One thing Darwin didn’t say: the source for a misquotation

As you can read on Nick’s blog, the source he has identified is in the writings of Leon C. Megginson, Professor of Management and Marketing at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. As Nick points out, the quote started out as a paraphrase. Megginson wrote in 1963: ‘According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.’ (Megginson, ‘Lessons from Europe for American Business’, Southwestern Social Science Quarterly (1963) 44(1): 3-13, at p. 4.) A similar version is in Megginson’s ‘Key to Competition is Management’, Petroleum Management (1964) 36(1): 91-95.

 Significantly, Megginson was a prolific author of textbooks and a prominent teacher in management studies, the field in which the bogus quotation remains most pervasive. Nick points out that one of Megginson’s former students recalled that ‘I learned a lot of good things from Leon Megginson’s classes. One of the most valuable things I heard him say went something like this: Charles Darwin didn’t say that only the strong survive. What he said was that those who survive are the ones who most accurately perceive their environment and successfully adapt to it.’ Megginson had an interest in the theories of evolution through ‘mutual aid’ advocated by the Russian zoologist Karl Kessler, and his statements about Darwin clearly reflect that.

At some stage Megginson’s paraphrase of Darwin, slightly recast, was turned into an actual quotation from Origin. That part of the story remains to be told, and we look forward to Nick finding out more.

Nick Matzke is a graduate student at the Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley. A copy of the two-part volume 16 of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, published last year, is on its way with our congratulations.

The contest remains open, and the prize of a copy of volume 16 of the Correspondence remains the same. For details, see this announcement. An earlier, closer match for the quotation beginning ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives’ will still be eligible for an award.