John William Heslop-Harrison

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John William Heslop Harrison
Born 1881
Birtley, Tyne and Wear
Died 23 January 1967
Birtley, Tyne and Wear
Alma mater Durham University
Notable awards Fellow of the Royal Society[1]

John William Heslop Harrison, FRS (1881–1967), was Professor of Botany at King's College, Durham University (now Newcastle University), best remembered for an alleged academic fraud.[1][2]


Isle of Rum[edit]

Heslop Harrison, an established academic and Fellow of the Royal Society,[1] was in 1948 accused by John Raven, a University of Cambridge classics tutor, of making false claims to have discovered certain plant species on the Isle of Rum on the west coast of Scotland. Whether or not such grasses were on Rum is pivotal to a theory that the islands escaped the last ice age. The fraud claim is described — and its veracity supported — in Karl Sabbagh's book, A Rum Affair.[3] Recently more proof about forgeries committed by Heslop-Harrison emerged.[4][5][6]

Lamarckian experiments[edit]

Heslop Harrison was described as a loner who avoided as much contact as possible with other professionals and conducted most of his experiments at his home in Birtley, Tyne and Wear.[2] He was a supporter of Lamarckian evolution from his experiments with moths and sawflies.[7] According to researcher Michael A. Salmon "Heslop Harrison claimed to have experimental proof that physical changes in the life of an individual moth or sawfly could be passed on to its progeny, according to the theory of Lamarck... For example, Heslop Harrison thought that melanism resulted from the effect of pollution on individual moths which somehow altered their genes. When others attempted to repeat his experiment, however, they always seemed to come up with different results."[2]

In the 1920s, Heslop Harrison conducted experiments on the peppered moth, claiming to have evidence for the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Other scientists failed to replicate his results.[8][9] His experiments were criticized by J. B. S. Haldane.[10]


Heslop Harrison's fourth son was Jack Heslop-Harrison who became director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1970. His daughter Helena married the botanist William Andrew Clark.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Peacock, A. D. (1968). "John William Heslop Harrison 1881-1967". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 14: 243–226. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1968.0011. 
  2. ^ a b c Michael A. Salmon, Peter Marren, Basil Harley. (2000). The Aurelian Legacy: British Butterflies and Their Collectors. University of California Press. pp. 216-217. ISBN 0-520-22963-0
  3. ^ Sabbagh, Karl. (1999). A Rum Affair. London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press. ISBN 0-7139-9277-8
  4. ^ "Botanist John Heslop Harrison faked rare plant discoveries". The Daily Telegraph, 2 October 2008.
  5. ^ "The botanist, the Ice Age flora and seeds of doubt". Magnus Linklater, The Times, 2 October 2008.
  6. ^ "Botanical fraudster who planted the evidence is weeded out". The Guardian. 18 November 2015.
  7. ^ Bowler, Peter J. (1983). The Eclipse of Darwinism: Anti-Darwinian Evolutionary Theories in the Decades Around 1900. p. 103. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801843914.
  8. ^ Giltrow, Janet. (2002). Academic Reading, Second Edition: Reading and Writing Across the Disciplines. Broadview Press. p. 144. ISBN 1-55111-393-7 "During the 1920s, the entomologist J. W. Heslop-Harrison published experimental data supporting his claim that chemicals in soot caused widespread mutations from light winged to the dark winged form. Because these mutations were supposedly passed on to subsequent generations, Harrison claimed that he had documented a case of inheritance of acquired traits. Other biologists failed to replicate Harrison's results, and R. A. Fisher pointed out that Harrison's hypothesis required a mutation rate far higher than any previously reported."
  9. ^ Moore, Randy; Decker, Mark D. (2008). More Than Darwin: An Encyclopedia of the People and Places of the Evolution-creationism Controversy. Greenword Press. p. 203 ISBN 978-0313341557 "In the 1920s, British entomologist J.W Heslop Harrison (1881-1967) claimed that pigmentation of these moths was a result of Lamarckism. However, scientists could not repeat Harrison's work, and evolutionary biologists such as Ronald Fisher argued that Harrison's explanation required much higher rates of mutation than had been reported."
  10. ^ Haldane, J. B. S. (1932). The Hereditary Transmission of Acquired Characters. Nature 129: 856-858.
  11. ^ "Former Fellows of The Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783-2002".
  12. ^ "Author Query for 'Hesl.-Harr.'". International Plant Names Index.