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Heroes of Science Episode 1

Scientists aren’t gents anymore, because they can’t afford to be because then they’ll lose their job

The scientist that should be better known is of course me.  This is clearly the case.  I’m one of the world’s top six experts in the genetics of snails and the other five agree but nobody else is aware of it!

It’s hard to know, but I think the essential point about scientists being well known or known is, in the end, it doesn’t really matter, because they don’t matter.  It’s not like the arts.  You know, if Beethoven hadn’t have been around we wouldn’t have had Fidelio.  If Darwin hadn’t have been around we would have a theory of evolution.  It would’ve been written by somebody, possibly called Jones, I don’t know.  So it’s less important this priority business in science than in any other field.

But I would inevitably say that the guy who’s been slightly brushed out of the picture was Wallace, Alfred Russel Wallace, who wrote to Darwin in 1858 from Malaysia with almost exactly the same idea and Darwin was really knocked sideways that somebody had had his idea and he rushed at once to start writing On the Origin of Species. 

And being a gent, scientists aren’t gents anymore, because they can’t afford to be because then they’ll lose their job, he very generously, first of all said that Wallace should present a paper to the Linnean Society of London with that idea, without Darwin’s name on it which was a really gentlemanly thing to do.  But then one of his friends, without Wallace actually knowing this, put both their names on it, the Darwin-Wallace paper.  So I think I would put Wallace as somebody that deserves more attention.

Fortunately 2013 is Wallace’s year because he lived until 1913.  And the thing that’s remarkable about Wallace is his interests were much wider than Darwin, they went beyond science a long way.  He designed, for example, what’s now the Town Hall in Neath in South Wales.  Darwin didn’t do that!  He set out the street plan of LLandrindod Wells in Wales and Darwin didn’t do that.  One of his last papers, it’s completely amazing, it’s got a title called On the Use of Flying Machines in Modern Warfare, and that’s 1913, a year before the First World War broke out and he sort of precipices the idea of drone attacks from unmanned aircraft, um, so he was a, he was perhaps a broader character than Darwin but I also have to say, certainly a shallower one.