File under: quote-mining

There really is no excuse for a tweet like this. Unless, of course, you are a creationist or antievolutionist (or simply anti-Darwin) and you are knowingly spreading false information.

File under: quote-mining

ARTICLE: Darwin’s error? Patrick Matthew and the catastrophic nature of the geologic record

In Historical Biology: A Journal of Paleobiology:

Darwin’s error? Patrick Matthew and the catastrophic nature of the geologic record

Michael Rampino

Abstract In 1831, the Scottish horticulturalist Patrick Matthew (1790-1874) published a clear statement of the law of natural selection in an Appendix to his book Naval Timber and Arboriculture, which both Darwin and Wallace later acknowledged. Matthew, however, was a catastrophist, and he presented natural selection within the contemporary view that relatively long intervals of environmental stability were episodically punctuated by catastrophic mass extinctions of life. Modern studies support a similar picture of the division of geologic time into long periods of relative evolutionary stability ended by sudden extinction events. Mass extinctions are followed by recovery intervals during which surviving taxa radiate into vacated niches. This modern punctuated view of evolution and speciation is much more in line with Matthew’s episodic catastrophism than the classical Lyellian-Darwinian gradualist view.

Darwin and the Galapagos covered in PCAS supplement

The following articles can be downloaded as PDFs here:

PROCEEDINGS OF THE CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, SERIES 4, V61, SUPPLEMENT II

15 September 2010

MICHAEL T. GHISELIN and ALAN E. LEVITON. Acknowledgements

1 MICHAEL T. GHISELIN. Introduction. 1-3
2 ALAN E. LEVITON and MICHELE L. ALDRICH. Dedication: Irvin Bowman (1925-2006) Remembered. 5 figs. 5-12
3 JERE H. LIPPS. Charles Darwin and H.M.S. Beagle: Besides Galapagos. 15 figs. 13-36
4 EDWARD J. LARSON. The Natural History of Hell: The Galapagos Before Darwin. 4 figs. 37-44
5 SANDRA HERBERT. “A Universal Collector”: Charles Darwin’s Extraction of Meaning from his Galapagos Experience. 6 figs., 1 table 45-68
6 SALLY A GIBSON. Darwin the Geologist in Galapagos: An Early Insight into Sub-volcanic Magmatic Processes. 11 figs., 3 tables 69-88
7 JONATHAN HODGE. Darwin, the Galapagos, and his Changing Thoughts About Species Origins: 1935-1837. 89-106
8 MICHAEL T. GHISELIN. Going Public on the Galapagos: Reading Darwin Between the Lines. 2 [12] figs. 107-116
9 DUNCAN M. PORTER. Darwin: The Botanist on the Beagle. 20 figs. 117-156
10 ROBERT VAN SYOC. Darwin, Barnacles and the Galapagos: A View Through a 21st Century Lens. 8 figs. 157-166
11 JOHN E. MCCOSKER and RICHARD H. ROSENBLATT. The Fishes of the Galapagos Archipelago: An Update. 16 figs., Appendix 167-195
12 MATTHEW J. JAMES. Collecting Evolution: The Vindication of Charles Darwin by the 1905-06 Galapagos Expedition of the California Academy of Sciences. 3 figs. 197-210
13 JOHN P. DUMBACHER and BARBARA WEST. Collecting Galapagos and the Pacific: How Rollo Howard Beck Shaped Our Understanding of Evolution. 19 figs., 1 table 211-243
14 PETER R. GRANT and B. ROSEMARY GRANT. Natural Selection, Speciation and Darwin’s Finches. 11 figs., Appendices

Thanks to Matthew James to pointing me to this publication!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darwin & Yellowstone

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Historian Paul Schullery‘s talk at a November 2009 science agenda workshop in Yellowstone National Park focused on climate change, land use change, and invasive species. As I scrolled through the PDF of the talk transcript online (in the latest issue of Yellowstone Science, where I published a piece on religious language and YNP in 2008), to my surprise I saw an image of Darwin. Here’s where Schullery relates Darwin to Yellowstone history:

Those of you who saw Ken Burns’ big film on the national parks in September must have noticed the unusual extent to which scientists were even cast as heroes. My own favorite example of such scientific advocacy made it into the film. It was National Park Service biologist George Melendez Wright’s eloquent recommendation, in 1933, “that the rare predators shall be considered special charges of the national parks in proportion that they are persecuted everywhere else.” And only a few years later, Aldo Leopold himself recommended the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone. Anyone who knows much about the history of land management in the American West will agree that science, at least wildlife science, has rarely gotten more socially subversive than these statements by Wright and Leopold.

But rather than quoting a bunch more historic scientists, I think you only need to hear from one—one that you may have never heard of, a geologist named Theodore Comstock. Comstock visited and studied the park at its beginning, in 1873, with the Jones Expedition, and published several foresightful papers that reached far beyond his specialty. We ought to name a mountain or a microbrewery or something for this guy.

Remember that Comstock worked and wrote in the fierce propwash of the Darwinian revolution. We can barely imagine the mood of his times. The publication of both On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man were current events to him, and his awareness of their sudden impact on science and society is reflected in this plea for the preservation of Yellowstone’s authentic wildness—a plea so modern that one of us might say it at this meeting.

Momentous questions are now agitating the scientific world, calling for experiment and observation which are daily becoming less possible, owing in a great measure to the obliterating influence of modern civilization. Thus it would almost seem that the present difficulties in the way of the solution of many questions, bearing upon the process of natural selection, will soon become insurmountable if some means are not employed to render more practicable the study of animals in a state of nature.

Of course Yellowstone provided those means, and Comstock, perhaps more fully than Hayden or any of the other early scientific pioneers of the region, articulated the case for the park as an unparallelled and perpetual opportunity to learn about wild nature.

Too bad I hadn’t come across this connection while I was an intern there. You can read the rest of Schullery’s talk here, and why not peruse more of Yellowstone Science (index), it’s freely accessible!

ARTICLE: Darwin and Helmholtz on Imperfections of the Eye

ermann von Helmholtz (August 31, 1821 – September 8, 1894)

ermann von Helmholtz (August 31, 1821 – September 8, 1894)

From the journal Archives of Ophthalmology (Sept. 2010):

Darwin and Helmholtz on Imperfections of the Eye

Charles Darwin was curious about the workings of the eye and corresponded with William Bowman and Cornelis Donders about its structure and function. In his On the Origin of Species in 1859, he took care to make the case that even such a complex organ as the eye could arise by natural selection. In other contexts, Darwin also gave particular weight to observations that revealed imperfections in development of organic features. It was exactly this line of inquiry that was so telling against the creationist credo of supernatural design. Darwin made a point of this in the second edition of his The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1874) in which he made special reference to the views of Hermann Helmholtz about the imperfections of the eye.

Darwin-Wallace papers published August 20, 1858

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Today in 1858, the Linnean Society published the Darwin and Wallace papers read before the society that previous July 1st:

“On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection,” By Charles Darwin, Esq., F.R.S., F.L.S.., & F.G.S., and Alfred Wallace, Esq. Communicated by Sir Charles Lyell, F.R.S., F.L.S., and J.D. Hooker, Esq., M.D., V.P.R.S., F.L.S., &c.

Go to the Linnean Society website for:

‘The reading of the Darwin and Wallace papers: an historical “non-event”‘ By J. W. T. MOODY, F.L.S., J. Soc. Biblphy nat. Hist. (1971) 5 (6): 474-476

About the Darwin-Wallace Paper

The Darwin-Wallace Paper (complete)

Happy reading!

Oh, the image above is Wallace’s copy of the published papers, with handwritten comments about On the Origin of Species on the right, taken on my visit to the Natural History Museum, London in November 2009:

1860. Feb.

After reading on Darwin’s admirable work “On the Origin of Species”, I find that there is absolute nothing here that is not in almost perfect agreement with that gentlemans facts & opinions.

His work however touches upon & explains in detail many points which I had scarcely thought upon, – as the laws of variation, correlation of growth, sexual selection, the origin of instincts & of neuter insects, & the true explanation of Embryological affinities. Many of his facts & explanations in geographical distribution are also quite new to me & of the highest interest.

AR Wallace [signed] … Amboina

Much more about Wallace’s annotated copy of this publication can be had in chapter 4 of Natural Selection and Beyond: The Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace, edited by Charles H. Smith and George Beccaloni.

Darwin/evolution issue of The American Biology Teacher

The February 2010 issue of The American Biology Teacher has much on Darwin and evolution:

From the President

Do You Believe in Evolution?

Guest Editorial, William F. McComas

Where is the “Origin” in the Origin of Species?

Experience Millions of Years, Larry Flammer

Here’s a relatively concrete activity to teach the large numbers representing evolutionary deep time.

Were Australopithecines Ape—Human Intermediates or Just Apes? A Test of Both Hypotheses Using the “Lucy” Skeleton, Phil Senter

Mainstream scientists often claim that australopithecines such as the specimen nicknamed “Lucy” exhibit anatomy intermediate between that of apes and that of humans and use this as evidence that humans evolved from australopithecines, which evolved from apes. On the other hand, creationists reject evolution and claim that australopithecines are “just apes.” Here, a point-by-point visual comparison with the skeletons of a chimpanzee, “Lucy,” and a human is presented in order to evaluate both claims, treating them as testable hypotheses. The results support the hypothesis that australopithecines are anatomically intermediate between apes and humans. Classroom applications of this test of hypotheses are also discussed.

Charles Darwin’s Botanical Investigations, Suzanne M. Harley

Charles Darwin’s botanical studies provide a way to expose students to his work that followed the publication of On the Origin of Species. We can use stories from his plant investigations to illustrate key concepts in the life sciences and model how questions are asked and answered in science.

Darwin’s “Imaginary Illustrations”: Creatively Teaching Evolutionary Concepts & the Nature of Science, Alan C. Love

An overlooked feature of Darwin’s work, is his use of “imaginary illustrations” to show that natural selection is competent to produce adaptive, evolutionary change. When set in the context of Darwin’s methodology, these thought experiments provide a novel way to teach natural selection and the nature of science.

Education’s Missing Link: How Private School Teachers Approach Evolution, Michael W. Schulteis

Over 5 million students and 28,000 schools are consistently marginalized or left out of statistics that describe evolution and science education. Although they are relatively few in number compared with their public school counterparts, the millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers in private schools need to be counted in research about teaching and learning in the biology classroom. Assumptions have been made about how teachers in these often religious schools teach evolution, but do we have verifiable data? Could teachers in these schools be similar to those in public schools in their teaching of evolution, or is there a silent undercurrent that has not been detected? It is the purpose of this study to reveal more about this underrepresented segment of the population of science teachers.

Florida Teachers’ Attitudes about Teaching Evolution, Samantha R. Fowler, Gerry G. Meisels

A survey of Florida teachers reveals many differences in comfort level with teaching evolution according to the state’s science teaching standards, general attitudes and beliefs about evolution, and the extent to which teachers are criticized, censured, disparaged, or reprehended for their beliefs about the teaching of evolution.

PopGen Fishbowl: A Free Online Simulation Model of Microevolutionary Processes, Thomas C. Jones, Thomas F. Laughlin

Natural selection and other components of evolutionary theory are known to be particularly challenging concepts for students to understand. To help illustrate these concepts, we developed a simulation model of microevolutionary processes. The model features all the components of Hardy-Weinberg theory, with population size, selection, gene flow, nonrandom mating, and mutation all being demonstrated in the simulations. By using this freely available computer model, students can develop and test hypotheses with replicated virtual experiments. Because the model is an agent-based simulation, there is biologically realistic variability in the results. Students using the model see results both numerically and graphically and these are reinforced by an animation of the virtual fish in the simulated experiment.

The Power of Natural Selection: A Guided Investigation of Three Case Studies, William Beachly

I describe a quantitative approach to three case studies in evolution that can be used to challenge college freshmen to explore the power of natural selection and ask questions that foster a deeper understanding of its operation and relevance. Hemochromatosis, the peppered moth, and hominid cranial capacity are investigated with a common algebraic formula that illustrates the application of mathematics in biology.

A Lesson on Evolution & Natural Selection, Anthony D. Curtis

I describe three activities that allow students to explore the ideas of evolution, natural selection, extinction, mass extinction, and rates of evolutionary change by engaging a simple model using paper, pens, chalk, and a chalkboard. As a culminating activity that supports expository writing in the sciences, the students write an essay on mass extinction. All activities are geared for high school biology and perhaps introductory college biology classes. With little modification, activities 1 and 2 can be used successfully in middle school and perhaps in the higher elementary grade levels.

Evolution & Phylogenetic Analysis: Classroom Activities for Investigating Molecular & Morphological Concepts, Wilfred A. Franklin

In a flexible multisession laboratory, students investigate concepts of phylogenetic analysis at both the molecular and the morphological level. Students finish by conducting their own analysis on a collection of skeletons representing the major phyla of vertebrates, a collection of primate skulls, or a collection of hominid skulls.

Journal: Darwin issue of ‘Comptes Rendus Biologies’

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

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

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

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

Gregory Radick, “Darwin’s puzzling Expression”

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

Bernard Thierry, “Darwin as a student of behavior”

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

Claudine Cohen, “Darwin on woman”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean Gayon, “Sexual selection: Another Darwinian process”

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

Jonathan Hodge, “The Darwin of pangenesis”

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

Jean Deutsch, “Darwin and barnacles”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARTICLE: Evidence for contemporary evolution during Darwin’s lifetime

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

“Evidence for contemporary evolution during Darwin’s lifetime”

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

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

Via Why Evolution Is True.

BBC: Gloucestershire biologists find hidden Darwin letter

BOOK REVIEW: Emma Townshend’s ‘Darwin’s Dogs’

Darwin's Dogs by Emma Townshend

Darwin's Dogs by Emma Townshend

Darwin’s Dogs: How Darwin’s pets helped form a world-changing theory of evolution. By Emma Townshend. London: Francis Lincoln Limited, 2009. 144 pp. Preface, illustrations, index, acknowledgements. $14.95 (paper).

In the Darwin anniversary year, more books were published about him than probably in all the years of my life preceding 2009. More biographies, and more treatments of his work. Some books seemed to jump on the Darwin wave by connecting a topic to Darwin because, that year, it just might sell. Surely there is Darwin fatigue in publishing. In a review of new additions of Darwin’s work that appeared in 2009, historian of science Jim Endersby asked whether there can be too much of a good thing, referring to the myriad of scholarly work on Darwin, sometimes called the Darwin Industry (1). It is a reasonable question, as one can easily think that since so much has been written about a historical figure, what can possibly be written about Darwin that is new? Or what refreshing approach can be taken in looking at his life and work?

While many books seem to reiterate the standard Darwin story, what I enjoy are those that consider an unexplored or neglected topic. Such is Darwin’s Dogs, a short exposition as to the influence that the many dogs in Darwin’s life, and the group of animals dogs in general, had on Darwin’s thinking. This short book – less than 150 pages – is very readable, and provides a concise overview of Darwin and his ideas while offering a fresh perspective on the story – that “Darwin’s dogs brought evolutionary theory right to the hearth rug of the Victorian home” (9), meaning that using dogs in his writings brought something familiar to his readers.

Essentially, Darwin’s proximity to various dogs – “some of the most important characters in the story of his thinking” (9) – throughout his life taught him several things:

1. That humanity should not feel insulted by its relationship to animal ancestors,

2. That animals have emotions, morals, self-consciousness, and language, too (that human distinctiveness is a myth),

3. About variation, inheritance, and artificial selection through the practice of dog breeding (Darwin’s reliance on “practical men”),

4. The proper treatment of animals (Darwin was an antivivisectionist),

5. The similarities in behavior between dogs and humans (The Descent of Man says a lot about dogs, Townshend notes).

While the book is fun and enjoyable, and made me think differently, I feel that the way the book is presented is a bit misleading. In the Preface, Townshend invites the reader “to a rather different account of the life of Darwin, this one told from the canine point of view” (11). The description on the back of the book states “from a uniquely canine perspective.” These statements reiterate one of the purposes of Darwin’s Dogs: the consideration of other actors, even non-humans, in the history of science. I immediately thought of Bruno Latour’s microbes in The Pasteurization of France, Michael Pollan’s plants in The Botany of Desire, and the various organisms in Endersby’s A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology (one reviewer wrote “Science is a collaborative process and by looking at the roles played by unwilling collaborators, from guinea pigs to zebrafish, Endersby provides a new perspective on the history of genetics” [2]). All these works suggest that non-human actors have agency, agendas of their own. It is not simply humans that drive history.

So, reading “from the canine point of view” and “from a uniquely canine perspective,” I expected an approach (especially since Endersby is acknowledged in the book) that was lacking in Darwin’s Dogs. The book remains a story about Darwin, from his perspective in how he used dogs in his thinking. It is not told through the eyes, minds, or lives of dogs. Their actions – how they fit into the story as useful – is dependent on what Darwin is doing. Darwin’s Dogs is indeed “a rather different account of the life of Darwin,” but it is not from the “point of view” of dogs.

Furthermore, given this book is written by someone in the history of science, I was disappointed in the lack of citations (no footnotes, no endnotes) except those for the quotes that open each of the five chapters, and the lack of a bibliography or sources section. Throughout the book Townshend utilizes direct quotes from Darwin’s letters, notebooks, and publications. Yet no citations for any of them. Why? Maybe because the publisher did not want it. If I were the author of a book about history, and a publisher said they did not want citations and sources, I would find another publisher. For someone like me, familiar with Darwin’s work, I know where to find the sources (Townshend thanks the Darwin Correspondence Project and John van Wyhe/Darwin Online for “their invaluable help and resources,” [144] but no URLs are given). For a reader unfamiliar with how to track down the sources, not having those materials provided misses the opportunity to explore further than the text of the book.

Those problems aside, Darwin’s Dogs is a surprisingly rewarding little book that would be a good introduction to Darwin’s ideas. If you like dogs, all the better. The many anecdotes are informative, while the book is seeded with canine artwork. Townshend has a website for the book, Darwin’s Dogs, where you can see a little animation included within the book’s pages:

Notes:

1. Jim Endersby, “Origins: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1822–1859 (Anniversary edition), edited by F. Burkhardt, and other works by Charles Darwin” [essay review], History of Science 47 (Dec. 2009): 475-84.

2. Nick Rennison, Sunday Times (from the publisher’s webpage for the book).

In the Light of Evolution

The proceedings of three National Academy of Sciences conferences on evolution are available as books (3-book set):

In the Light of Evolution I: Adaptation and Complex Design [view the TOC]

In December 2006, the National Academy of Sciences sponsored a colloquium (featured as part of the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquia series) on “Adaptation and Complex Design” to synthesize recent empirical findings and conceptual approaches towards understanding the evolutionary origins and maintenance of complex adaptations. Darwin’s elucidation of natural selection as a creative natural force was a monumental achievement in the history of science, but a century and a half later some religious believers still contend that biotic complexity registers conscious supernatural design. In this book, modern scientific perspectives are presented on the evolutionary origin and maintenance of complex phenotypes including various behaviors, anatomies, and physiologies. After an introduction by the editors and an opening historical and conceptual essay by Francisco Ayala, this book includes 14 papers presented by distinguished evolutionists at the colloquium. The papers are organized into sections covering epistemological approaches to the study of biocomplexity, a hierarchy of topics on biological complexity ranging from ontogeny to symbiosis, and case studies explaining how complex phenotypes are being dissected in terms of genetics and development.

In the Light of Evolution II: Biodiversity and Extinction [view the TOC]

The current extinction crisis is of human making, and any favorable resolution of that biodiversity crisis–among the most dire in the 4-billion-year history of the Earth–will have to be initiated by mankind. Little time remains for the public, corporations, and governments to awaken to the magnitude of what is at stake. This book aims to assist that critical educational mission, synthesizing recent scientific information and ideas about threats to biodiversity in the past, present, and projected future. This is the second volume from the In the Light of Evolution series, based on a series of Arthur M. Sackler colloquia, and designed to promote the evolutionary sciences. Each installment explores evolutionary perspectives on a particular biological topic that is scientifically intriguing but also has special relevance to contemporary societal issues or challenges. Individually and collectively, the ILE series aims to interpret phenomena in various areas of biology through the lens of evolution, address some of the most intellectually engaging as well as pragmatically important societal issues of our times, and foster a greater appreciation of evolutionary biology as a consolidating foundation for the life sciences.

In the Light of Evolution III: Two Centuries of Darwin [view the TOC]

Two Centuries of Darwin is the outgrowth of an Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences on January 16-17, 2009. In the chapters of this book, leading evolutionary biologists and science historians reflect upon and commemorate the Darwinian Revolution. They canvass modern research approaches and current scientific thought on each of the three main categories of selection (natural, artificial, and sexual) that Darwin addressed during his career. Although Darwin’s legacy is associated primarily with the illumination of natural selection in The Origin, he also contemplated and wrote extensively about what we now term artificial selection and sexual selection. In a concluding section of this book, several science historians comment on Darwin’s seminal contributions. Two Centuries of Darwin is the third book of the In the Light of Evolution series. Each installment in the series explores evolutionary perspectives on a particular biological topic that is scientifically intriguing but also has special relevance to contemporary societal issues or challenges. The ILE series aims to interpret phenomena in various areas of biology through the lens of evolution and address some of the most intellectually engaging, as well as pragmatically important societal issues of our times.

Darwin Round-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who can head the words of Charlie Darwin…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Coyne on “Why Evolution is True”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A conference at the Wedgwood Museum: “THE WEDGWOODS AND THE DARWINS – THE MARRIAGE OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY”

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

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

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

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.

Roy Davies’ “The Darwin Conspiracy” freely available as PDF

Roy Davies published The Darwin Conspiracy: The Evolution of a Scientific Crime in 2008. This book claims that Darwin stole his ideas from Alfred Russel Wallace, an idea that is not really new. James Lennox, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, responded to a piece by Davies in The Wall Street Journal:

Your page-one article “Alfred Russel Wallace’s Fans Gear Up for a Darwinian Struggle” (Dec. 20) fails to mention a couple of obvious problems for those who allege that Charles Darwin stole any of his key insights from Mr. Wallace.

First, those insights can be found in notebooks dating to 1838, and a preliminary draft of “On the Origin of Species” was completed in 1844, twelve years before Messrs. Darwin and Wallace began corresponding. Second, scholars who have carefully compared their joint publications of 1858 are struck by how very different the two theories are, given Mr. Darwin’s initial reaction to the essay Mr. Wallace sent him.

A good place to start, if one is serious about this topic, is an essay published in 1985 by Malcolm Jay Kottler “Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace: Two Decades of Debate Over Natural Selection.” Mr. Kottler points out that by Mr. Wallace’s own admission Mr. Darwin’s journal from the HMS Beagle, published in 1842, was a constant inspiration and may have led him to read Thomas Malthus’s “Essay on Population,” the work that gave Mr. Darwin a key to the puzzle of natural selection in 1838, and to Mr. Wallace, 20 years later.

Work such as this, rather than the allegations of a former BBC producer and a lawyer, will help interested readers understand the complicated relationship between these two great naturalists.

And John Wilkins, a philosopher of science, had this to say in his post “Darwin worship, and demonisation” on his blog Evolving Thoughts:

Mostly they report the old saw that Darwin “stole” from Wallace all his grand ideas that we now remember him from. In particular the article reports on Roy Davies, a former BBC producer of science documentaries, who has written a book titled The Darwin Conspiracy. Davies was kind enough to send me a copy of his book, and while I have not been able to check out all the sources due to my imminent move, I must comment on it now, as it has been a while.

First a word about historical writing. I’m not exactly a historian myself, although my book on species is historical in character. But I did do a history minor, and I am well aware that if any narrative is going to be turned to polemic ends, it is the historical narrative. Historians call it Whiggism when history is turned to do duty to convince someone that some outcome is inevitable, progressive and heroic. But when the opposite is asserted, that there is a conspiracy aimed at hiding the real heroes, well we need a name for that. I will call it Toryism to balance out.

Davies book is the very model of Toryism. From a bare possibility that Darwin refined some of his ideas upon reading Wallace’s letter in 1858, Davies, and his intellectual antecedents Arnold Brackman and Loren Eiseley (who replaces Wallace with Blyth), develop the notion that Darwin was not really all that original, and in fact there was a major under-the-table bit of prestidigitation to ensure that Darwin and not Wallace got the credit for the theory of evolution.

The book is replete with the sort of breathless language no historian would use injudiciously, like “scientific crime”, “one of the greatest crimes in the history of science” (what, up there with Nazi eugenics or the lobotomy fad?), and so on. He even says “I am convinced that Charles Darwin – British national hero, hailed as the greatest naturalist the world has ever known, the originator of one of the greatest ideas of the nineteenth century – lied, cheated and plagiarised in order to be recognised as the man who discovered the theory of evolution” (p162). And this raises flags of concern. The sources used are authentic, in particular Dov Ospovat’s excellent study on Darwin’s development, but since all scholars have used these same sources for decades now, how is it that it took a journalist and producer to identify the crime? The obvious answer is, it didn’t, and he hasn’t.

Davies interprets any kind of possibility as evidence that Darwin stole. From listing the famous Brackman argument of the supposed delay in the receipt of the letter from Wallace to Darwin being evidence that Darwin rewrote his earlier manuscripts, and Hooker and Lyell were in on the game, to suggestions that Darwin was not clear on the difference between species and varieties (did it escape Davies’ attention that Darwin never sorted that out?) anything that could indicate Wallace’s priority is taken as hard evidence it did. And that is not unlike the theist’s God of the Gaps – any place where God might act beneath the notice of science, is where He does. It’s equally bad argument in either case.

And the tragedy here is that it actually detracts from the importance of Wallace. There have been several recent biographies of Wallace, such as Peter Raby’s, that deal with his achievements, and he is in many ways more radical a thinker than Darwin. But trying to do this Toryist revisionism does nothing for him. Wallace himself never claimed the slightest credit – if anything he continued, long after Darwin died, to assert that he merely kicked Darwin along a bit.

Read all of Wilkins’ post here.

I point out these responses to the book because the book is now freely available [PDF]. From the book’s website:

The success of The Darwin Conspiracy – Origins of a Scientific Crime means that the publishers are now able to offer the entire book as a free download to anyone wishing to see how Darwin plagiarised the work of Alfred Russel Wallace.

That sounds odd – because of its success we will make the book free? Wouldn’t success lead a publisher to want to make more money from the book? The publisher, Golden Square Books, seems to have only published one book (to my knowledge), The Darwin Conspiracy. Paul Hannon, the publisher, even offers a 5-star review on Amazon (UK):

The London Natural History Society recently reviewed “The Darwin Conspiracy – Origins of a Scientific Crime” and described it as:

“A thorough, engaging, historically and academically grounded presentation of the mostly uncredited contributions made by some of the forgotten heroes of the theory of evolution”

“Davies argues that Darwin was driven by a personal quest for glory, to be credited as THE author of the theory of evolution, which led him to commit the `crime’ to which Davies refers in the title of this book: that of plagiarism through a failure to acknowledge the contributions of his contemporaries in his published works.”

Paul Hannon,
Publisher, Golden Square Books

Hannon also responds to a 1-star review:

This book contains detailed evidence backing up the claim that Darwin did not come up with the idea of evolution by himself but passed off the work of others as his own. If you have read the book, I respect your views on the content; but if you have not read it, then you have adopted the knee-jerk reaction of so many Darwin supporters, who refuse to look at the facts. The book contains the facts, whether you like them or not.
Paul Hannon, publisher, Golden Square Books

Seems weird that a publisher is offering praise and responding to critique on Amazon. I’ve never seen that before.

Video Evidence of My Time in Cambridge, England

Video courtesy of Richard Carter of The Red Notebook:

Artist Tolly Nasons cast glass sculpture installation ‘Seeing the Light: Finch by Finch’, which is based on the beaks of Darwins Galápagos finch specimens. Shot at the University of Cambridge Zoological Museum.

That’s me observing bone-observing in the background…

Cambridge Trip #5: Darwin Groupies Explore Cambridge

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Fairly close to the bed and breakfast I (and Richard) stayed at is Darwin College, named after the Darwin family (read the history here). Some pictures:

Darwin College, University of Cambridge

Darwin College, University of Cambridge

Darwin Bust, Darwin College, University of Cambridge

Darwin Bust, Darwin College, University of Cambridge

Then along King’s College and Clare College:

Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) in the River Cam, Kings College, University of Cambridge

Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) in the River Cam, King's College, University of Cambridge

Clare College and the River Cam, University of Cambridge

Clare College and the River Cam, University of Cambridge

When we came upon this next spot, we noted the big Darwin display in multiple windows:

Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Darwin Display, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Darwin Display, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Darwin Display, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Darwin Display, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Darwin Display, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Darwin Display, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

From the CUP Bookshop we made our way through a few streets to Boots the Chemist, a pharmacy. The site though is the location of Darwin’s lodgings in 1828 while an undergraduate at Christ’s College:

Site of Darwin Lodgings (1828), Boots the Chemist, Cambridge, England

Site of Darwin Lodgings (1828), Boots the Chemist, Cambridge, England

Site of Darwin Lodgings (1828), Boots the Chemist, Cambridge, England

Site of Darwin Lodgings (1828), Boots the Chemist, Cambridge, England

Michael at site of Darwin's 1828 lodgings (Photo by Richard Carter)

Michael at site of Darwin's 1828 lodgings (Photo by Richard Carter)

On elsewhere.

Mammoth, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

Mammoth, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

Iguanodon & Sloth (?), Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

Iguanodon & Sloth (?), Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

Darwin Window, Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge

Darwin Window, Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge

And now we were at another site of Darwin’s lodgings (post-Beagle, 1836-7), Fitzwilliam Street:

Fitzwilliam Street, Site of Darwin Lodgings (1836-37), Cambridge, England

Fitzwilliam Street, Site of Darwin Lodgings (1836-37), Cambridge, England

Fitzwilliam Street, Site of Darwin Lodgings (1836-37), Cambridge, England

Fitzwilliam Street, Site of Darwin Lodgings (1836-37), Cambridge, England

Fitzwilliam Street, Site of Darwin Lodgings (1836-37), Cambridge, England

Fitzwilliam Street, Site of Darwin Lodgings (1836-37), Cambridge, England

Nearby was The Fitzwilliam Museum, which has the art exhibit Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts. The museum was closed (as it was on Monday too!), so we did not get to see this exhibit. Some pictures from the outside:

The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

Endless Forms, Darwin Art Exhibit at The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

Endless Forms, Darwin Art Exhibit at The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

Endless Forms, Darwin Art Exhibit at The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

Endless Forms, Darwin Art Exhibit at The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

Some miscellaneous shots:

Tour Bus, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, England

Tour Bus, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, England

Outdoor Used Booksale, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, England

Outdoor Used Booksale, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, England

Other Darwin displays:

Darwin Display, The Shop At Kings, University of Cambridge

Darwin Display, The Shop At King's, University of Cambridge

Darwin Display at Heffers Bookstore, Cambridge, England

Darwin Display at Heffers Bookstore, Cambridge, England

We decided to get something to eat, and Richard wanted to treat my to my first pint of warm British ale (in actually, my first beer). What better place to do this than the Eagle Pub:

The Eagle Pub (Photo by Richard Carter)

The Eagle Pub (Photo by Richard Carter)

Enjoying Old Speckled Hen, the Eagle Pub, Cambridge, England (Photo by Richard Carter)

Enjoying Old Speckled Hen, the Eagle Pub, Cambridge, England (Photo by Richard Carter)

After fish & chips and some beer, we decided to head back toward the bed and breakfast. Some shots along the way:

Trinity Street, University of Cambridge

Trinity Street, University of Cambridge

Whewells Court, Trinity College, University of Cambridge

Whewells Court, Trinity College, University of Cambridge

Whewell is William Whewell (1794-1866), English polymath and coiner of “scientist.” He was connected with Trinity College.

Round Church, University of Cambridge

Round Church, University of Cambridge

Jesus Lane, University of Cambridge

Jesus Lane, University of Cambridge

Our Lady and the English Martyrs Church, Cambridge, England

Our Lady and the English Martyrs Church, Cambridge, England

Our Lady and the English Martyrs Church, Cambridge, England

Our Lady and the English Martyrs Church, Cambridge, England

Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

The Scott Polar Research Institute’s museum would have been on my list to see, but it is currently closed for renovations.

Coe Fen, Cambridge, England

Coe Fen, Cambridge, England

Plenty of walking for one evening. We needed rest for even more walking and museum-going on Monday.

You can view all the photos from my trip here, if you feel so inclined. Some of Richard’s Cambridge photos are here.

PREVIOUS: Cambridge Trip #4: Darwin in the Field Conference, Pt. 2Cambridge Trip #3: Darwin in the Field ConferenceCambridge Trip #2: Finding My WayCambridge Trip #1: Traveling

ARTICLE: “Capitalist Contexts for Darwinian Theory: Land, Finance, Industry and Empire”

A new article on Darwin (and Wallace) in the Journal of the History of Biology (online first):

M.J.S. Hodge, “Capitalist Contexts for Darwinian Theory: Land, Finance, Industry and Empire” Journal of the History of Biology (2009)

Jon Hodge, a historian of science, has recently co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Darwin (2nd. ed., 2009) with Gregory Radick, and authored Before and After Darwin (2008), and Darwin Studies (2009). Here is the abstract of the article:

When socio-economic contexts are sought for Darwin’s science, it is customary to turn to the Industrial Revolution. However, important issues about the long run of England’s capitalisms can only be recognised by taking a wider view than Industrial Revolution historiographies tend to engage. The role of land and finance capitalisms in the development of the empire is one such issue. If we historians of Darwin’s science allow ourselves a distinction between land and finance capitalisms on the one hand and industrial capitalism on the other; and if we ask with which side of this divide were Darwin and his theory of branching descent by natural selection aligned, then reflection on leading features of that theory, including its Malthusian elements, suggests that the answer is often and largely, though not exclusively: on the land side. The case of Wallace, socialist opponent of land capitalism, may not be as anomalous for this suggestion as one might at first think. Social and economic historians have reached no settled consensuses on the long-run of England’s capitalisms. We historians of Darwin’s science would do well to import some of these unsettled states of discussion into our own work over the years to come.

Special Issue of “The Linnean” on Darwin & Wallace

Special Issue No. 9 of The Linnean is devoted to Darwin and Wallace and the 150th anniversary of the joint discovery of natural selection. The issue is freely available online. Here are the contents:

Introduction and the “Joint Paper” 

Alfred Russel Wallace: a Welsh Entomologist! by Mike Claridge PPLS

The Two Wallaces Then and Now by Gareth Nelson FMLS 

What’s In a Word? On Reading – And Misreading – Alfred Russel Wallace by Charles H. Smith FLS

Wallace defends Darwin’s priority – 50 years on

The Beagle paintings of John Chancellor (1925-1984) by Gordon Chancellor

From the Origin of Species to the Origin of Civilization – A perspective from a corner of Kent by Lyulph Lubbock FLS

‘I thought I’d try the telephone’ – Darwin, his disciple, insects and earthworms by Randal Keynes FLS

Charles Darwin: Ghostbuster, Muse and Magistrate by Richard Milner FLS

Appendix: Lyrics of “Darwin Live and in Concert”

Quammen, Jones, and Judson on Darwin, on Quirks & Quarks

From Quirks & Quarks:

February 7, 2009

Download an MP3 of the entire program (22MB).


Happy Birthday Mr. Darwin


February 12 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, certainly the most important biologist in history and one of the great figures in science. Darwin, of course, spent his life developing the theory of evolution by natural selection, which has become the foundation for the understanding of biology. In the 1960’s evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky said that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” and that’s a statement with which few biologists would argue.

To honour Darwin’s birthday, we’re devoting our program to a discussion of the life and work of Charles Darwin, and to a discussion of his impact on modern science, with three special guests.

David Quammen is a well known naturalist and science writer, a contributing writer for National Geographic magazine, and a visiting professor at Montana State University. In his book, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: an Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution, he explores the fascinating story of Darwin’s quiet life as a scientific pioneer. 
Listen to or download the audio filemp3

Dr. Steve Jones is a professor of genetics and Head of the Department of Biology at University College London. His latest book is Darwin’s Island, The Galapagos in the Garden of England. While the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands are one of the most important icons of Darwin’s work, Dr. Jones argues that, in fact, his research on the wildlife of England – barnacles, plants, soil and and domestic animals – were at least as important in developing his ideas about evolution as his early exploration. 
Listen to or download the audio filemp3

Dr. Olivia Judson is an evolutionary biologist, a science writer, and a research fellow at Imperial College, London. Like most biologists she’s an ardent admirer of Darwin and his work, especially the way it transformed biology from a practice of description into a real predictive and experimental science. She says Darwin’s insights into the operations of the natural world raised questions that scientists are still exploring today, as they investigate the subtle mechanisms of natural selection through genetics. 
Listen to or download the audio filemp3

BBC: Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life

If you are in the UK, go watch this program with David Attenborough, which aired on the BBC earlier this evening, online now. You can also request a free Tree of Life poster, but only if you are in the UK. Wow, us Yankees can’t watch the program or get a neat poster for a child’s room… Bummer!

It seems many in the UK really should watch the program…

Richard did, and here is what he had to say…