ARTICLE: Modelling with words: Narrative and natural selection

In the April 2017 issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences:

Modelling with words: Narrative and natural selection

Dominic K. Dimech

Abstract I argue that verbal models should be included in a philosophical account of the scientific practice of modelling. Weisberg (2013) has directly opposed this thesis on the grounds that verbal structures, if they are used in science, only merely describe models. I look at examples from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) of verbally constructed narratives that I claim model the general phenomenon of evolution by natural selection. In each of the cases I look at, a particular scenario is described that involves at least some fictitious elements but represents the salient causal components of natural selection. I pronounce the importance of prioritising observation of scientific practice for the philosophy of modelling and I suggest that there are other likely model types that are excluded from philosophical accounts.

ARTICLE: Exploration and exploitation of Victorian science in Darwin’s reading notebooks

From the journal Cognition:

Exploration and exploitation of Victorian science in Darwin’s reading notebooks

Jaimie Murdock, Colin Allen, and Simon DeDeoa

Abstract Search in an environment with an uncertain distribution of resources involves a trade-off between exploitation of past discoveries and further exploration. This extends to information foraging, where a knowledge-seeker shifts between reading in depth and studying new domains. To study this decision-making process, we examine the reading choices made by one of the most celebrated scientists of the modern era: Charles Darwin. From the full-text of books listed in his chronologically-organized reading journals, we generate topic models to quantify his local (text-to-text) and global (text-to-past) reading decisions using Kullback-Liebler Divergence, a cognitively-validated, information-theoretic measure of relative surprise. Rather than a pattern of surprise-minimization, corresponding to a pure exploitation strategy, Darwin’s behavior shifts from early exploitation to later exploration, seeking unusually high levels of cognitive surprise relative to previous eras. These shifts, detected by an unsupervised Bayesian model, correlate with major intellectual epochs of his career as identified both by qualitative scholarship and Darwin’s own self-commentary. Our methods allow us to compare his consumption of texts with their publication order. We find Darwin’s consumption more exploratory than the culture’s production, suggesting that underneath gradual societal changes are the explorations of individual synthesis and discovery. Our quantitative methods advance the study of cognitive search through a framework for testing interactions between individual and collective behavior and between short- and long-term consumption choices. This novel application of topic modeling to characterize individual reading complements widespread studies of collective scientific behavior.

ARTICLE: Darwin’s body-snatchers?

This short article in the journal Endeavour takes a creationist claim about Darwin to task:

Darwin’s body-snatchers?

John van Wyhe

Abstract For decades creationists have claimed that Charles Darwin sought the skulls of full-blooded Aboriginal Tasmanian people when only four were left alive. It is said that Darwin letters survive which reveal this startling and distasteful truth. Tracing these claims back to their origins, however, reveals a different, if not unfamiliar story.

ARTICLE: The Creativity of Natural Selection? Part I: Darwin, Darwinism, and the Mutationists

A new article in the Journal of the History of Biology:

The Creativity of Natural Selection? Part I: Darwin, Darwinism, and the Mutationists

John Beatty

Abstract This is the first of a two-part essay on the history of debates concerning the creativity of natural selection, from Darwin through the evolutionary synthesis and up to the present. Here I focus on the mid-late nineteenth century to the early twentieth, with special emphasis on early Darwinism and its critics, the self-styled “mutationists.” The second part focuses on the evolutionary synthesis and some of its critics, especially the “neutralists” and “neo-mutationists.” Like Stephen Gould, I consider the creativity of natural selection to be a key component of what has traditionally counted as “Darwinism.” I argue that the creativity of natural selection is best understood in terms of (1) selection initiating evolutionary change, and (2) selection being responsible for the presence of the variation it acts upon, for example by directing the course of variation. I consider the respects in which both of these claims sound non-Darwinian, even though they have long been understood by supporters and critics alike to be virtually constitutive of Darwinism.

Journal special issue on “Replaying the Tape of Life: Evolution and Historical Explanation”

A whole issue of the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences is devoted to the topic “Replaying the Tape of Life: Evolution and Historical Explanation.” The contents are as follows:

Introduction: Evolution and historical explanation
Peter Harrison, Ian Hesketh

What was historical about natural history? Contingency and explanation in the science of living things
Peter Harrison

The “History” of Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Huxley, Spencer and the “End” of natural history
Bernard Lightman


Theological presuppositions of the evolutionary epic: From Robert Chambers to E. O. Wilson
Allan Megill


What are narratives good for?
John Beatty


Counterfactuals and history: Contingency and convergence in histories of science and life
Ian Hesketh

The spontaneous market order and evolution
Naomi Beck

Contingency and the order of nature
Nancy Cartwright


Freedom and purpose in biology
Daniel W. McShea


“Replaying Life’s Tape”: Simulations, metaphors, and historicity in Stephen Jay Gould’s view of life
David Sepkoski

A case study in evolutionary contingency
Zachary D. Blount


Can evolution be directional without being teleological?
George R. McGhee Jr.

Evolutionary biology and the question of teleology
Michael Ruse

Contingency, convergence and hyper-astronomical numbers in biological evolution
Ard A. Louis


It all adds up …. Or does it? Numbers, mathematics and purpose
Simon Conway Morris

ARTICLE: The Ascent of Man and the Politics of Humanity’s Evolutionary Future

A new article in the history of science journal Endeavour might interest readers here:

The Ascent of Man and the Politics of Humanity’s Evolutionary Future

Erika Lorraine Milam

Abstract Throughout the twentieth century, contemporary understandings of evolutionary theory were tightly linked to visions of the future freighted with moral consequence. This essay traces the origins and legacy of this scientific commitment to a universal family of man in postwar evolutionary theory, and elaborates how evolutionary scientists sought to reframe the politics of human evolution by claiming that the principles governing the physical past of humanity differed fundamentally from those that would matter in the coming decades, centuries, or even millennia. Education and public engagement embodied the moral importance of actively participating in the creation of that better, future world.

ARTICLE: A Historical Taxonomy of Origin of Species Problems and Its Relevance to the Historiography of Evolutionary Thought

New in Journal of the History of Biology:

A Historical Taxonomy of Origin of Species Problems and Its Relevance to the Historiography of Evolutionary Thought

Koen B. Tanghe

Abstract Historians tend to speak of the problem of the origin of species or the species question, as if it were a monolithic problem. In reality, the phrase (or similar variants) refers to a, historically, surprisingly fluid and pluriform scientific issue. It has, in the course of the past five centuries, been used in no less than ten different ways or contexts. A clear taxonomy of these separate problems is useful or relevant in two ways. It certainly helps to disentangle confusions that have inevitably emerged in the literature in its absence. It may, secondly, also help us to gain a more thorough understanding, or sharper view, of the (pre)history of evolutionary thought. A consequent problem-centric look at that (pre)history through the lens of various origin of species problems certainly yields intriguing results, including and particularly for our understanding of the genesis of the Wallace–Darwin theory of evolution through natural selection.

ARTICLE: Darwin and the Ethnologists: Liberal Racialism and the Geological Analogy

New in Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences:

Darwin and the Ethnologists: Liberal Racialism and the Geological Analogy

Suman Seth

Abstract Toward the end of The Descent of Man, Darwin made a striking assertion. “I would as soon be descended,” he claimed, from a “heroic little monkey” than from a “savage” who practiced torture and infanticide, treated “wives like slaves,” and was indecent and superstitious. These lines have been often quoted but rarely analyzed. I argue here that they provide a means for following Darwin’s thought as he grappled with contemporary ethnological evidence that seemed—if today’s “savages” were to be taken as models for primeval humans—to work against his theory of sexual selection as it applied to humankind. In addition to explicating what I suggest is a crucial element of Descent, this paper has three aims, all of which help us better understand the relationships between ethnology and Darwinian thought. First, to offer a selective intellectual history of British ethnology between 1864 and 1871, focusing on those texts that Darwin deemed most problematic for his arguments. Second, and as a result, to better specify Darwin’s views on race by comparing him not to his opponents, but to his like-minded peers, a group I term “liberal racialists.” Third, to explore the utility of what I term the “geological analogy,” a mid-nineteenth-century version of the comparative method (which substituted study of “less developed” peoples today for humans in much earlier periods). Where liberal ethnologists deployed the geological analogy consistently, Darwin would be much more selective, denying its application at times in favor of analogies to lower animals. He would thus save his theoretical suppositions by denying that contemporary “lower” races, with their depraved morality, could serve as appropriate models for our apparently more decent, yet more animalistic forebears.

ARTICLE: Darwin the geologist in southern South America

New in Earth Sciences History:

Darwin the geologist in southern South America

Robert H. Dott, Jr. and Ian W. D. Dalziel

Abstract Charles Darwin was a reputable geologist before he achieved biological fame. Most of his geological research was accomplished in southern South America during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1831–1836). Afterward he published four books and several articles about geology and coral atolls and became active in the Geological Society of London. We have followed Darwin’s footsteps during our own researches and have been very impressed with his keen observations and inferences. He made some mistakes, however, such as appealing to iceberg rafting to explain erratic boulders and to inundations of the sea to carve valleys. Darwin prepared an important hand-colored geological map of southern South America, which for unknown reasons he did not publish. The distributions of seven map units are shown. These were described in his books wherein he also documented multiple elevated marine terraces on both coasts of South America. While exploring the Andean Cordillera in central Chile and Argentina, he discovered two fossil forests. Darwin developed a tectonic theory involving vertical uplift of the entire continent, which was greatest in the Andes where magma leaked up from a hypothetical subterranean sea of magma to form volcanoes and earthquakes. The theory had little impact and was soon eclipsed by theories involving lateral compression of strata. His and other contemporary theories suffered from a lack of knowledge about the earth’s interior. Finally with modern plate tectonic theory involving intense lateral compression across the Andean Cordillera we can explain satisfactorily the geology so carefully documented by Darwin.

ARTICLE: Biologist Edwin Grant Conklin and the idea of the religious direction of human evolution in the early 1920s

New in Annals of Science:

Biologist Edwin Grant Conklin and the idea of the religious direction of human evolution in the early 1920s

Alexander Pavuk

Abstract Edwin Grant Conklin, renowned US embryologist and evolutionary popularizer, publicly advocated a social vision of evolution that intertwined science and modernist Protestant theology in the early 1920s. The moral prestige of professional science in American culture — along with Conklin’s own elite scientific status — diverted attention from the frequency with which his work crossed boundaries between natural science, religion and philosophy. Writing for broad audiences, Conklin was one of the most significant of the religious and modernist biological scientists whose rhetoric went well beyond simply claiming that certain kinds of religion were amenable to evolutionary science; he instead incorporated religion itself into evolution’s broadest workings. A sampling of Conklin’s widely-resonant discourse suggests that there was substantially more to the religion-evolution story in the 1920s US than many creationist-centred narratives of the era imply.

ARTICLE: The letters between James Lamont and Charles Darwin on Arctic fauna

A 2015 article from Polar Record might be of interest to some readers, espeically since it’s freely available as a PDF:

The letters between James Lamont and Charles Darwin on Arctic fauna

C. Leah Devlin

Abstract In the summers of 1858 and 1859, the Scot Sir James Lamont of Knockdow embarked on two cruises to Svalbard (referred to by Lamont as Spitzbergen [sic]) to hunt, make geographical surveys, and collect geological and biological specimens. Lamont’s return from these voyages coincided with the publication of the joint Charles Darwin-Alfred Russel Wallace paper, ‘On the tendency of species to form varieties; on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection’ by the Linnean Society in August 1858 and, a year later, the publication of Darwin’s On the origin of species. Profoundly influenced by Darwin’s ideas, Lamont initiated a correspondence with the naturalist, relating examples of what he considered to be natural selection, observed during his hunting expeditions. In his Svalbard travelogue, Seasons with the sea-horses, Lamont expounded specifically upon walrus and polar bear evolution, ideas inspired by sporadic yet encouraging letters from the renowned naturalist.

ARTICLE: “rolls up like Armadillo”: Darwin’s forgotten encounters with ceratocanthine beetles (Coleoptera: Hybosoridae)

A recent “short note” in Archives of Natural History:

“rolls up like Armadillo”: Darwin’s forgotten encounters with ceratocanthine beetles (Coleoptera: Hybosoridae) 

Alberto Ballerio and Andrew B. T. Smith

No Abstract

ARTICLE: Darwin, Hume, Morgan, and the verae causae of psychology

A Darwin article in the new issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences:

Darwin, Hume, Morgan, and the verae causae of psychology

Hayley Clatterbuck

Abstract Charles Darwin and C. Lloyd Morgan forward two influential principles of cognitive ethological inference that yield conflicting results about the extent of continuity in the cognitive traits of humans and other animals. While these principles have been interpreted as reflecting commitments to different senses of parsimony, in fact, both principles result from the same vera causa inferential strategy, according to which “We ought to admit no more causes of natural things, than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances”. Instead, the conflict stems from Darwin’s and Morgan’s views about the true causes of human psychology. Darwin holds a thoroughly Humean philosophy of the human mind, from which he infers significant continuity between human and animal minds. In contrast, Morgan argues that Humean cognitive mechanisms cannot account for a class of uniquely human behaviors, and therefore, he concludes that there is a significant discontinuity between human and animal cognition. This historical debate is informative for current controversies in comparative psychology.

ARTICLE: The power of islands and of discipleship: Francisco de Arruda Furtado (1854–1887) and the making of a disciple of Darwin

A recent article from the journal History of Science:

The power of islands and of discipleship: Francisco de Arruda Furtado (1854–1887) and the making of a disciple of Darwin

David Felismino and Conceição Tavares

Abstract This paper focuses on the biography of the Portuguese naturalist Francisco de Arruda Furtado, born on São Miguel Island, in the Azorean archipelago, in 1854, who became part of an international network of naturalists. Despite his short life, he produced original research on malacology (the study of molluscs), and from his youth Furtado claimed to be a disciple of Darwin. Informed by recent literature reflecting on the resurgence of biography in the history of science, the narrative of Furtado’s life will take into consideration what it meant to be, and the implications of considering oneself, a disciple of Darwin in the nineteenth-century natural sciences. In the history of science, the concept of disciple has often been associated with research schools, but Darwin did not create one and never surrounded himself with young apprentices. In this paper we argue that in Furtado’s case, and in all probability in many others, in addition to being a scientific theory, evolution had the status of a doctrine. As such, Darwinian evolution had a strong ideological and political dimension. By propagating it among lay people it had the potential of changing attitudes individually and socially, while at the same time it provided the scientific foundations for social and political transformation. Consequently, in addition to scientific research based on Darwin’s theory, Furtado deeply engaged in proselytizing the natural sciences and Darwinian evolution, becoming representative of the importance of Darwin’s disciples in Furtado’s sense, in the reception and endorsement of evolution around the world, with repercussions beyond natural history.

ARTICLE: Deceived by orchids: sex, science, fiction and Darwin

A new article of interest in the British Journal for the History of Science:

Deceived by orchids: sex, science, fiction and Darwin

Jim Endersby

Abstract Between 1916 and 1927, botanists in several countries independently resolved three problems that had mystified earlier naturalists – including Charles Darwin: how did the many species of orchid that did not produce nectar persuade insects to pollinate them? Why did some orchid flowers seem to mimic insects? And why should a native British orchid suffer ‘attacks’ from a bee? Half a century after Darwin’s death, these three mysteries were shown to be aspects of a phenomenon now known as pseudocopulation, whereby male insects are deceived into attempting to mate with the orchid’s flowers, which mimic female insects; the males then carry the flower’s pollen with them when they move on to try the next deceptive orchid. Early twentieth-century botanists were able to see what their predecessors had not because orchids (along with other plants) had undergone an imaginative re-creation: Darwin’s science was appropriated by popular interpreters of science, including the novelist Grant Allen; then H.G. Wells imagined orchids as killers (inspiring a number of imitators), to produce a genre of orchid stories that reflected significant cultural shifts, not least in the presentation of female sexuality. It was only after these changes that scientists were able to see plants as equipped with agency, actively able to pursue their own, cunning reproductive strategies – and to outwit animals in the process. This paper traces the movement of a set of ideas that were created in a context that was recognizably scientific; they then became popular non-fiction, then popular fiction, and then inspired a new science, which in turn inspired a new generation of fiction writers. Long after clear barriers between elite and popular science had supposedly been established in the early twentieth century, they remained porous because a variety of imaginative writers kept destabilizing them. The fluidity of the boundaries between makers, interpreters and publics of scientific knowledge was a highly productive one; it helped biology become a vital part of public culture in the twentieth century and beyond.

ARTICLE: Liberal Evolutionism and the Satirical Ape

A new article in the Journal of Victorian Culture:

Liberal Evolutionism and the Satirical Ape

Kate Holterhoff

Abstract This article considers intersections between the doctrines of mid-Victorian liberalism and biological evolution using 1860s caricatures and satires from Punch. In the years following the 1859 publication of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, caricatures featuring satirical apes illustrated mutually supportive cultural attitudes about politics and science. Ideas of character united the discourses of mid-Victorian evolutionism with liberalism, and the confluence of these ideas, or what I term liberal evolutionism, dramatized this overlap for Victorian culture. My project shows that the apes depicted in Punch were often intended as not only whimsical responses to the theories put forward by Darwin and Mill, they also point to the formation of the British subject.

ARTICLE: Darwin’s “Mr. Arthrobalanus”: Sexual Differentiation, Evolutionary Destiny and the Expert Eye of the Beholder

A new article of interest in the Journal of the History of Biology:

Darwin’s “Mr. Arthrobalanus”: Sexual Differentiation, Evolutionary Destiny and the Expert Eye of the Beholder

Roderick D. Buchanan

Abstract Darwin’s Cirripedia project was an exacting exercise in systematics, as well as an encrypted study of evolution in action. Darwin had a long-standing interest and expertise in marine invertebrates and their sexual arrangements. The surprising and revealing sexual differentiation he would uncover amongst barnacles represented an important step in his understanding of the origins of sexual reproduction. But it would prove difficult to reconcile these findings with his later theorizing. Moreover, the road to discovery was hardly straightforward. Darwin was both helped and hindered by the tacit expectations generated by his transformist theorizing, and had to overcome culturally-embedded assumptions about gender and reproductive roles. Significant observational backtracking was required to correct several oversights and misapprehensions, none more so than those relating to the chronically misunderstood “Mr. Arthrobalanus.” With careful attention to chronology, this paper highlights some curious and overlooked aspects of Darwin’s epic project.

ARTICLE: Emily Lawless and Charles Darwin: an Irish mystery

From the Archives of Natural History:

Emily Lawless and Charles Darwin: an Irish mystery

E. Charles Nelson

Abstract While no original autograph letters between the Hon. Miss Emily Lawless and Charles Darwin are known, Darwin was impressed by her observations and encouraged her to submit to Nature a manuscript account of fertilization of plants. This manuscript cannot be traced, nor can her note hypothesizing about the role of the transparent burnet moth in pollination in The Burren, County Clare, which apparently prompted Darwin to make contact with her.

ARTICLE: The challenge of instinctive behaviour and Darwin’s theory of evolution

A new article from the journal Endeavour:

The challenge of instinctive behaviour and Darwin’s theory of evolution

Alejandro Gordillo-García

Abstract In the Origin of Species (1859), Darwin argued that his revolutionary theory of evolution by natural selection represented a significant breakthrough in the understanding of instinctive behaviour. However, many aspects in the development of his thinking on behavioural phenomena indicate that the explanation of this particular organic feature was by no means an easy one, but that it posed an authentic challenge – something that Darwin himself always recognized. This paper explores Darwin’s treatment of instincts within his theory of natural selection. Particular attention is given to elucidate how he tackled the difficulties of explaining instincts as evolving mental features. He had to explain and demonstrate its inheritance, variation, and gradual accumulation within populations. The historical and philosophical aspects of his theory are highlighted, as well as his study of the case in which the explanation of instincts represented a ‘special difficulty’; that is, the sterile castes of social insects.

ARTICLE: “Plants that Remind Me of Home”: Collecting, Plant Geography, and a Forgotten Expedition in the Darwinian Revolution

A new article in the Journal of the History of Biology:

“Plants that Remind Me of Home”: Collecting, Plant Geography, and a Forgotten Expedition in the Darwinian Revolution

Kuang-chi Hung

Abstract In 1859, Harvard botanist Asa Gray (1810–1888) published an essay of what he called “the abstract of Japan botany.” In it, he applied Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory to explain why strong similarities could be found between the flora of Japan and that of eastern North America, which provoked his famous debate with Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) and initiated Gray’s efforts to secure a place for Darwinian biology in the American sciences. Notably, although the Gray–Agassiz debate has become one of the most thoroughly studied scientific debates, historians of science remain unable to answer one critical question: How was Gray able to acquire specimens from Japan? Making use of previously unknown archival materials, this article scrutinizes the institutional, instrumental, financial, and military settings that enabled Gray’s collector, Charles Wright (1811–1885), to travel to Japan, as well as examine Wright’s collecting practices in Japan. I argue that it is necessary to examine Gray’s diagnosis of Japan’s flora and the subsequent debate about it from the viewpoint of field sciences. The field-centered approach not only unveils an array of historical significances that have been overshadowed by the analytical framework of the Darwinian revolution and the reception of Darwinism, but also places a seemingly domestic incident in a transnational context.

ARTICLE: The Impact of Lamarck’s Theory of Evolution Before Darwin’s Theory

An online first article from the Journal of the History of Biology:

The Impact of Lamarck’s Theory of Evolution Before Darwin’s Theory

Andrés Galera

Abstract This paper analyzes the impact that Lamarckian evolutionary theory had in the scientific community during the period between the advent of Zoological Philosophy and the publication Origin of Species. During these 50 years Lamarck’s model was a well known theory and it was discussed by the scientific community as a hypothesis to explain the changing nature of the fossil record throughout the history of Earth. Lamarck’s transmutation theory established the foundation of an evolutionary model introducing a new way to research in nature. Darwin’s selectionist theory was proposed in 1859 to explain the origin of species within this epistemological process. In this context, Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology and Auguste Comte’s Cours de Philosophie Positive appear as two major works for the dissemination of Lamarck’s evolutionary ideology after the death of the French naturalist in 1829.

ARTICLE: Oxford Serialized: Revisiting the Huxley–Wilberforce debate through the periodical press

I came across another article on the famous Oxford debate, this one from 2014 in History of Science:

Oxford Serialized: Revisiting the Huxley–Wilberforce debate through the periodical press

Nanna Katrine Lüders Kaalund

Abstract The debate between the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, and the scientific naturalist, Thomas Huxley, at the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science has come to represent an iconic moment in the history of the relationship between science and religion. This article uses the digitalized databases of nineteenth-century British periodicals to re-examine the reception of the Huxley–Wilberforce debate. By combining methods and insights from digital humanities with the vast literature on the Huxley–Wilberforce debate, and the secondary literature on science and print culture, I show that the narrative of Huxley’s victory over Wilberforce was not the prevalent story told in the press immediately after the event occurred. Rather, this study shows that there is still much to be learned from looking at the ways in which the press influenced nineteenth-century understandings of iconic moments in the history of science, even in cases that have been well examined, such as the Huxley–Wilberforce debate.

ARTICLE: A Yankee at Oxford: John William Draper at the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford, 30 June 1860

This new article [PDF] in the Notes and Records of the Royal Society will interest those who enjoy looking at the history of the famous “Oxford debate” between Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce:

A Yankee at Oxford: John William Draper at the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford, 30 June 1860

James C. Ungureanu

Abstract This paper contributes to the revisionist historiography on the legendary encounter between Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Henry Huxley at the 1860 meeting in Oxford of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. It discusses the contents of a series of letters written by John William Draper and his family reflecting on his experience at that meeting. The letters have recently been rediscovered and have been neither published nor examined at full length. After a preliminary discussion on the historiography of the Oxford debate, the paper discloses the contents of the letters and then assesses them in the light of other contemporary accounts. The letters offer a nuanced reinterpretation of the event that supports the growing move towards a revisionist account.

ARTICLE: Neptunism and Transformism: Robert Jameson and other Evolutionary Theorists in Early Nineteenth-Century Scotland

A new article in the Journal of the History of Biology might be of interest to readers here:

Neptunism and Transformism: Robert Jameson and other Evolutionary Theorists in Early Nineteenth-Century Scotland

Bill Jenkins

Abstract This paper sheds new light on the prevalence of evolutionary ideas in Scotland in the early nineteenth century and establish what connections existed between the espousal of evolutionary theories and adherence to the directional history of the earth proposed by Abraham Gottlob Werner and his Scottish disciples. A possible connection between Wernerian geology and theories of the transmutation of species in Edinburgh in the period when Charles Darwin was a medical student in the city was suggested in an important 1991 paper by James Secord. This study aims to deepen our knowledge of this important episode in the history of evolutionary ideas and explore the relationship between these geological and evolutionary discourses. To do this it focuses on the circle of natural historians around Robert Jameson, Wernerian geologist and professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh from 1804 to 1854. From the evidence gathered here there emerges a clear confirmation that the Wernerian model of geohistory facilitated the acceptance of evolutionary explanations of the history of life in early nineteenth-century Scotland. As Edinburgh was at this time the most important center of medical education in the English-speaking world, this almost certainly influenced the reception and development of evolutionary ideas in the decades that followed.

BOOK: Making “Nature”: The History of a Scientific Journal

I look forward to reading this new book authored by a member of the Tyndall Correspondence Project (of which I am a co-editor for volume 6):

Melinda Baldwin, Making Nature: The History of a Scientific Journal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 328 pp.

Publisher’s description Making “Nature” is the first book to chronicle the foundation and development of Nature, one of the world’s most influential scientific institutions. Now nearing its hundred and fiftieth year of publication, Nature is the international benchmark for scientific publication. Its contributors include Charles Darwin, Ernest Rutherford, and Stephen Hawking, and it has published many of the most important discoveries in the history of science, including articles on the structure of DNA, the discovery of the neutron, the first cloning of a mammal, and the human genome. But how did Nature become such an essential institution? In Making “Nature,” Melinda Baldwin charts the rich history of this extraordinary publication from its foundation in 1869 to current debates about online publishing and open access. This pioneering study not only tells Nature‘s story but also sheds light on much larger quesqtions about the history of science publishing, changes in scientific communication, and shifting notions of “scientific community.” Nature, as Baldwin demonstrates, helped define what science is and what it means to be a scientist.

For those interested in Darwin, this book offers some interesting topics: Darwin moving from the Gardener’s Chronicle to Nature for his publication of choice; George Romanes fashioning himself as Darwin’s heir through the pages of Nature, much to the disagreement of other authors in the journal; and how the journal showed a sort of reverence for Darwin in the decades following his death, including both sides in the debate over the inheritance of acquired characteristics claiming Darwin for their side.