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Celebrations for Darwin downplay Wallace's role

Sir

We agree with Kevin Padian ('Darwin's enduring legacy' Nature 451, 632–634; 2008) that next year's Darwin anniversaries — the 200th anniversary of his birth and 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species — should be celebrated enthusiastically. But few seem to be aware that this year marks the 150th anniversary of one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science: the theory of evolution by natural selection. Although this idea is often credited solely to Charles Darwin, it was independently discovered by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace 150 years ago this month, while he was suffering from fever on the Indonesian island of Halmahera. Wallace sent Darwin an essay detailing the theory, which was published, together with two short excerpts from Darwin's unpublished writings on the subject, by the Linnean Society of London in August 1858.

Widespread preparations for the Darwin celebrations are now being made by the University of Cambridge and the Natural History Museum, among many others (see http://darwin-online.org.uk/2009.html and a Darwin walk at http://tinyurl.com/ysofwn). But to our knowledge, very little is being planned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the discovery of natural selection. This contrasts with the lavish series of events and exhibitions that took place 50 years ago to celebrate the centenary of the discovery. The Linnean Society will host a modest event to commemorate the pre-publication reading on 1 July 1858 of Darwin and Wallace's seminal papers. Information is available from the Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund (founded by G. W. B.) at http://www.wallacefund.info/2008-events.

This lack of interest in the 2008 anniversary is indicative of how Wallace's achievements have been overshadowed by Darwin's since Wallace's death in 1913, a process certainly not helped by the Darwin 'industry' of recent decades. During his lifetime, Wallace received plenty of recognition from his contemporaries for his part in the discovery, as indicated by the many honours bestowed on him. These include the Darwin–Wallace and Linnean Gold Medals (Linnean Society); the Copley, Darwin and Royal Medals (Royal Society); and the Order of Merit. Isn't it perhaps time for the current darwinocentric view of the history of biology to be revised?

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Beccaloni, G., Smith, V. Celebrations for Darwin downplay Wallace's role. Nature 451, 1050 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/4511050d

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