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Scientific advances are the product of human endeavours through time. Science has a history that can be plotted back to a time before the terminology scientist was coined by William Whewell, and although there are numerous scientific discoveries which precede it, the 1th century with its emphasis on technology and industrial growth saw a great push in the field of science. The political and economic situation, combined with an increasing interest in, and knowledge of the natural world, to create a climate in which scientific discoveries could be made and great scientists recognised. The history of science can provide an insight into why Wallace, despite his in depth work on the laws of nature, and natural selection (which rivalled that of Darwin) is thought of as an outsider rather than a great scientist.


The history of science has until recently been based on a two-track model involving the principles of naturalism and symmetry. Naturalism, relates to science as a natural human creation driven by the pursuit of truth, with all things supernatural ruled out. With naturalism everything that happens must have an understandable cause based on empirical evidence and which obeys physical laws and causality. Within the symmetry principle, science is judged as either right or wrong, and creates heros and villians rather than players and relegates certain scientific knowledge as invalid. This picking and choosing however depends on knowing what counts as science. Was Wallace’s ‘science’ classified as invalid by the established scientific bodies and his work consequently destined for obscurity?


There is primary evidence available in historical writings to suggest that Wallace’s reputation suffered through internalist views which upheld the two-track model described above.


The British Association was the established and consequently authoritative body of scientific study, an association founded by Oxbridge Dons and backed by rich and respectable members of society. This association was keen to direct funding into safe and appropriate works and sought to reinforce established boundaries by marking those that went outside of them as radicals or crackpots. For 1th century researchers these restrictions included subjects such as evolution and the origin of the universe by the Church who saw these as belonging to the spiritual rather that scientific domain, a restriction which was reinforced by British Association of Science. For the British Association externalists were considered to be influenced by external, social, political, economic and cultural factors which were considered dangerous. For a number of reasons it is understandable why the British Association would consider Wallace as falling into both the ‘outsider’ and ‘externalist’ categories.


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In the first instance there were two very basic reasons why Wallace would be categorised in such a way. The first relates to the symmetry principle outlined above, which relies on winners and losers, and consequently relegated Wallace’s reputation to the second division because he came an unfortunate second to Darwin with his theory of evolution by ‘natural selection’ in an age which sought scientific heroes. The second reason was that Wallace did not fit into the same mould as other scientists of the age, such as Darwin and Newton who were gentlemen of independent means. Wallace was ‘working class’ and self-taught rather than Oxbridge educated. However there were much deeper reasons why Wallaces views would be considered unacceptable based on his views on selection, socialism and spiritualism.


Wallaces interest in the natural sciences was acquired during his work as a surveyor in South-Wales. His early work The South-Wales Farmer provided an early insight into Wallace’s ability to combine biology, geology and socio-political observations that he would later use in his travels to South-America and the Far East. Wallace was an evolutionist, and evolution was considered not only as a heresy, but also a pseudo-science. Wallaces evolutionist beliefs can be seen in his early work describing the Welsh hill farmers where he describes the people almost as an under-developed and evolving society in comparison to the English farmers of his acquaintance. Wallace also clearly embraced an ape ancestry in his article, A new kind of baby written in 1856, when he likened the orang-utans to descendants of some kind of primitive people. This occurred some years prior to his unexpected connection between the work An essay on the Principles of Population by Thomas Malthus, his experiences with the Welsh hill farmers and his concept of natural selection. The links between Wallaces work and that of Darwins were very strong and it would not be unreasonable to consider that Wallace might have received some of the accolades afforded to Darwin. However Darwin as a model scientist was careful in the way he presented his work, his reinforcement of the superiority of the white man over the primitive people he met was more acceptable than the view handed down by Wallace. Wallace sees them as interesting and that the good qualities of savage life will be lost to the vices of civilisation. Wallaces views would not have found favour in Victorian England where the superiority of the British male was supreme. Wallace however did not have as much to lose as Darwin and his openness and honesty in his scientific studies gave him an authority to follow all avenues of interest to him. This diversity led him into the world of spiritualism.


Initially Wallace deplored superstition which he shows in his denouncement of the habits of the Welsh farmers and his scientific scepticism is apparent in his first encounter with spiritualism with his remarks account …this was done to prevent me lighting the gas. Spiritualism was a craze sweeping British drawing rooms and Wallace soon became convinced by what he saw. Wallaces conversion was not based on the laws of nature which could not provide an answer to the events he witnessed, however he challenged the sceptical scientific fraternity to to offer some explanation of this phenomenom. I pledge my word for the reality of the facts…. In response however Wallace found himself ostracised by his fellow scientists and by the highly political British Association, which was controlled mostly by those of the new scientific persuasion interested only in studying natural subjects in suitable ways.


In a further way Wallace’s socialist leanings would also not have found favour amongst the establishment of 1th century Britain as socialism represented a threat to the established order of things. For Wallace however his background of attending working men’s clubs and listening to lectures from such people as Robert Owen the industrial reformist, as well as his first hand experience of the suffering of the Welsh hill farmers provided his socialist education. Wallace’s socialist sympathies are evident from his very first article entitled ‘The South-Wales Farmer’, and his later views on the enclosure of common lands as ‘legalised robbery of the poor for the aggrandisement of the rich’ and his support of a land nationalisation scheme highlighted these further. For Wallace all human nature was perfectible through education and environment and his publications reflected his sympathy with those indigenous people he met. His socialist principles were also demonstrated in his article on Human Selection in which Wallace expressed the view that women should hold the responsibility for raising the average standard of the race….through the agency of female choice in marriage a weeding out system…by which the animal and vegetable worlds have been improved and developed. This was an extremely controversial view for a country where women did not yet have the vote.


Beliefs, practices and meanings change through time and achieving consensual views involves controversy, negotiation and persuasion. Change has not been an automatic process and scientific knowledge today is not the inevitable outcome of the past but rather a cumulative and progressive system, which benefits from new insights. The removal of any one factor may have resulted in a different history. For Wolpert, science relates to the outside world and its success depends on how well theories correspond with reality. This contextualist model of the history of science sees scientific resources not as internal or external, or scientific or social, but provides an explanation of the science of any period by looking at what we now know to be true, and assessing the past in relation to this knowledge. It can be argued that through his relationship with Darwin and others in the British Association that Wallace was not a total outsider. However because he allowed himself the luxury of studying anything which stimulated his interest, subjects which at the time were considered unscientific and frivolous both he and his work were relegated in the history of science. Although he may not be considered a great scientist alongside the likes of Newton, Farraday and Darwin his reputation as a naturalist resulting from his travels and writing must be secure.


Bibliography


Darwin, Charles, Among the Fuegians, Open University, A10, B Resource Book , p.7.


Wallace, Alfred Russel, Among the Uaup�s, Open University, A10, B Resource Book , p.71


Wallace, Alfred Russel, Notes of a s�ance with Miss Nicholl, 1867, Open University, A10, B8 Resource Book , p.8


Wallace, Alfred Russel, Notes of a s�ance with Miss Nicholl, 1867, Open University, A10, B Resource Book , p.85


Wallace, Alfred Russel, Notes of a s�ance with Miss Nicholl, 1867, Open University, A10, B Resource Book , p.85


Wallace, Alfred Russel, Human Selection, Open University, A10, B10 Resource Book , p.86


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