Plagiarism on one of the most important books ever published?

On July 1st, 50 years ago, an event occurred which, according to the journalist Arnold Brackman, was “one of the great watersheds in the history of Western civilization.” Members of the London’s august Linnean Society on Piccadilly heard two unpublished fragments about evolution written by the famous naturalist Charles Darwin, and a fully thought-out paper written by a relative unknown, Alfred Russel Wallace.

Neither Darwin nor Wallace was present. Darwin stayed at his home in England mourning the death of a son to scarlet fever; Wallace was in distant New Guinea chasing butterflies and beetles.

Wallace’s paper – formally titled “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type” and popularly dubbed the “Ternate Paper” after the eastern Indonesian town from which he sent the study to Darwin – was the first complete explanation of the process of natural selection, which introduced the concept that “the fittest would survive.”

To simplify a complex story, as a result of Wallace’s paper, Darwin was pushed to complete “Origin of Species,” which was published in 1859. No doubt we will see a media blitz in 2009 when the world will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s bestseller. Darwin, a member of the British scientific elite, became a household name. Wallace, who left school at 14 and came from a modest family, ended up as a (rather important) footnote in history.

Some researchers argue that it was scientific coincidence – that each man had his eureka moment independently. Such an occurrence is not uncommon; it’s called a “multiple”: Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus. Oxygen was discovered by Carl Wilhelm Scheel in 1773 and by Joseph Priestly in 1774. Color photography was invented almost simultaneously by two Frenchmen. Four independent researchers discovered sunspots, all in 1611. Six men invented the thermometer and nine invented the telescope. And so on.

Did Darwin plagiarize Wallace? The question can be addressed in both legal and anecdotal terms.

The British lawyer David Hallmark, who is a trustee of the Wallace Foundation based in Indonesia, notes that as Darwin had not previously published and as the letter from Wallace stimulated publication, it follows that Wallace was first and Darwin, whatever he wrote, was second.

Also, when Darwin did publish he failed to attribute to Wallace the impact of the younger man’s Ternate letter on his own works, yet Darwin used the Wallace theory as his own. Therein lies the prima facie case of plagiarism.

There is circumstantial evidence that Darwin knew he had wronged Wallace and felt guilty about his actions. Although we obviously don’t know everything that Darwin and his colleagues thought or said to one another, there is an illuminating paper trail of letters in which Darwin referred to the events as a “miserable affair” and his relationship with Wallace as “a delicate situation.”

For the full article, “Survival of the fittest”, by Paul Spencer Sochaczewski, please click here.


  1. Dr Milton Wainwright says:

    Anyone wanting to find out where Darwin got his ideas from should read my article “It’s not Darwin’s or Wallace’s Theory” which can be found by searching Google for “wainwrightscience”,

    Best Wishes, DRMW University of Sheffield,UK

  2. wanbliska says:


    If I understand quite well what you wrote, yes, this could be scary.
    I wrote to you some weeks ago, but I could not find the message. Free will..?

    More than ten years ago, I stooped painting, because I made premonitory pieces. Landscapes or situation… I had to face then. Once Gandhi appeared in the sky I was colouring.
    Now I consider they appeared to tale me to pay attention, or be careful. But I got afraid. Maybe because of the big unknown mystery. And so, surely about myself. So I put it all into the dustbin, lol.
    Anyway I’ve been founding other medium to express myself. But what frightened me in the past is now a mystery to explore, or for the less to accept. Because it is a gift, in a certain manner.

    I’m not here by chance. From centuries and infinite time, artists gathered, attracted from soul to soul with similar sensors. They go and leave, to recall and come back, lecturing each others.
    Angels are here to accompany. I believe in. Though I can’t say, they have white wings or other physics characteritics men gave through time. But indeed, beings are with us everyday.
    Yes, in the invisible are beings that help by working a lot. Some say, that’s just my imagination, but that is the way I have to live. I don’t blame them not to open the door, I’m still myself a litlle scared about, sometimes.

    I saw a film not a long time ago. “Meeting Forester” is maybe the english title, I don’t know. I really loved it.
    Teaching a poor young black student how to write, while typewriting himself a white page, Forrester ends saying:
    “First, you write with your heart,
    Then you read with your head”.
    One of the world’s sentence that sounds like a bell.

    Love to you too.

  3. Leaf says:

    I wrote Brida before I read it.
    Yes, it can be scarey…enough to throw me over the edge more than once, lol….but back to the video question about the future of communication/media, I think that strong hearts will always find ways of communicating (truth) to other human beings.
    Wanbliska, I have drawn and written things into reality and that is scarey…now I have my usual fear of saying too much, but these are gifts of God, and it is fear that turns them into curses, so I must be brave…..
    oh, for the ability to erase a few things, eh?
    Ah, but I never regret, and if I do, that’s the only secret I keep.
    Yes, I see Paul’s point too, but I see that our time is new everyday too, and I see these syncronicities as indicators that we are not alone in our personal evolution, that God has angels and friends for us to share explorations and adventures, and that even in these days of fear and hostility, these are still real, trustworthy people.
    It does well to remember that the word Inspiration means In Spirit, and Jesus said that when two agree then there He is willing.
    I found six Soulmates now.

  4. wanbliska says:


    You’re right, but I consider that our time is new everyday. So there are things that can’t have been done, said or written, since the world is in constant evolution. I mean, internet did not exist before it came, as an example… A lot of creations and theories could not heve been brought to our mind, until we’re on the edge to react face to them…
    But maybe I’m wrong.

    best regards.

  5. The idea that Darwin used Wallace’s theorty as his own is absolute rubbish. There is the incovenience fact of existing papers with verifiable dates.

    Darwin first wrote about ‘The Species Question’ when he opened his first notebook on the matter in 1837. It is clear from reading the Voyage of the Beagle, his letters and diaries that he had been considering the matter while Beagle was in South American waters between 1832-34 when his observations of geological phenomena, fossil collections and specimens undermined the orthodoxy that species was created by God, fixed and immutable.

    Darwin first sketched the theory in pencil in 1842 and fleshed it out in 1844. In the the intervening years he was doing that crucial second stage in the scientific process: gathering data to support his hypothesis. It may be inconvenent to Darwin’s detractors that he originated the idea 21 years before its eventual publication, but those are the facts. Darwin also provides an historical sketch of evolutionary ideas predating his in a preface to The Origin.

  6. Randa says:

    we inspire each other – ego aside.

  7. Marie says:

    All I’d say is to remember the story of the 100th monkey – or whatever your version is. Anyway, what does it matter?

  8. Alexandra says:

    I hate those who use the work of some other,especially in cases like this.We dont know the true for sure.I dont blame one .Just cant stand people who is not playing a fair play.

  9. wanbliska says:

    My case:
    When I lived in the north of France, before I entered university I discovered something about a holy thing, very famous in the town I was.
    5 years later, I met a theologist that made me work on the subject, as a drawer. I found the synchonicity so incredible.

    8 years later, I decided to write a book about the work we had together. I know it is not perfect, although I don’t know really what people think about. I nearly never make it read. I’m too afraid of what I write generally. Because I know once we read something, it is here in our mind, and we couldn’t do nothing about, to escape the changing that occured in ourselves…
    And sometimes, secret must be kept secret…

    Maybe people could think I plagiarized the theologist’s work, though I did not. But, I admit he reinforced my discovery, and expanded it. He, he can’t manage to be heard, and his word is really complicated. And then, he’s searching for scientific and religious throne gratitude, that treat him as a fool in return.
    Among other things, my write was about for that discovery to be listened.

    Yesterday, I began “The devil and Mrs Prym”. In the preface, you talk about God telling “us” when he said : “look they became as us”, talking about Adam and Eve. I just began to wrote in 2001 about, questionning myself about that curious “us”. So, as you wrote the book in 2000, you seem to always be in advance with me… :) But I’ve never have read your book before.

    On page 25 in the french book, I could read a line that is in my only one book: “too much questions in the same time”, says the stranger…
    Not speaking about “The witch”, and “the Piedra river”, and “the Zahir”, I read this year. I can’t but found my hearth in them.
    And I only read three books about you before reading them. Maybe they’re about to conduce me to plagiarize. I had problems to write before, but now, I will think about twice, more.

    So maybe plagiarize could also refer with some ideas that have been already thought. As in a recipe, tomatoes, potatoes and peas would have been already added in a pan, for all to smell and eat.
    I heard about two scientists that discovered a jab the same day! This is more fantastic there.

    So now I think I’m going to read all your books. :) Yet, reading or not reading you, will surely influence me at last. From the one to the other, it seems I’m stuck. But no problem, now, I’m thinking about something else to do in my life, than writing.
    Because I’m aware now, I can swallow the same broth as you.

    Yes, the truth is sometimes pretentious.

    With love.