Thursday, 10 January 2008

Give the man his due

Olivia Judson (a.k.a. Dr Tatiana) blogs on the NYT side concerning Alfred Russel Wallace, evolution's Other Guy. It was his birthday on January 8th (OK, so I missed it), and in five months it will be a hundred-and-fifty years since his letter to Charles Darwin that, by showing that someone else was onto the idea, prompted him to publish The origin of species by means of natural selection.

Second in time and in profundity to the sainted Charles, Wallace has missed out both on being a scientific pin-up and on being the scapegoat for a million social and conceptual ills. (Heads up, people: "it" is not Charles Darwin's fault. Or Alfred Russel Wallace's. Or the fault of biology. If you want someone to blame for whatever dreadful thing you think has been unleashed, you might more accurately try Herbert Spencer.) Of course, I should not wish the latter fate on anyone's memory. But as for Wallace's scientific standing: this is a man who, whatever his other weaknesses, independently hit upon the idea of evolution by natural selection, one of the great concepts of any age, and the key in the lock of natural history. Let's give him his due.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Thanks - I enjoyed reading Dr Judson's article. Having seen her on television though, I find it impossible to read without hearing her voice.