Charles Darwin: Row over 'cheat' claims on S4C's Alfred Russel Wallace programme

Alfred Russel Wallace
Image caption A key claim made is that Charles Darwin received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace (pictured), from Usk in Monmouthshire, 15 days earlier than he claimed he did

Welsh language TV channel S4C has been accused of airing a "biased documentary" about Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-founder of the theory of natural selection.

In the programme it is claimed Darwin "lied and cheated" in order to gain full credit for the theory.

But a member of the British Society for the History of Science, Dr John van Wyhe, said the claims had no basis.

S4C said the controversial views in the programme were based on facts.

Darwin, y Cymro a'r Cynllwyn (Darwin, the Welshman and the Plot) was produced by production company Telesgop and was shown on 3 November.

The programme suggested that Darwin had "lied and cheated" in order to gain full credit for the theory of evolution.

A key claim made is that Darwin received a letter from Wallace, from Usk in Monmouthshire, 15 days earlier than he claimed he did.

During the programme Roy Davies, the author of The Darwin Conspiracy, claims that he can prove this to be a fact.

But this is rejected by an expert and author of Darwin and Wallace, who tells the story of the discovery of evolution by both men.


Dr van Wyhe is founder of the Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online as well as being a member of the British Society for the History of Science.

He claimed the programme had made "incorrect and uninformed accusations" in favour of Wallace.

"Even worse, their picture of Wallace as the wronged or forgotten working-class genius who was in any way cheated or treated unfairly is simply fantasy.

Dr van Wyhe said it had "no basis in historical reality".

"The accusation about the mail route has been utterly refuted and is now a non issue to any serious scholar."

Wallace died 100 years ago this year and celebrations of his life have included a new statue and two-part BBC documentary presented by comedian Bill Bailey, who called him a "maverick genius".

Julian Carter, the curator of an exhibition about the life of Wallace on show at the National Museum Wales, also said the S4C programme was one sided.

"Unfortunately this was a very biased programme," he said.

"I'm not convinced by the conspiracy theory. Other people have produced evidence to counter the argument and it was a massive failure for that programme not to reflect that.

"It seemed to be a bit of a Darwin-bashing session at times."

But Mr Davies has rejected criticism of the programme which was based on his research.

He cited recent media coverage of Charles Darwin and the anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species had failed to acknowledge the work of Wallace.

"In this matter of Wallace and Darwin such moments have to be remembered and discussed when it comes to a question of bias in presenting the true story of how Darwin came to claim that he had discovered the theory of evolution and why most people have never, until recently, heard of Alfred Russel Wallace.

"On July 1st 1858, Darwin and Wallace were recognised as joint discoverers of the theory of evolution.

"Almost immediately Darwin began writing what came to be his Origin of Species.

"Wallace still working in the Malay archipelago (he was to be there for another four years) was not to know how effective his theory had been for a further three months.

"He was still there when the Origin of Species was published in November 1859.

"In the first editions of that work Darwin claimed 57 times that it was 'my theory' while Wallace was referred to three times, not as a co-discoverer but as a field worker.

"When Wallace returned to England, Darwin's name was known the world over..."

S4C's factual programmes commissioner Llion Iwan said the programme contained some very controversial viewpoints but they were based on facts.

"It's not surprising that such views have attracted a response from those who reject the idea of a plot against Alfred Russel Wallace," he added.

"What the programme does is to explain the case of the people who strongly believe that the research shows that Wallace suffered an injustice and that it was him who should have been given the credit for the theory of evolution, or at least shared it.

"The programme does this in a lively and clear manner and the whole context makes it clear that the views of the people taking part are not conventional ones regarding how the theory was discovered and by whom."

Programme producer Elin Rhys, from Telesgop, also defended the views.

"I've known Roy Davies for nearly 20 years and can say that he's an honest man and a principled journalist who, through his work, discovered that there was a story here that people should know about," she said.

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