Why is Darwin more famous than Wallace? Cultural survival of the fittest

A young Wallace and Darwin

Why is Darwin is more famous than Wallace?

BBC – Why does Charles Darwin eclipse Alfred Russel Wallace?

Why Evolution is True – Why is Darwin more famous than Wallace?

Essentially it was because of the impact of Origin of Species.

With their joint paper, Darwin and Wallace can be thought of a co-proposers of evolution by natural selection. Unfortunately for Wallace’s fame stakes, this joint paper did not arouse much interest at the time. Origin, a year later, with Darwin’s name at the forefront and Wallace being deferential to his colleague, captured both scientist and public imagination. From this, Darwin was the one being ridiculed in cartoons as a half-ape, and Darwin was the name people associated with evolution. It’s also interesting to note that natural selection (but not evolution) went through somewhat of a out-of-fashion period in the early 1900s, which affected Wallace’s fame while not as severely affecting Darwin’s, whose fame stemmed from bringing evolution as a whole to the attention of the world. Later, the Modern Synthesis, a sort of union (or reunion) of evolution, natural selection and genetics in the 1930s, seems to have remembered the contributions of Darwin whilst largely forgetting Wallace’s. As we inherit this synthesis of evolutionary thought and its associated history, we cast Wallace’s role by the wayside – a fitting and ironic example of cultural evolution and survival of the fittest.

Wonders of Life

Wonders of life - cover

Have you seen any of the BBC’s new series, Wonders of Life? If not, I’d really recommend you catch it – it’s available on iPlayer until the 3rd of March.

I’ve heard some criticism of it – that it’s too Physics-y or that Brian Cox just isn’t David Attenborough or the changing locations is annoying – and I can understand where they come from. But I think it’s great. Yes, it’s complicated and I didn’t fully understand how life links back to the Physics and energy bits, but it made me really think. He’s talking about the origins of life and the universe – it’s supposed to be mind-boggling! I expected it to be a sort of ‘new’ David Attenborough series and perhaps that’s why some people criticise it. But I found it a refreshing take on Natural History, going beyond a description of life and presenting life on Earth in it’s most fundamental form.
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Wallace 100 @ NHM

The introductory posts to this blog has been quite timely – this week the Natural History Museum in London are marking the anniversary of Alfred Wallace’s death with an exhibition of his work and a display of his portrait to be hung right next to his colleague, Charles Darwin. Wallace 100 will open this week to celebrate Wallace as a co-discoverer of the process evolution by natural selection. It will make an interesting visit I’m sure!

wallace 100 orange

Lamarck and Buffon – evolutionary heroes in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

The Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in the wintertime Jardin des Plantes, Paris
The Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in the wintertime Jardin des Plantes, Paris

I recently visited Paris and made a quick trip to the Jardin des Plantes, the site of the Natural History Museum of Paris. Immediately facing you as you enter the park is a statue of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Lamarck’s theories are now mostly abandoned, as Darwin and Wallace’s theory of Evolution by Natural Selection has become the basis of biological science. However, Lamarck deserves credit for his contribution to evolutionary ideas as he was the first to propose a theory to explain evolution, that animals change in response to the environment. Paris recognises this with this statue, in which Lamarck is heralded as “Fondateur de la Doctrine de L’Evolution” or “Founder of the Doctrine of Evolution”.

A statue of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck at the entrance to the Jardin des Plantes
A statue of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck at the entrance to the Jardin des Plantes

At the other end of the gardens Buffon and his work is also recognised with a statue. Buffon’s work in natural history, published in an incredible 36 volumes over 39 years, influenced future naturalists such as Lamarck, and discussed a number of evolutionary problems – “he brought them to the attention of the scientific world”. He also was at the forefront of making the Jardin des Plants the Kew Gardens of Paris, with research and the associated museum.

A statue of French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, in the Jardin des Plantes
A statue of French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, in the Jardin des Plantes

Science is a step-by-step process, always building on previous theories and data. Parisiens recognise these two scientists for their work in the field of natural history, and despite many of their ideas now being understood as incorrect, their work is part of the formation of evolutionary theory, the unifying concept of the life sciences.

Le Grande Galerie de L'Evolution

Evolution: What did Darwin, Wallace and Lamarck contribute?

To start this blog off, a little bit of history.

Do you know who Charles Darwin is? How about Alfred Wallace? Jean-Baptiste Lamarck? You’ve probably heard of the first guy. The second, maybe. The third? Perhaps if you’re interested in biology, or French science.

All three men are important in the development of evolution by natural selection as an idea. Darwin is the most famous because of his grand work, Origin of Species, which contributed not just to evolutionary theory but also to the communication of science both then and now. But Wallace and Lamarck should not be forgotten; both have their place in the history of the evolutionary theory, and therefore, are important to the content of this blog. Here is a little summary:

Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Important contributors in the history of evolutionary theory
Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Important contributors in the history of evolutionary theory

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What do I want to achieve with this blog and why?

One my ambitions for this blog is to communicate topics linked to my PhD in accessible language. I want it to make sense to my mum, my wife’s mum and the general interested adult (although my mum did proof read my thesis 3 times so she probably already has a good idea and I am indebted to her proofreading skills!). I will publish a series of posts covering all aspects of my research – from the background of the background, to the nitty-gritty of research, to the conclusions and predictions I made in the final chapter. I have four main motivations in this:
Continue reading “What do I want to achieve with this blog and why?”