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Mail-boat record 'proves Darwin stole his original ideas from a Welsh scientist'

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http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/news/wales-news/2008/05/24/mail-boat-record-proves-darwin-stole-his-original-ideas-from-a-welsh-scientist-91466-20968207/

Mail-boat record 'proves Darwin stole his original ideas from a Welsh scientist'

by Steffan Rhys, Western Mail

CHARLES DARWIN'S theory that for 150 years has been viewed as explaining the origin of mankind was stolen from a Welsh scientist, the author of a new book has claimed.

In his book The Darwin Conspiracy: Origins of a Scientific Crime, published this week, Roy Davies claims to have unearthed new evidence that shows Charles Darwin stole the ideas of Alfred Russel Wallace for his work On the Origin of Species, and that it is Wallace who should be credited as having first proposed the theory of evolution.

Davies accuses Darwin of incorporating the revolutionary ideas of Wallace into his manuscript then claiming them as his own.

His crucial evidence, he claims, is in pinpointing the exact dates that letters from Wallace to Darwin explaining his theories arrived at Darwin's home, proving that the Welsh scientist developed them first.

And experts on the Welshman yesterday agreed that Wallace had been unfairly treated by history but said it would be difficult to prove his ideas were in fact stolen.

"I researched the book for 12 years," said Davies, a former head of factual programmes at BBC Wales.

"At the beginning, I believed Darwin was a genius. By the time the book was finished, I had long since realised that it was Wallace who was the genius and Darwin, 14 years his senior, who was the plodder.

"In the end, the crucial evidence came from an expert on Dutch maritime shipping in the 19th century, Professor Femme Gaastra of Leiden University.

"He was able to pinpoint exactly which boats picked up Wallace's mail in the Malay Archipelago (now Malaysia and Indonesia), where he was working as a collector of new species, and delivered it to the P&O liners who shipped the mail home to Southampton.

"Before the research, Darwin's supporters were able to argue that the letters he received from Wallace arrived at his home when he claimed they had.

"Professor Gaastra's great contribution was that he was able to show that two crucial letters written by Wallace between October 1856 and March 1858 arrived in Britain long before Darwin admitted they had. Wallace's ideas appeared in Darwin's work soon afterwards."

Wallace was born in Llanbadoc, near Usk, in 1823 and became an explorer, collector, naturalist, geographer, anthropologist and political commentator. He died in 1913. Experts at the Natural History Museum say he came up with the idea of evolution by natural selection at the same time as — but entirely independent of — Darwin, but has since been overshadowed.

While feverish with malaria on the Malay Archipelago in 1858, Wallace wrote to Darwin explaining his ideas because he knew Darwin was also working on the theory.

Both men presented their theories to the scientific Linnean Society of London, but Darwin's manuscript was published the following year, and he has since been universally credited with the theory, while Wallace's name has largely been forgotten.

"It is terribly unfair on Wallace," said George Beccaloni, a curator at the Natural History Museum and founder of the Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund.

"The fact of the matter is they both simultaneously published the theory of natural selection in 1858, 15 months before Origin of Species.

"But everyone credits Origin of Species as being the place the idea was first published, which isn't true. Wallace definitely deserves half the credit for the idea.

"On the face of it, it certainly seems there are questions that should be answered by historians.

"But whether Darwin stole the idea remains to be seen."

Davies said the implications for Darwin's status as an honest scientist were serious but said his theory would face "serious opposition" from academics.

"Any attempt to restore Wallace's name to anything like equality with that of Darwin's is bound to fail," he said.

"All I can hope for is that fair-minded people read the book and make up their own minds."

TAGGED: BOOKS, DARWIN


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