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
Darwin

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
present
– 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 evolution@geschichte.uni-siegen.de.
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.

Convener
Angela Schwarz
Lehrstuhl für Neuere und Neueste Geschichte
Universitaet Siegen
evolution@geschichte.uni-siegen.de

– 
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
Mail:   schwarz@geschichte.uni-siegen.de
http://www.fb1.uni-siegen.de/geschichte/mitarbeiter/schwarz/?lang=de

BOOK REVIEW: Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

I received this book from the publisher last year, so I am now finally able to put up my review. But I also had to read it for my current graduate class on historical writing, taught by Michael Reidy (my advisor and the author of the book!). And the review:

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History: Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy. By Michael S. Reidy. Chicago, London: Chicago University Press, 2008. xiv + 389 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $40.00 (cloth).

In an essay in William K. Story’s edited volume Scientific Aspects of European Expansion (Varorium, 1996), historian Alan Frost shows how science conducted in the Pacific during European exploration of the late eighteenth century was essentially political in nature. Scientists acted with their respective nations in mind. Michael S. Reidy extends the notion of science for political purposes into the nineteenth century with Tides of History. But while the book’s subtitle, Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy, underscores the connection between advancements in science and the imperial reach of maritime nations (predominantly Britain), Reidy aims for much more than just showing how the British used science to rule the waves. He has other interests in mind, and it is unfortunate that the title of his book misleads the reader of its primary content. Although Reidy does discuss the Admiralty and how tidal science was crucial to military matters, he is more interested in the scientist himself and his role – in particular one giant of science (William Whewell) and plenty of rather unknowns. Even larger still is Reidy’s contribution to a growing field of ocean history, a fresh understanding of history understood through looking at the spaces in between the land that most histories are focused with.

Much of Tides of History details the history of tidal science – of the data collection itself, and the theoretical understanding of the tides (whether or not it was based on data). The narrative of Reidy’s story, told through scientific publications, letters, and the use images (tables and graphs), almost mirrors the flux and reflux of the tides themselves, the ebb and flow of the seas across the globe. Tidal science, and the reasons for studying it, have shifted in importance to various parties through the centuries. Reidy outlines what has gone before, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before focusing on the nineteenth century, the highest period of Britain’s imperial expansion, and the regional and global tide experiments in the mid-1830s.

Reidy is fond of metaphors, and they abound in Tides of History. For example, Whewell “helped transform the spatial scope of science while simultaneously expanding the terrain of the scientist” (p. 240). This spatiality is important to Reidy in showing how Whewell transformed the study of tides into a Humboldtian research program, rather than the temporal nature of previous studies. In contrast to earlier and recent works on Whewell, Reidy shows how this evaluator of science in Britain was much more than just a man interested in the work of scientists, but a premier scientist himself. The study of tides, which held Whewell’s interest for more than two decades, also influenced Whewell’s philosophical contributions to science – how science should be done and who should do it. Despite Whewell’s insistence that only certain persons could be scientists – those who strived for theoretical understanding of phenomena – he recognized the efforts and contributions of the often overlooked figures in history. Data collectors, calculators, and computers, doing monotonous and tedious work with ink, provided crucial information for “scientists” to devise their theories with. By looking closely at the role of these “subordinate labourers,” as Whewell referred to them, Reidy gives us a much needed contribution to the history of science, a bottom-up history in a field which too often stresses the importance of the man of science. There were many men (and women) of science, whether or not they were considered “scientists.”

While Reidy succeeds in relating the study of the tides to those with economic interests in using that knowledge – merchants, traders, etc. – what is missing from Tides of History, despite its secondary role to an understanding of the emerging scientist in the early Victorian period, is how the military aspect of the study of the tides was actually used. Examples of how the Admiralty benefited from tidal knowledge, grounded in particular events (if records exist), would surely benefit an understanding of the importance of the study of the tides, and of the relationship of scientists with the larger society. Another mistake in Tides of History, in my opinion, is in the introduction of self-registering tide gauges in Reidy’s narrative. Through reading the text, we know that data collectors observed and marked down numbers concerning the tides. We do not know, however, if and how they utilized technological instruments in carrying out their tasks. So, the invention of the self-registering tide gauge, which made it possible to record data without the hand of a person, becomes not as exciting a turn in the narrative as if the reader truly understood how earlier “subordinated labourers” collected information about the rise and fall of tides.

Despite these few problems, Tides of History is a valuable contribution to understanding the culture of science in the early Victorian period, a time when the role of scientists was becoming more connected with commerce and government, in helping to ensure Britain’s imperialistic success and reaping rewards from it. Taken with Richard Drayton’s Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the ‘Improvement’ of the World (Yale University Press, 2000), Tides of History offers a more complete picture of the relationship between science and society – of the political and economic importance of science and the increasingly important role of the scientist – in the nineteenth century. This is a valuable book for those interested in nineteenth-century science, the history of physical sciences, imperialism, environmental history, and maritime history to have on their shelves.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Harry Hammond Hess (Born 24 May 1906; died 25 Aug 1969). American geologist who made the first comprehensive attempt at explaining the phenomenon of seafloor spreading (1960). This revived Alfred Wegener’s earlier theory of continental drift. Together, these provided an interpretation of the earth’s crust in terms of plate tectonics. The surface of the globe is not continuous. Rather, it is broken into a number of huge plates that float on the molten rock under the crust, moved over eons of geologic time by convective currents driven by earth’s internal heat. With this motion these plates rub against, collide with, or separate from other plates. Thus the nature of earthquakes and volcanoes could be explained, plus the existence of ridges of young rock mapped around the globe under the ocean where the sea floor was spreading.

Ynes Mexia (Born 24 May 1870; died 12 Jul 1938). Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia was an American botanical collector, who developed her passion for botany and fieldwork in her 50′s, and yet was able to make about 150,000 collections in 12 years on seven expeditions. She was aged 55 when she made her first collecting trip. She accompanied Stanford’s Assistant Herbarium Curator, Roxanna Ferris, in Mexico. Her activity was remarkable, as she spent several years exploring for specimens in remote reaches of Central and South Americas. At age 59, she began a 2-1/2 year expedition in Peru and Brazil which included a three-month period trapped by floods with her team in a 600-m deep gorge which they escaped eventually by building a raft and running the river and its rapids.

Charles-Lucien Bonaparte (Born 24 May 1803; died 29 Jul 1857). (Prince) French zoologist who was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. From 1822 to 1828, he was in the United States, where he wrote four volumes of American Ornithology (1825-33) adding to the body of work left unfinished by Alexander Wilson at his death. Bonaparte’s scientific reputation was established by these volumes, with which he had the assistance of the artist Titian Peale, who found and painted birds for him from the Rocky Mountains and Florida. In 1848-49, Bonaparte’s scientific career experienced a brief hiatus when he took part in the political agitation for Italian independence against the Austrians and he was forced to leave Italy in July 1849. He went to Holland and then to France.

William Whewell (Born 24 May 1794; died 6 Mar 1866). British scientist, best known for his survey of the scientific method and for creating scientific words. He founded mathematical crystallography and developed Mohr’s classification of minerals. He created the words scientist and physicist by analogy with the word artist. They soon replaced the older term natural philosopher. Other useful words were coined to help his friends: biometry for Lubbock; Eocine, Miocene and Pliocene for Lyell; and for Faraday, anode, cathode, diamagnetic, paramagnetic, and ion (whence the sundry other particle names ending -ion). In metereology, Whewell devised a self-recording anemometer. He was second only to Newton for work on tidal theory. He died as a result of being thrown from his horse.

Graduate School in Bozeman, Montana

A few things to mention: 1) I was accepted into Montana State University’s graduate program in history; 2) we can most likely remain in our family housing apartment (I hate moving all the books!); and 3) for the first year of my graduate studies, I will be involved with my advisor on a funded project to transcribe the letters of the 19th-century Irish physicist John Tyndall, focusing, I believe, on letters dealing with his mountaineering endeavo[u]rs. Whether or not I will use the information gathered through reading so many letters to develop my thesis or write something entirely different, I am not sure. But Tyndall did touch on some biological topics later in his career. The project is spearheaded by historian of science Bernard Lightman (author of Victorian Science in Context [1997] and Victorian Popularizers of Science [2007], and editor of the journal Isis). From his “works in progress” on his homepage:

A biography of John Tyndall using the extensive unpublished correspondence from the Royal Institution and elsewhere, funded by a three-year SSHRC grant. Currently I am working with a team of graduate students to transcribe the letters.

A few interesting sites…

Just some sites I came across today:

MIT OpenCourseWare, free online course materials covering a wide range of topics. Of interest here are History of Science, Toward the Scientific Revolution, The Rise of Modern Science, History and Anthropology of Medicine and Biology, Social Study of Science and Technology, Nature, Environment, and Empire, People and Other Animals, and Darwin and Design (literature).

The Darwin-L Archives, a discussion group for academic professionals in the historical sciences that was active from 1993–1997. The site notes that “[i]n spite of its name, Darwin-L did not focus specifically on the work of Charles Darwin, but rather covered the entire range of palaetiology from an explicitly comparative perspective, including evolutionary biology, historical linguistics, textual transmission and stemmatics, historical geology, systematics and phylogeny, archeology, paleontology, historical geography, cosmology, and historical anthropology.”

Museum Studies e-Journal from the University of Oklahoma, first issue has an article about the role of podcasting in museums. Also at UO, their history of science collections, online being some digitized books, scientist portraits, and image gallery.

"What’s New" at Darwin Online

These were added to The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online on August 28 and 29, 2007:

Lyell, Charles. 1863. The geological evidences of the antiquity of man with remarks on the origin of species by variation. 3rd edition, revised. London: John Murray. Images [Images from Google books]

[Recollections of Darwin at Cambridge by John Maurice Herbert] (2 June 1882). Text
[Recollections of Darwin by Rev. John Brodie Innes] (nd). Text
[Recollections of Darwin by William Allport Leighton] (c. 1886). Text
[Recollections of Charles Darwin] (c. mid 1880s). Text

New Books and Free Journal Access from Springer

Springer is offering free access to two journals for a limited time (’til the end of August):

More information about the forthcoming journal Evolution: Education and Outreach

Gregor Mendel Born

from Today in Science History:

Gregor Mendel (July 22, 1822-January 6, 1884)

“Original name (until 1843) Johann Mendel. Austrian pioneer in the study of heredity. He spent his adult life with the Augustinian monastery in Brunn, where as a geneticist, botanist and plant experimenter, he was the first to lay the mathematical foundation of the science of genetics, in what came to be called Mendelism. Over the period 1856-63, Mendel grew and analyzed over 28,000 pea plants. He carefully studied for each their plant height, pod shape, pod color, flower position, seed color, seed shape and flower color. He made two very important generalizations from his pea experiments, known today as the Laws of Heredity. Mendel coined the present day terms in genetics: recessiveness and dominance.”

Field Museum exhibit on Mendel

Mega-Post: Post-Fourth Week of Internship

This photo is from atop Mt. Washburn in Yellowstone National Park, looking south. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone cuts across the view, while in the distant left is Yellowstone Lake, and the distant right is the Teton range.

NOTABLE HISTORY OF SCIENCE EVENTS:
July 20th: Sir Richard Owen born in 1804; John Playfair died in 1819
Pondering Pikaia reminds us that today was the Anniversary of Scopes Verdict

DARWIN, NATURAL HISTORY, HISTORY OF SCIENCE (evolution-related):
Guardian Unlimited: Making a monkey out of science (scholarly debate was ripe for popular satire in the 19th century)
Red State Rabble rethinks his initial post on Darwin and missionaries
Thoughts in a Haystack on the Discovery Institute linking Darwin to eugenics (Pharyngula’s thoughts)
A website full of Charles Darwin photographs: A Pictorial Biography
Science notes links to a Charles Darwin obit
Light Reading gives us a quote from Secord‘s Darwin and pigeons article
Darwin predicted the discovery of a moth with a very long tongue (more here and here)
Afarensis: Darwin and the Cell and thoughts on Darwin and the Missionaries
Should Darwin have had one of the 7 most exciting moments in science?
On a Korean ID site: Evolutionists Idolize Darwin Daddy (from 2006)
What would sailing on the Beagle sound like?
Darwin – Keeper of Women’s Rights!!!
Philosophy News Service: Darwinism and Gender
Yass to display rare edition of Charles Darwin book

EVOLUTION, NATURAL SELECTION, GENETICS:
Mano Singham’s Web Journal‘s 10th, 11th, and 12th post on evolution
Evolution News Roundup via Ontogeny
Darwiniana provides links about Lifecode (1, 2)
PLoS Biology: New Taxonomy and the Origin of Species
Telegraph: The new theories of evolution
Beagle Project Blog links an article about evolution’s benefits outside the natural world
Sandwalk has some genetics history (1, 2)

CREATIONISM & INTELLIGENT DESIGN:
NCSE: Padian reviews Kitzmiller books (here’s a negative review of this review)
Aetiology on a Religion and Science symposium
Check out the new blog Biologists Helping Bookstores (Coturnix’s thoughts)
Is Michael Behe the Darwin Slayer? (ha)
More “quote posts” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) about the Scopes Monkey Trial from Thoughts in a Haystack
Two sides to the Explore Evolution textbook (and some more)

MUSEUMS, COLLECTIONS, ETC.:

nothing this week

OTHER HISTORY OF SCIENCE:

Tangled Bank #84: Science in Ancient Greece
Laelaps’ first edition of the Boneyard, a blog carnival about paleontology
Latest history of science dissertations (& the one called “The Monkey and the Inkpot” belongs to a new prof coming to my school this fall)
A bloggers thoughts on David Quammen’s “Planet of Weeds” article
Laelaps: Tyrant king of the paleontologists? (Henry Fairfield Osborn)
Fundamentalists are Anti-Science at Something Should Go Here, Maybe Later
Book slut reviews Ending in Ice: The Revolutionary Idea and Tragic Expedition of Alfred Wegener
On Maps and Wests at sporadic meditations

Favorite Wellcome Images

Now that this internship week is over, I can offer my favorites. I have no particular interest in rotifers, but I thought this image from the Wellcome Image collection was strikingly similar to a prehistoric creature, an ichthyosaur.

I also like this image of a painting of the Great Blue Spring of the Lower Geyser basin, Yellowstone National Park (1876).

And this portrait of Joseph Dalton Hooker.

I haven’t figured out why multiple images are coming out like this for me!

Today in Science History

from Today in Science History:

Sir Julian Huxley June 22, 1887-Feb. 14, 1975.

“Sir Julian Sorell Huxley was an English biologist, philosopher, educator, and author who greatly influenced the modern development of embryology, systematics, and studies of behaviour and evolution. He studied the differential growth of different body parts, Problems of Relative Growth (1932). He wrote many popular articles and essays, especially on ornithology and evolution, and co-produced several history films, including the Private Life of the Gannet (1934). No stranger to controversy, Huxley supported the contentious view that the human race could benefit from planned parenthood using artificial insemination by donors of “superior characteristics”. (He was the grandson of biologist T. H. Huxley and brother of Aldous Huxley.)”

Galileo Detests Heliocentrism

“In 1633, Galileo Galilei was forced by the Inquisition to “abjure, curse, and detest” his Copernican heliocentric views. “I, Galileo…do swear that I have always believed, do now believe and, with God’s aid shall believe hereafter, all that which is taught and preached by the … church. I must wholly forsake the false opinion that the sun is the center of the world and moves not, and that the earth is not the center of the world and moves….” He was then condemned to the “formal prison of the Holy Office” for an undetermined amount of time which would be served at the pleasure of his judges, and required to repeat the seven penitential psalms once a week for three years. The next day the Pope specified the prison sentence should be house arrest.”

Wednesday Night’s Dispersal Event

Lisa Jardine (for BBC News) on Tony Blair, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Shaping your place in posterity
Red State Rabble discusses the Los Angeles Times‘ article, “Nature museums nearly relics themselves.
Isaac Newton is author-of-the-day at Bookyards
More on review’s of Behe’s The Edge of Evolution (1, 2, 3)

Happy Birthday E.O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson (born June 10, 1929)

“Edward Osborne Wilson is an American biologist recognized as the world’s leading authority on ants who has conducted extensive studies of the ecology and evolution of the ant. He has travelled the world studying ant populations, and he has discovered several new ant species. These currently number practically 9,000, but Wilson predicts that count will someday total nearly 20,000. He also estimates that within these species there are over a million billion individuals. In 1967, he co-published The Theory of Island Biogeography, a study of islands, which examines the relation between island size, the number of species contained, and their evolutionary balance. He is also active in sociobiology, a genetic study of social behaviour.”

books by E.O. Wilson
E.O. Wilson discusses Darwin (w/ James Watson) on Charlie Rose
lecture by E.O. Wilson pushing for the Encyclopedia of Life project

June 7th in Science History

from Today in Science History:

Alfred Newton died (June 11, 1829-June 7, 1907)

“British zoologist, one of the foremost ornithologists of his day. In 1866, he was appointed the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at Cambridge University. Despite the fact that he suffered from diseased hip joints and walked with the aid of two sticks, he traveled throughout Lapland, Iceland, the West Indies, and North America 1854-63. During these expeditions he studied ornithology and became particularly interested in the great auk. He was instrumental in having the first Acts of parliament passed for the protection of birds. He wrote a great deal on the subject, including a 4-volume Dictionary of Birds, and the articles on Ornithology in several 19th century editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.”

British Museum founded (1753)

“In 1753, the British Museum was founded, the world’s oldest public national museum, when King George II gave his royal assent to an Act of Parliament to accept the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, a London-based physician, following his death. In his will, he had offered the British nation the collection he built over his lifetime: 71,000 objects, mostly plant and animal specimens. In return, he asked a sum of £20,000 for his heirs (which today would be more than £2,000,000). The museum opened to the public 15 Jan 1759 at Bloomsbury. Its current buildings there date from the mid-19th century. The natural history collection moved to its own museum in 1881 (or 1887?). The British Museum set up a laboratory in 1920 for scientific study of objects.”

British Museum website, and its History of the British Museum
Natural History Museum website

More on James Hutton

Pearson, Paul. Review of An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge and of the Progress of Reason, from Sense to Science and Philosophy, by James Hutton (1794). Nature 425 (2003): 665.

“Following the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859, Charles Darwin learned (and duly acknowledged) that two previous authors had anticipated the theory of evolution by natural selection. The first account to come to light was by Patrick Matthew, who had briefly outlined the mechanism in an appendix to his 1831 book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture. The second was by the physician William Wells, who had speculated on selection and human evolution in 1818. But some 50 years ago, E. B. Bailey described a still older version of the selection theory from a 1797 manuscript by the geologist James Hutton — now chiefly famous for his early appreciation of geological time. Unfortunately, this work, entitled the Elements of Agriculture, never appeared in print. Now a more complete, published account has come to light from 1794. An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge is an intimidating philosophical treatise of three volumes, running to 2,138 pages in its original edition. Hutton’s friend and biographer, John Playfair, presciently noted: “The great size of the book, and the obscurity which may justly be objected to many parts of it, have probably prevented it from being received as it deserves.” The selection theory is the subject of an entire chapter in the second volume (see supplementary information). Hutton mused: “If an organised body is not in the situation and circumstances best adapted to its sustenance and propagation, then, in conceiving an indefinite variety among the individuals of that species, we must be assured, that, on the one hand, those which depart most from the best adapted constitution, will be most liable to perish, while, on the other hand, those organised bodies, which most approach to the best constitution for the present circumstances, will be best adapted to continue, in preserving themselves and multiplying the individuals of their race.” For example, Hutton describes that in dogs that relied on “nothing but swiftness of foot and quickness of sight” for survival, “the most defective in respect of those necessary qualities, would be the most subject to perish, and that those who employed them in greatest perfection would be best preserved, consequently, would be those who would remain, to preserve themselves, and to continue the race”. But if an acute sense of smell was “more necessary to the sustenance of the animal”, then “the natural tendency of the race, acting upon the same principle of seminal variation, would be to change the qualities of the animal, and to produce a race of well scented hounds, instead of those who catch their prey by swiftness”.The same “principle of variation” must also influence “every species of plant, whether growing in a forest or a meadow”. Hutton was no mere armchair theorist. He came to his principle after experiments in plant and animal breeding, some of which are described in the Elements of Agriculture manuscript. These experiments led him to distinguish between seminal variation, which occurs in sexual reproduction and is heritable, and non-heritable variation, caused by the circumstances of soil and climate. It is important to stress, however, that while he used the selection mechanism to explain the origin of varieties in nature, he specifically rejected the idea of evolution between species as a “romantic fantasy”. Indeed, he was a deist and regarded the capacity of species to adapt to local conditions as an example of benevolent design in nature. It may be more than coincidence that Wells, Matthew and Darwin were all educated in Hutton’s home town of Edinburgh, a place famous for its scientific clubs and societies. Studies of Darwin’s private notebooks have shown that he came to the selection principle independently of earlier authors, as he always maintained. But it seems possible that a half-forgotten concept from his student days resurfaced afresh in his mind as he struggled to explain the observations of species and varieties compiled on the voyage of the Beagle.

Paul N. Pearson is at the School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences, Cardiff University,
Cardiff CF10 3YE, UK.

Supplementary information The full text of Hutton’s chapter from The Principles of Knowledge and other relevant extracts from Elements of Agriculture are available on Nature’s website.”

Abler, William L. “What Darwin Knew” (letter to editor). Nature 426 (2003): 759.

“Sir — In his review of the republication of James Hutton’s 1794 book An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge and of the Progress of Reason, from Sense to Science and Philosophy, Paul N. Pearson (Nature 425, 665; 2003) tells us that Hutton devoted an entire chapter to natural selection, and adds, “it seems possible that a half-forgotten concept from his [Darwin’s] student days resurfaced afresh in his mind as he struggled to explain the observations of species and varieties compiled from the voyage of the Beagle”. Pearson is surely right. But despite his lifelong interest in natural history, Darwin was educated not as a biologist, but as a country vicar. Although he may have read Hutton’s book, it is equally likely that Darwin read one of the standard religious works of his day (now perhaps the most ridiculed book in biology), William Paley’s Natural Theology (1803), which presents Paley’s proof of the existence of God, as well as of Divine creation. Part of chapter five is devoted to what we would recognize as variation and selection. It begins, “There is another answer which has the same effect as the resolving of things into chance.” Paley proposes that “the eye, the animal to which it belongs, every plant, indeed every organized body which we can see, are only so many out of the possible varieties and combinations of being which the lapse of infinite ages has brought into existence; that the present world is the relict of that variety; millions of other bodily forms and other species having perished, being by the defect of their constitution incapable of reservation, or of continuance by generation.”As Pearson has commented, Stephen Jay Gould discusses this in his Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Harvard Univ. Press, 2002). Of course, Paley
proposes natural selection only to reject it. Nevertheless, it is there. And Darwin himself could not have expressed it better. Natural selection was a heresy in Darwin’s day, but a common one.

William L. Abler, Department of Geology, Field Museum of Natural History, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605, USA”

William Beebe Died

William Beebe (July 29, 1877-June 4, 1962)

“(Charles) William Beebe was an American biologist, explorer, and writer on natural history who combined careful biological research with a rare literary skill. As director of tropical research for the New York Zoological Society from 1919, he led scientific expeditions to many parts of the world. He was the coinventor of the bathysphere, a spherical diving-vessel for use in underwater observations. In 1934, with Otis Barton, he descended in his bathysphere to a then record depth of 3,028 feet (923 metres) in Bermuda waters on 15 Aug 1934. Later dives reached depths of around 1.5 km (nearly 1 mile).”

Darwin for Memorial Day

A letter to The New York Times discusses a Darwin letter and his personality.

Choose Your Own Adventure:
Creation Museum: Prepare to Believe (a sneak peek), or
The Creation Museum: Teaching Ignorance Since 2007 A.D.


UPDATE: Ken Ham, who is behind the Creation Museum, and Lawrence Krauss of DefCon, appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on May 28. Some posts (1, 2, 3) discuss the exchange, and a commentary at Laelaps.

Here’s a blog for the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and their main website, which is involved with the Encyclopedia of Life project.

Naturalist and archaeologist John Lubbock died today in 1913. From Today in Science History:

“1st Baron Avebury. English banker, politician, naturalist and archaeologist who coined the terms Neolithic and Paleolithic. Like his father, astronomer Sir John William Lubbock, his scientific work was an avocation. Lubbock was a friend and advocate of Charles Darwin. He discovered the first fossil remains of musk-ox in England (1855), and undertook archaeological work identifying prehistoric cultures. As a naturalist, he studied insect vision and colour sense. He published a number of books on natural history and primitive man. In 1870, he became a member of Parliament. The legislation he initiated included the Bank Holidays Act (1871) and the Ancient Monuments Act (1882) and the Shop Hours Act (1886). He was made a peer in 1900.”

Lubbock’s correspondence with Charles Darwin.
Biographies here and here.

William Whewell Born

William Whewell (May 24, 1794-Mar 6, 1866)

“British scientist, best known for his survey of the scientific method and for creating scientific words. He founded mathematical crystallography and developed Mohr’s classification of minerals. He created the words scientist and physicist by analogy with the word artist. They soon replaced the older term natural philosopher. Other useful words were coined to help his friends: biometry for Lubbock; Eocine, Miocene and Pliocene for Lyell; and for Faraday, anode, cathode, diamagnetic, paramagnetic, and ion (whence the sundry other particle names ending -ion). In metereology, Whewell devised a self-recording anemometer. He was second only to Newton for work on tidal theory. He died as a result of being thrown from his horse.”

biography at The Victorian Web

review of a PhD dissertation by Michael S. Reidy (who happens to be my undergrad advisor)

Whewell’s correspondence with Charles Darwin