In the 1940's the botanist John Heslop Harrison (1881-1967) reported finding several rare plants and insects on the remote Scottish island of Rum. But many were suspicious - no one else was finding such specimens and the findings fitted in too well with Harrison's own theories. In A Rum affair: A True Story of Botanical Fraud Karl Sabbagh
tells the story.
The book is based around an report written in 1954, by John Raven, a classics tutor at Kings College Cambridge. Following the suspicions about Heslop-Harrison's work, the powers that be had asked Raven to investigate, and in 1948 he managed to accompany Heslop-Harrison on a field trip there - Rum was a privately owned island and so it wasn't that easy for people to check up on Heslop-Harrison's work. Raven quickly came to the conclusion that the discoveries weren't genuine. Sabbagh takes the reader through some of the correspondence between Raven and Heslop-Harrison, and it soon becomes clear from Heslop-Harrison's bluster that he has something to hide. The surprising thing is that when Raven finished his report it was hidden away in a college library. In fact this book seems to be the only place where the evidence has been brought together for people to see. There was no public denouncement of Heslop-Harrison, rather his 'discoveries' were just gradually left out of the records. Sabbagh goes on to discuss scientific fraud in general, and in particular the work of C.P. Snow, who was a contemporary of Raven's father Charles. A Rum affair is a well written book considering the case from both sides and bringing to life the sometimes rather eccentric personalities involved.