Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Happy Birthday, Alfred

Alfred Russell Wallace
Today in 1823, in Usk in Wales, Alfred Russel Wallace was born. He was profoundly influenced by Robert Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, a work of popular science published in 1844 that advocated an evolutionary origin for the solar system, the earth, and living things. Wallace began his work hoping to find evidence that supported the ideas found in that extremely controversial book. After field work in the Amazon basin and in Sarawak, he wrote several papers that were preludes to the one he sent to Charles Darwin: On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type.
While Wallace's essay did not employ Darwin's term natural selection, it did outline the mechanics of an evolutionary divergence of species from similar ones due to environmental pressures. In this sense, it was essentially the same as the theory that Darwin had worked on for twenty years, but had yet to publish. Darwin wrote in a letter to Charles Lyell: "he could not have made a better short abstract! Even his terms now stand as heads of my chapters!" Although Wallace had not requested that his essay be published, Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker decided to present the essay, together with excerpts from a paper that Darwin had written in 1844, and kept confidential, to the Linnean Society of London on 1 July 1858, highlighting Darwin's priority. Wallace accepted the arrangement after the fact, grateful that he had been included at all. Darwin's social and scientific status was at that time far greater than Wallace's, and it was unlikely that Wallace's views on evolution would have been taken as seriously.
Many today regard Wallace as merely the catalyst that made Darwin publish, but he was regarded in his own time by his peers - including Darwin - as a great man in his own right. His chief contribution is perhaps biogeography, but he also contributed to the fields of animal coloration, reproductive isolation, and natural selection. True, he fell for Spiritualism, but nobody's perfect.

Much info and some sentences from Wikipedia

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