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Re: [Phys-l] Happy Birthday Evolution

Paul Camp (2008), in his PhysLrnR post "happy birthday evolution" wrote:

"150 years ago today, Darwin and Wallace jointly published the first announcement of the principle of evolution by natural selection. Remarkable for a number of reasons, not least because it was a joint paper with the elder Darwin not seizing all the glory (pay attention people!), and also because 150 years later the idea still manages to be controversial. . . . ."

Skeptic Michael Shermer, author of "In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History" [Shermer (2002)] had this to say in a recent essay "The Real Evolution Anniversary" [Shermer (2008)] [bracketed by lines "SSSSS. . . ."]:

Next year much fanfare will unfold over the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (February 12, 1809) and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species (November 24, 1859). Arguably, an even more significant anniversary is the date of the announcement of the discovery of natural selection on July 1, 1858, by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, read into the record of the Linnean Society of London.

Ever since that date controversy has surrounded natural selection (are there other mechanisms of evolutionary change?), evolutionary theory (its religious, political, and social implications), and even the discovery itself (did Darwin steal some of Wallace's priority when he received the latter's paper outlining the theory?). This article, based on a chapter in my biography of Alfred Russel Wallace - "In Darwin's Shadow" (Oxford University Press) - recounts how the discovery came to be noted in the historical record, and who really deserves the credit.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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A plus-sum model - the gain of one is the gain of another - recognizes the contingent, cooperative, and interdependent nature of scientific discovery. Both Darwin and Wallace were winners in the game to understand the origin of species. Certainly Wallace believed he profited from the Linnean Society arrangement, as indicated in a letter to his mother on October 6, 1858, the same day he wrote Darwin: "I have received letters from Mr. Darwin and Dr. Hooker, two of the most eminent naturalists in England, which has highly gratified me. I sent Mr. Darwin an essay on a subject on which he is now writing a great work. He showed it to Dr. Hooker and Sir C. Lyell, who thought so highly of it that they immediately read it before the Linnean Society. This assures me the acquaintance and assistance of these eminent men on my return home."

Consider Wallace's position at this time. He was a relatively unknown 35-year-old amateur naturalist whose only theoretical work - the 1855 Sarawak Law paper - was largely ignored. He had been away from England and the center of scientific activity already four years, and was, by all rights, still cutting his teeth on such weighty theoretical matters. Darwin, by contrast, was 49 years old, fairly well-known in scientific circles, had already published numerous important scientific books and articles, and had shared his theoretical ideas with the most important scientists in England and America. Wallace did not feel the loser because he was not. An essay written in two nights, sent to the right place at the right time, put him in the scientific inner circle and into the historical record - his name next to Darwin's - forever.

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
24245 Hatteras Street, Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Honorary Member, Curmudgeon Lodge of Deventer, The Netherlands.

Camp, P. 2008. "Happy Birthday Evolution," PhysLrnR post of 2 Jul 2008 00:08:28 -0400; online at <>. To access the archives of PhysLnR one needs to subscribe :-(, but that takes only a few minutes by clicking on <> and then clicking on "Join or leave the list (or change settings)." If you're busy, then subscribe using the "NOMAIL" option under "Miscellaneous." Then, as a subscriber, you may access the archives and/or post messages at any time, while receiving NO MAIL from the list!

Shermer, M. 2008. "The Real Evolution Anniversary," eSkeptic, 2 July; online at <>.

Shermer, M. 2002. "In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History," Oxford University Press, publisher's information at <>. information at <>. Note the "Search Inside" feature. This book can evidently be purchased for $10 at "Shop Skeptic" <>, far below the price of $35.40, and the list price of $50.