiseley who had had, my article drawn to his attention by an Australian cousin.  His great-grandfather had been the solicitor for my great great-great uncle George Henry Leather (1815-1897), and had been responsible for drawing up and administering the terms of his will.  As well as being George Henry’s solicitor he was also his brother-in-law.  David had in his possession a notebook that detailed all the beneficiaries of the will including their addresses up until 1907: a real treasure trove.  I found out that Alec’s youngest son was not called Alan but was in fact Cyril John Cadman Leather.  Armed with this fact I soon found his birth certificate.  He too was born in London, in Greenwich in 1879.  I also located the birth of certificates of more children of the marriage, Percy Alexander born in Camberwell in 1875, Mabel Caroline born in Peckham in 1877 and Violet Bertha born in Lewisham in 1888. Interestingly enough, Alex’s profession moves from being Company Solicitor of the family firm, George Leather & Sons Navigation, to solicitor’s clerk as his family grew and his dwellings moved down-market.   Then I came across Alec’s photograph in an old family album and was stunned to see that his nose was almost identical to mine – I had always thought that my nose was unique!  I was also struck by his resemblance to Del Boy (played by David Jason) in the BBC TV series Only Fools and Horses!

Alexander Wm Dow Leather

I scoured the St Catherine’s House Indexes of deaths and eventually located an entry for an Alexander William Leather in Barnet in 1890.  This seemed promising so I wrote to Somerset House to see if they had a copy of his will.  Wills are a great source of family history, if you are lucky enough to have a family who believed in writing them.  They give much more information about the individual and his family than the death certificate, and are only half the price.  As a solicitor I felt sure that Alec would have made a will, but to my surprise none was registered.  I sent off for the death certificate and found that Alec had died in Friern Barnet Lunatic Asylum, the causes of death being cystitis and disease of the kidneys.  This suggested that he had been an alcoholic and that the riotous living of his youth had caught up with him at last.  It also solved the problem of why his father had been so anxious to ensure that no money came his way.  Interestingly enough the death certificate, although listing him as a solicitor, had no known address for him.  His family had obviously cut all links with him or vice versa.  I wrote to the Greater London Record Office who hold the records for Colney Hatch (as Friern Barnet Lunatic Asylum is more popularly known), but unfortunately the casebooks for the period 1885-1890 are not yet available for public perusal.

Since that appeared to be as far as I could go with Alec I decided to search for his descendants.  I found that his eldest son Francis Holdsworth had married Ella Mary Smith of Weobley in Herefordshire in 1893.  They had three sons, John Francis (1894-1918), Geoffrey Clifford (1897-1901) and Godfrey Clifford (1902-1943).  Francis lived his whole life in Weobley apart from his service in the First World War.  He was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the RASC and was awarded the DSO.  Like his father he was a solicitor.  He died a year after his wife, in 1929.  His wife Ella is famous as the author of Folklore of Herefordshire http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_Mary_Leather .  Their youngest son Geoffrey was also a solicitor and, although married, left no direct issue.  That line is thus extinct.  Isabella, the eldest daughter, married the Reverend John Swire in 1882.  They had three children, John (1884-1905), Mercy born 1886 and Nona born 1888.  Isabella died in 1891 and her husband in 1902.  I do not know what became of the daughters.

The second family has proved equally elusive.  I have found the marriages of Percy Alexander, Mabel Caroline, Cyril John Cadman and Violet Bertha.  Percy Alexander, at the time of his marriage to Emma Wilson in Leeds in 1896, is described as a salesman.  I know that in 1907 he was living in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada and later found that he died in Leslieville, Alberta in 1921.  I have also managed to contact his descendants who are now natives of Calgary.  Mabel Caroline married a widower, George Hampton in Knaresborough in 1898 and subsequently moved to Bath and married secondly, Augustus Davies, with whom she had four children.  She died in 1951.  Cyril John Cadman married in Rotherham in 1906 and died in 1931 in Rochford, with no offspring that I have been able to discover.  Violet Bertha married Herbert Colville in 1912 and died in 1957 leaving behind four children.  I know nothing further.  It is interesting to note that – of their marriages, neither Percy nor Mabel listed their father as deceased; presumably they were unaware of his death.

I am always hopeful that one day I will hear something more about this branch of the family and look forward to meeting any long-lost cousins who may turn up.

The great thing about family history is that you are never sure what you are going to find out or whereabouts in the world you have relatives.  This story is also an illustration of how the computerisation of paper records, which is all I had available when I began my research into Alex, has enabled me to add more detail to a story that was rather sparse almost twenty years ago when I first wrote about him in the Yorkshire Family Historian.

Leather, E.M.  (1912)  The Folklore of Herefordshire. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Folk-lore-Herefordshire-Collected-Printed-Sources/dp/0951858904/ref=la_B001KIXX3C_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362929648&sr=1-1

Leather, S.R. (1990)  The Leathers in Yorkshire.  Yorkshire Family Historian 16 (3), 69-72

Leather, S.R. (1994)  Alexander William Dow Leather – black sheep of the family?  Yorkshire Family Historian  20 (4), 99-101

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Silk- not just a spider thing

Mention silk and most people will, I guess, immediately think of spiders and cobwebs.

Pressed a bit further, some may mention silkworms, and some might even know the word sericulture and that the common silkworm feeds on mulberry bushes.   What they may not know, is that the silk worm is the larvae of the moth Bombyx mori and that there are actually four species of lepidopteran larvae commonly used in silk production.  These are pictured below in the lovely illustration from Meyers Konversations-Lexikon; next to the picture are some B. mori larvae.

Silkworm larvae Silkworms

Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th Auflage, Band 14, Seite 826a (4th ed., Vol. 14, p.826a)

Four of the most important domesticated silk moths. Top to bottom: Bombyx mori, Hyalophora cecropia, Antheraea pernyi, Samia cynthia. From Meyers Konversations-Lexikon (1885-1892

Silk production is of course not just a feature of spiders and lepidoptera.  It is a widespread feature of insect life, being used for pupal cases, as a mode of transport (ballooning) as shown by larvae of the gypsy moth and other species of Lepidoptera,

ballooning gypsy moth            ballooning gypsy moth drawing

protective cases as in larval caddis flies or also, by some caddis fly larvae, as fishing equipment.

 caddisfly_larva  Caddis fly net

But in my opinion, the most dramatic use of silk is that seen in a genus of micro-moths, belonging to the Yponomeutidae, the small ermine moths, Yponomeuta.  They and their relatives, are silk-producers extraordinaire.  Collectively, they are known as small ermine moths; so called because of their adult colouration which resembles the ermine worn by nobility and small, because of the existence of several larger moths with ermine in their names.

Yponomeuta_evonymellus

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yponomeuta_evonymella-02_(xndr).jpg#file

The larvae are less attractive and are the web/silk producers.

Yponomeuta_evonymella_caterpillars

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yponomeuta.evonymella.caterpillars.jpg

My particular favourite is the bird cherry ermine moth, and not just because the bird cherry is my favourite tree.  (My eldest son’s middle name is bird cherry, albeit in Finnish). The adult moths lay their eggs in August, in clusters of up to 100 or so on young twigs of the bird cherry Prunus padus, cover them with an egg shield and then die (Leather, 1986).  The eggs hatch shortly afterwards and the larvae spend the winter under the egg shield until the following spring.  When the buds begin to burst in spring, the larvae emerge from beneath the shield and begin to feed gregariously on the newly emerging leaves, spinning a web that protects them from natural enemies  and may also help in thermoregulation and as a trail indicator (Kalkowski, 1958)  http://edepot.wur.nl/201846 .  It is possible to have great fun by selecting a lead larvae to act as a trail blazer and watch the rest of the colony follow them to a destination you have chosen.

Every three to four years or so, populations of the moths get so high that they exhaust their food supplies, defoliating entire trees and covering  them with a tough coating of silky white webbing (Leather, 1986; Leather & Mackenzie, 1994).  In fact, in Finland, I once saw three neighbouring trees totally enveloped in a silken tent caused by the bird cherry ermine moth, Yponomeuta evonymellus, that you could enter and shelter inside from the rain.  Once they really get going as spring progresses, the landscape, particularly if in area where bird cherry is common, begins to take on a somewhat wintry look, which for May is a little odd.  Those of who you, who have travelled north of Perth in Scotland, on the A9, will be familiar with this phenomenon.  It frequently makes the Scottish newspapers and generates headlines such as “winter wonderland” or “ghostly landscape”. As they run out of trees, the larvae begin to migrate in a desperate search for trees with leaves still on them, and by now, have become less fussy about what they eat.  It is at this wandering stage of their life that the true extent

Yponomeuta webbing  bird cherry emrine moth webbing

of their singlemindedness (I have seen a trail of thousands of larvae marching along a railway line, they didn’t survive the passing of the 0850 from Helsinki) and their ability to produce silk becomes startlingly apparent.

Ermine moths on car    Ermine_moth_larva_on_a_Swedish_army_bike

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ermine_moth_larva_on_a_Swedish_army_bike.jpg

Truly, silk is not just a spider thing.

Kalkowski, W. (1958). Investigations on territorial orientation during ontogenic development in Hyponomeuta. Folia Biol Krakow 6: 79-102.

Leather, S. R. & Mackenzie, G. A. (1994). Factors affecting the population development of the bird cherry ermine moth, Yponomeuta evonymella L. The Entomologist 113: 86-105.

Leather, S. R. (1986). Insects on bird cherry I The bird cherry ermine moth, Yponomeuta evonymellus(L.). Entomologist’s Gazette 37: 209-213.

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