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Everyone knows the name Charles Darwin, but his lesser known frenemy, Alfred Russel Wallace, was developing a lot of the same ideas around the same time.
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Everyone knows the name Charles Darwin. He was the father of evolution, the first to come up with that whole natural selection, survival-of-the-fittest thing.

Right? Actually, Darwin doesn’t deserve all the credit. While Darwin was puzzling over the beaks of Galapagos finches, another naturalist working in what’s now Indonesia was reaching the exact same conclusions.

His name was Alfred Russel Wallace. Darwin gathered the observations that led to the theory of natural selection while traveling the world on the H. M.

S. Beagle in the 1830s. After he returned to England, he spent decades developing his ideas and slowly working on a book about them.

Wallace, who was born in 1823, was 14 years younger than Darwin. He was also less wealthy and less well-connected. While Darwin was methodically shaping the theories that would make him famous, Wallace was doing some globetrotting of his own, studying natural history in South America and the Malay Archipelago.

In 1858 he wrote a letter to Darwin -- already a well-known scientist at the time -- outlining in detail his ideas about how species changed through time. Needless to say, Darwin was pretty shocked to get a letter from some young nobody who’d come to the same conclusions about evolution that he had. Darwin had been working on this book for a long time and he didn’t want Wallace to publish first and get all the credit, so he and his friends quickly threw together a meeting of the Linnean Society of London, an association of biologists.

In the meeting, the secretary of the society presented the ideas of both men at the same time. Wallace wasn’t even at the meeting, because he couldn’t exactly commute from the remote islands in the Indian Ocean where he was working at the time. But … neither was Darwin, because his one and a half year old son had died just a few days beforehand.

Only around 30 people actually showed up at the Linnean Society to hear the papers be presented, and no one seemed to realize the significance of what they were hearing at the time. So why is Darwin so famous today while Wallace is so obscure? Well, for one thing, Darwin had been working on his theory for decades.

By a year after the Linnean Society meeting, he was ready to publish a pretty comprehensive book he’d written on evolution, On The Origin of Species. You might’ve heard of it. The book made a huge splash and everyone pretty much forgot about that other weird young guy no one had ever heard of.

Remember, Darwin was already pretty famous -- he’d written a wildly popular account of his travels called The Voyage of the Beagle over a decade before. It took Wallace another decade to publish his own book on natural selection, and by that time the theory was already widely known as “Darwinism.” And when Wallace published another book on natural selection later on, he put the word “Darwinism” in the book’s title. That probably didn’t help.

As the years passed, Darwin and Wallace had a polite but complicated relationship. Wallace believed that natural selection couldn’t explain human intelligence on its own, arguing that some sort of higher power must be involved. Darwin and his friends didn’t agree.

But, when Wallace ran into money troubles later in life, Darwin helped arrange for him to get a government pension in recognition of his scientific contributions. Today, Wallace is mostly just a historical footnote for non-scientists. An effort to raise money to build a bronze statue of him to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death in 2013 only made it halfway to its goal.

But poor Wallace hasn’t been totally forgotten. He’s considered to be the father of biogeography -- the study of how species are distributed across the planet. His observations of how Asian and Australian species intermingled in Indonesia and New Guinea kickstarted scientific interest in how plants and animals end up living in specific places.

The Wallace Line -- the surprisingly sharp boundary between islands with plants and animals more like those of Asia and plants and animals more like those of Australia still bears his name. And in the end, they did make that statue of him, which was donated to London’s Natural History Museum. Maybe it’s just as well that Darwin’s the one who got permanently associated with the theory of natural selection because “Darwinism” is a lot easier to say that “Wallace-ism.” But the contributions of Darwin’s lesser-known frenemy Wallace still deserve to be remembered.

Not least because he maybe inspired Darwin to get going on finishing the book.

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