ARTICLE: Unearthening Old Data: Darwin was Indeed Correct About Earthworm Behavior

From Evolution: Education and Outreach:

Unearthening Old Data: Darwin was Indeed Correct About Earthworm Behavior

Judith Korb and Volker Salewski

Abstract Charles Darwin is well known for his studies on the expression of emotions in animals and humans and as founding father of the concept of sexual selection. Yet it is commonly believed that the various arguments Darwin developed about behavior were usually illustrated only by anecdotes and observations recounted by explorers, naturalists, or zookeepers, and lacking any experimental approach. Here we show that this is not true. In his last book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms (1881), Darwin mentions a series of meticulous experiments he ran to test his hypotheses about why earthworms plug their burrows and comes to the conclusion that earthworms seem to act in an intelligent way. His study can still function as a prime example of how to design an experiment for testing hypotheses. Only one part was missing in Darwin’s research: statistical analyses. We retrieved his data and analyzed them statistically. Based on these results, we cannot reject his conclusion as the statistical analyses confirmed Darwin was right. This shows that Charles Darwin already used a hypothetico-deductive approach, and he can thus be seen as the first true behavioral ecologist—a representative of a discipline that has been recognized for only about a hundred years.

Guest Post – Defending the Sensible: Charles Darwin and the Anti-Vivisection Controversy

This guest post by Eric Michael Johnson is part of his Primate Diaries in Exile blog tour. Johnson is a PhD student in the history of evolutionary biology at UBC (he received his masters degree in primate behavior). You can follow other stops on his tour through his RSS feed, The Primate Diaries on Facebook, or by following him on Twitter.

His critics accused him of claiming that “Might is Right,” but did the founder of modern biology campaign to defend the least among us?

A physiological demonstration with vivisection of a dog.
Oil painting by Emile-Edouard Mouchy, 1832. (Wellcome Library, London.)

 

According to the British Medical Journal it resembled a crucifixion. The dogs were strapped to boards, backs down, and with their legs cinched outwards. In the stifling August heat their heavy panting was made only more intense by a suffocating fear. The accused was described as wearing a white apron “that was afterwards covered with blood” as he approached one of the struggling animals. His mouth was tied shut but when the blade entered the thin, pink flesh of his inner thigh the animal’s cries of agony were too much to bear.

Experienced medical men in attendance, including some of the nineteenth century’s top surgeons, were outraged and demanded that the animal’s torture cease. Thomas Joliffe Tufnell, President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, denounced the demonstration as a “cruel proceeding” and stormed to the operating table to cut the animal loose. Other physiologists objected to the interruption with one insisting, “That dog is insensible; he is not suffering anything.” But Tufnell held firm, “The dog is struggling hard to get free. I am a sportsman as well as a surgeon, and I will never see a dog bullied.” However, a vote was taken among the assembled members of the British Medical Association and the demonstration was allowed to continue.

A tube was then forced into the conscious animal’s femoral artery, the white hair of his belly stained red as the arterial pressure caused blood to spurt from the incision. Into the tube the accused injected pure alcohol. The result, continued the Journal, “was an immediate struggle, which almost immediately subsided. The animal became dead drunk.”

“Now, you see he’s insensible,” a physician snidely remarked to Tufnell.
“Yes,” Tufnell replied, “and he’ll never be sensible again, for he will die.”

Spattered with gore from the comatose animal, the accused, Dr. Eugene Magnan of Paris, insisted he would be quite well by that evening. The dog soon died. Magnan then turned to the second animal, opening the same artery as before but injecting absinthe into the wound. According to witnesses:

The animal struggled much, cried as far as it was able, showed other symptoms of great suffering, and ultimately–not long after the injection–had a fit of epilepsy.

This had been the point of Magnan’s August 13, 1874 demonstration: the physiological effects of alcohol and absinthe on the animal nervous system. It had been made possible by four physicians based in Norwich, England, all of whom now stood trial for actions taken that did “unlawfully illtreat, abuse, and torture certain animals.” Dr. Eugene Magnan, also listed as a defendant, was not present in the courtroom since he had fled the country back to France. Because it could not be proven that the four English physicians had been actively involved in the demonstration the charges were ultimately dismissed, though the court ruled that the case against them was proper and required them to pay all legal costs. However, in the court of public opinion they were guilty as charged.

Animal experimentation, or vivisection as it was known in the nineteenth century, had already been practiced for centuries (William Harvey’s famous dissections of deer in the 1620s had revealed the heart’s role in the circulatory system) but with the rise of scientific medicine more animal subjects were being “put to the blade” in the name of science. The physician George Hoggan described his own experience taking part in some of these dissections with dogs:

Hundreds of times I have seen when an animal writhed in pain, and thereby deranged the tissues, during a deliberate dissection; instead of being soothed, it would receive a slap and an angry order to be quiet and behave itself. . . Even when roughly grasped and thrown on the torture-trough, a low, complaining whine at such treatment would be all the protest made, and they would continue to lick the hand which bound them till their mouths were fixed in the gag.

Charles Darwin was well aware that these kinds of experiments took place, even using a similar example in his 1871 book The Descent of Man:

[E]veryone has heard of the dog suffering under vivisection who licked the hand of the operator; this man, unless he had a heart of stone, must have felt remorse to the last hour of his life.

As one of the most celebrated biologists in England Darwin was both a supporter of experimental physiology and was passionate about protecting animals from cruelty. As a local magistrate he regularly came across cases of cruelty to farm animals and, according to his biographer Janet Browne, “was inexorable in imposing fines and punishment.” In 1853 he waged a “private vendetta” against a Mr. Ainslie for cruelty to his carthorses, threatening to “have him up before a magistrate & his ploughman also.” According to his son, Francis Darwin, the man who many saw as advocating “might is right” was as disgusted by animal cruelty as he was by the human cruelty he experienced in slave holding societies:

The remembrance of screams, or other sounds heard in Brazil, when he was powerless to interfere with what he believed to be the torture of a slave, haunted him for years, especially at night. In smaller matters, where he could interfere, he did so vigorously. He returned one day from his walk pale and faint from having seen a horse ill-used, and from the agitation of violently remonstrating with the man. On another occasion he saw a horse-breaker teaching his son to ride, the little boy was frightened and the man was rough; my father stopped, and jumping out of the carriage reproved the man in no measured terms.

This sympathy extended to animals used in experimentation, as Darwin wrote to the Oxford zoologist Ray Lankester in 1871:

You ask about my opinion on vivisection. I quite agree that it is justifiable for real investigations on physiology; but not for mere damnable and detestable curiosity. It is a subject which makes me sick with horror, so I will not say another word about it, else I shall not sleep to-night.

However, Darwin did not take his own advice and, after the media uproar following Magnan’s demonstration and the ensuing court case, the notoriously reclusive naturalist spearheaded a campaign to regulate how vivisection was conducted in England.

Charles Darwin at his estate in Down, 1875. (H.P. Robinson/Bettmann/Corbis)

 

The year 1875 was a milestone for British animal rights activism. Building off the popular outrage over Magnan, the author, feminist, and animal rights campaigner Frances Power Cobbe formed the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection (and, later, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, which continues to this day). With the assistance of sympathetic members of Parliament, Cobbe drafted a bill that would require regular inspections of physiological labs engaged in vivisection. Darwin heard of this activity through his daughter, Henrietta Litchfield, who was passionate about animal rights and had sent her father Cobbe’s petition to sign. Her letter had Darwin contemplating the issue “for some hours” and he delivered a considered and thoughtful response:

I conclude, if (as is likely) some experiments have been tried too often, or anesthetics have not been used when they could have been, the cure must be in the improvement of humanitarian feelings. Under this point of view I have rejoiced at the present agitation.

However, despite his conflicts over vivisection, Darwin’s opinion of the bill was that it would do little to protect animals and, at the same time, would result in a chilling effect on science:

[I]f such laws are passed, the result will assuredly be that physiology, which has been until within the last few years at a standstill in England, will languish or quite cease. . . I cannot at present see my way to sign any petition, without hearing what physiologists thought would be its effect, and then judging for myself.

Four months later Darwin, who rarely took any active role in politics, was in the midst of a political campaign to introduce his own bill to Parliament. As he wrote to his close friend Joseph Hooker, then-President of the Royal Society, “I worked all the time in London on the vivisection question . . . The object is to protect animals, and at the same time not to injure Physiology,” and he had already enlisted the support of “some half-dozen eminent scientific men.”

While the interest in protecting the scientific enterprise was an important aspect of what became known as the Playfair bill (after Dr. Lyon Playfair, the liberal member of Parliament who introduced the legislation) Darwin’s personal background advocating against animal cruelty and the fact that his son-in-law Robert Litchfield (Henrietta’s husband) was the one who helped Darwin write the bill suggests that animal rights was just as much a part of Darwin’s concern. In fact, the Playfair bill went beyond Cobbe’s in the protection of animals by including the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) guidelines that required anesthetic in all experiments, including for teaching purposes. As historian David Allen Feller wrote last year in his account of the 1875 antivivisection controversy:

Under the BAAS guidelines, not only was anesthesia required in experiments whenever possible, but an entire class of experiments, those conducted for mere demonstration purposes without any new scientific discovery in mind, were outlawed. This was not so under the [Cobbe] bill, which did not distinguish between classroom and purely scientific experiments. Inclusion of this provision of the BAAS guidelines was clearly intended by Darwin from the outset of his work on the bill. Darwin wrote to Burdon Sanderson and Huxley that he thought the BAAS guidelines would be the best compromise, and Darwin specifically noted the inclusion of a ban on the use of live animals for the purpose of demonstrative teaching.

Darwin is widely known for never taking part in any public discussions or debates on his theory of natural selection (leaving that to trusted friends such as Thomas Henry Huxley). His poor health and hatred of travel kept him at his estate in the countryside throughout most of his life. And yet, on the question of vivisection, Darwin not only traveled to London to help draft the Playfair bill, he returned when asked to testify by the Royal Commission when investigating the use of vivisection. During the questioning Darwin again insisted that experimentation on animals was important for the development of medical science. However, on the question of experiments carried out without anesthetic or ones inflicting pain unnecessarily, Darwin stated unequivocally that, “It deserves detestation and abhorrence.”

Those words became the basis upon which the Royal Commission recommended that vivisection be regulated. After quoting Darwin’s view in their report to the Queen, they went on to state:

This principle is accepted generally by the very highly educated men whose lives are devoted either to scientific investigation and education, or to the mitigation or the removal of the sufferings of their fellow creatures.

The following year The Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 was passed by Parliament and signed into law.

Charles Darwin’s advocacy for animal rights has more than mere historical interest. Today it is commonplace for scientists, particularly those who work with animal models in their research, to oppose animal rights legislation as being fundamentally anti-science. However, as Darwin himself has demonstrated, it is possible (even necessary) for the pro-science position to be concerned with animal welfare. Being pro-science does not mean being pro-cruelty. There are currently some very good laws in place throughout England, Europe, and the United States that protect animals from unnecessary suffering in the pursuit of medical knowledge. However, the differences between countries continue to raise concerns about how much suffering should be permitted in animal research. This year saw the use of chimpanzees in medical experimentation banned throughout the European Union. At the same time, there are nearly 1,000 chimps used by federal researchers in the United States for vaccine, hepatitis C, and HIV research. Year after year legislation to ban the practice fails to gain support in Congress.

Ironically enough, many of the worst abusers of animals in the nineteenth century came from continental Europe, a region that is now the leader in animal rights legislation. If there is any justice in Eugene Magnan escaping prosecution for his actions 135 years ago, it may be that public outrage over his “demonstration” sparked a movement that, today, would provide him with no safe haven. There is little doubt that animal experimentation has resulted in some necessary medical breakthroughs. But, as in the nineteenth century controversy, Darwin’s own struggles with this research is something we would do well to remember.

References:

“Prosecution At Norwich. Experiments On Animals,” The British Medical Journal Vol. 2, No. 728 (Dec. 12, 1874), pp. 751-754.

Browne, J. (2002). Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. New York: D. Appleton & Co.

Feller, D. (2009). Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 40 (4), 265-271 DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2009.09.004

Article request

This article, published online in advance from Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology:

Darwin the Scientist

J[anet] Browne

Abstract Charles Darwin’s experimental investigations show him to have been a superb practical researcher. These skills are often underestimated today when assessing Darwin’s achievement in the Origin of Species and his other books. Supported by a private income, he turned his house and gardens into a Victorian equivalent of a modern research station. Darwin participated actively in the exchange of scientific information via letters and much of his research was also carried out through correspondence. Although this research was relatively small scale in practice, it was large scale in intellectual scope. Darwin felt he had a strong desire to understand or explain whatever he observed.

Thanks in advance!

Tyndall on Prayer

John Tyndall, 1874

Maybe we should do what John Tyndall suggested. From Edward J. Pfeifer’s chapter on the United States in The Comparative Reception of Darwinism:

[Tyndall’s] materialistic inclination was enough to make him notorius in the United States, but shortly before his visit he endorsed a proposal that shocked Americans even moree. This was the prayer test. Since prayers, he argued, are frequently said for a particular purpose, their efficacy could be tested. This might be done by establishing separate hospital wards,one of which would be given over to patients treated medically, while patients in the other ward would receive only the benefit of prayer. Recovery rates could then be established and the efficacy of prayer determined. (1)

The experiment, in response to Bishop Wilberforce‘s call for a national day of prayer to cease the wet weather that threatened harvests in Britain, never took place (2). But prayer meetings were held for Tyndall in Boston and Philadelphia in 1872-3. Albert Jackson wrote to Tyndall on January 13, 1873 that the same stage on which he lectured in New York was the same that a prominent Brooklyn Presbyterian clergyman had given a speech entitled “Tyndall’s Prayer Gauge,” on “the infidelity of science in general.” Jackson noted that the clergyman’s own pulpit burned to the ground, “which science might have prevented, but which prayer certainly did not” (3). Unfortunately, that Tyndall was embroiled in theological controversy during his lecture tour urged Joseph Henry, first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and Tyndall’s sponsor, to question whether he made the right choice in inviting  Tyndall to talk up science in America. Henry, afterall, was a religious man. He wrote to Benjamin Silliman, Jr.:

I regret very much that he got into the Theological controversy as to prayer since this not only involves himself in an apparent antagonism to christianity [sic], but also the cultivators of science generally. The effect has been unfortunate. The subject of the connection of science and Theology is one which requires to be treated with great delicacy. (4)

Perhaps, today being the National Day of Prayer, we can utilize the millions of Americans surely participating to test its efficacy, since Tyndall’s proposed experiment was never carried out.

Notes

1. Edward J. Pfeifer, “United States,” in Thomas F. Glick, ed., The Comparative Reception of Darwinism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 168-206, on 196-7.

2. Richard G. Olson, Science and Religion, 1450–1900: From Copernicus to Darwin (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,2004), 207.

3. Albert Jackson to John Tyndall, January 13, 1873, letter stuck into Tyndall’s American journal, RI MS JT/2/10, Tyndall Papers, Archives, Royal Institution of Great Britain.

4. Joseph Henry to Benjamin Silliman, Jr., February 28, 1873, in The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 11: January 1866-May 1878 (Sagamore Beach, MA: Watson Publishing/Science History Publications, 2007), 448-51, on 449.

Other sources:

Robert Bruce Mullin, “Science, Miracles, and the Prayer-Gauge Debate,” in David C. Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, eds., When Science and Christianity Meet (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 203-24.

Rick Ostrander, The Life of Prayer in a World of Science: Protestants, Prayer, and American Culture, 1870-1930 (Religion in America) (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 17-34.

John Tyndall, “On Prayer,” Contemporary Review, October 1872, republished in The Prayer-Gauge Debate (Boston: Congregational Publishing Society, 1876), 109-15.

John Tyndall, “Thoughts on Prayer and Natural Law” (1861), in Fragments of Science (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1871), 33-40.

LECTURE: “Charles Darwin the Experimental Botanist”

From the APS Museum:

Lecture: Karen Snetselaar, “Charles Darwin the Experimental Botanist”
MARCH 23, 2010

Charles Darwin is recognized world-wide for developing and disseminating ideas on evolution and natural selection.  His work as an experimental scientist is less well-known.  As a botanist, Darwin carried out a number of elegant experiments directed at understanding such wide-ranging topics as plant movement in response to light, mechanisms by which plants prevent self-fertilization, and responses of insectivorous plants to different food sources.  As a gentleman scientist, Darwin did many of his experiments in his house or on the surrounding grounds, often involving his children in the activities.  This talk will describe some of these botanical experiments and their impact on future plant biologists.

Dr. Karen Snetselaar is Professor and Chair of Biology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.  She is a botanist whose research is focused on plant symbiosis and fungi and has published extensively in science journals. In addition to her teaching responsibilities at Saint Joseph’s University, Dr. Snetselaar directs a program that brings hands-on science into Philadelphia elementary school classrooms.  She has been teaching for the Wagner Institute since 1997 as a member of the adult education faculty and through the GeoKids program, a partnership with four elementary schools.

This lecture is hosted in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

5:00 – 6:15pm – view Dialogues with Darwin in Philosophical Hall, 104 South Fifth Street
6:30pm – Karen Snetselaar lecture in Franklin Hall, 427 Chestnut St.

After the lecture, APS Museum Director and Curator Sue Ann Prince will offer a curatorial tour of the exhibit and refreshments will be served.

Fee: $10 PHS members and Friends of the APS, $20 non-members.

To register and purchase tickets, please contact Carol Dutill at 215-988-8869 orcdutill@pennhort.org

REVIEW: “Darwin’s Darkest Hour” on PBS’s NOVA

I was sent a review copy of Darwin’s Darkest Hour (website/watch online), the two-hour docudrama from NOVA/National Geographic, which aired on PBS on October 6th. I watched it last week, and here are my thoughts.

Darwin (Ian Cusick) & his wife Emma (Frances O'Connor)

Darwin (Ian Cusick) & his wife Emma (Frances O'Connor)

I’ve known about this Darwin film since late July, and had been looking forward to it for several reasons. One, I wondered how it would compare with the docudrama portions of the “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” episode of the series Evolution that aired on PBS in 2001. Two, having anticipated (and still looking forward to seeing) the film Creation (open in the UK and elsewhere, not in the US until December) featuring Paul Bettany as Darwin since at least September 2008, it was good to see another production looking at the same time period of Darwin’s life (the post-Beagle, Origin-writing 1850s). I of course cannot compare Darwin’s Darkest Hour to Creation, but I might have a comment or two based on reviews of Creation elsewhere.

Alfred Russel Wallace (Rhys Bevan-John)

Alfred Russel Wallace (Rhys Bevan-John)

Darwin’s Darkest Hour begins in March 1858 in Ternate (in present-day Indonesia). We see a man in his jungle hut, in a malarial fever, murmuring to himself “Malthus,” thoughts on human populations, “external pressures” as he jots down words onto paper. Before this scene ends, we see him preparing a letter to C Darwin Esq. This man, as we will find out soon, is Alfred Russel Wallace, naturalist and co-discoverer with Darwin of the theory of natural selection. It is this the delivery of this letter, from Wallace to Darwin, that becomes Darwin’s darkest hour. (For more on Wallace’s places of residence while collecting in the Malay Archipelago [Indonesia], see George Beccaloni’s essay “Homes Sweet Homes: A Biographical Tour of Wallace’s Many Places of Residence” in Natural Selection and Beyond: The Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace, pp. 7-43.)

When Darwin receives the letter, then begins a whole dialogue between Darwin and his wife Emma about his having priority to the idea of natural selection. We are taken to defining moments during the voyage of HMS Beagle and through the pages of his transmutation notebooks via this dialogue (it is in this dialogue that some rather corny exchanges enter, for example, on being shown his Notebook D, Emma asks Darwin “for the devil?” – yes, we know Emma was religious, but seriously?). It seemed odd to me that, in the film, Emma becomes Darwin’s supporter for ensuring his priority, and only after she and Darwin sort it out (mentions of his essay of 1844, a letter to Asa Gray, etc.) is it something that needs to be brought to Charles Lyell (I enjoyed this figure in the film) and Joseph Dalton Hooker (I did not enjoy the actor chosen to play him), men of high scientific standing who decide to have materials from both Darwin and Wallace read before the Linnean Society.

Aspects of Darwin’s life that have become all too familiar are treated in this film: his wretched health, his dealing with the deaths of two of his children, the apparent conflict with Fitzroy over the literal interpretation of Genesis during the voyage. The death of Darwin’s daughter Annie in 1851 – which some believe was the final straw in pushing Darwin away from Christianity, and thus allowing Darwin to further explore his thoughts on transmutation, and others not, most notably in the blogosphere Mark Pallen – occurs in Darwin’s Darkest Hour as memories, while the death of a son (Charles Waring Darwin) in 1858, is treated fully. (The inaccurate order of historical events in Creation is the main critique of that film by science educator James Williams, whose review appeared on this blog.) The scene of young Charles’s funeral is intertwined with the scene showing the reading of Darwin and Wallace’s materials at the Linnean Society, which neither attended (Wallace because he was nowhere near London and Darwin because of the death of Charles Waring). I liked the back-and-forth of dialogue:

REVEREND INNES: “Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. In the midst of life we are in death.”

JOHN BENNETT: Extracts from papers by Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Alfred Russell Wallace: Part One by Mr. Darwin, “On Variation under Domestication and on the Principles of Selection.”

REVEREND INNES: “Of whom may we seek for succor, but of Thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased.”

JOHN BENNETT: “Be it remembered, I have nothing to say about life and mind and all forms descending from one common type. I speak of the variation of the existing great divisions of the organized kingdom. Nature could effect, with selection, such changes slowly.”

REVEREND INNES: “Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother, here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

JOHN BENNETT: “We know the state of the earth has changed, and as earthquakes and tides go on, the state must change. Many geologists believe a slow natural cooling…”

Extracts from a paper by Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type.”

“One of the strongest arguments which have been adduced to prove…”

Darwin and a son doing science

Darwin and a son doing science

What I thought was nicely done is showing how Darwin’s family was heavily involved in his work at Down House, the domesticity of Darwin’s research. He was an unconventional father, very involved in the raising of his children, and at times his children became themselves scientific subjects. The scenes showing Darwin’s children assisting, or being attentive to, his various experiments on plants and bees were my favorite, especially – and this should be no surprise – the scene about the seed dispersal experiments. Yet Darwin had his butler Parslow shoot birds for him, unlike in the film. [See Endersby’s recent article on Darwin, Hooker, botany, and sympathetic science.]

What I particularly liked about Darwin’s Darkest Hour is that it did not take one single stance on Darwin’s delay, the two-decade period in between Darwin beginning his research on transmutation and the publication of On the Origin of Species.  It brings in a little bit of many views historians have proposed: that Darwin feared public scrutiny, that Darwin feared conflict with his religious wife, that Darwin simply wanted more time to make sure his theory was right (in response to negative reviews of Vestiges of Creation [1844]), etc. (see John van Wyhe’s article on Darwin’s delay). Brian of Laelaps thought this inability for the scriptwriter to stick with one storyline made the film difficult to follow.

I do agree with Brian that the appearance of the actor who played Darwin (Ian Cusick) should have changed with how Darwin’s appearance changed in real life, i.e., that Darwin, by the time he published On the Origin of Species, was balding and did not have the flowing hair of Cusick. Nice to see Wallace appear in the film, though I do not know if Darwin and Wallace met at the Linnean Society and Wallace being introduced to Lyell. I could not, however, believe in the actor portraying Fitzroy.

Although I felt I was being forced to watch Masterpiece Theatre, I do think Darwin’s Darkest Hour is an improvement from the docudrama portions of “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” and could serve as a nice introduction to folks unfamiliar with Darwin’s life. Do check out the various resources on the film’s website, including a piece on Wallace by Sean B. Carroll,  an interview with the scriptwriter, and the entire transcript.

Cambridge Trip #4: Darwin in the Field Conference, Pt. 2

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Walking to the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences:

Tennis Court Road, University of Cambridge

Tennis Court Road, University of Cambridge

This was the second day of the Darwin in the Field conference. That means I presented my paper, and it was received well.

Presenting my paper

Presenting my paper

Some suggestions and one small critique from David Kohn, but otherwise fine. Several of the historians were surprised to find out that the bulk of my paper was written during one of my undergraduate courses. Kohn also welcomed me to the community of scholars who look at Darwin’s botanical work. All in all, compliments and best wishes for future work. There are plans to publish the papers from this conference in a volume through the Geological Society of London. So more work to be done on Darwin and his seed dispersal experiments!

After the conference (and while some participants joined David Norman for a look at Darwin’s room at Christ’s College), some of us went for lunch at Origin8. A picture afterwards:

Brian Rosen, John van Wyhe, me, David Kohn, & Alistair Sponsel

Brian Rosen, John van Wyhe, me, David Kohn, & Alistair Sponsel

My Twitter updates from the presentations:

Darwin in the Field: A. Sponsel: Darwin actually had eureka moment w/ coral reef theory in Tahiti, not west coast of S. America#darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Barton (me!): JD Hooker disagreed w/ Darwin on seed dispersal in part b/c D did experiments @ home, not Kew #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Gowan Dawson: Brits more intriqued by Megatherium vs. dinosaurs b/c of stronger association w/ morality #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Gowan Dawson: “Darwin rather minimal in my story” Love it. #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Brian Rosen: Darwin’s own exhibit on coral reef specimens to be re-displayed at NHM-London #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: J. Hodge: it’s an anachronism to speak of Darwin and plate tectonics, further, don’t use ‘tectonics’ either#darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Phil Stone: “Nevermind Darwin’s finches (van Wyhe: no, no, mockingbirds), it’s Darwin’s foxes” #darwinfest

Following lunch, I went back to pick up my bag from the porter’s lodge at Downing College, and made my way to the bed and breakfast I stayed at the next two nights. I looked at my Cambridge map wrong, and went more than a mile out of my way, but that allowed me to see parts of the university I otherwise would not have. Some pictures:

Sidney Street Performer, Cambridge, England

Sidney Street Performer, Cambridge, England

Punting on The River Cam, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

Punting on The River Cam, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

Kettles Yard, Cambridge, England

Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, England

Lichen on wall along Northampton Street, University of Cambridge

Lichen on wall along Northampton Street, University of Cambridge

Another view of Kings College, University of Cambridge

Another view of King's College, University of Cambridge

Darwin Festival Fringe Programme, Grantchester Street, Cambridge, England

Darwin Festival Fringe Programme, Grantchester Street, Cambridge, England

The Granta (River Cam), Cambridge, England

The Granta (River Cam), Cambridge, England

When I got to the bed and breakfast, Richard Carter was already there.  We ventured out for some more exploring of Cambridge, which I will share in a later post.

You can view all the photos from my trip here, if you feel so inclined.

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