Third Annual Portland Humanist Film Fest, October 26-28

Next weekend is the 2012 Portland Humanist Film Fest:

A Challenge To Religion, Alternative Medicine, And Other Superstitions At Local Film Festival


Sylvia Benner, Chair
Portland Humanist Film Festival

A Challenge To Religion, Alternative Medicine, And Other Superstitions At Local Film Festival

The Portland Humanist Film Festival focuses the camera lens on the harm caused by religious superstition and unproven medical treatments, and advocates for evidence-based thinking.

Portland, OR—October 15, 2012—The Portland Humanist Film Fest (PHFF) will put a strong focus on reason and critical thinking during the last weekend in October.

Now in its third year, the Festival will feature documentaries that directly challenge alternative medical practices, such as homeopathy, that enjoy great popularity in the Portland metro area, but are not supported by scientific evidence. These and other films will model skepticism, critical thinking, and an effort to understand what makes a believer believe.

Portland Humanist Film Fest, the largest freethought film festival on the West Coast, is presented by Center for Inquiry–Portland with major support from the Humanists of Greater Portland. Throughout the weekend, audiences will have the opportunity to watch engaging films and learn about the growing cultural importance of secular humanist thought.

Highlights of this year’s PHFF include:

  • Kumaré – The true story a false prophet. Film Maker Vikram Gandhi impersonates spiritual leader Kumaré and gathers disciples in the United States. In the process, he forges profound connections with people from all walks of life and is forced to confront difficult questions about his own identity. At the height of his popularity, Kumaré unveils his true identity to a core group of disciples who are knee-deep in personal transformation. Kumaré, at once playful and profound, is an insightful look at faith and belief. Film Maker Vikram Gandhi was recently interviewed on the Colbert Report.1
  • Let’s Talk About Sex takes a closer look at American attitudes about sex. It was partially filmed in Portland and other Oregon locations. The film compares approaches to sex education in the US and Netherlands, and highlights solutions that lead to better health outcomes. Producer Neal Weisman will attend the Festival and is available for media interviews by contacting or            503.877.2347      . Information about the film can be found at
  • In God We Teach, a documentary film that follows the “separation of church and state” controversy played out in a very public feud between high school student Matthew LaClair and his history teacher in Kearny, NJ. Information at Director Vic Losick will be in Portland for the film festival weekend and is available for interviews.  He can be contacted BY phone at            212.580.3366       or by e-mail at
  • 12 Angry Men. The 1957 film classic starring Henry Fonda, which remains one the best demonstrations of practical skepticism in movie history.
  • Flatland 1 and Flatland 2, a charming animated exploration of mathematical concepts in an engaging story about a girl named Hex, who dares to think outside the box, based on the 19th century classic novel by Edwin Abbot.
  • Contagion, Chocolat, The Dish and other major studio films addressing themes of science, reason, and humanism.

Why host a Humanist Film Festival in Portland? According to several recent surveys, the Pacific Northwest is one of the least-religious regions of the nation. A Pew Forum report released October 9, 2012, confirms that atheists and the religiously unaffiliated make up a rapidly increasing segment of the population.2 CFI–Portland is at the forefront of this expanding movement. (For an in-depth look at the Pew report and the population it reveals, watch the upcoming PBS Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly series, “None of the Above: The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated” Sundays at 4:00 p.m. on OPB.)

Dates:  October 26-28, 2012
Times:  Friday: 5:00–11:00 pm; Saturday 2:00–10:30 pm; Sunday 2:00–10:00 pm (times approximate)
Location:  Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209
Admission:  $28 weekend passes; $8 or $13 one-day passes. $ 5 off for early ticket purchase. 

More information at


2 “’Nones’ on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” Pew Research Center, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, October, 9, 2012                                                                        

Center for Inquiry–Portland is a community of secular humanists working to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. More information can be found at or

Humanists of Greater Portland is a nonprofit organization and recipient of the 2008 American Humanist Association Chapter of the Year award. HGP welcomes you. Visit

NFA Conference brings Richard Dawkins to the Pacific Northwest

Richard Dawkins will be the closing keynote speaker at the Northwest Free-thought Alliance conference, March 30-April 2 in Renton, WA (see the schedule and register here). I am not able to attend, but I did last year when it was in Portland. If you are not going to attend the conference, there will be another opportunity to see Dawkins speak, at Newport High School in Bellevue, WA on April 1, details here.

If you go, have fun, and learn something new!

Humanist Perspectives: Connecting Children to Nature

I did a guest post for the blog of the Foundation Beyond Belief, which I copy here:

Humanist Perspectives: Connecting Children to Nature

This post is part of our Humanist Perspectives series. In this series, we invite guest contributors to explore active humanism and what it means to be a thoughtful, engaged member of society. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

by Michael D. Barton

I have many favorite quotes about children and nature, but here are two very simple yet insightful ones:

What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren? – Robert Michael Pyle, author


How can we expect [children] to really care about their natural environment if they’ve never had an experience in it? – Martin LeBlanc, Sierra Club

Taking your child or children on an afternoon trip to the zoo is a great thing to do, but what does that matter if a child is not connected in some way to the animals that live near their home? Why should we care to learn about pandas and cheetahs and polar bears if we haven’t learned about salmon and owls and dragonflies? My five-year-old son is a member of a generation that will face serious issues regarding the environment. As his father, I strive to raise him to be a scientifically literate and environmentally conscious adult. While I am not a homeschooling parent and my son will be going to public school, there are two aspects of education I feel fall into my hands: teaching about evolution and raising an outdoor kid.

Parents are first and foremost the responsible party when it comes to getting children away from television, computers, and digital devices and into nature. While environmental education is increasingly being recognized in schools and other educational avenues, it is not enough. Education begins in the home and with family. Here in Portland, Oregon, the outdoor education program for Multnomah County sixth graders has been cut from a full week outdoors to just a few days. There will always be funding issues with schools and education, and extra programs are the first to go (except football, of course). While many schools do participate in environmental education (field trips, school gardens, etc.), teachers are overworked. That is why I find it a parental duty to share nature experiences with my child. We’re not backpackers nor experienced campers — we simply leave the house a few times a week and head to local nature parks or nearby trails and participate in nature programming at museums and libraries. There is not a lot of effort involved (unless you live somewhere with less-than-ideal weather). I find myself having had a better day than if I had not gone outside.

Since I do not consider nature in any way the creation of a supernatural deity, for me bringing evolution into our experiences makes them more personal. We’re part of the natural world along with every creature great and small, plant, rock, wave, and breeze. As Alan Watts put it: “You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” We must care for our planet not just for ourselves to remain, but for all of our extended family.

The National Center for Science Education is not going anywhere. Creationist attacks on public education are not going to disappear in the foreseeable future. And now the NCSE has had to branch into protecting climate change education as well. I, as a parent, need to do my best to expose my son to these important ideas in science, not as an expert, but as a fellow learner. We have plenty of Darwin and evolution books geared toward children on our shelves (too many, my wife probably thinks). While my son learns, I learn, too. He is going to teach me things. What he is going to teach me is not just the neat stuff about the natural world, like different bird species for example. He is going to teach me that immersing oneself in nature has a deeper meaning. To feel that we are a part of nature is crucial in thinking about how we want to treat this planet. This is where evolution comes in strong. It is no surprise that some creation-minded folks also discredit the idea that humans have had an effect on the climate of this planet. Certainly understandable if one views themselves as above nature and given dominion over it. But my son is not going to be taught that he belongs to some group of humans created by some god (he will of course learn about religions). He will learn what we can know for sure about our world and our place in it. He will learn about evolution and how humans are not the epitomy of creation but just one (and yes we are unique, but so are all other organisms) animal in the tree of life. This is not indoctrinating a young mind, as some might suggest. Rather, it is teaching a young mind about his place in a world that could get along just fine without him. Earth is not ours for the taking, but ours for the caring.

I’m fond of a snippet from an 2009 article in Forbes by Kathryn Tabb, “The Debate Over Intelligent Design”:

But what would this ghost [Darwin], who would find the separation of church and state unthinkably radical, have to say about the legal battles over evolution being waged across America? An indifferent student, Darwin preferred the outdoors to the schoolhouse and once confessed, ‘Observing, thinking & some reading beat, in my opinion, all systematic education.’ My guess is that Darwin would urge the children … to take advantage of all the mayhem to sneak out while the adults aren’t looking — and, equipped with magnifying glasses and notebooks, take to nature and draw their own conclusions.

Take to nature, indeed.

I encourage you to look into the Children & Nature Network, a nonprofit organization that promotes connecting children to the outdoors (its founder is Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder), and the blog writings of paleontologist and science educator Scott Sampson, which describe his vision of an evolutionary worldview.

2011 Portland Humanist Film Festival

This coming weekend November 11-13 is the 2nd annual Portland Humanist Film Festival. I was not able to attend any of the films last year, but I will this year, and I am volunteering on Saturday evening to sell passes. This will be a great opportunity to not only see some interesting films concerned with science, reason, humanism, and religion, but to converse with like-minded folk:

Portland, OR—October 25, 2011—This Veterans Day weekend, November 11-13, Portland, Oregon, one of the most secular cities in the nation, will host the 2nd annual Portland Humanist Film Festival, featuring 17 films with themes of interest to secular humanists, including science, critical thinking, atheism, freethought, separation of church and state, human rights, civil liberties, and others. This three day event is the largest freethought film festival on the West Coast and is presented by Center for Inquiry–Portland with major support from the Humanists of Greater Portland.

Previews of the films:

And here is the schedule and admission info:

5:00 The Nature of Existence
7:00 The Invention of Lying
9:00 Monty Python’s Life of Brian Prizes for best (“worst” ) LoB costumes

SATURDAY 11/12/11
2:00 8: The Mormon Proposition
3:30 Here Be Dragons*
5:00 D.M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker*
6:00 Waiting for Armageddon
7:30 “Who Are The Doubters Anyway?” Featured Speaker: Tom Flynn Exec. Dir. Council for Secular Humanism
8:55 Agora

SUNDAY 11/13/11
2:00 Waking Life
4:00 Humanism: Making Bigger Circles (Dr. Isaac Asimov)
5:00 The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today
6:00 Separation of Church And State Featured Speaker: Bruce Adams Pres. Columbia Chapter Americans United
7:00 Independent Film Awards – The Fairy Scientist* Science is a Vaccine* The Species Problem* Patrick’s Story* . . . talk with film producers!
8:30 The Ledge

Admission: $5 Fri, $10 Sat, $10 Sun, or $20 for Fri-Sun weekend pass.* Films are independent film winners.
Sponsored by Center for Inquiry-Portland •
Contributor Humanists of Greater Portland •

If you are in Portland, I hope to see you there!

PBS vs. NASA: Thoughts on popular science education at a local museum

I love living in Portland, Oregon. Great nature parks. Great libraries. Great museums.

One such museum is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), and they always have something interesting going on. Back in April, I was able to take my son to see the Kratt Brothers. They were discussing their new children’s program on PBS Kids, Wild Kratts. Many of my readers might know them from their earlier programs, Kratt’s Creatures and Zoboomafoo. I loved these shows when I was young, and my son now enjoys watching clips and episodes of Wild Kratts on the PBS website (we do not own a television). Each episode starts out with Chris and Martin Kratt discussing a specific animal, sometimes on location. Then they morph into their animated forms and fun and adventure ensues as we learn about adaptations while the Kratts foil the plans of various villains who want to exploit the animals. Oh, and they don creature power suits.

For an event that required parents to sign up for free, but limited, tickets through the OMSI website, I expected that we would get to meet the Kratt Brothers. Their presentation for a room full of kids was about thirty minutes, and they had a question and answer session as well.

Kratt Brothers at OMSI

Kratt Brothers at OMSI

Patrick seemingly entranced by TV characters talking about animals:

Kratt Brothers at OMSI

But did we get to meet them, take our kid’s picture with them? Nope. After the presentation, they darted out the side door of the auditorium so fast that my son was unable to give them a small piece of octopus art he had made for them. And tears gushed. (I passed off the art to an OMSI employee I knew and asked her to make sure they get it). It was a fun event, and I support PBS and most of their children’s programming (Wild Kratts and Dinosaur Train can’t be beat for educational shows). The event, however, felt very controlled, and it lacked a sense of personal connection.

The auditorium was full for the Kratt Brothers, children’s television celebrities. Some parents were even complaining on the museum’s Facebook page that they were unable to get tickets, or heard about it too late.

In July, Patrick and I went to OMSI for two more events. Earlier in the month, we headed over to the planetarium early on a Saturday morning to witness the the very last launch of the Space Shuttle: Atlantis (STS-135). The planetarium usually shows the launches of the shuttles, but this was the LAST! We had to go. We sat in the planetarium, groggy but excited, watching NASA television for an hour-and-a-half until the countdown.

Last Space Shuttle launch at OMSI

It was a great moment for me, because the three-decade history of the Space Shuttle program matches my three decades of life; and great for Patrick because he loves all things science and it’s something I wouldn’t want my son to miss.

Last Space Shuttle launch at OMSI

We applauded during that final liftoff, while some of the other folks in the crowd teared up. How many people were there in the planetarium? I’d say about 40 (mostly adults), and that includes news teams who were there to film it (you can see Patrick and I for a brief moment here). That number does not begin to fill up the planetarium.

Two weeks later, we were fortunate enough to go to OMSI again to see a presentation by “OMSI Kid” and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt (he is from Camas, Washington – just over the Columbia River from Portland – and his mother volunteered for OMSI). Barratt flew on the third to last shuttle mission, aboard Discovery (STS-133) as mission specialist.

Barratt spoke of that last Discovery mission, the future of NASA’s space exploration, and the history of the name Discovery for ships of exploration (sea-going and space). He included a question and answer session, and gifted to OMSI an “I am OMSI” shirt he wore while on the International Space Station in 2009.

Before the presentation as people were entering the auditorium, Barratt posed for pictures and gave his signature. After the presentation, he did a formal photo op and signed NASA photographs.

Astronomy Day at OMSI: Astronaut Michael Barratt

Two things struck me about the Space Shuttle and astronaut events. Neither had filled up the planetarium. More people had come out to Barratt’s presentation than the final launch of Atlantis, but still tickets did not run out like they did for the Kratt Brothers. And while Patrick could not keep his eyes off of the Kratt Brothers, he was difficult to keep his attention in Barratt’s presentation. That is not to say he wasn’t excited to meet an astronaut! But there’s an obvious difference between them. Barratt is not a television celebrity, and children haven’t viewed him at a particular time every morning. I am not trying to diminish the Kratt Brothers here; I’d rather my son watch their show and talk about them then what shows on any other channel. I just think Barratt should have more exposure, and it would have been great to see his event overflowing. While I’m sure there’s more to the turn outs and dymanics of each event, the greatest factor is that one is television-based and the other is not.

Astronomy Day at OMSI: Astronaut Michael Barratt

What did Patrick have to show off seeing the Kratt Brothers? A sticker. Barratt? A signed photograph and a picture with him. Which do you think will have a more lasting impression on a curious young mind?

Photos: Michael Shermer in Portland

Michael Shermer was at Powell’s City of Books last night to talk about his new book, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths:

Michael Shermer at Powell's

Then folks – mostly with the Center for Inquiry Portland – headed down the block to McMenimans Ringlers Annex for some drinks and conversation. Here’s me with Shermer:

Michael Shermer at Powell's

And the crowd:

Michael Shermer at Powell's

It was a great evening… and now I have a signed copy of In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History.

2011 Antievolution Legislation Scorecard

Just a few months into 2011 are there has been much anti-science legislation in the U.S. The National Center for Science Education has a scorecard summarizing the where and what of it:

This has been a busy year for creationists. Since January, anti-science legislators in seven states have proposed nine bills attacking evolution and evolution education. Many are so-called “academic freedom” bills, like Tennessee’s HB 368, which allows teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.” (For general background on academic freedom acts, go here.

But that’s not all. Some of these bills also target such “controversial” theories as global warming, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning.

Given all the proposed legislation flying to and fro, we thought a short guide to proposed anti-evolution bills in 2011 would be helpful.

House Bill 368 (HB 368)
Aim: “teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories”…including evolution, global warming, the chemical origin of life, and human cloning.
Status: Passed in the House, 4/7/2011. Senate version being debated.

Senate Bill 893 (SB 893)
Aim: Identical to HB 368.
Status: In Senate Education Committee

“Tennessee antievolution bill passes the House”

SB 1854
Aim: requires a “thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution” in the state’s public schools.
Status: In committee

“Reactions to the antievolution bill in Florida”

HB 2454
Aim: “An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member’s or student’s conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.”
Status: In committee

“Intelligent design legislation in Texas”

HB 195
Aim: “teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.” Almost identical to last year’s HB 1165.
Status: Not assigned to committee

“Antievolution legislation in Missouri”

HB 169
Aim: would have allowed teachers to “use…instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”
Status: Died in committee

“Antievolution bill dies in Kentucky”

SB 554
Aim: A classic academic freedom bill that also provides that “No teacher shall be reassigned, terminated, disciplined or otherwise discriminated against for providing scientific information being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula.”
Status: Died in committee

“Antievolution bill apparently dies in Oklahoma Senate”

HB 1551
Aim: allows teachers to help “students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” Topics specifically mentioned: “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
Status: Died in committee

“Antievolution bill loses in committee in Oklahoma”

New Mexico
HB 302
Aim: Teachers must inform students about “relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses”. The bill would protect teachers from “reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so.”
Status: Died in committee

“Antievolution legislation in New Mexico”

CONTACT: Robert Luhn, Director of Communications, NCSE, 510-601-7203,

Web site:

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit, membership organization that defends and promotes the teaching of evolution in the public schools. The NCSE provZides information and resources to schools, parents, and concerned citizens working to keep evolution in public school science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific, educational, and legal aspects of the creation and evolution controversy, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels. Our 4000 members are scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious affiliations.

Webinar on History of Science, April 1st


On 1 April at noon EDT, the AAAS is sponsoring a webinar, “Through History’s
Lens: How history contributes to a better understanding of science” that is
free but requires registration to view the event. From the announcement: “A
panel of historians and scientists will give examples of how history has
helped our human understanding of the natural world. The hour will include a
unique opportunity to see important historical scientific artifacts from
Harvard’s Putnam Gallery and the NIH’s Stetten Museum. The panel will also
discuss what science is learning now that could shape the future.”

For more information and to register, see

(or use

The participants are Gary Borisy, Ph.D. (Director and CEO of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA), Jed Z. Buchwald, Ph.D (Doris and Henry Dreyfuss Professor of History at Caltech , Pasadena, CA), and Jane Maienschein, Ph.D (Director of the Center for Biology and Society, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ). The moderator is Manfred D. Laubichler, Ph.D. (Professor of Theoretical Biology and History of Biology, School of Life Sciences and Center for Biology and Society). You can submit questions if you register.

Sir Charles?

“… but Wren and Sloane owed the honour to their public work rather than to their eminence in science. England was slow to reward scientific achievement by this distinction and I believe that Davy, in the early years of the nineteenth century, was the next to receive royal recognition; and even during that century such physicists as Faraday and Maxwell, and such a biologist as Darwin, were not knighted.”

– Louis Tenchard More, Isaac Newton: A Biography (1935)

A few days ago Rebekah Higgitt (@beckyfh, Whewell’s Ghost) tweeted:

Came across this yahoo Q&A on Darwin & lack of knighthood. That this wrong answer ‘resolves’ Q is dispiriting #histsci

Here is the question and the various answers:

Question (Nick.391): How come Charles Robert Darwin never received a knighthood?

Answer 1 (Will): You must remember that Queen Victoria was not only the head of state, she was also the head of the Church of England. As Darwin’s theories were denounced by leading churchmen, it would have been virtually impossible for the Queen to have honoured him. He was simply too controversial at the time.

Answer 2 (Michael B): It was not common in the 19thC to knight men outside the service of the Crown. Soldiers and sailors who had done well and politicians or civil servants were knighted or even ennobled; the fashion for ladling out honours to entertainers, academics and sportsmen is comparatively recent. Controversy had nothing to do with it. Some of the political and military figures who were promoted to a K or even a peerage were, in their way, just as controversial. Simply, academics and scientists did not expect, and did not get, that type of recognition.

Answer 3 (NC): Church of England made sure of that. Many of its notable members (both clergymen and laymen) were openly hostile to Darwin.

Noted by the asker as the “Best Answer” is… #1, and he also commented “Great answer, thanks. Michael B [no, this is not me!] must be on drugs or something because none of that is even accurate” (referring to the second answer). So, the favored answer is that science versus religion tensions kept Darwin from receiving a knighthood, while the possibility of a more nuanced explanation is not possible because such a suggestion could come only from someone whose mind is not properly functioning. Dispiriting, indeed! (I’ll note that another Yahoo Q&A asks the same question, with the answer: “When deciding on who to knight not only must the nominee have done something notable but “usually” must also have a character that does not upset the status quo of the country or upset the citizens in general. Charles Darwin was such a controversial figure that there was “no way” that the monarch of the time could even have considered him for a knighthood.”)

Becky’s tweet started a short exchange between her, myself, Ian Hesketh (@ianhesketh, author of Of Apes and Ancestors: Evolution, Christianity, and the Oxford Debate, and Greg Good (@HistoryPhysics).

@darwinsbulldog – Interesting, any resources abt this? Seeing online that Wilberforce stepped in & stopped a proposal in ’59, don’t know if factual

@ianhesketh – Desmond and Moore (1991: 488) have a brief paragraph about this but cite a secondary source: Bunting (1974)

@ianhesketh – Desmond and Moore go on to say that they could not themselves locate Bunting’s sources (and he is now deceased).

@darwinsbulldog – So, Palmerstone suggests CD for knighthood, Wilberforce steps in and he doesn’t get it… Nothing in Browne’s biography

@beckyfh – Think Wilberforce thing a myth. Myth that establishment against CD. Wrong that people like him got knighthoods.

@beckyfh – Unless CD was sitting on govt advisory boards etc (like Brewster, Airy or Kelvin) honours wd be very unlikely.

@ianhesketh – Interesting! I also doubt the story about Wilberforce’s intervention given that no one can find Bunting’s sources

@beckyfh – I think all 19thc men of science with knighthoods get them for direct public work, not their science per se.

@HistoryPhysics – What is the primary record for reasons for knighthood? Personal corr? Prime Minister papers?

@beckyfh – Citations for honours are a matter of public record, I think, but also in newspapers etc.

@beckyfh – Eg Brunel: “For *public* services in the profession of Civil Engineering”, naming dockyard work

@darwinsbulldog – Was not Joseph Dalton Hooker, Lyell, and John Lubbock also knighted? Gov’t service? Def. for Hooker…

@beckyfh – Hooker govt employee, Lubbock MP & Uni VC, Lyell lawyer, prof & employed on geological survey.

@beckyfh – Obv doesn’t mean their status in scientific world irrelevant, bt I thnk explains the Darwin case

@ianhesketh – This subject (scientists and knighthood) would make for a great article (clearly it’s needed)!

@darwinsbulldog – So how do you explain McCartney and Elton John? What’s the criteria there?

@beckyfh – The criteria changed in 20thc! Scientific & creative work now rewarded

Let’s take a look at what Adrian Desmond and James Moore wrote, in Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (1992):

This Anglican censure had more personal repercussions. Darwin may even have lost a knighthood. Lord Palmerston, the incoming Liberal Prime Minister in June 1859, had apparently mooted Darwin’s name to Queen Victoria as a candidate for the Honours List. Prince Albert concurred; he was a friend of science, a friend of Owen’s, President of the British Association in September 1859, where Lyell had spoken of Darwin’s forthcoming work, and he had seen Sir Charles similarly honoured. Darwin would have been delighted and astonished. But then came the Origin. The Queen’s ecclesiastical advisers, including the Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce, scotched it. The honour would imply approval, and Palmerston’ request was turned down. (488)

As Hesketh noted, Desmond and Moore cite the short 1974 biography of Darwin by James Bunting:

Bunting, Charles Darwin, 88-89, based on evidence apparently found while researching Parliamentary history. The sources have not been located and the author is deceased.

So, we have two ways of looking at a little bit of history. For one, the historical documents purporting to show that indeed Darwin’s lack of a knighthood was due to religious criticism of his work on evolution are lacking. For the other, as Becky has nicely shown, there is good reason to suggest that Darwin did not receive a knighthood (was he even really suggested for one by Palmerston?) because he did not carry out work in service of the British government, as was the case for many of the scientists who did receive royal honours. For now, I will go with the latter. But one’s willingness to go with Wilberforce on this one is perhaps to insist on there having been an absolute science versus religion conflict in nineteenth-century Britain (the conflict thesis, or warfare thesis). Surely there were those who perceived it as such (Tyndall, for example), and classic books devoted to it (John W. Draper’s 1881 History of the Conflict between Religion and Science and Andrew Dickson White’s 1896 History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom), but we must understand this time as one of not a simple dichtomoy of views but of plenty of in-betweens (such as Charles Kingsley). Moore addressed this in The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900 (1979). He dispelled the notion that religion was strictly separated from science in the nineteenth century. He notes that, although not the best way to describe what was actually going on in nineteenth-century exchanges between science and religion, the military metaphor of “conflict” or “warfare” was a common trope within the post-Darwinian controversies and that “testifies to its symbolic importance” (13).

Just as the Oxford debate between Wilberforce and Thomas Henry Huxley has been demythologized, by Hesketh and Gould (and Brian Switek, too!), it seems – pending some graduate student tasking him or herself with finding the documents Bunting says are there and doing a deeper analysis of this moment – that Desmond and Moore, although acknowledging the sketchy documentation, like to tell a good story. What sounds more exciting: Darwin not a public servant, or evolution-hating Wilberforce knighthood-blocking Darwin?

Joseph Dalton Hooker, one of Darwin’s supporters and botanist to the British government, did receive several honours. In his case, however, he did not really care to receive them. When in 1869 Lyell and Murchison urged the Duke of Argyll to suggest Hooker for recognition of his service in India, Hooker’s response to Darwin was:

I do not think there is the least chance of my getting the offer of it. The K.C.S.I. is so rare an honour that I might well be proud to have it, for my Indian services; but I really do not desire Knighthood, and would infinitely rather be plain
Dr. Hooker with C.B. to testify to my having done my duty as well as others who have that certificate. So if it comes I shall be proud of it; if not, I shall be as well content. Please say nothing about it. The fact is the Duke might do it with a stroke of the pen, but he don’t like my Darwinism and my Address and I am right proud of that! [emphasis mine]

Thoughts on Science Online 2011

This past weekend I attended the 5th annual Science Online conference in North Carolina (I have wanted to go for several years now but was unable, however this time I received some travel money, thanks to Bora & Anton!).

Somewhere over Texas

Somewhere over Texas on my way to North Carolina

[From the website: Read the posts and tweets, see the photos and watch the videos uploaded by our participants, hashtag #scio11]


Opening reception on Thursday night (Photo credit: Louis Shackleton)

Bora, the BlogFather

I certainly felt welcomed, Bora!

For this “unconference” about communicating science on the internet, I participating in a session on the history of science with Greg Gbur, Eric Michael Johnson, Holly Tucker, and Randi Hutter Epstein. Greg, a physicist who blogs at Skulls in the Stars (@drskyskull), discussed ways in which the history of science can help scientists in their own research, while Eric Michael Johnson, a history of science PhD (Primate Diaries in Exile, @ericmjohnson) gave a quick plea for bridging the sciences and humanities. Holly (Scientia Curiosa, Wonders and Marvels, @history_geek) and Randi (website, @rhutterepstein) both discussed, essentially, the idea of presentism in history of medicine as it related to each of their books, Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution (which all attendees received in their swagbag!) and Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank. John McKay wanted to be part of this session, but was unable – he was there in spirit.

Listening to Darwin's Bulldog!!!

Me in the history of science session (Photo credit: Stacy Baker)

For my part, I discussed the creationist tactic of quote-mining Darwin, gave some examples, and called for science writers to be weary of using quotes – know thy source and know thy context in which the quotee was writing. Here are my slides:

I will put up another post with the tweets about the history of science session (future link) [EDIT: click here to see a messy Word document with those tweets]. Unfortunately, my laptop got sick and since I do not own a smartphone, I was unable to be online (kind of ironic given the nature of the conference).

The best part of this conference, first and foremost for me, was the opportunity to meet in person many people whose blogs I have read for several years, chatted with, shared information online, friends on Facebook, followers on Facebook, etc. Putting IRL personalities and faces to online personas and avatars is interesting, and it felt weird being recognized and approached by people whom I have never shared physical space with before. It was a pleasure to meet, in no particular order: Brian Switek, Carl Zimmer, David Dobbs, Ed Yong, Tom Levenson (again),  Hannah Waters, Krystal D’Costa, Stacy Baker and her biology students, Kevin Zelnio, Glendon Mellow, Louis Shackleton, Karen James (again), Miriam Goldstein, Jason Goldman, Minjae Ormes, Alice Bell, Carin Bondar, Carl Boettiger, Lucas Brouwers, John Hawks, Anne Jefferson, Blake Stacey, Sheril Kirshenbaum, David Orr, Joshua Rosenau, Janet Stemwedel, scicurious, Christie Wilcox, Jeremy Yoder, and Danielle Lee; and to meet some new faces: Lisa Gardiner, Kate Clancy, Holly Menninger, Brian Krueger, Brian Malow, Emily Willingham, Alexandra Levitt, and Stephanie Zvan.

Michael and SkySkull

With Skyskull (Photo credit: Greg Gbur/Skyskull)

Other sessions I attended were: Technology and the Wilderness (technology, i.e. smartphone apps, should be an accessory to nature experiences and education, not a replacement; #techwild, wiki); Still Waiting for a Superhero – Science Education Needs YOU! (an opportunity to hear from Stacy Baker’s biology students); Parenting with Science Online (Carin Bondar will have resources up on the wiki soon); Science-Art: The Burgeoning Fields of Niche Artwork Aimed at Scientific Disciplines (wiki); “But It’s Just a Blog!” (science blogging newbies get advice); Blogging on the Career Path (be upfront about your blogging activities when seeking employment); Keepers of the Bullshit Filter (tell people when they are wrong, publicly; use MediaBug to report errors in the media); Communicating Science: Have You Ever Wondered, “What the Hell’s the Point?” (Science Cheerleader Darlene Cavalier spreading some sciencey cheer); and Defending Science Online: Tactics and Conflicts in Science Communication (are online methods of correcting disinformation effective?).

Defending Science Online: Tactics and Conflicts in Science Communication

Looking on as Josh Rosenau discusses attacks on evolution education

Robert Krulwich, NPR science correspondent and co-host of Radio Lab was the keynote speaker, and he shared his experiences turning scientific topics into stories for the public (the key: use words/language not for scientists but for everyday people).

Robert Krulwich

Robert Krulwich (of NPR and Radio Lab) was the keynote speaker

All I can say is, he had the room’s attention. He also shared this video, which is astonishing:

Kevin Zelnio sings “Wayfaring Mollusk” during the open mic session:

And Christie Wilcox does her rendition off Meridith Brooks’ “Bitch,” “Extinction’s a Bitch” (lyrics/audio):

Christie singing about evolution

itʼs not easy to survive / but at least youʼre still alive / and thatʼs way more than a trilobite can say!

Some other pictures:

Restaurant at Marriott, fitting for Science Online

Restaurant at Marriott, fitting for Science Online

Science Online 2011 logo

Science Online 2011 logo

Brian Switek reads from Written in Stone

Brian Switek reads from his Written in Stone

Technology in the Wilderness session: Karen James

Technology in the Wilderness session: Karen James of The HMS Beagle Project

Miss Baker's biology class at Science Online 2011

Miss Baker's biology class

Parenting Science session: Eric Michael Johnson

Parenting Science session: Eric Michael Johnson

Science & Art session: David Orr, Glendon Mellow, and John Hawks

Science & Art session: David Orr, Glendon Mellow, and John Hawks

Lisa Gardiner enjoys a science cookie

Lisa Gardiner ( enjoys a science cookie

Science books

Science books

Science Cheerleader

Science Cheerleader

Science education

Science education

Defending Science Online session: Josh Rosenau of NCSE

Defending Science Online session: Josh Rosenau of NCSE

Science Online attendees on way to airport

Science Online attendees on way to airport

Miss Baker at the airport

Miss Baker at the airport (a highlight of Science Online was Stacy coming up to me in the hotel and saying she uses my blog in her biology class!)

Sunset from plane in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina

Sunset from plane in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina

And what about the tour of the Duke Lemur Center? I’ll share those photos in another post… [EDIT: Photos here]

A little science education for you…

Pacific Science Center, Seattle, WA

Patrick and a curved mirror at the Pacific Science Center, Seattle

American Scientist: The 95 Percent Solution

Physics Today: The evolution of science museums

ASTC News: Rethinking the role of science centers in society

Patrick at the Audubon Society of Portland's bird sanctuary in Forest Park, Portland

NSTA Blog: Experience being outdoors in nature—how much do we need?

NSTA, Science & Children articles: Nature’s Palette and A Walk in the Woods

ASTC News: Having the evidence