Such expressions as that famous one of Linnæus, and which we often meet with in a more or less concealed form, that the characters do not make the genus, but that the genus gives the characters, seem to imply that something more is included in our classification, than mere resemblance. I believe that something more is included; and that propinquity of descent,—the only known cause of the similarity of organic beings,—is the bond, hidden as it is by various degrees of modification, which is partially revealed to us by our classifications (Darwin, 1859, p. 413f).

Thursday, 1 May 2008

The Enduring Legacy of Misinterpreting Darwin

Kevin Padian's (2008) claim that Charles Darwin founded the main principles of biogeography and ecology is clearly incorrect. Biogeography was alive and well long before Darwin's birth, in fact Augustin Pyramus de Candolle and Alexander von Humboldt produced the founding works of biogeography four years before Darwin was born, while the younger Alphonse Candolle and Ernst Haeckel erected the foundations for chorology and ecology in 1855 and 1861 respectively.

Prior to the publication of Origin of Species in 1859, Darwin would have had access to an extensive array of literature, including biogeographical concepts espoused by Charles Lyell, Louis Agassiz, Joseph Dalton Hooker and Phillip Lutely Sclater. Furthermore, Padain's claim that in "Darwin's day, dispersal through migration was the only mechanism thought possible for species to move among continents" (p. 633) is also erroneous as concepts such as vicariance were already in existence. Darwin's contribution to biogeography and ecology was to provide a synthesis or unifying mechanism that explains why organisms are distributed the way they are today, namely natural selection.

Padian, K. 2008. Darwin's enduring legacy. Nature 451: 632-634.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Last week I was in a meeting in Paris called "Another Darwin", about Darwin but not on natural selection. A historian of geology, Gabriel Dohau, have a very nice talk where he mentioned the earthquake in Valdivia, Chile.
The talk was a very good and well documented one. It seems that Padian's interpretation that a big earthquake was a typical case of darwinian gradualism is just totally mistaken.
This makes 2 very big errors in a single paper. Padian has reached Nature standards : just say anything spectacular, never care of accuracy ! Science will improve when Nature (and all these star system merchandised things) will not be considered as a scientific journal...