Darwin refused to be scooped

Alice McCarthy, June 30th, 2010 | Filed under
  • Alfred Wallace (left) and Charles Darwin (right)

As we begin the second half of 2010, a look back in the timeline of interesting – we hope – dates in science reveals that on July 1,1858 Charles Darwin first went public about his views on the evolution of species.

Though his book, On the Origin of Species, was in the works, it would not be published until November 1859. More to the point, Darwin had not yet revealed his theories. But so as not to be scooped by his competitor in the field, Alfred Russell Wallace, Darwin agreed to have a section of the manuscript read at a meeting of the Linnean Society in London. Due to personal circumstances, Darwin himself did not present the data, instead having the manuscript portions read by proxy.

In the century and a half since Darwin’s views were released, fascination in evolutionary theories has not lost any ground.  And researchers at the Broad are part of the scene.  In a well-publicized paper published in Science, researchers at the Max-Planck Institute in Germany and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard provided new evidence in the understanding of human evolution. They team revealed the genetic relationship between modern humans and Neandertals, the closest relatives to living humans who became extinct approximately 30,000 years ago. Specifically, they determined that the two species interbred.

However timeless Darwin’s theories came to be, his manuscript titles are decidely 19th century. The public reading included sections called "The Variation of Organic Beings under Domestication and in their Natural State," and "On the Variation of Organic Beings in the State of Nature; on the Natural Means of Selection; on the Comparison of Domestic Races and true Species."

Darwin’s Linnean presentation was published in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London. Zoology 3 (20 August 1858): 46-50.