Scientists: Mary Shelley Had Savvy Insight in Frankenstein

She was ahead of her time on a principle of biology
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2016 10:17 AM CDT
Scientists: Mary Shelley Had Savvy Insight in Frankenstein
In this file photo released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Boris Karloff appears in a scene from the 1931 film "Frankenstein."   (AP Photo/Universal Studios Home Entertainment, File)

It seemed like such an innocent request. In her 1818 novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley has the monster ask Dr. Frankenstein for a mate, and the creature promises that he and his female counterpart would then go live in some remote corner of South America and never bother humans. The doctor initially agrees, then changes his mind. Good thing: As two scientists point out in a perfect-for-Halloween study in BioScience, if Dr. Frankenstein had allowed his creature to do so, it would have doomed mankind under a principle of biology known as competitive exclusion, reports Nature World News. They're especially impressed because Shelley seemed to have a handle on this more than a century before it was formally defined.

In the book, Shelley voices the doctor's rationale: "A race of devils would be propagated upon Earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror," per the Christian Science Monitor. He was spot on, write Nathaniel Dominy of Dartmouth and Justin Yeakel of the University of California, Merced. "We calculated that a founding population of two creatures could drive us to extinction in as little as 4,000 years," says Dominy. They crunched a slew of factors including population densities and competitive advantages of the creatures vs. humans. The monster's request to go to South America was key—it was relatively sparsely populated at the time, which would have allowed his descendants to thrive. Shelley "accurately anticipated fundamental concepts in ecology and evolution by many decades," writes Yeakel in a post at (Scientists have backed up Shelley's Frankenstein moon tale.)

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