Three new books for the Darwin aficionado in your life…

Here are three books which I think any Darwin aficionado would appreciate receiving as a gift.*

First, I have been reading with great interest the new book by biologist James T. Costa (The Annotated OriginOn the Organic Law of Change: A Facsimile Edition and Annotated Transcription of Alfred Russel Wallace’s Species Notebook of 1855-1859; and Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species). Titled Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory (W.W. Norton, 2017; order from or Powell’s City of Books), Costa describes in stunning detail experiments that seem to me to be rather large in scope. The dedication that Darwin put into seeking answers for a wide variety of questions that related to his theory of natural selection, all while writing and publishing other books, keeping up a vast correspondence, and devoting time to being a husband and father, is simply astounding. Granted many of our modern distractions were not around, I sometimes find it difficult to comprehend just how much he accomplished.


Darwin’s Backyard explores nine avenues of experimental research that Darwin carried out, from barnacles and bees to orchids and earthworms. Many of the experiments occurred simultaneously, with some extending through the years (Darwin would sometimes begin an experiment, have to put it on hold because of family life, publishing, or some other distraction, and get back to it a year or more later – on p. 128, Costa refers to Darwin’s “stick-to-itiveness”). Throughout the chapters, he reiterates the importance of Darwin’s reliance on other people for his research, especially for specimen collection (including children, his own and others), and crowd-sourcing for information through queries in various publications, such as the Gardener’s Chronicle. I particular enjoyed the chapter titled “A Grand Game of Chess,” on Darwin’s seed dispersal experiments to determine if plants could spread across great distances around the globe via ocean currents. Readers in education will find value in each chapter’s suggested activities, recreating some of Darwin’s own or conducting similar ones. While many Darwin books discuss aspects of his various experiments, Darwin’s Backyard will find a place on my bookshelf for its incredible detail on the experiments themselves, analysis of what the experiments were accomplishing (or not) for Darwin’s theory, his use of primary sources such as Darwin’s letters and notebooks, and the way in which Costa intertwines Darwin’s scientific work with his family life. You can listen to Costa discuss his book in this program from North Carolina Public Radio, his talk for Google in September, and on the podcast In Defense of Plants.

The second book is written by a friend, Richard Carter of The Friends of Charles Darwin, whom I met on a 2009 trip to Cambridge, England. Richard campaigned for Darwin to be depicted on a Bank of England bank note (which he was, until just recently that is). Richard’s first book, On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk (2017; , order from, “shows how a routine walk in the countryside is enhanced by an appreciation of science, history, and natural history.”


I look forward to delving into his writing, which includes plenty to think about regarding Darwin, and a little on my favorite Darwin supporter, John Tyndall (I am currently co-editing volume 6 of Tyndall’s correspondence with Janet Browne and Ken Corbett; and next summer will begin work on volume 10 with Roland Jackson).

Third, several years ago I half-reviewed a book of Darwin quotations that unfortunately missed the mark. I commented that such a book would be best tackled by an historian of science, and since then one has indeed been produced by not just a stellar historian of science, but Darwin’s most delightful biographer, Janet Browne. In the style of their successful quotation book for Albert Einstein, Princeton University Press has published The Quotable Darwin (2017; order from or Powell’s City of Books).

Darwin, The Quotable.jpg

Browne’s expertise from her years working on the Darwin Correspondence Project followed by her two-volume biography (Voyaging and The Power of Place) lends to a properly compiled selection of words. Browne writes in her preface, “This volume of quotations from Darwin’s writings digs into the historical records to show the remarkable contrasts of his life and times in his own words and in the words of his friends, contemporaries, and family. In print, Darwin was not much given to aphoristic turns of phrase, and he was cautious in the way he expressed his scientific ideas… However, his private letters and notebooks reveal his thoughts as bold and incisive.” The collection is organized by theme, which is also roughly chronological, the main sections being Early Life and the Voyage of the Beagle, Marriage and Scientific Work, Origin of Species, Mankind, On Himself, and Friends and Family. Each quotation includes a citation for the book, notebook, letter, etc. from where it comes. A chronology of his life at the beginning of the book is useful, as are a variety of portraits of Darwin interspersed throughout, providing a visual of his own transformation. An extensive index makes finding quotations on a particular topic an easy task. The final quotation in the collection – “It is not the strongest of the species  that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change” – is rightly cited as “Misattributed to Darwin.” You can view of selection of quotes here, and enjoy these images from Princeton University Press’s Twitter feed (click each image to enlarge):

Finally, here some other recent Darwin and evolution titles I suggest for holiday gift giving:

  • Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters (2nd ed.) by Donald Prothero (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • Collecting Evolution: The Galapagos Expedition that Vindicated Darwin by Matthew J. James (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution by Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – and Us by Richard O. Prum (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution by Jonathan B. Losos (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • Darwin and Women: A Selection of Letters edited by Samantha Evans (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • Darwin’s First Theory: Exploring Darwin’s Quest for a Theory of Earth by Rob Wesson (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • Origins of Darwin’s Evolution: Solving the Species Puzzle Through Time and Place by J. David Archibald (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • Charles Darwin’s Life With Birds: His Complete Ornithology by Clifford B. Frith (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • Debating Darwin by Robert J. Richards and Michael Ruse (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection by Evelleen Richards (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • God’s Word or Human Reason?: An Inside Perspective on Creationism
    by Jonathan Kane,‎ Emily Willoughby, and T. Michael Keesey (Amazon)
  • Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory, and the Birth of a New Science by John J. McKay (Powell’s/Amazon)

For kids:

  • Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution by Jonathan Tweet (Powell’s/Amazon)
  • Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure by Jennifer Thermes (Powell’s/Amazon)

* Links to Amazon and Powell’s Books are affiliate links.

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.


“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.


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

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.

PREVIOUS: Cambridge Trip #3: Darwin in the Field ConferenceCambridge Trip #2: Finding My WayCambridge Trip #1: Traveling

What’s New at Darwin Online

These were added to The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online between January 26 and March 23, 2009:

Darwin’s newly re-discovered student bills from Christ’s College, Cambridge

Darwin, C. R. 1876. Digest of evidence taken before the Royal Commission on the practice of subjecting live animals to experiments for scientific purposes: with an alphabetical list of witnesses. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office [Darwin’s evidence on p. 34]. Image Colour images courtesy of J. David Archibald.

Darwin C. R. Notebook N: [Metaphysics and expression (1838-1839)]. Text & image Text now available side-by-side with corrected images of the notebook.

Darwin, C. R. 1871. The descent of man. (from advance-sheets of Darwin’s new work.) Appletons’ Journal 5 (98) (11 February): 171-173. Image A newly recorded Darwin publication!

1881-1882. Last will and testament of Charles Robert Darwin. Text & Image YorkProbateSubRegistry

Darwin, C. R. 1890. Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. “Beagle” round the world. Under the command of Capt. Fitz Roy, R.N. With a biographical introduction [by G. T. Bettany]. 7th edn. London: Ward Lock (Minerva Library No. 1). Image PDF

Chancellor, Gordon. Introduction to South America. (1846)

Darwin, C. R. 1877. Des effets de la fécondation croisée et de la fécondation directe dans le règne végétalImage PDF New images courtesy of the Natural History Museum, London.

Lyell, C. 1835. Principles of geology: being an inquiry how far the former changes of the Earth’s surface are referable to causes now in operation. 3d edn. 4 vols. London: John Murray.
Vol. 1 Image PDF
Vol. 3 Image PDF

Notebook M: [Metaphysics on morals and speculations on expression (1838)]. Text Image Text now available side-by-side with corrected images of the notebook.

Four Spanish translations courtesy of the University of Seville:

Darwin, C. R. 1877. Origen de las especiesText Image PDF [Contains 2 letters from Darwin (in English & Spanish) not printed elsewhere]

Darwin, C. R. 1880. El origen del hombre: la seleccion natural y la sexual. Text Image PDF

Darwin, C. R. [c. 1902] La expressión de las emociones. Vol. 1 Image PDF

Darwin, C. R. 1921. Diaro del viaje de un naturalista alrededor del mundo.
Vol. 1 Image PDF
Vol. 2 Image PDF

Malthus, T. 1826. An essay on the principle of population. 6th edn.
Vol. 1. Text
Vol. 2. Text

Chancellor, Gordon and John van Wyhe. ‘Ladies, like mermaids’: An introduction to the Galapagos notebook

Darwin, C. R. 1873. Het uitdrukken der gemoedsaandoeningen bij den mensch en de dieren. [Expression of the emotions in Dutch] Trans. by H. Hartogh Heijs van Zouteveen. The Hague: Joh. Ykema. Image PDF

BBC Tonight – 2 New Darwin Series start

Tonight on BBC 2 are the first episodes of two new Darwin series:

Jimmy Doherty, scientist, farmer and presenter of Jimmy’s Farm, recreates some of Darwin’s groundbreaking experiments to reveal the untold story of Darwin – the ingenious experimentalist. Jimmy recreates one of Darwin’s first experiments – a simple test to see if plant seeds can survive in salt water. Darwin aimed to solve the puzzle of how the same plants were found on opposite sides of the oceans. These experiments were a crucial step in showing how plants could cross oceans and therefore explain the distribution of plants around the world. At Down House Jimmy also recreates Darwin’s experiment to demonstrate the struggle for existence between plant seedlings and their natural predators – using nothing more than a patch of turf and a handful of sticks. It was these and other experiments that helped give Darwin the confidence to first publish his seminal work On the Origin of Species in 1859 – which set out his controversial theory of evolution by natural selection.

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea 9pm (read Andrew Marr’s piece for BBC News)

In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Andrew Marr explores the impact of Darwin’s ideas on religion, politics and our understanding of the natural world. The opening programme looks at Darwin’s impact on religion and morality, and how the great debate about his ideas is still raging. For many Muslims, Jews and fundamentalist Christians his work is still regarded as dangerous heresy. Marr explores this debate about what it really means to be human. He also examines Darwin’s influence on atheism and existentialism. It becomes clear that Darwin’s ideas are as explosive today as they were 150 years ago.

CONFERENCE: Darwin in the Field

From the H-SCI-MED-TECH listserve:

We write to invite interested parties to submit a title and abstract for
a forthcoming conference to be held at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth
Science, University of Cambridge. This falls directly after the Darwin
festival and marks the opening of the new permanent exhibition funded by
the Heritage Lottery Fund, “Darwin the Geologist”.


Darwin in the Field: Collecting, Observation and Experiment

A multi-disciplinary conference

Dates: Saturday 11th to Sunday 12th July 2009

This conference will focus on Charles Darwin’s (1809 – 1882) practical
work in the field and examine the geological, zoological and
anthropological data, observations and experiments upon which he built
his subsequent theorizing. It will take place at the Sedgwick Museum of
Earth Sciences in Cambridge as part of the programme of events to mark
Darwin’s 200^th birthday and the 150^th anniversary of the publication
of /On the Origin of Species/. Associated events include a major new
HLF-funded exhibition and original research on Darwin’s work as a
geologist based on the rocks and minerals that he collected on the
Voyage of the /Beagle/ (1831 – 1836) now held in the collections of the

Although the /Beagle /Expedition was Darwin’s major and perhaps most
widely known period of fieldwork activity, we hope this conference will
explore and illuminate how and where he acquired practical skills prior
to the Voyage (such as his fieldtrip to Wales with Sedgwick and his
scientific education in general). The smaller projects that he
subsequently undertook in later years including plant and animal
breeding, barnacles and earthworms could also be examined.

We are also interested in exploring how Darwin collected and documented
objects and what selection criteria he used prior to their inclusion in
his theories and publications. Darwin’s collections are still very much
alive and subsequent scientists have utilised them for different means.
Finally, we are interested in exploring how they relate to present day

We invite papers from historians, museologists and scientists on the
following themes in Darwin’s life and work:

* collecting practices
* experimental/ identification practices in geology, palaeontology,
zoology and chemistry
* systems of naming and classification
* work aboard the Beagle
* theorizing using collected specimens
* field notebooks and drawings
* early scientific education and teachers in scientific practice
* anthropological investigations
* experiments at Down House
* use of Darwin’s collections and/or specimen theorizing in
historical or contemporary scientific practice

If you are interested in presenting a paper, please submit a title and
an abstract of no more than 500 words to Lyall Anderson
( <>) by 20 March 2009.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

John Locke (Born 29 Aug 1632; died 28 Oct 1704). English physician who was the most important philosopher during the Age of Reason. He spent over 20 years developing the ideas he published in most significant work, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) which analysed the nature of human reason, and promoted experimentation as the basis of knowledge. He established primary qualities, (ex. solidity, extension, number) as distinct from secondary qualities identified by the sense organs (ex. colour, sound). Thus the world is otherwise silent and without colour. Locke recognised that science is made possible when the primary world mechanically affects the sense organs, thereby creating ideas that faithfully represent reality. He was an acquaintance of Robert Boyle.

Darwin invited as Beagle naturalist In 1831, Charles Darwin returned home from a geology field trip in North Wales to find letters from Revd. John Henslow and George Peacock informing him that he will soon be invited on a scientific voyage of HMS Beagle. He was 22 years old, and had just graduated from Cambridge University. The offer was to be a naturalist on H.M.S. Beagle for a two year survey of South America, leaving on 25 Sep. Although he immediately accepted the offer, his father and sisters were opposed. They regarded it as an idle pursuit that would delay his expected career in the clergy. His father, however, was prepared to change his mind, but only if Darwin could find a qualified man who viewed the exploit as worthwhile. Darwin spent the next two days doing just that.

Oops, Richard made a mistake.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Faked nuptial pads In 1926, the midwife toad work done by Paul Kammerer was debunked in an article published by G. Kingsley Noble in Nature. Kammerer was a Viennese biologist who alleged his researches supported the Lamarckian theory of inheritance. In 1918 that he claimed that in his experiments with midwife toads, he had induced nuptial pads that were subsequently hereditary. Noble was a curator herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History. Noble had examined a preserved specimen of Kammerer’s midwife toad Noble found that the nuptial pad had been simulated with injected Indian ink. This set off an academic bombshell. Kammerer took his own life in 1926, but claimed that he was personally innocent. [Ref: Nature v. 118, p. 209-11. ]

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Henry David Thoreau (Born 12 July 1817; died 6 May 1862). Thoreau, an American born in Concord, Mass., was an author, philosopher, poet and naturalist. He was a pacifist who always had Ralph Waldo Emerson around to bail him out of trouble. Thoreau was known as the “Hermit of Walden” because he lived in the woods around Walden pond for several years.As Henry got older, his attentions turned more towards the observing and recording of natural history in Concord. Henry kept thorough journals of natural history and the citizens of Concord regarded him as the town naturalist. Many scholars consider Henry David Thoreau to be the father of the American conservation movements.

Claude Bernard (Born 12 July 1813; died 10 Feb 1878). French physiologist (born near Villefranche) known chiefly for his discoveries concerning the role of the pancreas in digestion, the glycogenic function of the liver, and the regulation of the blood supply by the vasomotor nerves. On a broader stage, Bernard played a role in establishing the principles of experimentation in the life sciences. His Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865) is a scientific classic.

Ynes Mexia (Died 12 July 1938; born 24 May 1870). 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.

David Douglas (Died 12 July 1834; born 25 Jun 1799). Scottish botanist who was one of the most successful of the great 19th century plant collectors. He established about 240 species of plants in Britain. His first foreign plant-hunting expedition (1824) was made throughout the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. The Douglas fir, which he cultivated from 1827, is named after him. He introduced other conifers including the Sitka spruce, now commercially important to the timber industry, and numerous garden plants and shrubs, including the lupin, California poppy and the flowering currant. At age 35, he died in by accident in Hawaii, when he fell into a pit dug by the islanders to trap wild cattle where he was trapped with a bull that also fell into the pit. He was gored to death by the bull.

Today in Science History

My grandfather would have been 89 years old this day. A World War II veteran, amateur geologist, gardener, metal-detector, interested in butterflies , and 60 minutes-watching man, I wish I would have spent more time with him before he passed away in 2002 from pancreatic cancer. He could have taught me things, but I was too busy hanging out with my friends, going to amusement parks, and watching movies. I have two large storage containers full of rocks, magazine clippings, an old microscope and accessories I inherited after he died (also in there, this Life issue and the 1942 National Geographic issue with Charles R. Knight‘s “Parade of Life through the Ages”) out in my storage shed – I’ll get to going through it in the future. Here are two pictures of him on my photo site.

From Today in Science History:

Jacques-Yves Cousteau (Born 11 Jun 1910; died 25 Jun 1997). French naval officer, oceanographer, marine biologist and ocean explorer, known for his extensive underseas investigations. He was co-inventor of the aqualung which made SCUBA diving possible (1943). Cousteau the developed the Conshelf series of manned habitats, the Diving Saucer, a process of underwater television and numerous other platforms and specialized instruments of ocean science. In 1945 he founded the French Navy’s Undersea Research Group. He modified a WWII wooden hull minesweeper into the research vessel Calypso, in 1950. An observation dome added to the foot of Calypso‘s bow was found to increase the ship’s stability, speed and fuel efficiency.

Mary Jane Rathbun (Born 11 Jun 1860; died 4 Apr 1943). American marine zoologist known for establishing the basic taxonomic information on Crustacea. For many years she was the Smithsonian’s complete department of marine invertebrates where she studied, cataloged, and preserved specimens. Through her basic studies and published works, she fixed the nomenclature of Crustacea and was the recognized, and the much sought after, authority in zoology and carcinology (thestudy of crustacea). When the department needed an assistant, she resigned as superintendent and used her salary to hire someone. She continued to work without pay as a dedicated volunteer carcinologist. She published over 160 papers on a wide variety of scientific subjects.

Leland Ossian Howard (Born 11 Jun 1857; died 1 May 1950). American entomologist noted for pioneering efforts in applied entomology and his experiments in the biological control of harmful insects. He is regarded as the founder of agricultural and medical entomology. He proposed that natural enemies rather than pesticides be used for controlling pests. Howard was head of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture for over 30 years. He described 20 new species of mosquitoes, and 47 new groups of parasitic wasps. Howard revealed that houseflies carry and transmit many diseases. He was the first to suggest covering standing water with oil to control egg-laying by mosquitoes and kill larvae to reduce disease transmission. His work led to belief that great natural balances are mainly due to the action of the parasites.

Alfred Newton (Born 11 Jun 1829; died 7 Jun 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.

Roger Bacon (Died 11 Jun 1292; born c.1219). English scholar who was one of the first to propose mathematics and experimentation as appropriate methods of science. He studied mathematics, astronomy, optics, alchemy, and languages. He elucidated the principles of refraction, reflection, and spherical aberration, and described spectacles, which soon thereafter came into use. He developed many mathematical results concerning lenses, proposed mechanically propelled ships, carriages, and flying machines, and used a camera obscura to observe eclipses of the Sun. Bacon was the first European give a detailed description of the process of making gunpowder.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Edward Charles Jeffrey (Born 21 May 1866; died 19 Apr 1952). Canadian-American botanist who worked on the morphology and phylogeny of vascular plants.

Charles Edwin Bessey (Born 21 May 1845; died 25 Feb 1915). American botanist who created the first U.S. undergraduate botanical experimental laboratory at Iowa State University, where he held several positions (1870-84) and inaugurated the systematic study of plant morphology in the U.S. He devised a classification of angiosperm (flowering plant) taxa based on Candolle’s theory of differentiation to emphasize the evolutionary divergence of primitive forms. He moved to become Dean of Agriculture at the University of Nebraska (1884-1915). While in Nebraska, he started a tree planting experiment (1902) that initiated the Nebraska National Forest, the first man-made national forest in the world. He helped influence federal legislation to preserve the giant sequoia trees in California.

Mary Anning (Born 21 May 1799; died 9 Mar 1847). English fossil collector who made her first significant discovery at the age of 11 or 12 (sources differ on the details), when she found a complete skeleton of an Ichthyosaurus, from the Jurassic period. The ten-meter (30 feet) long skeleton created a sensation and made her famous. Anning’s determination and keen scientific interest in fossils derived from her father’s interest in fossil hunting, and a need for the income derived from them to support her family after his death. in 1810. She sold large fossils to noted paleontologists of the day, and smaller ones to the tourist trade. In 1823, Anning made another great discovery, found the first complete Plesiosaurus. Later in her life, the Geological Society of London granted Anning an honorary membership.

Hugo (Marie) de Vries (Died 21 May 1935; born 16 Feb 1848). Dutch botanist and geneticist who introduced the experimental study of organic evolution. His rediscovery in 1900 (simultaneously with the botanists Carl Correns and Erich Tschermak von Seysenegg) of Gregor Mendel’s principles of heredity and his theory of biological mutation, though considerably different from a modern understanding of the phenomenon, resolved ambiguous concepts concerning the nature of variation of species that, until then, had precluded the universal acceptance and active investigation of Charles Darwin’s system of organic evolution.

Books About Darwin’s Garden & Botanical Work

1. Darwin’s Garden: An Evolutionary Perspective accompanies the exhibit of the same name currently at the New York Botanical Garden (see these three posts). From the NYBG:

This 60-page catalog describes Charles Darwin’s little-known work with plants, featuring an illustrated essay by Darwin scholar David Kohn. It explains Darwin’s botanical formation, the development of his theories of evolution and natural selection, and his studies of plants. The catalog provides descriptions of the historical documents displayed in the Mertz Library gallery and of Darwin’s plant experiments, some of which will be presented in the Haupt Conservatory in a re-creation of Darwin’s own garden at his home in England. Also included are a sample Darwin activity for children, a fold-out diagram of the plant “Tree of Life,” and summaries of other major components of Darwin’s Garden: An Evolutionary Adventure.

Purchase it here.

2. Darwin’s Garden: Down House and the Origin of Species by Michael Boulter is due out in June from Constable & Robinson Publishing. From the publisher:

Five years after returning from his trip around the world on HMS Beagle, the young Charles Darwin became the owner of Down House in Kent, where he moved his growing family, far away from the turmoil and distractions of London. He would live here for the rest of his life. It would become the place where he began work on his masterpiece On the Origin of Species.

For almost twenty years he used the garden around him as his laboratory. In the orchard he conducted experiments on pollination. He built a dovecot where he could breed new strains of pigeons that helped him understand the questions of generation. On his daily walk along the sandbank he observed how plants competed for survival. In his heated greenhouse he conducted experiments on orchids and primulas. In solitude he was also able to struggle with the ideas of evolution that had haunted him since his voyage, and give him the courage to publish his revolutionary new ideas.

Bringing Darwin’s garden to the present day, Boulter unfolds a shining portrait of the formation of one of England’s greatest thinkers and his relationship with the place he loved and shows how his experiments that he conducted over 150 years ago are still revealing new proofs and revelations as we continue to search for the origins of life.

Purchase it here (U.S.) or here (UK).

Also due out this year, from Pickering & Chatto Publishers, is The Aliveness of Plants: The Darwins at the Dawn of Plant Science by Peter Ayres:

The Darwin family was instrumental in the history of botany. For Erasmus (1731–1802), it was a hobby, for Charles (1809–1882) an inspiration, and for Francis (1848–1925), a profession. Their experiences illustrate the growing specialization and professionalization of science throughout the nineteenth century. Ayres shows how botany escaped the burdens of medicine, feminization and the sterility of classification and nomenclature to become a rigorous laboratory science.

"What’s New" at Darwin Online

These were added to The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online between April 22 and April 29, 2008:

Darwin, C. R. 1845. [Letter on Patagonian stone]. In Ehrenberg, C. G. Vorläufige zweite Mittheilung über die . . . Beziehungen des kleinsten organischen Lebens zu den vulkanischen Massen der Erde. Bericht über die zur Bekanntmachung geeigneten Verhandlungen der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, pp. 143-4. Text A newly recorded Darwin publication!

Anon. 1882. Darwin’s kindness of heart. Literary News (July): 219. Text

New colour scans, courtesy of Angus Carroll, of:
Darwin, C. R. 1876. [Evidence given to the Commission]. Report of the Royal Commission on the practice of subjecting live animals to experiments for scientific purposes. Image PDF

Darwin, C. R. 1846. Geological observations on South America. Being the third part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. Fitzroy, R.N. during the years 1832 to 1836. London: Smith Elder and Co. Text Images PDF

New! Audio book of Darwin’s Beagle diary here.

Darwin, C. R. 1874. The structure and distribution of coral reefs. 2d ed. London: Smith Elder and Co. Text Image PDF

Today in Science History

Born this day:

John Bachman (Born 4 Feb 1790; died 24 Feb 1874). Naturalist and Lutheran minister who published studies of southern animals and works on botany and agriculture. He met John James Audubon in 1831 and helped him write the text of The Birds of America (1840-44). After visiting the German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt at the University of Berlin in 1838, Bachman did much of the writing and edited all of Audubon’s Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, 3 vol. (1845-49). He also published The Unity of the Human Race (1850), in which he theorized that all humans are of one species. Audubon named the Bachman’s Sparrow in honor of his friend. Bachman discovered and named the Bachman’s Warbler (a bird probably extinct today).

Augustin Pyrame de Candolle (Born 4 Feb 1778; died 9 Sep 1841). Swiss botanist whose prolific writings in taxonomy and botany were highly influential, particularly his belief that taxonomy should be based on morphological characters, and his scheme of classification, for which he coined the term taxonomy, prevailed for many years. Candolle achieved extensive subdivision of flowering plants, describing 161 families of dicotyledons, and demonstrated decisively the inadequacy of Linnaean classification, which his system supplanted. Candolle also contributed to agronomy and the linking of soil type with vegetation. He also pioneered the study of phytogeography, the biogeography of plants, by carrying out investigations in Brazil (1827), East India (1829), and North China (1834).

Died this day:

George Engelmann (Died 4 Feb 1884; born 2 Feb 1809). German-American botanist and physician, who varied his career in medical practice with botanical travels. After obtaining his medical degree in Europe, he travelled to the U.S. and eventually settled in St. Louis, Missouri. Among his 100 papers documenting western North American flora, his monograph on the cactus, Monography of North American Cuscutinae (1842), is particularly noteworthy. Engelmann collaborated to incorporate a major botanical collection in the public Shaw’s Gardens established by businessman Henry Shaw (1800-89) in St. Louis, which is now the Missouri Botanical Garden). The Engelmann spruce of the Rocky Mountains is named for him.

Charles-Marie de La Condamine (Died 4 Feb 1774; born 28 Jan 1701). French naturalist and mathematician who became particularly interested in geodesy (earth measurement). He was put in charge by the King of France of an expedition to Equador to measure a meridional arc at the equator (1735-43). It was wished to determine whether the Earth was either flattened or elongated at its poles. He then accomplished the first scientific exploration of the Amazon River (1743) on a raft, studying the region, and brought the drug curare to Europe. He also worked on establishment of a universal unit of length, and is credited with developing the idea of vaccination against smallpox, later perfected by Edward Jenner. However, he was almost constantly ill and died in 1773, deaf and completely paralyzed.

Giambattista della Porta (Died 4 Feb 1615; born 1535). Italian natural philosopher, experimenter and mathematician, though he also sought the miraculous or magical. He studied optics, including refraction (De refractione, 1593). Porta did not invent the telescope, regardless of his published claim. He was the first to propose adding a convex lens to the camera obscura, and first to recognise the heating effect of light rays. He wrote on cryptography in De furtivis literarum (1563), and his other books included mechanics, squaring the circle, description of a steam engine in De spiritali (1606). He formed the society, Accademia dei Segreti, dedicated to discussing and studying nature, meeting at his home, until closed by the Inquisition (about 1578).

PODCAST: The Discovery of Oxygen – feuds and revolutions at the birth of modern chemistry

BBC’s In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg this week is about the discovery of oxygen:

In 1772, the British chemist, Joseph Priestley, stood in front of the Royal Society and reported on his latest discovery: “this air is of exalted nature…A candle burned in this air with an amazing strength of flame; and a bit of red hot wood crackled and burned with a prodigious rapidity. But to complete the proof of the superior quality of this air, I introduced a mouse into it; and in a quantity in which, had it been common air, it would have died in about a quarter of an hour; it lived at two different times, a whole hour, and was taken out quite vigorous.” Priestley had discovered Oxygen, or had he? Soon a brilliant French chemist, Antoine Lavoisier, would claim the gas for himself. And so began a rancorous dispute between the British and French chemical establishments, undertaken as chemistry itself was in the process of being rediscovered, even revolutionised.

Simon Schaffer, Professor in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge
Jenny Uglow, Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Warwick
Hasok Chang, Reader in Philosophy of Science at University College London

Listen to this program here, and explore further here.

Mega-Post: Post-Fifth Week of Internship

These are all the states I have been to or visited (born in New Mexico, lived in California, Oregon, and Montana, visited the others). I’ve got alot of America to see! Make your own state map here.

July 24th: America’s first collecting expedition sponsored in 1801
July 25th: Rosalind Franklin (<– Sandwalk’s thoughts) was born in 1920
July 28th: Francis Crick died in 2004; Roger Tory Peterson died in 1996

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer (May 2007) [Uncommon Descent’s thoughts]
Guardian Unlimited: Darwin’s faith
On Darwin, T-shirts, and Doing Science at Beagle Project Blog here and here
If you’re a British citizen or resident, sign a petition to make February 12th officially “Darwin Day” (Peter thinks you should)
On Darwin’s “worm years” at Pines Above Snow
Two quotes from Hull’s Darwin and His Critics at Thoughts in a Haystack
Humanist Network New’s podcast on Darwin (from January 2007)
Darwin speculates “the passage by which Nature joins the Lizards to the Snakes.”
To the Best of Our Knowledge (radio show): Electrons to Enlightenment: Debating Darwin
Richard Carter, FCD’s “Darwin-tagged” photos
Get your own framed photo of Darwin from PBS
More creationist babble on the Darwin to Hitler link here
Sydney Morning Herald: The Thinking Man’s Swede (Linnaeus)

Mano Singham’s Web Journal’s 13th, 14th, and 15th post on evolution (some info on Quammen & E.O. Wilson for the 2009 Darwin celebrations, too)
Sandwalk discusses 3 historic genetics papers (1, 2, 3)

Red State Rabble informs us about PBS’s show on the Dover intelligent design trial
CreationEvolutionDesign‘s outline for book on “Problems of Evolution”
Evolution & Development: intelligent design book reviews

World Wide Wunderkammern at the Hairy Museum of Natural History blog

Table of Contents for latest issue of Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences
Science Magazine: The World Measurers (book review)
Telegraph: Image Experimentation (composite photography, Francis Galton, etc.)
The History of Science and Technology (book review) at Book Sharing-Materials and Chemistry