01 July 2008

Anniversaries: One even number, one odd

Party!Today is the 150th anniversary of the first scientific announcement of the theory of natural selection, as described here. Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace had a jointly-authored paper read the Linnean Society of London.

The writer of the blog post speculates on why the contribution of Alfred Wallace has been overshadowed by Charles Darwin. Surprisingly, to me, it doesn't mention what seem to be pertinent facts.

First, Darwin had a much more highly developed theory. He had spent decades accumulating evidence and working through arguments and dealing with difficulties. Wallace had the idea pretty much full blown in a fever dream, and freely admitted that Darwin had ideas he'd never even thought of.

Second, Wallace got very interested in spiritualism later in his life. Certainly, there was a lot of interest in that generally in his time. While interest in the supernatural certainly doesn't disqualify someone from becoming a scientific icon -- cf. Isaac Newton's interest in alchemy -- it really doesn't help Wallace's reputation as a scientist or intellectual figure.

Be that as it may, less than a decade after Darwin and Wallace's paper in the Linnean Society of London announced one of the best scientific ideas of all time, a group of people had another great idea:

The confederation of Canada.

Happy evolutionary sesquicentennial and happy Canada Day.

The exuberant among you may now toot your party favours.

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