Darwin did not cheat Wallace out of his rightful place in history

by Greg Mayer

Before writing my notice of John van Wyhe’s new book on Wallace, Dispelling the Darkness, I hadn’t come across this piece by him on Wallace in last week’s Guardian. The piece addresses and dispels the claim, advanced a number of times over the years—especially in popular media—that Darwin stole his ideas from Wallace, and that there was an unsavory conspiracy to rob Wallace of proper credit. This is a view that has gotten some recent attention, and John deals with it head on. The short answers: he didn’t steal, and there wasn’t a conspiracy.

Do read the whole piece. Some excerpts:

Wallace deserves more attention but much of what you will have heard about him in the last few months is factually incorrect – and amounts to a misguided campaign to reinstate the reputation of a genius who (according to his fans) has been wronged by history and robbed of his rightful fame….

Darwin’s life and works have been meticulously studied by many scholars for over a century. But while some very able scholars have studied Wallace, he by contrast has remained mostly the preserve of amateurs and enthusiasts.

There has not been enough progress with our understanding of Wallace because some of the important research projects that have unveiled a treasure trove of new findings about Darwin had never been done for Wallace: his complete works had not been assembled on one scholarly website, his Malay archipelago expedition correspondence had not been collected and edited and his notebooks and journals had not been edited and their contents made intelligible.

All of these have recently been done, the latter two not yet published. These new sources have shown us that every substantive claim in the popular narrative about Wallace turns out to be incorrect.

And the money quote:

Darwin’s fame and reputation, and Wallace’s comparative obscurity, stem from the impact of Darwin’s Origin of Species. As Wallace himself wrote: “this vast, this totally unprecedented change in public opinion has been the result of the work of one man, and was brought about in the short space of twenty years!”

For my take on the second of these questions, which very much agrees with John’s, see my post on “Why is Darwin more famous than Wallace“. In attempting to promote Wallace, these modern admirers, perhaps unwittingly, portray Wallace as a hapless chump who was unaware of his own contributions. He was neither of these things.

(I also want to take this opportunity to bring above the fold Michael Barton’s review of Dispelling the Darkness on his fine website The Dispersal of Darwin; see also an earlier piece there on the conspiracy theory.)

71 Comments

  1. Posted August 15, 2013 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    *1

  2. Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    Fascinating stuff. We’ve had a few interesting chats about this topic on this website, and I’m enjoying the learning curve it’s taking me on.

  3. Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    sub

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:34 am | Permalink

      Too.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    sub

  5. Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    There are two separate issues:
    1) Whether Darwin stole any ideas from Wallace’s essay?
    2) Whether Darwin, Lyell & Hooker were morally justified in publishing Wallace’s essay 14 days after its arrival without attempting to ask Wallace’s permission first?

    Regarding the first question: no serious scholars have believed that Darwin stole ideas from Wallace for some time – certainly well *before* van Wyhe published his paper showing that Wallace’s essay probably arrived at Down house when Darwin said it did. With regard to the second issue, many scholars believe (with good reason I would argue) that publishing Wallace’s manuscript without asking his permission first was not justifiable at that time, as it wouldn’t be today. How would you like it if you sent a manuscript to a colleague for comment, which details a theory you had spent 11 years developing, and the colleague then not only publishes it without your permission but prefixes it with material of their own which is intended to show that they though of the idea first. I bet you wouldn’t be especially amused! For more about this see my article here: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/tv/junglehero/alfred-wallace-biography.pdf

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink

      Oops, It should read “2) Whether Darwin, Lyell & Hooker were morally justified in publicly presenting Wallace’s essay 14 days after its arrival without attempting to ask Wallace’s permission first? [it was published a few weeks later and only when it had been published did Darwin and Hooker write to Wallace to explain what had happened]“

      • Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

        Ah, George! I remember discussing this with you a while back. After the topic had passed a couple of questions occurred to me. Do you know if any contemporary scientists criticised the dual publishing decision? And have there been any similar such decisions in science? (I appreciate you may not know, but I was curious after our previous disucssion so thought I’d ask!)

        • Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          I think this ‘delicate arrangement’ was unprecedented – I don’t know of any similar examples then or since. There may obviously be some and I would be very interested to hear about them. Note that in a letter from Wallace to A. B. Meyer dated 22nd November 1869 (cited in Meyer, A. B. 1895.
          How was Wallace led to the discovery of natural selection? Nature, 52(1348): 415) Wallace grumbled that his essay “…was printed without my knowledge, and of course without any correction of proofs…”. Apart from Darwin, Lyell & Hooker, no others at the time the essay was published would have known that Wallace hadn’t agreed to allow it to be published. In fact Lyell and Hooker lied in their introduction to the Darwin-Wallace paper that “…both
          authors…[have]…unreservedly placed their papers in our hands…”

          • Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

            Now that’s very interesting. Thanks for the clarification.

          • Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

            “In fact Lyell and Hooker lied in their introduction to the Darwin-Wallace paper that “…both
            authors…[have]…unreservedly placed their papers in our hands…””

            How do you know? The crucial letter of Wallace to Darwin, that accompanied his natural selection manuscript, is missing. Maybe Wallace did suggest that Darwin publish it, if he thought his paper worthwhile, and only grumbled about the lack of proofs. We cannot tell as long as that letter is missing. (Yes I’ve seen your site, where you call for a hunting those missing letters of Wallace).

            • Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

              We know this for sure! In a letter from Darwin to Charles Lyell dated 18th [June 1858] (Darwin Correspondence
              Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2285 accessed 20/01/2013), Darwin, who was
              referring to Wallace’s essay, says “Please return me the M.S. [manuscript] which he does not say
              he wishes me to publish…” and in a letter from Darwin to Charles Lyell dated [25th June 1858]
              (Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2294 accessed
              20/01/2013), Darwin states that “Wallace says nothing about publication…”

              • Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

                Okay. Wallace did not say that he wanted Darwin to publish his manuscript. That makes me wonder what “unreservedly” could imply?

                Wallace didn’t want his manuscript shipped back all around the world with Darwin’s comments, did he?

              • Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

                “Unreservedly” obviously means without reservation. Not saying anything about a matter to someone, does not mean that you are giving them approval to do whatever they like! If I let you borrow a book it does not mean that I have unreservedly given you permission to do what you like with it e.g. destroy it!

    • Thanny
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Yes, he no doubt would have been much more pleased if Darwin published his own paper alone instead.

      Publishing both was the honorable thing to do. Wallace obviously agreed.

      • Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:12 am | Permalink

        Well, that would obviously also have been unethical. The point is that the decent thing to have done would have been to explain the situation to Wallace and ask whether he minded if the essay could be published in the way it was. It was actually breaking the copyright law of the time to publish someone’s unpublished work without their permission. Does anyone know of any other cases in science (or in any other discipline) from the Victorian period, where someone published another person’s unpublished work without their permission? What happened?

        • Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

          “Does anyone know of any other cases in science (or in any other discipline) from the Victorian period, where someone published another person’s unpublished work without their permission? What happened?”

          Kafka – not Victorian. A lot of his papers were published after his death and against his last wish to burn them.

          • Jerry Drawhorn
            Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

            According to Janet Browne, Darwin himself was robbed of two scientific discoveries by his Edinburgh professor Robert Edward Grant. The first was the discovery of the eggs of the bryozoan Flustra. Grant insisted that Darwin had no business studying his “group” and should not publish his finding- Grant later took credit for it. In another case Darwin noted that the black spots in oysters were actually the ova of the parasitic skate leech. Again Grant took that information as his own.

            I’m wondering if these incidents had a deep effect on Darwin, not only in keeping his own important ideas close to the vest pocket, as it were…but also in his concern over what was the “gentlemanly” thing to do in the case of the priority issue with Wallace. Darwin clearly didn’t think much of his shabby treatment under the “class rules” of scholar-student. He was clearly emotionally torn about what to do, even though on other grounds he could have easily justified his claim to priority. Here we have a conflict upon two ethical premises in which there was no clear road. As George admits the situation appears unique in Scientific history.

            • Jerry Drawhorn
              Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

              One more point, I think the episode with Grant made Darwin very careful not to be remiss in publishing material without citations for his sources. That’s one reason why he didn’t want to do an abridgment of his massive three volume tome “Natural History”. He wanted all his sources and contributors to have fair citation rather than simply a “name reference” in the text.

              A similar issue may have been why Wallace did not send his “theory” direct to Steven’s for publication in the “Zoologist” or to the Editor of “Annals and Magazine of Natural History”. It was, perhaps, an unfinished work without appropriate references and actually case studies. He does state to Darwin in a letter that he did not intend to publish his ideas on species until he returned to England and had access to European libraries.

              As far as revisions to the actual 1858 essay that Wallace would have made…we have some idea of what they may have been. In his later anthology “Contributions To the Theory of Natural Selection” (1870). He notes that he made two or three grammatical emendations (one clarifying what he meant on how natural selection would produce a reversion to the wild “type”) and a footnote pointing out that he actually underestimated the potential of exponential population growth.

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 1:43 am | Permalink

                “As far as revisions to the actual 1858 essay that Wallace would have made…”

                I wrote a chapter in my co-edited book “Natural Selection and Beyond: the Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace” (OUP, 2008) about Wallace’s personal annotated copy of the 1858 paper which details his changes. Note that he did NOT add references, and this together with the fact that he often did not give many or any references in his early papers strongly counts against your suggestion that the 1858 paper was an “…unfinished work without appropriate references…”. What he was referring to in that letter to Darwin you mentioned was the book on evolution he was planning to write – the notes for which are in his “Species Notebook” which Jim Costa is publishing two books about (Harvard University Press).

              • Jerry Drawhorn
                Posted August 16, 2013 at 2:04 am | Permalink

                George, Where would Wallace have included references in the 1858 essay?

                AS I noted except for the few grammatical changes, one clarification, and the footnote there really wouldn’t have been much to change. Hence his statement that he wasn’t able to see the proofs seems even more a case of his suggesting that he would not have published the paper if he had known Darwin had arrived at the same conclusion.

                What it seems to me what you are saying is that they should have given Wallace the chance to clarify that he intended the essay not to be published when he was told that Darwin had already arrived at the same view. Is that correct?

                Furthermore, correction of “proofs” usually comes after a paper is ready to be printed. Would that have affected at all the issue of presentation? Did Wallace ever examine the proofs of any of his publications when he was in the Malay Archipelago? To state that he wanted to see them in this case seems quite odd.

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:27 am | Permalink

                The important part of Wallace’s comment that his 1858 essay “…was printed without my knowledge, and of course without any correction of proofs…” is “..was printed without my knowledge..”. Why would he have said this and said it in such a way if he didn’t think that this was in fact something which should not have happened? As I pointed out in another comment earlier – it was unethical to have printed the paper without asking his permission. And his remark about not seeing the proofs may well have been a way of saying that he was unhappy that it was printed without him having a chance to present a version which he thought was fit for publication. Anyway, the question is really not about whether Wallace was happy or not with the fact that the paper was published, but whether Darwin, Hooker and Lyell were justified to do so without asking Wallace’s permission. Just because a mother someone might forgive someone for murdering their child (perhaps if she was very religious), doesn’t mean that the murderer was justified in committing the crime!

        • Jerry Drawhorn
          Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

          We only know Wallace’s intention “after the fact” and that was potentially tainted by his knowledge that Darwin had already material substantially ready for publication. This could be a way of stating that he simply felt that Darwin should have had priority rights and he would have retracted “as a gentleman”. All we know from the Lyell, Hooker and Darwin letters is that he doesn’t state anything (pro or con) about publication. That’s not quite the same as saying that he did not want the material published.

          Is it possible that Wallace stated something to the effect that Wallace had suggested that Darwin review it and show it to Lyell and any OTHERS that might be interested? That’s not an explicit endorsement of “publication” but may have allowed a reading before a Scientific Society. Wallace frequently sent personal letters to Stevens, his agent, which were read before the Entomological and Zoological Societies with specimens. These remarks were then published. Some of those who received Wallace’s specimens also incorporated Wallace’s descriptions into their publications. It’s not clear that Wallace intended these for publication, either.

          On legalistic grounds on the English copyright law (as opposed to ethical grounds) you may be correct, George. In Pope v. Curll (1751) the judge determined that letters written by Alexander Pope to others, and compiled and published by Curll, remained the property of Pope. The work was ordered off the shelves, the remaining stock destroyed, and profits made over to Pope. So an AUTHOR has the right to sue if he believes that his work should not be published. Wallace (and only Wallace) had legal standing to force a retraction of his writing IF he so decided. But Wallace did not chose to do so, because he felt that the ethical resolution was more than fairly balanced in his favor. In my view, Hooker and Lyell were actually doing the ethical thing (rather than the formally legalistic thing) by assuring that Wallace received mutual credit..even though they could have LEGALLY have foreclosed Wallace from all credit. I would argue that of all the alternatives that could have occurred that Lyell and Hooker did the most ETHICAL of alternatives…if not the most legalistic.

          To accept that Wallace DIDN’T intend to publish this essay would mean that one would shift the priority values to Darwin…who had already had “clean copy” made and sent 11 Chapters of “Natural Selection” to Hooker and other editors. He was fully intent on publishing HIS work, which, in terms of all the issues of mutual coverage with Wallace was already well in preparation. A publisher would have resolved the priority dispute simply by saying…which is intended for publication and which publishable work came into my hands first.

          Darwin was not foreclosed in any legal way from publishing his work simply because he received Wallace’s work.

          Lyell could have suggested to Darwin “publish in two volumes what you have already completed, and continue work on the Volume which discusses classification, paleontology and embryology”. This would have paralleled Lyell’s own original “Principles of Geology” that came out in three volumes over several years.

          By the time Wallace had replied to the Lyell/Hooker query on whether Wallace wanted to publish John Murray would have likely been well on the way to publication of Vol I of Natural Selection. Wallace’s paper (given the cycle of publishing) may have been another 6-18 months after he returned it to Lyell. Darwin could have legally published his extracts separately, but assuming he agreed to publish his extracts along with Wallace’s presentation these would have likely come out on the very eve of either vol. 1 of “Natural Selection” or “Origin of Species”.

          But I’m certain that Wallace would have retracted his paper. Wallace was already aware that Darwin was working on a major work on the origin of species and completing chapters. Hooker or Wallace appear to have sent Wallace a Table of Contents of Darwin’s “Natural Selection” showing the extent of Darwin’s work. Everything that Darwin later writes about the dispute indicates he acknowledges not only Darwin’s claim to priority but also the recognition that Darwin had amassed far more significant evidence and saw vastly more applications of the theory than Wallace had at the time. Would it have been ethical to let Wallace fall into obscurity, as Patrick Matthews or William Wells had done?

          • Posted August 16, 2013 at 2:00 am | Permalink

            I disagree (as you might have expected). As far as I’m concerned what they did was 1) illegal; and 2) unethical. The fact that Lyell and Hooker lied in their introduction to the paper shows there was something to ‘cover up’. For all they knew Wallace had also sent a copy of his manuscript for publication – so they had to act quickly to ensure Darwin’s priority. Darwin’s book was not with a publisher yet and it would have taken a long time to be published – very likely AFTER Wallace’s essay had he sent it to a journal at the same time he sent it to Darwin. That he said “…nothing about publication…” in the covering letter to Darwin does NOT mean that he was happy for them to publish it. Even if he was, that he didn’t say he was means that they should not have done so without his consent. For an analysis of this issue by a respected philosopher of ethics see http://www.jamesrachels.org/DML.pdf

            • Posted August 16, 2013 at 2:31 am | Permalink

              I would also like to note that contra to what you and van Wyhe say ‘that it was fine to have published Wallace’s essay because it was the accepted practice to publish letters without asking permission’ (this is a paraphrase), it was NOT the practice then (or now for that matter) to publish scientific manuscripts unless the author had given their expressed permission to do so. That is why this case is probably unprecedented in the annals of science! If it was ‘the usual practice’ there would be LOTS of similar cases.

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 2:47 am | Permalink

                One other thing I’d like to add is that I get scientific manuscripts sent to me for comment on a regular basis. Very occasionally they have contained novel ideas which I had already thought of but never got around to publishing. Do you think it is therefore ethical for me to publish the manuscript without the author’s permission and prefixed by a blurb I have written which points out that I came up with the ideas first? No?

            • Jerry Drawhorn
              Posted August 16, 2013 at 3:01 am | Permalink

              As I noted the only person who has legal standing in this case was Wallace. He didn’t dispute the presentation or the publication after the fact.

              I never considered the possibility that Lyell and Hooker were concerned about Wallace sending another copy of the essay to a publication. From what we KNOW they were purely concerned about giving both men credit for a concept that they knew both men had arrived at, Darwin first. I see nothing unethical in that. I think your supposition that either Wallace, Hooker and Darwin suggested to the others that Wallace might have sent another copy to be published is pure supposition and not supported by any of the letters we have that deal with the issue. Surely some hint of that concern would have been found in the surviving letters which discuss most of the aspects of their concerns.

              Looking at the times that Wallace sent papers that reached publication the run from 3-7 months for letters to 16 months for his more theoretical “Note on the Theory of Permanent and Geographical Varieties”. His letters from Dobbo sometimes took 7 months to get back to London. It was obvious that seeking to obtain Wallace’s explicit permission on publication would take months…longer if they had to enter into any sort of negotiations on structure or convince Wallace not to retract.

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:01 am | Permalink

                I started wondering what the habit of sending a letter to person A and asking that person A to pass it on to person B was about? Likewise, sending a letter to person B indirectly “via” person A. In the simplest case, it may just be what we do all the time in e-mails with the cc function. If, however, Lyell was in a special position to publish Wallace’s essay, then asking Darwin to pass it on to Lyell might have implied something.

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

                There is a very good reason why Wallace did this – his evolutionary arguments in his Species Notebook and published papers (such as the Sarawak Law) were largely directed against those in Lyell’s book ‘Principles of Geology’. He knew Darwin but not Lyell. As I say in my essay “Alfred Russel Wallace and Natural Selection: the Real Story” (see http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/tv/junglehero/alfred-wallace-biography.pdf) “Wallace asked Darwin to pass the essay on to Lyell (who Wallace did not know), if Darwin thought it sufficiently novel and interesting. Darwin had mentioned in an earlier letter to Wallace
                that Lyell had found his 1855 paper noteworthy and Wallace must have thought that Lyell would be interested to learn about his new theory, since it neatly explained the ‘law’ which Wallace had proposed in that paper.”

  6. Nate
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    .

  7. Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    The only people I’ve seen trying to elevate Wallace recently have been Discovery Institute fellows. I’ve always assumed the reason was that Wallace made some vague theistic/intelligent-designy comments about human uniqueness.

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

      As I said on another blog yesterday: “it is indeed regrettable that the ID mob have adopted Wallace as their ‘guru’ – an extraordinary situation considering that Wallace was a heathen, ‘table-rapping’ spiritualist in the latter half of his life!”

      Perhaps some of them might eventually get more interested in Wallace and be persuaded by his earlier materialistic evolutionary arguments!

      • Jerry Drawhorn
        Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

        I’m doubtful. But we must accept that earlier scientists who made important discoveries were also going to make errors. These are usually made because they lacked comprehensive evidence and were part-and-parcel of the thinking and criticisms available in their times. Darwin, lacking evidence of the Principles of Inheritance, and confronting the “reasonable” criticism of Fleeming Jenkins, returned to a form of Lamarkian inheritance (pangenesis). Sadly Darwin didn’t trust his own observations that showed that “blending inheritance” could not be a reasonable explanation of inheritance.

        Wallace was unable to accept that the function of traits adapted for own reason might be applied to others (exaptation) and thus believed that humans were somehow “separate” and the product of some intelligent evolutionary mechanism. Perhaps if Wallace had known more about the human fossil record showing the sequence of human cranial evolution, or knew that some hominins needed to reduce their hirsuteness to allow their bodies to cool down…he may have accepted that Natural Selection was sufficient to explain these human characters. As it was he fell prone to the common fallacy that many of us fall prey to “if I can’t explain it using an established theory…then it can’t be explained by that theory”.

        • Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

          Interestingly, Darwin always accepted that Lamarckism (what he called “use and disuse” inheritance) played a role in evolution alongside natural selection. He discusses it in ‘Origin’ from the 1st edition onwards and in 1868 proposed a mechanism to explain how it could work i.e. Pangenesis. Wallace rejected Lamarckism in his 1858 essay on natural selection and throughout his long life. Ironically Wallace was the first “neo-Darwinian”! See http://wallacefund.info/terms-darwinism-and-neo-darwinism

          • Jerry Drawhorn
            Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

            In reading over Darwin’s writings up to his development of “pangenesis” theory his views on “use-and-disuse” seem that it had an extremely minor effect on the constitution of organisms or none at all (as it would be overwhelmed by Natural Selection).

            In the “Origin” Darwin gives a long list of proposed cases of “Use-and-Disuse” that some had suggested PROVED the reality of Use-And-Disuse and notes how Natural Selection would more readily account for the facts. He then discusses how even acclimatization can be understood as being developed by natural selection by the survival of organisms with the variations amenable to change being better able to live in variable climates and conditions. But he also pointed out that these issues needed more investigation as the effects on natural selection and use-and-disuse overlapped and until more was known about the processes of inheritance the case was still open.

            I’d hardly call that a major endorsement of Lamarkian inheritance or even evidence that “Darwin always accepted that Lamarkian inheritance played a role alongside Natural Selection in evolution”. He didn’t seem to think it was essential, and clearly stated that its effects would be minor in the earlier editions of the “Origin”. He did not place it alongside Natural selection as a force for complex adaptation. Wallace took a more strident position, but didn’t see much distinction between Darwin’s view and his own at this point.

            It was only when Jenkins proposed “blending inheritance” that Darwin offered a more significant role to the possibility.

            • Posted August 16, 2013 at 2:10 am | Permalink

              The fact is that Darwin DID offer “…a more significant role to the possibility…” and even proposed a theory (Pangenesis) to account for it. And note that Darwin’s belief in Lamarckism was probably an important factor leading to the “Eclipse of Darwinism” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_eclipse_of_Darwinism), and the rise of ‘neo-Lamarckism’. Only Wallace and a few others such as Weismann and Poulton staunchly defended natural selection during this period. To find some interesting discussions from the time search for “Wallaceism” in Google Books. Wallace was critiscised by people such as George Romanes for rejecting Darwin’s Lamarckian beliefs and he even coined the term Wallaceism to characterize Wallace’s stance in this matter!!!

              • Jerry Drawhorn
                Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:06 am | Permalink

                Darwin only published his idea of pangenesis a decade (1868) after the Origin. It had little support, though it did allow several critics to test his hypothesis. His own cousin Francis Galton transfused rabbit blood between lines exposed to different conditions, and it also stimulated Weismann’s important experiments.

                Darwin stated in (Variations, 1868) ” I am aware that my view is merely a provisional hypothesis or speculation; but until a better one be advanced, it may be serviceable by bringing together a multitude of facts which are at present left disconnected by any efficient cause. As Whewell, the historian of the inductive sciences remarks:- “Hypotheses may often be of service to science, when they involve a certain portion of incompleteness, and even error”.’ In his autobiography he contends that perhaps : ‘An unverified hypothesis is of little or no value; but if anyone should hereafter be led to make observations by which some such hypothesis could be established, I shall have done good service’.

                Even Hugo deVries offered that Darwin’s idea led to his closer examination of chromosomes to see if they transferred between cells. This ultimately led him to rediscover Mendel’s laws.

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:41 am | Permalink

                Jerry: that’s a very generous assessment of Darwin’s Lamarckian views! Just have a look at the final edition of the Origin (6th edition) to see how much he downplayed the power of natural selection! Wallace was always distressed by this – indeed he encouraged other biologists in letters (see Wallace Letters Online – not all transcribed yet) to experimentally test Darwin’s Lamarckian ideas, since did not believe Darwin was correct! And it turns out that Darwin wasn’t correct. But more damaging than this many influential biologists adopted Darwin’s views (the ‘neo-Lamarckians’ e.g. George Romanes) – something which set back the field of evolutionary biology for decades, before it was finally agreed that natural selection was indeed the primary mechanism of evolutionary change after all. Something that Wallace had argued since 1858!!!

            • Jerry Drawhorn
              Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:33 am | Permalink

              Darwin’s Pangenesis theory had little to do with the decline of Darwinism. Most of the rejection of Natural Selection came from two directions. The first were from the paleontologists who offered versions of “directed evolution” that the sometimes related to Lamarkian factors (though not always – some thought there was a natural cycle of birth, adolescence, maturity and death in a species). This was Neo-Lamarkianism. The other criticism came from the mutationists who felt natural selection acted on variations that were too small to account for large scale evolutionary change.

              Wallace himself increasingly argued that there was some deeper factor of evolution than Natural Selection that not only affected evolution of humans but all organisms and fell into the “directed evolution” camp. He argued that these “intelligent powers” directed the events in the Universe and the variation of living organisms to ultimate lead to humanity.

              World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose (1914) “We are led, therefore, to postulate a body of what we may term organising spirits, who would be charged with the duty of so influencing the myriads of cell-souls as to carry out their part of the work with accuracy amd certainty. In the power of “thought-transferance” or mental impression, now virtually admitted to be a vera causa, possessed by many, perhaps by all of us, we can understand how the higher intelligences are able to act upon the lower and that the work of the latter becomes automatic. The work of the organisers is then directed to keeping up the supply of life-material to enable the cell souls to perform their duties while cells are rapidly increasing. At successive stages of development of all the life-world, more and perhaps higher intelligences might be required to direct the main lines of variation in definite directions in accordance with the general design to be worked out, and to guard against a break in the particular line which alone could lead ultimately to production of the human form.”

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:46 am | Permalink

                I think we’re all allowed to go a bit kooky when we approach 90 years of age. At least Wallace never became a Lamarckian, even when he did go weird!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s a combination of the intelligent design-y stuff & they think it’s a burn on anyone that accepts evolution because they think they are attacking our guy. :)

  8. Nate
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Grrr…My post didn’t go through and it was a decent-sized paragraph.

    Quickly wanted to mention you can setup email alerts very conveniently through google.

    2 ways to setup:

    1) Google(DOT)com(SLASH)alerts
    2) Google(DOT)com(SLASH)news and do a search in quotation marks…At bottom of page it will ask if you want to “create an email alert for…”
    See: i.imgur.com/a7GZIsA.png

    I have one for “Charles Darwin” and so I got that Telegraph article the day it was published.

    Here is a screenshot at yesterday’s “Charles Darwin” alerts. There was a cool article on bladderworts, and another on the Serengeti that was interesting.
    i.imgur.com/Boy5G8a.png

    Only issue is you sometimes get anti-evolution religious websites – which I try my best not to click on.

    • Dominic
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Do the same with the journal of your choice though not with more than the abstract without a subscription.

  9. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    sub

  10. Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    The earlier Dispersal of Darwin piece refers to the downloadable PDF of Roy Davies’s conspiracist book, made available for free by its publisher. The link to the PDF is dead, alas. I’ve done some googling but without success. Does anyone happen to know where the PDF might have been subsequently posted, assuming the offer’s still valid?

  11. Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Found a revised version here.

  12. Jim Thomerson
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Something I have understood about Wallace thinking humans were not the result of natural selection. Contrary to accepted thinking of the time, Wallace observed that primative peoples were as intelligent as the British gentry. He thought, however, that their lives were so simple that they did not need the level of intelligence they had, therefore it could not be the result of natural selection. I had it presented in a cultural anthropology class that a tribal witchdoctor has as much knowledge as a modern MD. I think it is a mantra of cultural anthropology today that everyone is as smart as everyone else.

    I put this up in hope of correction by knowledgable folks.

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

      “…I had it presented in a cultural anthropology class that a tribal witchdoctor has as much knowledge as a modern MD….”
      Jim Thomerson
      My own times among peoples in the remoter parts of Africa clarified it all for me. Just like everywhere else, there are smart people and dim people; half and half. Among the smart people, the extra smart tended to be people trapped in that simpler culture by circumstances, such as women in general, and particularly gay women. They are people who could not get away. As to ‘knowledge’, that is a very different question. In Russell Wallace’s time it is conceivable that a smart African had similar understanding of a British MD, owing to the shocking history of Western medicine more that anything else. Remember that The Four Humours Theory (4HT) of medicine continued long after Germ-Theory. It lingers in France where my local farm folk (left school at 12) still echo its premises when talking about health.

    • Jerry Drawhorn
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:56 am | Permalink

      Ironically Wallace didn’t fully believe this. He did believe that most non-Western cultures needed guidance to civilization. He was, for example, a very strong supporter of the Dutch “Culture System” which most English and even many progressive Dutch felt was particularly oppressive.

      Wallace argued simply that in some basic features of all human populations there were characteristics that went beyond “the principle of immediate utility”. NS, he felt could only develop features that an ancestor needed and no further. Thus if he could not conceive of an adaptive value for an appreciation of a beautiful sunset, musical voice, mathematical reasoning that allowed calculation of algebraic formulas, bare skin, a manipulative hand, etc. then these had to be produced by some other factor.

      Darwin countered that sometimes an adaptive trait would have other applications, and these could later become subject to selection for the new utilization. He pointed out that language could be adaptive and that the musical or mathematical capabilities may have become imminent as aspects of that adaptive feature. Any improvement in transmitting and comprehending the specifity of meaning, discerning veracity, or decoding a different dialect could be beneficial to a social hominid.

      These were once called “preadaptations”, but because that implied that the traits were being selected for conditions yet to exist, Stephen J. Gould called them “exaptations”.

  13. jh
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Years ago I read a book claiming Wallace stole Darwin’s idea. At the time I found it convincing. But further reading pretty much undermined every conspiracy claim in the book. I will say however that though Darwin deserves the credit he gets as the founder of evolutionary theory, I still think Wallace is underappreaciated both for being an independent discoverer of natural selection as well as all of his works. It didn’t help his case that he got involved in spiritualism and other nonsense, but it doesn’t nullify the fact that he was a first rate scientist. Of course, one can say that Darwin is underappreciated as a Geologist and heavily underappreciated as a Botanist.

    • Posted August 16, 2013 at 2:13 am | Permalink

      As I say here http://wallacefund.info/faqs-myths-misconceptions :- “A person’s scientific work should be judged on its merits – not in relation to other, possibly irrational, beliefs that that person may also hold/have held. Otherwise we would be on a slippery slope leading to the scientific equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition. Under this regime Sir Ronald A. Fisher, who Richard Dawkins once described as “the greatest of Darwin’s successors”, would have been (metaphorically) burnt at the stake for his strongly held Christian beliefs! People are entitled to their beliefs, and religious belief is not incompatible with science. Indeed thousands of people around the world of many different religions are doing excellent science all the time. Science is not a religion – it is a powerful method of investigating the natural world.

      Scientists embrace many of Wallace’s scientific ideas, such as warning colouration and natural selection, since they have withstood subsequent scientific scrutiny and have become established scientific theories. However, Wallace’s Spiritualistic beliefs are rejected by scientists, since they are untestable and therefore unscientific. Scientists don’t simply believe everything another scientist, however famous and well respected, might say! Ideas are only of interest to Science if they are testable and if they withstand subsequent scientific investigation. Even in the case of Darwin, scientists now reject his ideas of Pangenesis and Lamarckism (because no evidence was found to back these ideas up) and his belief in God (since the existence of such a deity is scientifically untestable).

      It should be remembered that it is always necessary to ‘winnow the wheat from the chaff’ with respect to the ideas originated by a human mind over the course of a lifetime. Whilst most people don’t ever devise any ideas which are novel, scientifically valuable and enduring, Wallace originated many such thoughts and it is for these which he should be remembered.”

      • Dominic
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        We are all a mess of contradictions.

  14. Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I find this discussion interesting, if going over familiar ground. A few observations:

    (1) No matter how you slice it, ranging from uncollegial to illegal, Darwin-Hooker-Lyell’s “solution” to their situation, publishing a ms. that both they and Wallace agreed was not sent to them *specifically* for such an outcome, was not a decent thing to do.

    (2) This is important because I strongly suspect that this was not Wallace’s full view of the natural selection situation. In the essay he studiously avoids any aspects of human evolution, and we may rightly object (as I have in print on several occasions) that he may not have felt, even at that point, that “biological” natural selection could account for humankind’s higher faculties.

    (3) Wallace complains in print on at least five occasions about the “not seeing the proofs” matter, so some kind of agenda is implied: I suspect he was hinting he had been cut off before he could get his full views out.

    (4) Contrary to what my friend George Beccaloni implies, spiritualism is not unrelatable to Wallace’s otherwise materialist agenda. Spiritualists believed that all of us routinely receive messages from the “Spirit Realm” in the form of dreams, intuitions, and feelings such as conscience. This affects our actions, leading to ethical/moral refinement. These “contacts” could be seen to be much like biological change, which begins with the differential adoption of traits that happen to be useful, and conversely the “elimination of the unfit” (which was Wallace’s view of how natural selection works).

    (5) Anyone who is intending to write a review of John van Wyhe’s new book should understand that he has a strong anti-Wallace agenda, and that most of what he advances cannot be sustained on closer examination. It seems to me to be a self-serving effort by a man who has apparently never done any concerted research on Wallace outside the period 1855 to 1859.

    • Jerry Drawhorn
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      The Wallace complaint does seem odd. Could he ever have reviewed “proofs” of any of his papers while in the Malay Archipelago? Given that a proof is generally made just prior to a paper going to press would that ave even been something possible for a publisher to make available- and wait the six or more months for the author to receive them, review them, and return them…before going to press.

      My sense is that Wallace was suggesting that Lyell and Hooker should have not published his essay, allowing him to allow Darwin the window to publish his own work.

      Wallace’s first application of Natural Selection to man in 1864 didn’t seem to raise any red-flags regarding Spiritualist elements. It was only in 1868 that he began to suggest that human evolution required a supernatural directive intelligence.

      • Posted August 17, 2013 at 12:55 am | Permalink

        “My sense is that Wallace was suggesting that Lyell and Hooker should have not published his essay, allowing him to allow Darwin the window to publish his own work.”

        Yes, I agree with the first half of this sentence – he is indicating that they should not have published his paper *without asking his permission first*. This relates to the ethics of the situation. If Darwin *had* asked Wallace’s permission to publish a ‘joint’ paper then there is no way he could have realistically gone ahead and published his own work before Wallace’s without risking severe damage to his reputation, since Wallace could have made Darwin’s letter public and pointed out that Darwin knew about Wallace’s work but had gone ahead and published his own in order to claim priority..

        Re. your point about Wallace’s spiritualism – as you probably know there are two schools of though on this: the ‘no change of mind’ idea, which Charles believes in; and the ‘change of mind’ idea which others (including myself and Ted Benton) believe in. The latter view says that Wallace only became a spiritualist in the late 1860’s. I think that there were 3 philosophical stages in Wallace’s life: 1) In his early life (pre. the late 1860’s) he was essentially a ‘pure’ materialist; 2) he became a spiritualist, but still tried to explain the ‘spirit world’ in a ‘materialistic’ way (he believed that the ‘spirit world’ was part of the natural world and subject to scientific investigation); 3) in his late 80’s he largely abandoned materialism for a more ‘religious’ view, including a ‘God’. He says the same in his writings.

        • Posted August 17, 2013 at 5:13 am | Permalink

          “If Darwin *had* asked Wallace’s permission to publish a ‘joint’ paper then there is no way he could have realistically gone ahead and published his own work before Wallace’s without risking severe damage to his reputation.”

          Could you please rephrase this for dummies? Do you mean that, if Darwin had asked Wallace for permission to publish the two papers jointly read before the Linnean Society in 1858, then he could not have proceeded to publish his 1859 Origin of Species? Surely not?

          • Posted August 17, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

            Here it is again reworded: If Darwin *had* asked Wallace’s permission to publish a ‘joint’ paper and Wallace had said no, then Darwin could not have gone ahead and published his own work before Wallace’s without risking severe damage to his reputation, since Wallace could have made Darwin’s letter public and pointed out that Darwin knew about Wallace’s work but had gone ahead and published his own in order to claim priority.. This would have been an even worse scenario for Darwin then simply publishing the paper without asking permission since at least he could claim that he had published it (and that the question of his material preceding Wallace’s essay was simply because the contributions were arranged alphabetically by the names of the authors!).

            • Posted August 17, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

              Sorry, I don’t see how a “no” from Wallace would have bound Darwin’s hands to not publish on his theory of evolution. On the contrary, such a “no” would rather have started a race between Darwin and Wallace to be the first to publish independently, IMHO.

              • Posted August 17, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

                I don’t know what profession you are in, but as a professional scientist the ethical issue seems perfectly clear to me.

              • Posted August 17, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

                You put ‘joint’ in scare-quotes yourself.

                It wasn’t really a joint paper and they weren’t co-authors. It was two papers published at the same time.

                I presume that’s what Darwin would have offered. Therefore, Wallace rejecting that offer of publishing at the same time could only mean that they both go their way independently. I have to admit that I’m not sure how Victorian gentleman-hood would have affected their behavior (possibly one besting the other in modesty).

                But how could Wallace have bound Darwin to not go ahead independently by rejecting the alternative of publishing at the same time?

              • Posted August 17, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

                It is regarded as being a single co-authored article. The reason I put scare quotes around “joint”, was because although it is regarded as being one article, Darwin and Wallace’s texts were not co-authored – therefore ‘joint’ contribution is a slight misnomer! To *try* and answer your other question: If I was sent a manuscript detailing a revolutionary new theory, which I had thought of previously but hadn’t yet published, and I asked the author in a letter whether we could publish the idea together and he/she said no, then if I decided to rush into print with my idea, the author could justifiably claim that I had only published in order to preempt them. They could cause a big ‘hue and cry’ accusing me of professional misconduct and even saying that I had stolen their idea and published it as my own. They might use my letter in various ways to make their case: e.g. as evidence that THEY had a manuscript ready for publication but I hadn’t (if I had mentioned this). Anyway this is all hypothetical – the actual fact of the matter is that Lyell and Hooker with Darwin’s compliance published Wallace’s manuscript – thus probably breaking copyright law and certainly acting in an unethical manner. Oh, and Lyell and Hooker lied in their introduction to make it seem that Wallace had agreed to this arrangement.

            • Jerry Drawhorn
              Posted August 17, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

              So even though Wallace had sent a paper in which he made no statement that he wished having it considered for publication – his paper essentially preempts and ties the hands of someone who already has material essentially ready for publication (Darwin had to send material to a copyist and had sent his text to two distinct editors).

              Essentially the individual who has NOT prepared material for publication and who has not stated that they intend to have the material published overrules the status of someone that has??? Wallace, who has no “publishable” text gets chance to publish ahead of Darwin, who does?

              Let me say this simply defies logic.

              While true that Wallace could certainly argue that Darwin took material or published material once he was aware of a “contender” Darwin could simply point out that his work was well in advance of Wallace’s work in stages of preparation and show Wallace’s cover letter that stated nothing about publication, the dates of his work product being sent to the copyist or Hooker, etc.

              There would be no copyright issue since Darwin didn’t take any of Wallace’s work. There was no plagiarism. To avoid legal concerns that is what they could have done. Ultimately they allowed their gentlemanly sense of honor stand in the way. They took a risk that Wallace would see himself as the favored party and would not press his right to retract his letter. In cases of torts (it’s not a criminal law) the potentially aggrieved party must press suit. If you don’t mind the neighbor kids playing on your lawn then the police can’t arrest them. Wallace was the individual with “standing” (not George his Rottweiler) he did not express his dissatisfaction with publication. He oddly grumbled about not receiving “proofs” nor to the press run- which I seriously doubt he ever received on any other publication while he was in SE Asia as proofs at this time were taken from the moveable type that was set just prior to the press run. No London printer would send Wallace proofs for correction and keep the type-set copy for 5 or 6 months or more while he reviewed the text for errors.

              As for your hypothesis that Lyell and Hooker were concerned that Wallace had sent a copy to a journal already for publication…wouldn’t THAT risk their “plot” to exposure when that article was published. Wallace could have sent that article out weeks or months prior to their “arranged” presentation (how CONVENIENT that Robert Browne died so that they could make their presentation at the supernumerary meeting) and it could have raised questions about their claims. I don’t think it flies…their only motive was to arrange an equitable solution for both authors in a very awkward situation.

              • Posted August 17, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

                You would certainly make an excellent politician Jerry – I think we will have to agree to disagree on this matter! I still firmly believe that the only decent thing for them to have done was to ask Wallace’s permission to publish his essay. That they chose to make it public only 14 days after its arrival in England without attempting to contact him is ethically questionable at best and possibly even illegal. Also the fact they lied in their introduction strongly suggests that they realised that they were doing wrong.

              • Posted August 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

                As a layman I have to say that the publication Darwin & Wallace (1858) is formally fudged, because it has to be cited as though it was _one_ paper and a _co-authored_ one at that, whereas it is a compendium of extracts from letters of Darwin and Wallace. I did take a look at it in the meanwhile.

                IMHO, it should have been published as a compendium so that historians now could cite it as maybe edited by Hooker and Lyell, but otherwise including an extract from Darwin (unpublished 1844), Darwin’s letter to Gray, and the Ternate letter from Wallace to Darwin. That would have done the least harm to Wallace, because it would have published Wallace 1858 as Wallace 1858 and we’d need to cite it such.

                Nevertheless, George Beccaloni’s scenario seems to be based on the assumption that Darwin & Wallace (1858) is indeed one co-authored paper. Otherwise I agree with Jerry, Darwin hadn’t just idly thought about the problem and done nothing else about it and he could prove it. So, IMHO, there’s no way a “no” from Wallace could bind Darwin the way George assumes, unless Darwin was a character out of some Jane Austen novel:-)

                Yes, Hooker and Lyell did fudge it in this respect, but it isn’t therefore one co-authored paper. We know it is not!

              • Jerry Drawhorn
                Posted August 18, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

                We’re getting in “one columns land” here. But I suspect that if Hooker and Lyell had sent Wallace’s essay back and explained the situation fully – that Wallace would have withdrawn his paper entirely. As an explanation as to why they opted to publish both papers one of them sent Wallace the Table of Contents of the work (“Natural Selection”) that Wallace knew that Darwin was working on over the previous two years of their letters. From his December 20, 1857 letter Wallace knew that Darwin had just completed the Chapter IX on Hybridism and that he was more than halfway complete. He could have easily seen that the chapters on Natural Selection, Variation, Malthusian Increase, etc. had been completed. On the issue of priority he may have withdrawn completely.

                A legal advisor would likely have informed Wallace that he was the beneficiary of the actions taken by Hooker and Lyell. Of course, Wallace was smart enough to realize this. Rather than losing priority he had been given a chance to share it.

                In addition we don’t have the cover letter so cannot state that Wallace was unambiguous about publication. He might have said “I would be pleased that you present the essay to Sir Charles Lyell and others that might provide helpful comments on the theories merits or flaws.” That doesn’t say “publish”, but it also doesn’t say not to. In fact it would sort of imply precisely what Hooker and Lyell said when the paper was presented to the Linnean…that Wallace had placed the manuscripts into their hands without reservation.

                Wallace could be quite explicit and unambiguous when he did not want others to publish his materials. In his letter to Frederick Bates written from Ternate in early 1858 at precisely the same time that he mailed Darwin his “Essay” he stated: “Now with regard to your request for notes of habits, etc. I shall be most willing to comply with it to some extent, first informing you that I look forward to undertaking on my return to England a “Coleoptera Malayana,” to contain descriptions of the known species of the whole Archipelago, with an essay on their geographical distribution, and an account of the habits of the genera and species from my own observations. Of course, therefore, I do not wish any part of my notes to be published, as this will be a distinctive feature of the work, so little being known of the habits, stations and modes of collecting exotic Coleoptera.”

      • Posted August 19, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        No, he could not have reviewed many, if any, of the things he published. However, all of these items were things he sent back (1)specifically, to publish, or (2) as shoptalki to professional contacts, knowing that these letters would likely be published. In this case he seems to have wanted an opinion only. That he complained about not seeing the proofs in this instance may well be a subtle complaint that he wasn’t given a chance to complete his thought.

        Yes, I think he was suggesting that Lyell and Hooker should not have published his essay, but not necessarily for any reason connected to Darwin.

        Wallace did not start investigating spiritualism until the summer of 1865, did not start suggesting that investigators should treat it seriously until the summer of 1866, was not a full convert until late 1866, and did not begin suggesting in print that humankind had been evolutionarily influenced by the “spirit realm” until 1869. These were four distinct steps in his development, and should be recognized as such.


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  1. […] Joachim also submitted another post on the history of evolution, this time from Jerry Coyne’s top notch blog “Why Evolution Is True.” This one explains how Darwin did not cheat Wallace out of his rightful place in history […]

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