Monday, April 5, 2021

Alfred Russel Wallace: An Animated Film

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution, Nature of Science, History of Science 

Ed Hessler

It is well known that Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin arrived at the same theory of evolution independently. The question of priority was resolved when Thomas Hooker and Charles Lyell read the following before the Linnean Society of London, the world's oldest active society for natural history.

These gentleman, having, independently and unknown to one another, conceived the same very ingenious theory to account for the appearance and perpetuation and perpetuation of varieties and of specific forms on our planet, may both fairly claim the merit of being original thinkers in this important line of inquiry. This was followed by reading two brief papers by Darwin (1844 and 1857) and then Wallace's paper of 1858. Therefore, these two were co-proposers of  evolution by natural selection. 

So what happened to Wallace and why don't we refer to it as the Darwin-Wallace theory? In his book, Why Evolution is True, University of Chicago evolutionary biologist wrote "Essentially it was because of the impact of The Origin of Species," Darwin's now famous book published in 1859.*

To give you an idea of the regard in which Wallace was held at the time, this quote by Thomas Huxley who was known as Darwin's bulldog for both his vigorous defense and offense of Darwin's evidence-based theory, is powerful.**

Once in a generation, a Wallace may be found physically, mentally, and morally qualified to wander unscathed through the topical form magnificent collections as he wanders; and withal to think out sagaciously the conclusions suggested by his collections. (Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature, D. Appleton, New York)

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson, includes a chapter on Wallace and it reminded me of a short animated film about Wallace. In that theft, Edwin Rist, took several birds of paradise that Wallace had collected more than a century ago. Unfortunately, I could think of only one of the producers and then just her first name. I knew she had worked on NPR's Science Friday and that the production company was in Brooklyn. All my searches led nowhere because of the search terms but finally I found it. It is on both You Tube and also is a biological interactive (7m 45s) on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute website

The film is beautifully animated with paper puppets. It is narrated by two experts on the life of Wallace.

And the producers are Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck; the multimedia production company is Sweet Fern Productions. 

I probably posted a reference to this video long ago but like re-reading a good book, it is worth a second viewing and posting.

* Also see this short article published in Nature (2008) for why "Alfred Russel Wallace's achievements" were "overshadowed by those of Charles Darwin" as well as what can be done to restore a proper balance.

**Kirk Wallace Johnson included this quote in his book, The Feather Thief.

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