ARTICLES: Disciplining and Popularizing: Evolution and its Publics from the Modern Synthesis to the Present

The journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences has a set of articles in its March 2014 issue that all stem from a conference session for the History of Science Society in 2012:

Disciplining and popularizing: Evolution and its publics from the modern synthesis to the present (Introduction)
Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis

Darwin’s foil: The evolving uses of William Paley’s Natural Theology 1802–2005
Adam R. Shapiro

Making the case for orthogenesis: The popularization of definitely directed evolution (1890–1926)
Mark A. Ulett

Paleontology at the “high table”? Popularization and disciplinary status in recent paleontology
David Sepkoski

Claiming Darwin: Stephen Jay Gould in contests over evolutionary orthodoxy and public perception, 1977–2002
Myrna Perez Sheldon

BOOK: Evolving: The Human Effect and Why It Matters

A new title from Prometheus Books might be of interest to readers of this blog:

Evolving: The Human Effect and Why It Matters

by Douglas J. Fairbanks

Prometheus Books, 2012, ISBN 978-1-61614-565-1

In this persuasive, elegantly written book, research geneticist Daniel J. Fairbanks argues that understanding evolution has never mattered more in human history. Fairbanks not only uses evidence from archaeology, geography, anatomy, biochemistry, radiometric dating, cell biology, chromosomes, and DNA to establish the inescapable conclusion that we evolved and are still evolving, he also explains in detail how health, food production, and human impact on the environment are dependent on our knowledge of evolution. Evolving is essential reading for gaining a fuller appreciation of who we are, our place in the great expanse of life, and the importance of our actions.

“With so many excellent books on evolution available, it’s hard to imagine another one with anything new in it. Fairbanks succeeds with a whole array of original examples that demonstrate not only the truth of evolution, but also its impact on human life and society.” – Victor J. Stenger, New York Times bestselling author of God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion

“This book provides a compact overview of the results of many lines of research, especially in genetics, which continue to deepen our knowledge of evolution. Anyone who wonders about the practical value and importance of understanding the processes of evolution will benefit from reading it.” – Eric Meikle, National Center for Science Education

“This is an important book. Fairbanks presents an overwhelming case for the correctness of evolutionary theory. It is engagingly written, with many personal glimpses, and the technical material is clearly presented and understandable. Evolving should be essential reading for anyone who wishes to be an informed citizen.” – Allan Franklin, Professor of physics, University of Colorado, and coauthor of Ending the Mendel-Fisher Controversy

ARTICLE: Did Darwin read Mendel?

This was from 2009 in the QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, but I just came across it:

Did Darwin read Mendel?

David Galton

Read no further if you want a definite answer to this question. It is a sort of detective story with clues scattered around. The circumstances surrounding the question however are so interesting since they involve two of the most important scientific publications of the 19th century.

Read the rest here.

ARTICLES: “Darwin’s “Beloved Barnacles” & “What Would Have Happened if Darwin Had Known Mendel”

Two Darwin articles from Vol. 33, no. 1 (2011) of the journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences:

Darwin’s “Beloved Barnacles”: Tough Lessons in Variation


Costas Mannouris


Abstract In 1846, burdened by insecurity and self-doubt, and having been convinced that he needed to study some group of organisms closely, Darwin embarked on an eight-year odyssey in the protean and perplexing world of barnacles. At the time, he was searching for evidence in support of his theory of evolution by natural selection. In the course of his long study of barnacles, however, he was not just validating his preexisting theoretical system, but was also modifying his views on such fundamental aspects as the universality of individual variation, which is the focus of this paper. According to this notion, the members of any population of living things are expected to exhibit sufficient differences from one another for natural selection to operate. By emphasizing the theoretical value of the barnacle project, my analysis contributes to the historiographic tradition which highlights the significance of the period between the first comprehensive formulation of the theory of evolution by natural selection in 1844 and its urgent publication in the late 1850s. In the course of these years, Darwin’s theory was not just accumulating empirical laurels, but was also expected to adapt to a changing conceptual landscape.


What Would Have Happened if Darwin Had Known Mendel (or Mendel’s Work)?


Pablo Lorenzano


Abstract The question posed by the title is usually answered by saying that the “synthesis” between the theory of evolution by natural selection and classical genetics, which took place in 1930s-40s, would have taken place much earlier if Darwin had been aware of Mendel and his work. What is more, it nearly happened: it would have been enough if Darwin had cut the pages of the offprint of Mendel’s work that was in his library and read them! Or, if Mendel had come across Darwin in London or paid him a visit at his house in the outskirts! (on occasion of Mendel’s trip in 1862 to that city). The aim of the present paper is to provide elements for quite a different answer, based on further historical evidence, especially on Mendel’s works, some of which mention Darwins’s studies.

ARTICLES: Darwin in Denmark, Shakespeare and Darwin, and Dobzhansky

In the Journal of the History of Ideas:

Protestant Responses to Darwinism in Denmark, 1859–1914

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

Preview From the 1870s onwards, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in On the Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871), was an important topic among the followers of the influential Danish theologian N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783–1872). The Grundtvigians constituted a major faction within the Danish Evangelical-Lutheran Established Church, which included more than ninety percent of the population in the period 1859–1914. This article demonstrates the influence of local contexts on the reception of scientific ideas by analyzing how specific aspects of Danish intellectual culture made the Grundtvigian reactions to Darwin’s theory different from Protestant denominations in America and Britain. Firstly, Grundtvig’s critique of Lutheran scriptural theology and his preference for the living word to the letters of the Bible legitimized liberal interpretations of Scripture. Secondly the philosophy of the Søren Kierkegaard protagonist, Rasmus Nielsen, made it possible for Grundtvigians to draw radical distinctions between science and faith. This specific “Danish Protestantism,” as the clergyman Frederik Jungersen phrased it in 1873, led the way for liberal Grundtvigians in coming to terms with Darwinism in the first decades of the twentieth century.

From Configurations:

Shakespeare’s Origin of Species and Darwin’s Tempest

Glen A. Love

Abstract Ecocriticism provides a natural meeting-point of the humanities and the life sciences. Shakespeare’s last great play, The Tempest, is rich in its anticipation of Darwinian evolutionary ideas, thus providing the stage for a rare two-cultures dialogue between, arguably, the world’s greatest literary artist and its greatest scientist on the most abiding and profound of subjects: nature, and especially human nature. If Caliban is the most noticeable of The Tempest‘s subjects of evolutionary and cultural significance, he is accompanied by other matters of interest in today’s expanding field of biocultural and cognitive research and thought.

From Configurations:

Evolutionary Works and Texts: Reading Dobzhansky in an Age of Genomics

Michael P. Cohen

Abstract Scientific writing is the most powerful and pervasive nature writing of our era. Instead of using science to interpret literary texts, ecocritics should read classic scientific “works” as “texts” (as Roland Barthes defines these terms), uncovering grounds for stories about nature and premises of modern environmental narratives. This essay examines a classic text of the modern evolutionary synthesis, Theodosius Dobzhansky’s Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937), where the conservative force of heredity battles the random change of mutation in an “adaptive landscape,” yielding resultant “species.” Tensions between metaphors and maps structure his exposition and reveal a still-influential master-narrative.

Even more evolution articles in “Studies in History and Philosophy of Science”

More forthcoming articles about Darwin and evolution in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences:

Extending and expanding the Darwinian synthesis: the role of complex systems dynamics

Bruce H. Webera

Abstract Darwinism is defined here as an evolving research tradition based upon the concepts of natural selection acting upon heritable variation articulated via background assumptions about systems dynamics. Darwin’s theory of evolution was developed within a context of the background assumptions of Newtonian systems dynamics. The Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, or neo-Darwinism, successfully joined Darwinian selection and Mendelian genetics by developing population genetics informed by background assumptions of Boltzmannian systems dynamics. Currently the Darwinian Research Tradition is changing as it incorporates new information and ideas from molecular biology, paleontology, developmental biology, and systems ecology. This putative expanded and extended synthesis is most perspicuously deployed using background assumptions from complex systems dynamics. Such attempts seek to not only broaden the range of phenomena encompassed by the Darwinian Research Tradition, such as neutral molecular evolution, punctuated equilibrium, as well as developmental biology, and systems ecology more generally, but to also address issues of the emergence of evolutionary novelties as well as of life itself.

Foreword: Celebrating Charles Darwin in disagreement

Richard G. Delislea

no abstract

Defining Darwinism

David L. Hull

Abstract Evolutionary theory seems to lend itself to all sorts of misunderstanding. In this paper I strive to decrease such confusions, for example, between Darwinism and Darwinians, propositions and people, organisms and individuals, species as individuals versus species as classes, homologies and homoplasies, and finally essences versus histories.

Utopianism in the British evolutionary synthesis

Maurizio Espositoa

Abstract In this paper I propose a new interpretation of the British evolutionary synthesis. The synthetic work of J. B. S. Haldane, R. A. Fisher and J. S. Huxley was characterized by both an integration of Mendelism and Darwinism and the unification of different biological subdisciplines within a coherent framework. But it must also be seen as a bold and synthetic Darwinian program in which the biosciences served as a utopian blueprint for the progress of civilization. Describing the futuristic visions of these three scientists in their synthetic heydays, I show that, despite a number of important divergences, their biopolitical ideals could be biased toward a controlled and regimented utopian society. Their common ideals entailed a social order where liberal and democratic principles were partially or totally suspended in favor of bioscientific control and planning for the future. Finally, I will argue that the original redefinition of Darwinism that modern synthesizers proposed is a significant historical example of how Darwinism has been used and adapted in different contexts. The lesson I draw from this account is a venerable one: that, whenever we wish to define Darwinism, we need to recognize not only its scientific content and achievements but expose the other traditions and ideologies it may have supported.

Ethics in Darwin’s melancholy vision

Bryson Brown

Abstract There seems to me too much misery in the world. Charles Darwin, 22 May 1860, letter to Asa Gray. Darwinian natural selection draws on Malthus’ harsh vision of human society to explain how organisms come to be adapted to their environments. Natural selection produces the appearance of teleology, but requires only efficient causal processes: undirected, heritable variation combined with effects of the variations on survival and reproduction. This paper draws a sharp distinction between the resulting form of backwards-directed teleology and the future-directed teleology we ascribe to intentional human activity. Rather than dismiss teleology as mere illusion, the paper concludes with an account of how future-directed teleology came to be a justifiable part of how we understand ourselves.

Social Darwinism: from reality to myth and from myth to reality

Daniel Becquemont

Abstract Considering the variety of contradictory definitions which have been attributed to the term in the course of more than a century, one may be tempted to admit that ‘Social Darwinism’ can be reduced to a social myth. But it seems nevertheless necessary to answer the question: what has been called ‘Social Darwinism’ for more than one century and why was the expression used in a negative way to express contradictory opinions which sometimes have nothing to do with Darwin’s theory. What we still call ‘Social Darwinism’ is the result of a misunderstanding: the theories expressed under that phrase have little to do with the Darwinian concepts of natural selection or descent with modification. They have their origin in a pre-darwinian conception of the struggle for existence, which Darwin used in a metaphorical sense. This confusion will then appear to refer clearly to the relationship we establish between biology and society, whether biological laws are directly prolonged in society, or more or less intermingle in a close network. The issue of the definition of Social Darwinism depends obviously on the possible answers to this question, and so does the issue of redefining Darwinism at large.

Darwinism without populations: a more inclusive understanding of the “Survival of the Fittest”

Frédéric Bouchard

Abstract Following Wallace’s suggestion, Darwin framed his theory using Spencer’s expression “survival of the fittest”. Since then, fitness occupies a significant place in the conventional understanding of Darwinism, even though the explicit meaning of the term ‘fitness’ is rarely stated. In this paper I examine some of the different roles that fitness has played in the development of the theory. Whereas the meaning of fitness was originally understood in ecological terms, it took a statistical turn in terms of reproductive success throughout the 20th Century. This has lead to the ever-increasing importance of sexually reproducing organisms and the populations they compose in evolutionary explanations. I will argue that, moving forward, evolutionary theory should look back at its ecological roots in order to be more inclusive in the type of systems it examines. Many biological systems (e.g. clonal species, colonial species, multi-species communities) can only be satisfactorily accounted for by offering a non-reproductive account of fitness. This argument will be made by examining biological systems with very small or transient population structures. I argue this has significant consequences for how we define Darwinism, increasing the significance of survival (or persistence) over that of reproduction.

Evolution articles in “Studies in History and Philosophy of Science”

Several forthcoming articles about Darwin and evolution in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences:

The Mastodon in the room: how Darwinian is neo-Darwinism?

Daniel R. Brooks

Abstract Failing to acknowledge substantial differences between Darwinism and neo-Darwinism impedes evolutionary biology. Darwin described evolution as the outcome of interactions between the nature of the organism and the nature of the conditions, each relatively autonomous but both historically and spatially intertwined. Furthermore, he postulated that the nature of the organism was more important than the nature of the conditions, leading to natural selection as an inevitable emergent product of biological systems. The neo-Darwinian tradition assumed a creative rather than selective view of natural selection, with the nature of the organism determined by the nature of the conditions, rendering the nature of the organism and temporal contingency unnecessary. Contemporary advances in biology, specifically the phylogenetics revolution and evo-devo, underscore the significance of history and the nature of the organism in biology. Darwinism explains more biology better, and better resolves apparent anomalies between living systems and more general natural laws, than does neo-Darwinism. The “extended” or “expanded” synthesis currently called for by neo-Darwinians is Darwinism.

What was really synthesized during the evolutionary synthesis? a historiographic proposal

Richard G. Delislea

Abstract The 1920-1960 period saw the creation of the conditions for a unification of disciplines in the area of evolutionary biology under a limited number of theoretical prescriptions: the evolutionary synthesis. Whereas the sociological dimension of this synthesis was fairly successful, it was surprisingly loose when it came to the interpretation of the evolutionary mechanisms per se, and completely lacking at the level of the foundational epistemological and metaphysical commitments. Key figures such as Huxley, Simpson, Dobzhansky, and Rensch only paid lip service to the conceptual dimension of the evolutionary synthesis, as they eventually realized that a number of evolutionary phenomena could not be explained by its narrow theoretical corpus. Apparently, the evolutionary synthesis constituted a premature event in the development of evolutionary biology. Not only are the real achievements of the evolutionary synthesis in need of reevaluation, but this reassessment also has important implications for the historiography of Darwinism and the current debates about the darwinian movement.

Adaptation as process: The future of Darwinism and the legacy of Theodosius Dobzhansky

David J. Depewa

Abstract Conceptions of adaptation have varied in the history of genetic Darwinism depending on whether what is taken to be focal is the process of adaptation, adapted states of populations, or discrete adaptations in individual organisms. I argue that Theodosius Dobzhansky’s view of adaptation as a dynamical process contrasts with so-called “adaptationist” views of natural selection figured as “design-without-a-designer” of relatively discrete, enumerable adaptations. Correlated with these respectively process and product oriented approaches to adaptive natural selection are divergent pictures of organisms themselves as developmental wholes or as “bundles” of adaptations. While even process versions of genetical Darwinism are insufficiently sensitive to the fact much of the variation on which adaptive selection works consists of changes in the timing, rate, or location of ontogenetic events, I argue that articulations of the Modern Synthesis influenced by Dobzhansky are more easily reconciled with the recent shift to evolutionary developmentalism than are versions that make discrete adaptations central.

Darwinism after Mendelism: The case of Sewall Wright’s intellectual synthesis in his shifting balance theory of evolution (1931)

Jonathan Hodge

Abstract Historians of science have long been agreeing: what many textbooks of evolutionary biology say, about the histories of Darwinism and the New Synthesis, is just too simple to do justice to the complexities revealed to critical scholarship and historiography. There is no current consensus, however, on what grand narratives should replace those textbook histories. The present paper does not offer to contribute directly to any grand, consensual, narrational goals; but it does seek to do so indirectly by showing how, in just one individual case, details of intellectual biography connect with big picture issues. To this end, I examine here how very diverse scientific and metaphysical commitments were integrated in Sewall Wright’s own personal synthesis of biology and philosophy. Taking as the decisive text the short final section of Wright’s long 1931 paper on ‘Evolution in Mendelian populations,’ I examine how his shifting balance theory (SBT) related to his optimum breeding strategy research, his physiological genetics, his general theory of homogenising and heterogenesing causation and his panpsychist view of mind and matter; and I discuss how understanding these relations can clarify Wright’s place in the longue durée of evolutionary thought.

Is Darwinism past its “sell-by” date? The Origin of Species at 150

Michael Ruse

Abstract Many people worry that the theory of evolution that Charles Darwin gave in his Origin of Species is now dated and no longer part of modern science. This essay challenges this claim, arguing that the central core of the Origin is as vital today as it ever was, although naturally the science keeps moving on. Darwin provided the foundation not the finished product.

Phylogenetic inertia and Darwin’s higher law

Timothy Shanahana

Abstract The concept of ‘phylogenetic inertia’ is routinely deployed in evolutionary biology as an alternative to natural selection for explaining the persistence of characteristics that appear sub-optimal from an adaptationist perspective. However, in many of these contexts the precise meaning of ‘phylogenetic inertia’ and its relationship to selection are far from clear. After tracing the history of the concept of ‘inertia’ in evolutionary biology, I argue that treating phylogenetic inertia and natural selection as alternative explanations is mistaken because phylogenetic inertia is, from a Darwinian point of view, simply an expected effect of selection. Although Darwin did not discuss ‘phylogenetic inertia,’ he did assert the explanatory priority of selection over descent. An analysis of ‘phylogenetic inertia’ provides a perspective from which to assess Darwin’s view.


New book of interest, The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff, comes out in November. Richard has a blog for the book, and he tweets @RichardConniff

Rush Limbaugh “tackles evolution” – here’s a sneak peek:

RUSH: Of course creationism is — but Darwinism is faith, too. That’s my whole point. Darwinism is presented as absolute science, inarguable science, and it’s faith as well. CALLER: It is science. It is science, Rush. There’s a lot of evidence — RUSH: Well, then I’m going to say creationism is a science, intelligent design is a science. If you say my faith isn’t a science, I’m going to say yours isn’t.

And again!

Niles Eldredge: How Systematics Became “Phylogenetic” [pdf]

Nature: The Lost Correspondence of Francis Crick (review)

Whewell’s Ghost (@beckyfh): Government funding for ‘pure’ research: an extremely brief and gappy history

Whewell’s Ghost (Will Thomas): Good History and the Virtue of Sisyphus

All You Need to Know About Dinosaurs, courtesy of the ICR

NCSE shares: images of an intelligent design vs. evolution board game from Ray Comfort – go to their Facebook page; Darwin and Scopes in new poll on knowledge of religion; and a Blast From the Past video, “The Case of the Texas Footprints”:

Dinosaur Tracking: The Dinosaurs of Industry

Laelaps: Giraffes – Necks for food or necks for sex?

Paleontology and history of science blogger Mike Bertasso looks like he’s back to blogging since summer is over…

Kele’s Science Blog: Personal Beliefs’ Impact Upon the Synthesis

Read More

Darwin and Gender: Darwin, Henrietta and Tennyson & Female Censorship?

David Quammen: Being Jane Goodall

Info on a (potentially free) book about the postal Darwin (stamps, that is), here

Down the Cellar: Shoehorning science: Darwin and group selection

Darwin has “manly notebooks”

JF Derry: Rich Pickings (about Darwin and whether or not he had Victorian sensibility) & Wars of the Words

The Bubble Chamber: Is Sam Harris on to something? Can science answer moral questions?

Another video, “About the British Geological Survey | 175 years of geoscience”:

And to end, I thoroughly enjoyed this tweet from @theselflessmeme:


Journal for General Philosophy of Science: “Darwinism and Scientific Practice in Historical Perspective”

The June 2010 issue (Vol. 41, No. 1) of the Journal for General Philosophy of Science focuses on Darwin:

Ute Deichmann & Anthony Travis, Special Section: Darwinism and Scientific Practice in Historical Perspective: Guest Editors’ Introduction

Ulrich Charpa, Darwin, Schleiden, Whewell, and the “London Doctors”: Evolutionism and Microscopical Research in the Nineteenth Century

Abstract This paper discusses some philosophical and historical connections between, and within, nineteenth century evolutionism and microscopical research. The principal actors are mainly Darwin, Schleiden, Whewell and the “London Doctors,” Arthur Henfrey and Edwin Lankester. I demonstrate that the apparent alliances—particularly Darwin/Schleiden (through evolutionism) and Schleiden/Whewell (through Kantian philosophy of science)—obscure the deep methodological differences between evolutionist and microscopical biology that lingered on until the mid-twentieth century. Through an understanding of the little known significance of Schleiden’s programme of microscopical research and by comparing certain features of his methodology to the activities of the “London Doctors,” we can identify the origin of this state of affairs. In addition, the outcome provides an insight into a critique of Buchdahl’s view on Schleiden’s philosophical conception.

Ute Deichmann, Gemmules and Elements: On Darwin’s and Mendel’s Concepts and Methods in Heredity

Abstract Inheritance and variation were a major focus of Charles Darwin’s studies. Small inherited variations were at the core of his theory of organic evolution by means of natural selection. He put forward a developmental theory of heredity (pangenesis) based on the assumption of the existence of material hereditary particles. However, unlike his proposition of natural selection as a new mechanism for evolutionary change, Darwin’s highly speculative and contradictory hypotheses on heredity were unfruitful for further research. They attempted to explain many complex biological phenomena at the same time, disregarded the then modern developments in cell theory, and were, moreover, faithful to the widespread conceptions of blending and so-called Lamarckian inheritance. In contrast, Mendel’s approaches, despite the fact that features of his ideas were later not found to be tenable, proved successful as the basis for the development of modern genetics. Mendel took the study of the transmission of traits and its causes (genetics) out of natural history; by reducing complexity to simple particulate models, he transformed it into a scientific field of research. His scientific approach and concept of discrete elements (which later gave rise to the notion of discrete genes) also contributed crucially to the explanation of the existence of stable variations as the basis for natural selection.

Michel Morange, How Evolutionary Biology Presently Pervades Cell and Molecular Biology

Abstract The increasing place of evolutionary scenarios in functional biology is one of the major indicators of the present encounter between evolutionary biology and functional biology (such as physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology), the two branches of biology which remained separated throughout the twentieth century. Evolutionary scenarios were not absent from functional biology, but their places were limited, and they did not generate research programs. I compare two examples of these past scenarios with two present-day ones. At least three characteristics distinguish present and past efforts: An excellent description of the systems under study, a rigorous use of the evolutionary models, and the possibility to experimentally test the evolutionary scenarios. These three criteria allow us to distinguish the domains in which the encounter is likely to be fruitful, and those where the obstacles to be overcome are high and in which the proposed scenarios have to be considered with considerable circumspection.

Anthony Travis, Raphael Meldola and the Nineteenth-Century Neo-Darwinians

Abstract Raphael Meldola (1849-1915), an industrial chemist and keen naturalist, under the influence of Darwin, brought new German studies on evolution by natural selection that appeared in the 1870s to the attention of the British scientific community. Meldola’s special interest was in mimicry among butterflies; through this he became a prominent neo-Darwinian. His wide-ranging achievements in science led to appointments as president of important professional scientific societies, and of a local club of like-minded amateurs, particularly field naturalists. This is an account of Meldola’s early scientific connections and studies related to entomology and natural selection, his contributions to the study of mimicry, and his promotion in the mid-1890s of a more theory driven approach among entomologists.

Rony Armon, Beyond Darwinism’s Eclipse: Functional Evolution, Biochemical Recapitulation and Spencerian Emergence in the 1920s and 1930s

Abstract During the 1920s and 1930s, many biologists questioned the viability of Darwin’s theory as a mechanism of evolutionary change. In the early 1940s, and only after a number of alternatives were suggested, Darwinists succeeded to establish natural selection and gene mutation as the main evolutionary mechanisms. While that move, today known as the neo-Darwinian synthesis, is taken as signalling a triumph of evolutionary theory, certain critical problems in evolution—in particular the evolution of animal function—could not be addressed with this approach. Here I demonstrate this through reconstruction of the evolutionary theory of Joseph Needham (1900-1995), who pioneered the biochemical study of evolution and development. In order to address such problems, Needham employed Herbert Spencer’s principles of emergence and Ernst Haeckel’s theory of recapitulation. While Needham did not reject Darwinian theory, Spencerian and Haeckelian frameworks happened to better fit his findings and their evolutionary relevance. He believed selectionist and genetic approaches to be important but far from sufficient for explaining how evolutionary transformations occur.

JOURNAL: “Biology and Philosophy” looks at the Tree of Life

The September 2010 issue of Biology and Philosophy looks at the Tree of Life:

The tree of life: introduction to an evolutionary debate
Author(s): Maureen A. O’Malley, William Martin & John Dupré
PP: 441 – 453

The attempt on the life of the Tree of Life: science, philosophy and politics
Author: W. Ford Doolittle
PP: 455 – 473

The series, the network, and the tree: changing metaphors of order in nature
Author: Olivier Rieppel
PP: 475 – 496

Why was Darwin’s view of species rejected by twentieth century biologists?
Author: James Mallet
PP: 497 – 527

Ernst Mayr, the tree of life, and philosophy of biology
Author: Maureen A. O’Malley
PP: 529 – 552

Microbiology and the species problem
Author: Marc Ereshefsky
PP: 553 – 568

The myth of bacterial species and speciation
Author(s): Jeffrey G. Lawrence & Adam C. Retchless
PP: 569 – 588

Natural taxonomy in light of horizontal gene transfer
Author(s): Cheryl P. Andam, David Williams & J. Peter Gogarten
PP: 589 – 602

Evaluating Maclaurin and Sterelny’s conception of biodiversity in cases of frequent, promiscuous lateral gene transfer
Author: Gregory J. Morgan
PP: 603 – 621

Symbiosis, lateral function transfer and the (many) saplings of life
Author: Frédéric Bouchard
PP: 623 – 641

Lifeness signatures and the roots of the tree of life
Author: Christophe Malaterre
PP: 643 – 658

Gene sharing and genome evolution: networks in trees and trees in networks
Author: Robert G. Beiko
PP: 659 – 673

Testing for treeness: lateral gene transfer, phylogenetic inference, and model selection
Author(s): Joel D. Velasco & Elliott Sober
PP: 675 – 687

Trashing life’s tree
Author: L. R. Franklin-Hall
PP: 689 – 709

On the need for integrative phylogenomics, and some steps toward its creation
Author(s): Eric Bapteste & Richard M. Burian
PP: 711 – 736

Darwin’s family tree rediscovered

From Claire Inman of the Linnean Society:

Darwin’s family tree rediscovered

The Galton-Darwin-Wedgwood pedigree, first exhibited in 1932, has been found in the archives of Truman State University

A poster of the Galton-Darwin-Wedgwood pedigree was prepared by Harry Hamilton Laughlin, Director of the Eugenics Record Office of the Carnegie Institute, and exhibited at the Third International Congress of Eugenics in 1932 at the American Museum of Natural History.

A photograph of this poster has been discovered in the archives of Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri alongside a photograph of a poster of a collection of rare Darwin family photographs, assembled by Leonard Darwin. The original posters have not been located.

Professor Tim Berra FLS, The Ohio State University, has made this information and associated images available to Darwin scholars world-wide in a paper in volume 101, Issue 1, September 2010 of The Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. Professor Berra said “The newly available pedigree and photographs open a window into the family life of Charles Darwin, the man. He was a husband, brother, father and grandfather, and, along the way, he also had the greatest idea ever had by the human mind.”

The Galton-Darwin-Wedgwood family is descended from the prominent 18th century doctor Erasmus Darwin; Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the pottery firm Josiah Wedgwood and Sons and Samuel John Galton, an arms manufacturer. The family contains at least ten Fellows of the Royal Society, several artists and poets and of course Charles Darwin who laid the foundations of the theory of evolution and transformed the way we think about the natural world and our place in it.

Here’s a link to the paper mentioned.

an image from the article

an image from the article

Chicago Darwin videos

Videos of some talks from the University of Chicago’s Darwin celebration have been put online:

Jerry Coyne (University of Chicago): “Speciation: Problems and Prospects”

Paul Sereno (University of Chicago): “Dinosaurs: Phylogenetic Reconstruction from Darwin to the Present”

David Jablonski (University of Chicago): “Paleontology and Evolutionary Biology: The Revitalized Partnership”

Neil Shubin (University of Chicago): “Great Transformations in Life: Insights from Genes & Fossils”

Robert J. Richards (University of Chicago): “Darwin’s Biology of Intelligent Design”

Via Why Evolution Is True.

In Darwin Family, Evidence of Inbreeding’s Ill Effects

From the New York Times (3 May 2010):

In Darwin Family, Evidence of Inbreeding’s Ill Effects

by Nicholas Wade

Charles Darwin, the author of the theory of evolution, may have been right to worry that his children’s health had been affected by the inbreeding in his own family, especially that of his wife, Emma Wedgwood, who was his first cousin.

A calculation based on first-cousin marriages over four generations of the two dynasties suggests that Darwin’s children had a mild degree of inbreeding, measured by the chance of inheriting the same version of a gene from both parents. Possible consequences of inbreeding can be seen in the children’s illnesses and degree of infertility, three researchers report in the current issue of BioScience.

Continue reading here.

BOOK: Darwin (Darwin College Lectures)

Darwin (Darwin College Lectures)

Darwin (Darwin College Lectures)

In 2009, Darwin College at the University of Cambridge held a lecture series on Darwin. The lectures are accessible online (why so many ways to find these lectures?). The eight lectures are now available as a book in Darwin (Darwin College Lectures):

Charles Darwin can easily be considered one of the most influential scholars of his time. His thoughts, ideas, research and writings have had a far reaching impact and influence on modern thought in the arts, on society, and in science. With contributions from leading scholars, this collection of essays explores how Darwin’s work grew out of the ideas of his time, and how its influence spread to contemporary thinking about creationism, the limits of human evolution and the diversification of living species and their conservation. A full account of the legacy of Darwin in contemporary scholarship and thought. With contributions from Janet Browne, Jim Secord, Rebecca Stott, Paul Seabright, Steve Jones, Sean Carroll, Craig Moritz and John Dupré. This book derives from a highly successful series of public lectures, revised and illustrated for publication under the editorship of Professor William Brown and Professor Andrew Fabian of the University of Cambridge.

A multi-disciplinary overview of the influence of the legacy of Charles Darwin, with contributions from the history of science, economics, philosophy and English literature as well as the biological sciences, appealing to a number of interests • Contributors are internationally-famed leading authorities from their fields, providing the most current research findings • The authors write for the general reader from the standpoint of the leading researcher, making it thoroughly accessible to the non-specialist reader


1. Darwin’s intellectual development: biography, history, and commemoration, Janet Browne
2. Global Darwin, James A. Secord
3. Darwin in the literary world, Rebecca Stott
4. Darwin and human society, Paul Seabright
5. The evolution of utopia, Steve Jones
6. The making of the fittest: the DNA record of evolution, Sean B. Carroll
7. Evolutionary biogeography and conservation on a rapidly changing planet: building on Darwin’s vision, Craig Moritz and Ana Carolina Carnaval
8. Postgenomic Darwinism, John Dupré

This will be published in August.

Darwin College, University of Cambridge

Darwin College, University of Cambridge

Journal: Darwin issue of ‘Comptes Rendus Biologies’

All these articles are “online first” for what I am assuming is a forthcoming Darwin issue of Comptes Rendus Biologies (I won’t link to every article, just the journal, here):

Jean Gayon, Michel Veuille, “A non-Darwinian Darwin: An introduction”

Michael Ruse, “Cross- and self-fertilization of plants”

This essay considers Charles Darwin’s late work, Cross- and Self-Fertilization of Plants, locating it in the overall context of Darwin’s thought and ideas. It is shown how it is part of a long-term interest in the purpose of sexuality, and how it complements Darwin’s earlier book on the fertilization of orchids. It is concluded, however, that Darwin had no full solution to his problem.

Gregory Radick, “Darwin’s puzzling Expression”

Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) is a very different kind of work from On the Origin of Species (1859). This “otherness” is most extreme in the character of the explanations that Darwin offers in the Expression. Far from promoting his theory of natural selection, the Expression barely mentions that theory, instead drawing on explanatory principles which recall less Darwinian than Lamarckian and structuralist biological theorizing. Over the years, historians have offered a range of solutions to the puzzle of why the Expression is so “non-Darwinian”. Close examination shows that none of these meets the case. However, recent research on Darwin’s lifelong engagement with the controversies in his day over the unity of the human races makes possible a promising new solution. For Darwin, emotional expression served the cause of defending human unity precisely to the extent that natural selection theory did not apply.

Bernard Thierry, “Darwin as a student of behavior”

In The Expression of the Emotions, Charles Darwin documents evolutionary continuity between animals and humans, emphasizing the universality of expressions in man. Most of the book addresses human behavior, and its influence on the study of animal behavior has been weak. The issue of natural selection is remarkably absent from this book, which relies on the inheritance of acquired characters rather than on a genuine Darwinian logic. Yet Konrad Lorenz considered Darwin to be a forerunner of behavioral biology. The reason was to be found in The Descent of Man and chapter VIII of The Origin of Species, where Darwin provides an explanation of behavior through selection, stating that the same mechanisms explaining morphological changes also account for gradual improvements in instincts. He assessed the accuracy of his evolutionary theory by directly studying animal behavior, hence laying the foundations of behavioral research for the next century.

Claudine Cohen, “Darwin on woman”

In his 1871 book The Descent of Man, Darwin exposed the idea of sexual selection as a major principle of human evolution. His main hypothesis, which was already briefly presented in The Origin of Species, is that there exists, besides “natural selection”, another form of selection, milder in its effect, but no less efficient. This selection is operated by females to mate and reproduce with some partners that are gifted with more qualities than others, and more to their taste. At more evolved stages, sexual selection was exerted by men who became able to choose the women most attractive to their taste. However, Darwin insists, sexual selection in the human species is limited by a certain number of cultural practices. If Darwin’s demonstration sometimes carried the prejudices of his times regarding gender differences he was the first who took into account the importance of sexual choices in his view on evolution, and who insisted on the evolutionary role of women at the dawn of humanity. Thus, he opened the space for a rich reflection, which after him was widely developed and discussed in anthropological and gender studies.

Camilo J. Cela-Conde, Lucrecia Burges, Marcos Nadal, Antonio Olivera, “Altruism and fairness: Unnatural selection?”

Darwin admitted that the evolution of moral phenomena such as altruism and fairness, which are usually in opposition to the maximization of individual reproductive success, was not easily accounted for by natural selection. Later, authors have proposed additional mechanisms, including kin selection, inclusive fitness, and reciprocal altruism. In the present work, we explore the extent to which sexual selection has played a role in the appearance of human moral traits. It has been suggested that because certain moral virtues, including altruism and kindness, are sexually attractive, their evolution could have been shaped by the process of sexual selection. Our review suggests that although it is possible that sexual selection played such a role, it is difficult to determine the extent of its relevance, the specific form of this influence, and its interplay with other evolutionary mechanisms.

Jean-Marc Drouin, Thierry Deroin, “Minute observations and theoretical framework of Darwin’s studies on climbing plants”

The role of movement in plants was unrecognised for a long time, due to the relative slowness of such movements by comparison with those of active animals such as insects and vertebrates, and to the difficulty with which they are distinguished from mere growth processes. Given this, the pioneer work of Darwin (On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants 1865) is a milestone in botany. It is always cited as the beginning of any rigorous analysis of plant movement. Such a successful approach results at once from Darwin’s broad knowledge of natural history, his use of numerous direct observations and simple experiments, but also from his own talent, which compensated for technical gaps in several instances. His use of metaphorical descriptions was a response to the lack of a firm theoretical background. It facilitated a preliminary classification of plant movement and a comparison of observations. Perhaps his most fruitful metaphors were those drawn from economic concepts, such as division of labour. Darwin’s legacy in plant physiology is impressive, as even the most recent biophysical interpretations of climbing plants (e.g. tendril perversion) take place inside the framework he constructed.

Gabriel Gohau, “Darwin the geologist: Between Lyell and von Buch”

Upon returning from his voyage on the Beagle, Darwin prepared reports of his geological observations. Together, these reveal Darwin’s approach to reasoning about geology. Darwin argued that successive terraces prove a very gradual elevation of the coast that lagoon islands show a reciprocal sinking of the oceanic floor. Hence, Darwin reinforced Lyell’s uniformitarian, or steady state theory. Unlike lagoon islands, the movement of erratic boulders onto the plains is evidence of forces, which do not now exist. Darwin and Lyell attributed this movement to floating icebergs. However, mountain formation remained difficult for them to explain with reference to contemporary causes. Lyell discovered uplifts in Scandinavia, which resulted from epirogenesis, whereas mountain formation is an orogenesis, which involves both folding and uplift. Darwin was more impressed by uplift than by folds. However, when in Cordillera he saw strata overturned by masses of injected rock, proving successive periods of violence, Darwin took a position, which was closer to the plutonic theories of von Buch and Humboldt than it was to Lyell’s uniformitarian views.

Jean Gayon, “Sexual selection: Another Darwinian process”

Why was sexual selection so important to Darwin? And why was it de-emphasized by almost all of Darwin’s followers until the second half of the 20th century? These two questions shed light on the complexity of the scientific tradition named “Darwinism”. Darwin’s interest in sexual selection was almost as old as his discovery of the principle of natural selection. From the beginning, sexual selection was just another “natural means of selection”, although different from standard “natural selection” in its mechanism. But it took Darwin 30 years to fully develop his theory, from the early notebooks to the 1871 book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. Although there is a remarkable continuity in his basic ideas about sexual selection, he emphasized increasingly the idea that sexual selection could oppose the action of natural selection and be non adaptive. In time, he also gave more weight to mate choice (especially female choice), giving explicit arguments in favor of psychological notions such as “choice” and “aesthetic sense”. But he also argued that there was no strict demarcation line between natural and sexual selection, a major difficulty of the theory from the beginning. Female choice was the main reason why Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of the principle of natural selection, engaged in a major controversy with Darwin about sexual selection. Wallace was suspicious about sexual selection in general, trying to minimize it by all sorts of arguments. And he denied entirely the existence of female choice, because he thought that it was both unnecessary and an anthropomorphic notion. This had something to do with his spiritualist convictions, but also with his conception of natural selection as a sufficient principle for the evolutionary explanation of all biological phenomena (except for the origin of mind). This is why Wallace proposed to redefine Darwinism in a way that excluded Darwin’s principle of sexual selection. The main result of the Darwin–Wallace controversy was that most Darwinian biologists avoided the subject of sexual selection until at least the 1950 s, Ronald Fisher being a major exception. This controversy still deserves attention from modern evolutionary biologists, because the modern approach inherits from both Darwin and Wallace. The modern approach tends to present sexual selection as a special aspect of the theory of natural selection, although it also recognizes the big difficulties resulting from the inevitable interaction between these two natural processes of selection. And contraWallace, it considers mate choice as a major process that deserves a proper evolutionary treatment. The paper’s conclusion explains why sexual selection can be taken as a test case for a proper assessment of “Darwinism” as a scientific tradition. Darwin’s and Wallace’s attitudes towards sexual selection reveal two different interpretations of the principle of natural selection: Wallace’s had an environmentalist conception of natural selection, whereas Darwin was primarily sensitive to the element of competition involved in the intimate mechanism of any natural process of selection. Sexual selection, which can lack adaptive significance, reveals this exemplarily.

Jonathan Hodge, “The Darwin of pangenesis”

The Darwin of pangenesis is very much another Darwin. Pangenesis is Darwin’s comprehensive theory of generation, his theory about all sexual and asexual modes of reproduction and growth. He never explicitly integrated pangenesis with his theory of natural selection. He first formulated pangenesis in the 1840s and integrated it with the physiology, including the cytology, of that era. It was, therefore, not consilient with the newer cytology of the 1860s when he published it in 1868. By reflecting on the role of pangenesis in Darwin’s life and work, we can learn to take a wider view of his most general theorising about animal and plant life.

Jean Deutsch, “Darwin and barnacles”

In this essay, I discuss the origin of Charles Darwin’s interest in cirripedes (barnacles). Indeed, he worked intensively on cirripedes during the years in which he was developing the theory that eventually led to the publication of The Origin of Species. In the light of our present knowledge, I present Darwin’s achievements in the morphology, systematics and biology of these small marine invertebrates, and also his mistakes. I suggest that the word that sheds the most light here ishomology, and that his mistakes were due to following Richard Owen’s method of determining homologies by reference to an ideal archetype. I discuss the ways in which his studies on cirripedes influenced the writing of The Origin.

Michel Veuille, “Darwin and sexual selection: one hundred years of misunderstanding”

Darwin’s book on the Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) is often viewed as the continuation of The Origin of Species published 12 years earlier (1859), both because of the implicit parallelism between natural selection and sexual selection, and because Darwin himself presents the book as developing a subject (man) which he intentionally omitted in the Origin. But the Descent can also be viewed as the continuation of his book on Variation published three years earlier (1868). Firstly because Darwin’s hypothesis of pangenesis links the selection process to the origin of variation through use and disuse, an idea underlying his speculations on the origin of moral sense in humans. Second because like the action of the horticulturist on his domestic crops, sexual selection exerted by one sex on the other sex can develop fancy traits that are not easily accounted for by their utility to the selected organism itself, such as artistic taste, pride, courage, and the morphological differences between human populations. These traits are difficult to reconcile with pangenesis. They add up to other contradictions of the book possibly resulting from Darwin’s erroneous inference about the mechanism of inheritance, like those on the determination of sex-ratio, or the confusion between individual adaptation and the advantage to the species. These inconsistencies inaugurate a weakening of the Darwinian message, which will last 50 years after his death. They contributed to the neglect of sexual selection for a century. Darwin however maintained a logical distinction between evolutionary mechanisms and hereditary mechanisms, and an epistemological distinction between evolutionary theory and Pangenesis hypothesis. In the modern context of Mendelian genetics, Darwin’s sexual selection retrospectively appears as luminous an idea in its pure principle as natural selection, even though the mechanisms governing the evolution of sexual choice in animals remain largely unresolved.

Armand de Ricqlès, “On Darwin’s palaeontology in The Origin of Species”

I investigate the role of palaeontology within Darwin’s works through an analysis of the two chapters of The Origin of Species most especially devoted to this science. Palaeontology may occupy several places within the structure of the argumentative logic of Darwinism, but these places have remained to some extent ancillary. Indeed, palaeontology could well document evolutionary patterns, showing the actual occurrence of evolution as a general “historical fact”, but it was poorly adapted to demonstrate the main point of Darwinism: the actual evolutionary process: natural selection acting among individuals. I also show, in agreement with Gould, that Darwin had great confidence in the ultimate ability of palaeontology to support his theory, and that in interpreting palaeontological evidence, he expressed a vision of natural selection much wider and more eclectic than that which has generally been ascribed to him.

Thierry Hoquet, “Darwin teleologist? Design in the Orchids”

Focusing on the Orchids, this article aims at disentangling the concepts of teleology, design and natural theology. It refers to several contemporary critics of Darwin (Kölliker, Argyll, Royer, Candolle, Delpino) to challenge Huxley’s interpretation that Darwin’s system was “a deathblow” to teleology. The Orchids seem rather to be a “flank-movement” (Gray): it departs from the Romantic theories of transmutation and the “imaginary examples” of the Origin; it focuses on empirical data and on teleological structures. Although Darwin refers to natural selection, his readers mock him for his fascination for delicate morphological contrivances and co-adaptations – a sign that he was inescapably lured to finality. Some even suggested that his system was a “theodicy”. In the history of Darwinism, the Orchids reveal “another” quite unexpected and heterodox Darwin: freed from the hypothetical fancies of the Origin, and even suggesting a new kind of physico-theology.

Jorge Martínez-Contreras, “Darwin’s apes and ‘savages’”

Since his visit to Tierra del Fuego in the 1830s, Darwin had been fascinated by the “savages” that succeeded in surviving on such a “broken beach”, and because they were certainly similar in behaviour to our ancestors. However, he was also fascinated by baboons’ behaviour, according to Brehm’s accounts: hamadryas baboons showed a strong altruism to the point of risking their own lives in order to save their infants from attack by dogs. In 1871, he mentions he would rather have descended from brave baboons than from “savages”, considered egoistic. We study the two sources of these ideas and try to show how Darwin’s comparative reflections on apes and “savages” made him the first evolutionist anthropologist.

ARTICLE: Four Darwinian themes on the origin, evolution and preservation of island life

In the Journal of Biogeography:

Four Darwinian themes on the origin, evolution and preservation of island life

Mark V. Lomolino

Abstract Charles Darwin’s observations and insights continue to inspire nearly all scientists who are captivated by both the marvels and the perils of island life. Here I feature four themes inspired by Darwin’s singular insights: themes that may continue to provide valuable lessons for understanding the ecological and evolutionary development of insular biotas, and for conserving the natural character and evolutionary potential of all species restricted to isolated ecosystems (natural or anthropogenic).

Also in the Journal of Biogeography:

Darwin’s Galapagos gourd: providing new insights 175 years after his visit

Patrizia Sebastian, Hanno Schaefer and Susanne S. Renner

Abstract The year 2010 marks the 175th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands. A recent paper by J. C. Briggs, ‘Darwin’s biogeography’ (Journal of Biogeography, 2009, 36, 1011–1017), summarizes Darwin’s contributions to the field of biogeography, stressing the importance of his natural history specimens. Here, we illustrate how a plant collected by Darwin during his visit to Floreana and not collected since can provide insights into dispersal to oceanic islands as well as extinction of island plants, based on ancient DNA from Darwin’s herbarium specimen.

ARTICLE: Evidence for contemporary evolution during Darwin’s lifetime

In the 9 February 2010 issue of Current Biology (Vol. 20, No. 3):

“Evidence for contemporary evolution during Darwin’s lifetime”

Adam G. Hart, Richard Stafford, Angela L. Smith and Anne E. Goodenough

Abstract Darwin’s On the Origin of Species introduced the world to the most fundamental concept in biological sciences — evolution. However, in the 150 years following publication of his seminal work, much has been made of the fact that Darwin was missing at least one crucial link in his chain of evidence — he had no evidence for contemporary evolution through natural selection. Indeed, as one commentator noted on the centenary of the publication of Origin, “Had Darwin observed industrial melanism he would have seen evolution occurring not in thousands of years but in thousands of days – well within his lifetime. He would have witnessed the consummation and confirmation of his life’s work.”

Via Why Evolution Is True.

BBC: Gloucestershire biologists find hidden Darwin letter

What Darwin Never Knew

Last night on PBS was NOVA‘s 2-hour program on evo-devo, “What Darwin Never Knew” (website). I watched most of it, but did not get to pay too much attention as I was also entertaining my toddler son. So, here are thoughts from Brian and PZ. Both rightly note the human-centric portion of the show (why can’t all organisms be considered unique?), and I agree with Brian that the program gives us a history of Darwin and his evolutionary theory in a vacuum, as if no other historical figures are important.

Still, it’s worth a watch, and you can do so here.

Darwin Round-Up

Monday, November 16th is the deadline for submissions to Charlie’s Playhouse’s “Ask the Kids” [about evolution] project.  More information here.

I somehow neglected to share Ben Fry’s very cool digital rendition of the six editions of On the Origin of Species and the changes therein: “The Preservation of Favoured Traces.”

The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences blog that accompanies their new Darwin as a geologist exhibit (my pics) has a short write up on the “Darwin in the Field” conference I attended last July, here. Also, the newsletter of the Palaeontological Association (they provided funding for the conference, including travel money for myself and a post-doc at the Smithsonian) has a report of the conference written by, well, me! You can see it at the bottom of page 56 in this PDF.

Two freely available articles from Bioscience: “The Darwinian Revelation: Tracing the Origin and Evolution of an Idea” [PDF] by James Costa and “Ten Myths about Charles Darwin” [PDF] by Kevin Padian [previous posts with Padian].

Nature has started a series on Darwin and culture called “Global Darwin”: “Darwin and culture,” “Global Darwin: Eastern enchantment,” and “Global Darwin: Contempt for competition.” These pieces explore a variety of reactions to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Also titled “Global Darwin” is a 2009 lecture by Jim Secord. Access it here. At the same site are lectures by Janet Browne and Rebecca Stott.

Here is a page for the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit Rewriting the Book of Nature: Charles Darwin and the Rise of Evolutionary Theory, and two sets of pictures on Flickr showing a Darwin exhibition (Darwin’s Legacy) at the National Museum of Natural History, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Darwin Online has put up the annotated copy of On the Origin of Species owned by Darwin’s third son, and experimental assistant, Francis.

Videos of many lectures from the University of Cambridge’s Darwin Festival in July are up on YouTube.

Darwinfest: Bold Ideas Change Worlds, at ASU, has its own website. Darwin biographer Janet Browne will give a lecture on November 13th. Previous lectures from throughout 2009 are available for download.

Historian of science Jim Endersby will talk on “Darwin, Hooker, and Empire” on November 18th  in conjunction with the American Philosophical Society’s exhibition Dialogues with Darwin: An Exhibition of Historical Documents and Contemporary Art. Website here, and a fun Flickr photo set of post-it notes that visitors filled out and placed on a tree of life diagram. Another recent lecture of Endersby’s, “Smashing Species: Joseph Hooker and Victorian Science” for the Royal Society, can be downloaded as an mp3.

Christ’s College, Cambridge has a website for Darwin, with lots of resources.

“Who can head the words of Charlie Darwin…”

Cambridge Library Collection’s Life Science series offers reprints of many historically important books (71 titles), many of which are on Amazon.

Via Genomicron, “This View of Life: Evolutionary Art for the Year of Darwin”:

Evolutionary art is the topic of many books this year: Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture by Jonathan Smith; Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts by Jane Munro; Darwin: Art and the Search for Origins; The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture by Barbara Larson and Fae Bauer; Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution by Phillip Prodger; Reframing Darwin: Evolution and Art in Australia by Jeanette Hoorn; and Darwin’s Pictures: Views of Evolutionary Theory, 1837-1874 by Julia Voss.

In Evolution: Education and Outreach is an article by U. Kutschera called “Darwin’s Philosophical Imperative and the Furor Theologicus: “In 1859 Charles Darwin submitted a manuscript entitled “An Abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties through Natural Selection” to John Murray III, who published the text under the title On the Origin of Species. On many pages of this book, Darwin contrasts his naturalistic theory that explains the transmutation and diversification of animals and plants with the Bible-based belief that all species were independently created. On the last page of the first edition, published in November 1859, where Darwin speculated on the origin of the earliest forms of life from which all other species have descended, no reference to “the Creator” is made. In order to conciliate angry clerics and hence to tame the erupted furor theologicus, Darwin included the phrase “by the Creator” in the second edition of 1860 and in all subsequent versions of his book (sixth ed. 1872). However, in a letter of 1863, Darwin distanced himself from this Bible-based statement and wrote that by creation he means “appeared by some wholly unknown process.” In 1871, Darwin proposed a naturalistic origin-of-life-concept but did not dare to mention his “warm little pond hypothesis” in the sixth definitive edition of the Origin (1872). I conclude that the British naturalist strictly separated scientific facts and theories from religious dogmas (Darwin’s “philosophical imperative”) and would not endorse current claims by the Catholic Church and other Christian associations that evolutionary theory and Bible-based myths are compatible.”

EEO also has a piece about the traveling Darwin exhibition by Chiara Ceci, “Darwin: Origin and Evolution of an Exhibition”: “Two hundred years after his birth, Darwin, originated by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, is the most important exhibition about the English scientist ever organized for the general public. This traveling exhibition has appeared in many versions worldwide, and a study of the relationships between local developers of the various editions of the exhibition underlines how a scientific exhibition and, more generally, science communication can succeed in striking a good equilibrium between universal content and cultural determinants.”

“Discover the principles of evolution through animations, movies and simulations” at Evolution of Life.

Several articles have appeared this year in the Journal of the History of Biology touching on Darwin and evolution in general: “Capitalist Contexts for Darwinian Theory: Land, Finance, Industry and Empire” (M.J.S. Hodge); “The Origins of Species: The Debate between August Weismann and Moritz Wagner” (Charlotte Weissman); “Edward Hitchcock’s Pre-Darwinian (1840) ‘Tree of Life’” (J. David Archibald); “Tantalizing Tortoises and the Darwin-Galápagos Legend” (Frank J. Sulloway); “‘A Great Complication of Circumstances’ – Darwin and the Economy of Nature” (Trevor Pearce); “Charles Darwin’s Beagle Voyage, Fossil Vertebrate Succession, and ‘The Gradual Birth & Death of Species’” (Paul D. Brinkman); “Darwin and Inheritance: The Influence of Prosper Lucas” (Ricardo Noguera-Solano and Rosaura Ruiz-Gutiérrez); and “Of Mice and Men: Evolution and the Socialist Utopia. William Morris, H.G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw” (Piers J. Hale).

A Darwin article in Plant Biology: “From Charles Darwin’s botanical country-house studies to modern plant biology”: “As a student of theology at Cambridge University, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) attended the lectures of the botanist John S. Henslow (1796-1861). This instruction provided the basis for his life-long interest in plants as well as the species question. This was a major reason why in his book On the Origin of Species, which was published 150 years ago, Darwin explained his metaphorical phrase `struggle for life’ with respect to animals and plants. In this article, we review Darwin’s botanical work with reference to the following topics: the struggle for existence in the vegetable kingdom with respect to the phytochrome-mediated shade avoidance response; the biology of flowers and Darwin’s plant-insect co-evolution hypothesis; climbing plants and the discovery of action potentials; the power of movement in plants and Darwin’s conflict with the German plant physiologist Julius Sachs; and light perception by growing grass coleoptiles with reference to the phototropins. Finally, we describe the establishment of the scientific discipline of Plant Biology that took place in the USA 80 years ago, and define this area of research with respect to Darwin’s work on botany and the physiology of higher plants.”

And another in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences: “Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875″: “The traditional characterization of Charles Darwin as a strong advocate of physiological experimentation on animals was posited in Richard French’s Antivivisection and medical science in Victorian England (1975), where French portrayed him as a soldier in Thomas Huxley’s efforts to preserve anatomical experimentation on animals unfettered by government regulation. That interpretation relied too much on, inter alia, Huxley’s own description of the legislative battles of 1875, and shared many historians’ propensity to foster a legacy of Darwin as a leader among a new wave of scientists, even where personal interests might indicate a conflicting story. Animal rights issues concerned more than mere science for Darwin, however, and where debates over other scientific issues failed to inspire Darwin to become publicly active, he readily joined the battle over vivisection, helping to draft legislation which, in many ways, was more protective of animal rights than even the bills proposed by his friend and anti-vivisectionist, Frances Power Cobbe. Darwin may not have officially joined Cobbe’s side in the fight, but personal correspondence of the period between 1870 and 1875 reveals a man whose first interest was to protect animals from inhumane treatment, and second to protect the reputations of those men and physiologists who were his friends, and who he believed incapable of inhumane acts. On this latter point he and Cobbe never did reach agreement, but they certainly agreed on the humane treatment of animals, and the need to proscribe various forms of animal experimentation.”

“Darwinism Comes to Penn” [PDF], in The Pennsylvania Gazette: “A century-and-a-half after the November 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species, a Penn microbiologist looks back at how Darwin’s ideas were received by some of the University’s leading thinkers.”

In the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, “WWDD? (What Would Darwin Do?)” [PDF], looks at evolution research and publishing: “We have just celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. While I hope we all rejoiced in the success of evolutionary biology and its continued growth, we should not become complacent. Although these are indeed events to celebrate, we still face the real threat of general ignorance of Darwin’s ideas. World leaders (or would-be world leaders) still promote superstition, stories and unthinking acceptance of dogma over scientific evidence. Evolutionary biologists have succeeded in investigating the magnificence, the wonder, the complexity, and the detail of evolution and its role in generating biodiversity. Evolutionary biologists have been less successful in making this relevant to those who are not biologists (and even, alas, some biologists). Is evolutionary biology likely to thrive when governments demand an immediate return on their research investment? How do we begin to educate others as to the value and importance of evolutionary research? I do not begin to claim that I can fathom the mind of Darwin, but I cannot help wondering – what would Darwin do today? Would he respond? How would he respond? And, what would be the form of his response?”

Jerry Coyne on “Why Evolution is True”:

Daniel Dennett on “Darwin and the Evolution of Why”:

A new book “offers a primer in the history of the development of evolution as a discipline after Darwin’s book and in how evolution is defined today”: The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species (Princeton University Press, 2009) by UCR biologist David Reznick. You can read the introduction on the publisher’s page for the book.

Richard Dawkins closes his latest book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by going through and detailing each line of the famous closing paragraph (“There is grandeur in this view of life…”) of On the Origin of Species. It’s available online, for you, to read, and ponder.

“The Evolution of Charles Darwin,” a 4-part series on CBC Radio One: “Ideas pays tribute to Charles Darwin and celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of his transformational and contentious book, On the Origin of Species. Darwin’s theory of evolution through Natural Selection completely changed how we think about the world. In this 4-part series, Seth Feldman guides us through the life and ideas of Charles Darwin, a creative genius. The series is produced by Sara Wolch.” Via Adrian.

Via The Evolution List, The Darwinian Revolutions Video Series: “This series of six online videos is a brief introduction to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and its implications.” The short videos are: Darwinian Revolutions, Evolutionary Ancestors, Lamarck’s Theory, One Long Argument, Mendel-Eclipse of Darwin, and The Evolving Synthesis.

The November 2009 issue of Naturwissenschaften is devoted to Darwin. The articles are “Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, directional selection, and the evolutionary sciences today” [PDF] (Ulrich Kutschera); “Darwin’s warm little pond revisited: From molecules to the origin of life” [PDF] (Hartmut Follmann and Carol Brownson); “Charles Darwin, beetles and phylogenetics” [PDF] (Rolf G. Beutel, Frank Friedrich and Richard A. B. Leschen); “The predictability of evolution: Glimpses into a post-Darwinian world” [PDF] (Simon Conway Morris); and “Evolutionary plant physiology: Charles Darwin’s forgotten synthesis” [PDF] (Ulrich Kutschera and Karl J. Niklas).

Two more articles consider Darwin and the origin of life. In Endeavour James E. Strick offers “Darwin and the origin of life: public versus private science”: “In the first twenty years after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, an intense debate took place within the ranks of Darwin’s supporters over exactly what his theory implied about the means by which the original living organism formed on Earth. Many supporters of evolutionary science also supported the doctrine of spontaneous generation: life forming from nonliving material not just once but many times up to the present day. Darwin was ambivalent on this topic. He feared its explosive potential to drive away liberal-minded Christians who might otherwise be supporters. His ambivalent wording created still more confusion, both among friends and foes, about what Darwin actually believed about the origin of life. A famous lecture by Thomas H. Huxley in 1870 set forth what later became the ‘party line’ Darwinian position on the subject.” In Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, Juli Peretó, Jeffrey L. Bada and Antonio Lazcano offer another analysis in “Charles Darwin and the Origin of Life”: “When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species 150 years ago he consciously avoided discussing the origin of life. However, analysis of some other texts written by Darwin, and of the correspondence he exchanged with friends and colleagues demonstrates that he took for granted the possibility of a natural emergence of the first life forms. As shown by notes from the pages he excised from his private notebooks, as early as 1837 Darwin was convinced that “the intimate relation of Life with laws of chemical combination, & the universality of latter render spontaneous generation not improbable”. Like many of his contemporaries, Darwin rejected the idea that putrefaction of preexisting organic compounds could lead to the appearance of organisms. Although he favored the possibility that life could appear by natural processes from simple inorganic compounds, his reluctance to discuss the issue resulted from his recognition that at the time it was possible to undertake the experimental study of the emergence of life.”


PZ Myers live-blogged on Pharyngula talks given at Chicago’s big Darwin festival, Darwin/Chicago 2009. Science Life also has a piece about the conference.

From the August 24, 2009 issue of Significance, two Darwin articles: “Darwin, Mendel and the evolution of evolution” by R. Allan Reese: “The history of science is full of myths. Darwin has his fair share; but Gregor Mendel, his fellow scientist and contemporary, has suffered even more. R. Allan Reese disentangles what we like to believe about Mendel from what we should believe—and finds a modern species whose origin was not by conventional evolution;” and “Cousins: Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Galton and the birth of eugenics” by Nicholas W. Gillham: “Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin’s cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.”Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin’s cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.”

In Archives of Natural History of October 2009 is a short article, “Letters from Alfred Russel Wallace concerning the Darwin commemorations of 1909″ by Henry A McGhie.

CONFERENCE: Evolution and the Public

From the H-SCI-MED-TECH listserve:

Evolution and the Public (1859-2009) –
The discussion of a scientific idea and its ramifications since Charles

University of Siegen, Artur-Woll-Haus
September 3-5, 2009
Deadline for Proposals: March 1, 2009

Please note: Contributions to this project may take on different forms
(see below).

When Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution by means of
natural selection scientists and a wider public were well aware that
this concept was more than a scientific explanation for natural
phenomena. They already had a glimpse of what we today well know after a
hundred-and-fifty years of debate: The theory of evolution impinges upon
a great number of principle issues, be they theological, philosophical,
moral, social or political, in short, on the basics of human existence
and society. It holds the promise of a new freedom and new options while
at the same time unveiling new dangers hidden below the surface of
opportunities given to humanity to influence the evolutionary process.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century it is biotechnology and
genetic engineering which drives controversial debates most strongly.
The compatibility of religion and evolution, most pressing question when
the debate was initiated, is still a matter on which feelings run high.
When Darwin’s ideas were transplanted into other fields, people became
sensitized to new possibilities and new risks: for the individual, for
groups defined in social or national terms, for society in general.
Social Darwinism, eugenics and the power to affect creation in
particular fired and, in modernized form, still fire the imagination.
The conference will look at this multifaceted public debate as it was
conducted in the Western world (a focus will be on Europe and North
America), on various levels from academic circles to casual
conversations of ‘ordinary people’, in various media of popular or high
culture stance (literature in the broadest sense, the press, radio,
television, film, internet, museums etc.). In analyzing the debate on
evolution in the public it inquires after an evolution of the public, a
transformation it may have undergone in the process.
Themes of possible contributions should touch on the following
categories of topics, which will structure the conference as well as the
different forms in which its results will be published.
1. The emergence of a public debate
2. Evolution and religion — a controversy without end?
3. The public and the scientist: Images of scientists from Darwin to the
– Darwin in the eyes of contemporaries and subsequent generations
– Ingenious, mad, dangerous? Images of scientists in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries
4. From Darwinism to Social Darwinism
5. Eugenics in Europe and North America: Defining an ideal and the
attempts at implementing it
6. The debate on evolution in the age of the human genome:
biotechnology, genetics and man as lord of creation
7. Evolution of the public and the future of the debate.
Proposals for papers are invited from those working in history, history
of science and technology, natural sciences, social sciences,
philosophy, theology, art history, literary criticism, media studies or
related disciplines. Conference language will be English. Thanks to the
Fritz Thyssen Foundation travel funding is available for all speakers.
Please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words in either English or
German together with a short CV before March 1, 2009 for consideration
to Angela Schwarz at
Since it is a public debate that is to be explored, the results shall be
made accessible to a wider public too. For this reason, conference
papers are supposed to deal with their specific aspects in such a way
that they cannot only be published in a collection in book format, but
will also serve as the background to a (sub-)section in a web-based,
long-term presentation of the debate on evolution (similar to a virtual
exhibition) to be created, organized and hosted at Siegen University
after the conference. Potential speakers are therefore kindly requested
to agree to a publication of their contributions in these two ways.
The way of contributing to the project may differ from the common way of
presenting a paper at a conference and publishing it afterwards in a
book. For we also welcome proposals from those interested in providing
input to the internet presentation only — without wishing to present a
paper at the conference or unable to attend it. If you have further
questions, please do not hesitate to contact the convener at the address
given below.

Angela Schwarz
Lehrstuhl für Neuere und Neueste Geschichte
Universitaet Siegen

Prof. Dr. Angela Schwarz
FB 1 – Neuere und Neueste Geschichte
Universitaet Siegen
Adolf-Reichwein-Str. 2
57068 Siegen

Tel.:   0271 / 740 – 4606     0271 / 740 – 4502 (Sekretariat)
Fax:    0271 / 740 – 4596

Descended from Darwin: Insights into the History of Evolutionary Studies, 1900-1970


Descended from Darwin

Descended from Darwin

Descended from Darwin: Insights into the History of Evolutionary Studies, 1900-1970 is a publication from the American Philosophical Society with papers from a 2004 conference. It is edited by Joe Cain and Michael Ruse. Summary:

The main focus was on evolutionary studies in America before, during, and after the famous “evolutionary synthesis” of the 1930s and 1940s. The synthesis period has been the focus of substantial new research and important new thinking. This volume brings together fifteen specialists to explore these developments and to press further. Questions shaping these essays focus on the following broad themes:

  • continuity and breaks across generations
  • emerging narratives for the period
  • new research opportunities at the APS
  • new ideas from the research front
  • placing evolutionists in the broader context of biology
  • future directions

The fifteen papers and prefatory material are freely available online here. The British Society for the History of Science is currently seeking contributors for another volume: Evolution studies in Britain, 1918-1940. See here if interested.

Nature Podcast: Darwin

Nature Podcast: Darwin

Nature Podcast: Darwin

12 February 2009

play full podcast | Text

In this episode:

New York Times on Darwin

Science Times: Darwin

It is a testament to Darwin’s extraordinary insight that it took almost a century for biologists to understand the essential correctness of his views.


Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live

Equating evolution with Charles Darwin ignores 150 years of discoveries, including most of what scientists understand about evolution.

Genes Offer New Clues in Old Debate on Species’ Origins

The study of how species originate, a process known as speciation, is not only one of evolution’s most active areas of study, but also one of its most contentious.

Biology’s tree of life has grown out of a simple sketch by Darwin (center) into many and varied new attempts to visualize the diversity of life. The Paleoverde program (left) allows a user to cruise through thousands of species with the movements of a mouse. Above right, a particular gene is traced to visualize how different species are related.

Crunching the Data for the Tree of Life

Biologists know how species are related but lack the tools to show off their discoveries.

Seeing the Risks of Humanity’s Hand in Species Evolution

Human predation is causing some species to evolve to reproduce at younger ages and smaller sizes, to the long-term harm of the species.

In “The Expression of the Emotions in Animals and Men,” Darwin traced connections between humans and animals in the muscles used to express emotions such as grief and terror.

Darwin the Comedian. Now That’s Entertainment!

Richard Milner, a science historian, finds the funny side of Charles Darwin, evolutionary giant.