Giants’ Shoulders #65: The Wallace Edition

History of science in the last month circled around the 100th anniversary on 7th November of the death of Wallace:


Not that Wallace you idiot Alfred Russel Wallace co-discovery of the concept of evolution by natural selection:

Alfred Russel Wallace 1862

Alfred Russel Wallace 1862

His death was announced in this letter by his son. The New York Times presented The Animated Life of A R WallaceA podcast by David Attenborough The forgotten story of Alfred Russel WallaceThe Nature Conservancy: Remembering Alfred Russel WallaceThe National Council for Scientific Education: WallaceanaA podcast at Scientific American: The man who wasn’t DarwinA book review: Letters from the Malay Archipelago

You can help save his home at The Dell, or visit an exhibition in Dorset County Museum: Alfred Russel Wallace A Centenary Celebration

To close up our look at Wallace John van Wyhe asks: Will the real Alfred Russel Wallace please stand up?

Appropriate to this celebration Myrmecos presents a graphic on How Field Naturalists Die  

Staying with the life sciences John Wilkins told us how Noah Ark inspired the species concept.

Nature tells us that Linnaeus’ Asian elephant was the wrong species. A research project that involved Lincoln Universities own Dr Anna-Marie Roos: Research discovers new ‘type specimen’ for the Asian elephant

Grrl Scientist offers us a review of a natural history classic The Natural History of Selborne

At the end of October (and a week later in America) daylight saving time came to an end for this year prompting this thoughtful post from Becky Higgitt: Clock Change Challenge. Which in turn prompted me to write about the unique system of time keeping in early modern Nürnberg: Counting the Hours. In America somebody linked to this appropriate article on Benjamin Franklin’s invention of daylight saving time. Also on the theme of time Dissertation Reviews told us about Clocks and Time in Edo Japan.

Thankfully we've got the Royal Observatory at Greenwich keeping an eye on the time for us.

Thankfully we’ve got the Royal Observatory at Greenwich keeping an eye on the time for us.


As the last edition of Giants’ Shoulders went to press and the period for this one started the Internet community celebrated this years Ada Lovelace Day and the majority of the posts have slipped through the net but we have a small collection of post on women in science and technology. Guardian Science Blogs gave us Women in Science: a difficult history . Somerville College honoured Ada Lovelace Day. Melissa Terras gave us Father Busa’s Female Punch Card Operatives. Again at the Guardian Sharon Ruston discussed Mary Wollstonecraft, feminism, and the nature v nurture debate. The New York Times is Honoring female pioneers in science. The Telegraph gives us an obituary of Mavis Batey a Bletchley Park code breaker.

Mavis Batey with an Enigma Machine

Mavis Batey with an Enigma Machine

Amanda Herbert tells us that there are Never Too Many Cooks: Female Alliances in Early Modern Recipes. The lady archaeologists and geologists are also represented: Wikipedia gets the TrowelBlazer Treatment

Continuing in the earth sciences we celebrate Charles Lyell’s birthday Happy Birthday Charles Lyell and we have A geological Halloween Special: Lovecraft and The Mountains of Madness

On Halloween

Lisa Smith, Hobgoblin Classification in the Eighteenth Century, Felicity Roberts, An Early Eighteenth Century Ghost and Sean Cosgrove, Feeling Lonesome this Halloween? Nineteenth-Century Love Charms and Halloween Games.

In physics Chad Orzel found a book of old theses in his department and presents the Old Thesis Club: Monte Carlo Simulation in 1960, Secondary Emission of Electrons from Molybdenum (1928), Gravitation (1932), The Hyperfine Structure and Zeeman Efeect (1932) showing us that history of science can be fairly modern and must not be about famous people. John Gribbin goes in the other direction and celebrates one of the giants Henry Cavendish: An Unsung Hero of Science . Aaron Wright takes a look at Dirac and mathematical beauty (1) [there’s more to come]

With the Science Museum opening their collider exhibition The Independent presented Harry Cliff: The man who’s making an exhibition of the Higgs boson at the Science Museum. Whilst the New York Times are Explaining a Collider and Poison’s Power

Stephen Curry fulfilled a dream of many of us and held a Friday night lecture at the Royal Institution on the history of x-ray crystallography. He blogged about the experience and a video of his excellent lecture is embedded in his post: A night at the theatre of science

Stephen Curry in The Theatre of Science

Stephen Curry in The Theatre of Science

As usually the history of medicine blogging community has been very busy this month (come on science historians they’re beating us into a cocked hat!)

Hans Sloane was checking tongues in the 18th century and Miley Cyrus sticking her’s out in the 21st.  Hans Sloane didn’t just look at tongues: A Welsh doctor, Sir Hans Sloane and the disappearing catheterIn the Guardian Katherine Wright asked Where did syphilis come from?  For those with other sexual problems than syphilis we have Anthony Lewis and the Aphrodisiac Remedy. Continuing the subject of fertility we move on to my personal favourite cooking ingredient: Garlic and fertility testing in the ancient world. On the subjects of medicine and recipes we had An early modern Portuguese recipe book of pharmaceutical “secrets”. To grow medicinal herbs you of course need a garden, which can have other restorative powers: Why every hospital should have a garden. Whilst the Quack Doctor offers us a tonic for the blood: For the blood is the life. The Royal Socity delivered up a video of one of their Friday lunch time history of science lectures: Physicians, chemists and experimentalists: the Royal Society and the rise of modern medicine c. 1600 – 1850. Yovisto celebrated Alzheimer’s birthday: Alzheimer’s A disease of advanced civilisation and Alphonse Laveran’s discovery and fight against malariaFakes and Frauds in medicine is not a modern phenomenon

On Children & Medicine: Hannah Newton, Wet Beds and Hedgehogs and Jen Evans, Sleeping Like a Baby

The Wellcome Library sweetens up the medical department: Diagnosing diabetes: a wee taste of honey. Lastly in the medical department Dissertation Reviews gives us a look at early modern medical researcher Reinier de Graaf: Experimenting with chemical bodies

The odds and ends department has early modern polymath Edmond Halley meeting his crew and we learn about Halley’s role in Newton’s Principia . We also learn: How the clouds were named. Will Thomas ruminates on the problems of writing history of science for scientists: New Article in Climate Change

Considering all the posts celebrating anniversaries: History Matters gives us an entire conference: On this day in history: Why do anniversaries matter?

Clarissa Ai Ling Lee brings us an intriguing essay with a positively 19th century title: Emmy Noether, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and their Cyborgian Counterparts: Triangulating Mathematical-Theoretical Physics, Feminist Science Studies, and Feminist Science Fiction

Guthrie Stewart takes into the world of medieval alchemy: Contradictory alchemical recipes are really annoying. On a related note Laura Mitchell tells us about The Disappearance of Charms from a Fifteenth-Century Notebook. Sally Osborn puts the meta-question What is a Recipe?

As the enfant terrible of history of science myth busting I’ve saved my favourite posts of the month until last.

Paleofuture explains why: Making Nikola Tesla a Saint Makes us all Dumber. Chad Orzel takes on the lone genius myth in a superb takedown Individualists working together. Kees-Jan Schilt tells all about Newton’s dirty little secrets: “Not fit to be Printed”. On the Reception of Newton’s Unorthodox Works and to close out my personal choice for blog post of the month, True Anomalies tackles the tangled web of Errors and Expertise in science and the history of science

A piece of meta-blogging:  The American Mathematical Society in the form of Evelyn J Lamb has written a review of The Renaissance Mathematicus!

Last year Michelle Ziegler (@MZiegler3) played Mother Christmas and brought us a whole sleigh load of history of science, technology and medicine goodies in the December edition of Giants’ Shoulders. In fact she was so good that she is making a return appearance to host Giants’ Shoulders #66 a ‘History of Medicine and Biology Special’ at her Contagions Blog on 16th December 2013. Submissions as usually, and non-special posts are also welcome, either to the host or to me here at RM by 15th December.


Filed under Giants' Shoulders

3 responses to “Giants’ Shoulders #65: The Wallace Edition

  1. I hope it’s a “Ask a Historian” time. I picked up somewhere (perhaps Janet Browne) that Wallace’s version of natural selection was not all that close to Darwin’s because Wallace proposed that natural selection operated at species level while Darwin proposed that it operated at the level of individual organisms. Is that close to right?

    • No. Wallace also thought that selection operated on individuals (read his letter from the Ternate):

      “If now we have succeeded in establishing these two points —1st, that the animal population of a country is generally stationary, being kept down by a periodical deficiency of food, and other checks; — and, 2d, that the comparative abundance or scarcity of the individuals of the several species is entirely due to their organisation and resulting habits, which, rendering it more difficult to procure a regular supply of food and to provide for their personal safety in some cases than in others, can only be balanced by a difference in the population which have to exist in a given area — we shall be in a condition to proceed to the consideration of
      varieties, to which the preceding remarks have a direct and
      very important application.”

      In short, while he did think that species could compete, and that species were permanent varieties, he held that selection occurred at the level of individuals within populations.

      Where he and Darwin differed is in what selection selected for. Darwin thought it selected for numbers of progeny. Wallace that it selected for survival. This is why Darwin held to a theory of sexual selection, where Wallace did not.

  2. Pingback: Carnivalia — 11/13 – 11/19 | Sorting out Science

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s