Homage to Alfred Russel Wallace:
Wallace and Charles Darwin formulated a theory of evolution through natural selection at about the same time.  Darwin made haste, paying for the printing of his first book out of his own pocket, to publish first when he learned, I think Wallace told him, that Wallace was thinking the same way.  I know of no hint that Wallace bore Darwin any ill will for such skullduggery.  My genetics professor in college remarked, “But Darwin had a far more profound understanding of it.”  Both obviously understood that speciation lay at the heart of the issue.  Were species created by some other cause or did speciation develop gradually?  That was the critical question. 

Darwin’s book calls speciation “happenstance.”  Now that’s profound I suppose.  It does reflect Aristotle’s formulation that changes happen by chance and that what works can persist.  But for a book named Origin of Species, it seems to want a little more discussion.  It would be nice to think that at least some intellectual progress had been made in a couple thousand years.

Wallace on the other hand pointed out that speciation is needed in order for evolution to proceed. 

Unfortunately for the reputation of Wallace, he had two character traits that were not … well let’s say in terms of scientific reputation they did not increase his fitness.  For one he was a gentleman.  He could well have kept his own council and published ahead or Darwin or at the very least protested that Darwin had jumped the queue. 

For the second trait he was honest.  Spiritualism, the apparent summoning of ghosts, was quite faddish in Victorian England as in America.  It was not new.  The Witch of Endor had done it in the Old Testament, summoning up Samuel to speak with King Saul.  With scriptural precedent many were loath simply to laugh.  What appears to be the case is that Wallace attended some sessions, was quite convinced by what he saw, and said as much.  He must have known that this was scientific suicide. 

Of course as a scientist he should have demanded to know how to do it.  He should have done it himself with normal controls.  Or at the very least he should have asked a medium to summon the spirit of someone who had not, in fact ever lived.  But that runs up against the honesty thing.  Being unable to run the proper controls, he should have suspended judgment.  He should not have been convinced.  But having been convinced, he did speak.  Honesty did not in fact require that.  He could have ignored the issue in print.  No control.  No science.  Simple as that.  So along with gentility and honesty he apparently suffered from being vulnerable to social pressure, no bad thing under many circumstances, but a disaster for him.

But he is getting some fans.  (Alfred Russel Wallace Goes Online SCIENCE vol. 338 no. 6103 October 5, 2012 page 24) John Van Wyhe has put 28,000 pages by Wallace and about him and 22,000 related images on http://wallace-online.org/ and with admirable even handedness Wyhe also provides us with http://darwin-online.org/uk/ for the many Darwin fans. 

No I have not read the 28,000 pages.  It would take me a long time even to write 28,000 pages.  But should you happen to browse and find I am in error, please let me know.

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