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Slice of history: Darwin helped his co-theorist Wallace get a pension

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Even though they emphatically disagreed about design in nature. Science historian Michael Flannery tells the story:

They never changed their opinions, and they became even firmer in their respective disagreements. But more importantly, they remained friends and always considered themselves reputable colleagues.

There is no better proof of this than Darwin’s successful effort to obtain a civil pension for Wallace. By 1881 Wallace had fallen on hard times. A protracted legal dispute and poor business investments left him, in his biographer Ross Slotten’s words, “financially solvent only by means of makeshift employment.” …

Wallace — a staunch proponent of intelligent evolution — was being lauded by those who fundamentally disagreed with him for his scientific accomplishments! At least in Darwin’s day differences didn’t lead to nasty, mean-spirited diatribes about being “unscientific.” There was, curiously enough, room for difference of opinion. How this healthy mutual respect was lost is a long story — but that it has been lost is a certainty. That cannot be good for honest, open inquiry because science then degenerates into rank partisanship. Science, in effect, becomes ideology. Then everyone loses.

Michael Flannery, “What We Can Learn from Darwin” at Evolution News and Science Today

Yes. Everyone loses. However the US election turns out, the science media will have lost a lot of respect for throwing themselves into the fray in a ridiculously partisan manner. As we said earlier, “Readers may recall that Scientific American broke with 175 years of tradition to support Joe Biden for US prez and Nature piled into the pork barrel soon after. As we said at the time, “No one says Nature can’t be active in politics and publish screeds of this type. What its staff can’t do—because nobody can—is be both a participant and a referee. They’ve chosen to be participants, fine. Then, ‘Listen to science’ has as much clout as ‘Listen to the union boss’ and ‘Listen to the corporate head office.’”

Sadly, one of the most important things they could have learned from Darwin – the high road – they seem not to have learned.

See also: Pushback at StatNews against politicizing science. Rob Sheldon weighs in.

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