The latest outrage appears in this week's Radio Times, a publication from that bastion of British respectability, the BBC. There, on p. 20, is an article by Rod Liddle about David Attenborough, Darwin and religious belief (not available on-line). And slapped gratuitously on the image of Attenborough and Darwin's statue at the Natural History Museum is a quotation supposedly from "Charles Darwin, from On the Origin of Species":
"In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment."Now my first thought was that this doesn't sound much like Darwin to me. Not his style...
So it took me all of five minutes to check on Darwin On-line. The phrase occurs nowhere in any of the six editions of The Origin. In fact, it doesn't appear anywhere in the vast corpus of Darwin's work that is available in Darwin On-line. And a quick check over at the Darwin Correspondence Project fails to find it in any of Darwin's letters. So I conclude: DARWIN NEVER SAID OR WROTE IT!
What's more he did not ever use several of the constituent phrases: "struggle for survival" "fittest win out" "expense of their rivals". This sentence is not even close to Darwin's style!
So, I guess we should blame the careless Liddle for not checking his sources? But where did the sentence originate?...
Now it's time to get really grumpy! Because if you do a Google search for the sentence, you find about 10,400 results!! In other words, a sentence that Darwin never even uttered, has been copied around the Internet thousands and thousands of times without anyone even confirming its provenance! EVEN THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM ARE AT IT!--seems they haven't learnt from the tree of life fridge magnet gaffe and the left-handed polar bear fiasco!
I despair; I am now officially grumpy!
And, if you, dear reader, know who made this phrase up, please let us all know!