The Red Notebook & Friends of Charles Darwin

The fabulous The Red Notebook and it’s host site, The Friends of Charles Darwin (FCD) have moved to new URLs:

Update your feeds and blogrolls immediately, it’s my executive order!

Darwin from Trevor Owens

Darwin Iconography at NAS

Darwin Iconography at NAS

I just came across the blog of Trevor Owens (“proto-historian and humanities technology evangelist”). He  has a recent post concerning Darwin and two from last year I’d like to share:

Suprises in Early Children’s Books About Evolution

Scientists in Action: Front Door Iconography At The National Academy of Sciences

Darwin Quest RPG: Making Historical RPGs for Almost Nothing

Getting Your Scientist Likenesses All Wrong

The Science Museum in Valencia, Spain has some neat artwork depicting prominent scientists through history. Carmen has some photos of them up on Flickr. Charles Darwin is depicted on one (image at left). However, the likeness seems to me to be that of Carolus Linnaeus (compare with this painting), whereas another piece labeled Leonardo da Vinci looks much more like Darwin. And this is in a science museum!

Know your scientists’ faces, in case you meet any (unlikely): Scientific Identity: The Dibner Library Portrait Collection

Catching Up with Today in Science History

Born Dec. 16:

Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (Born 16 Dec 1805; died 10 Nov 1861). French zoologist noted for his work studying anatomical abnormalities in humans and lower animals, for which he coined the term “teratology” in 1832. Although his father, Étienne, had initiated such studies, Isidore was the first to publish an extensive study of teratology, organising all known human and animal malformations taxonomically in Histoire générale et particulière des anomalies de l’organisation chez l’homme et les animaux. This taxonomy of mutants paralleled the Linnean system of natural species: assigning to each a class, order, family, genus, and even species. Many of the principles governing abnormal development were enunciated for the first time in this work. Many of hundreds of names for specific malformations are still in use.

Died Dec. 16:

Thomas Pennant (Died 16 Dec 1798; born 14 Jun 1726). Welsh naturalist and traveller, one of the foremost zoologists of his time. He was a prolific author of natural history and topographical works. His first book was the 1766 folio, British Zoology. Further works of natural history appeared over the years including the Synopsis of Quadrupeds, Arctic Zoology, Genera of Birds, and Indian Zoology. Pennant believed in meticulous research and preparation and in the importance of high quality illustrations. He popularized and promoted the study of natural history, though on the whole he was not a propounder of new theories. Pennant is best known for his travels and extensive writings about touring in Wales, her language, people, history and landscape.

Born Dec. 17:

Alexander Agassiz (Born 17 Dec 1835; died 27 Mar 1910). Alexander (Emmanuel Rodolphe) Agassiz was a Swiss marine zoologist, oceanographer, and mining engineer. He moved to the U.S. in 1849 to join his father, naturalist Jean Louis Agassiz, and studied at Harvard for degrees both in civil engineering (1857) and zoology (1862). Alexander Agassiz made important contributions to systematic zoology, to the knowledge of ocean beds, and to the development of the copper mines of Lake Superior (1866-9). He was curator of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology (1873-85), founded by his father. He made numerous oceanographic zoological expeditions, wrote many books and examined thousands of coral reefs to refute Darwin’s ideas on atoll formation. [See Reef Madness]

Died Dec. 17:

Lord Kelvin (Died 17 Dec 1907; born 26 Jun 1824). (baron) Born as William Thomson, he became an influential physicist, mathematician and engineer who has been described as a Newton of his era. At Glasgow University, Scotland, he was a professor for over half a century. The name he made for himself was more than just a temperature scale. His activities ranged from being the brains behind the laying of a transatlantic telephone cable, to attempting to calculate the age of the earth from its rate of cooling. In 1892, when raised to the peerage as Baron Kelvin of Largs, he had chosen the name from the Kelvin River, near Glasgow. [See this post at The Red Notebook on Kelvin and Darwin, and Kelvin is one of this week’s featured biography at ODNB’s website]

The Gentleman and the Rogue: The Collaboration Between Charles Darwin and Carl Vogt

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

The Gentleman and the Rogue: The Collaboration Between Charles Darwin and Carl Vogt
Martin Amrein and Kärin Nickelsen
Department of the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
Published online: 11 October 2007

Abstract This paper investigates the relationship between the eminent 19th-century naturalists Charles Darwin and Carl Vogt. On two separate occasions, Vogt asked Darwin for permission to translate some of the latter’s books into German, and in both cases Darwin refused. It has generally been assumed that Darwin turned down Vogt as a translator because of the latter’s reputation as a radical libertine who was extremely outspoken in his defence of scientific materialism and atheism. However, this explanation does not fit the facts, since, on closer investigation, Darwin not only gave serious consideration to engaging Vogt as the German translator of two of his books, albeit ultimately rejecting him, but he also collaborated with Vogt on the French editions of his works. In this paper we argue that this was not because Darwin was unaware of Vogt’s personality and blunt writing style; rather, Darwin seems to have decided that the benefits he would gain from their association would clearly outweigh the risk of offending some of his readers: in working with Vogt, who was not only a knowledgeable scientist but also an avowed adherent of Darwinism, Darwin could be assured of the scientific quality of the translation and of an edition that would not distort his central concepts – both of which were by no means matters of course in 19th-century translations of scientific works.

"From Bacon to Bits" 400 Years of Science"

This is a display in Wilson Hall at Montana State University. All the pieces are from Bozeman’s American Computer Museum. Among several significant works, in the display is a 2nd edition (1860) of On the Origin of Species, signed by Edward O. Wilson to George Keremedjiev, who runs the American Computer Museum. Wilson was honored in 2006 with the the museum’s George R. Stibitz Computer and Communications Award for his proposal to create an electronic encyclopedia of all life ( See an MSU news piece about Wilson’s visit to Bozeman (video clip), and more information on Wilson and the temporary display is available on the museum’s website.

Here are my photos of this display, including my signed copy of The Diversity of Life.

Today in Science History: John Gould & Alexander von Humboldt

From Today in Science History:

John Gould (born 14 Sep 1804; died 3 Feb 1881): English ornithologist whose life work produced 41 lavishly illustrated volumes on birds from all over the world, containing in all about 3,000 plates, all lithographed and hand-painted. Of these, his Birds of Australia was particularly significant (1840-69) as the first comprehensive record of the continent’s birds and mammals. With its plates of the birds were descriptions, notes on their distribution and adaptation to the environment. He assisted Charles Darwin with identification of the specimens collected during the voyage of the Beagle. By informing Darwin that the finches belonging to separate species, he provided essential information giving Darwin insight leading to his later development of the theory of evolution.

Charles Darwin’s correspondence to and from Gould.
Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, 5 parts on birds (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1838-1841) by Gould

Alexander von Humboldt (born 14 Sep 1769; died 6 May 1859): (Baron) Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt was a German natural scientist, archeologist, explorer and geographer, who made two major expeditions to Latin America (1799-1804) and to Asia (1829). During the first, equipped with the best scientific instruments, he surveyed and collected geological, zoological, botanical, and ethnographic specimens, including over 60,000 rare or new tropical plants. He charted and made observations on a cold ocean current along the Peruvian coast, now named, the Humboldt Current. In geology, he made pioneering observations of stratigraphy, structure and geomorphology; he understood the connections between volcanism and earthquakes. Humboldt named the Jurassic System.

Charles Darwin’s correspondence to and from Humboldt.

Happy Birthday, Buffon!

2007 is a big year for birth and death anniversaries of naturalists and scientists (see pages 4-5 of this newsletter). May 23 marked the 300th anniversary of Linnaeus‘s birth, and just as celebrations are planned for the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth in 2009, several insitutions celebrated the life and legacy of Linnaeus, such as the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences (Linnaeus 2007), Uppsala University (Linne 2007), and the California Academy of Sciences (Linnaeus and Beyond). The Linnaeus Correspondence website was introduced, the journal Nature devoted a wealth of pages to “Linnaeus’ Legacy,” and there were a few radio programs, as well as scores of link-happy blog posts (1, 2, 3).

But 2007, and today specifically, marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Linnaeus’s rival, George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. From Today in Science History:

Buffon was a French naturalist, who formulated a crude theory of evolution and was the first to suggest that the earth might be older than suggested by the Bible. In 1739 he was appointed keeper of the Jardin du Roi, a post he occupied until his death. There he worked on a comprehensive work on natural history, for which he is remembered, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. He began this work in 1749, and it dominated the rest of his life. It would eventually run to 44 volumes, including quadrupeds, birds, reptiles and minerals. He proposed (1778) that the Earth was hot at its creation and, from the rate of cooling, calculated its age to be 75,000 years, with life emerging some 40,000 years ago.

In Finding Order in Nature: The Naturalist Tradition from Linnaeus to E.O. Wilson (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 2000), historian of science Paul L. Farber notes the realtionship between Linnaeus and Buffon:

Buffon’s encyclopedia, combined with Linnaeus’s brilliant work in classifying and naming, laid the foundation for the emergence of natural history as a scientific discipline during the second half of the eighteenth century. This is not to say that Buffon and Linnaeus saw themselves as partners. Linnaeus regarded Buffon’s flowery prose as a distraction to those who sought knowledge of nature, and Buffon considered Linnaeus’s classification systems as little more than boring tables in which to store information. But the combined result of their individual efforts was to set a new level of rigor in investigation, one that gave primary importance to knowledge gained through observation. Nature was seen to operate through natural laws and contained a structure that humans could fathom. The key to understanding nature did not come from Scripture, or contemplation, or mystical insight. It consisted in careful study, comparison, and generalization. (20-21)

Farber further notes that although Linnaeus’s work was largely religious in purpose (to discover “God’s own secret logic of biological classification,” in David Quammen’s words from the June 2007 National Geographic)). Also, Buffon searched for more broad themes in nature from a secular viewpoint, placing the role of classification below his attempt to understand natural relationships, geographical distribution, and historical change. Farber also states that although they differed in their approach to the study of nature, they had alot in common – they both “strove for an understanding of the order in nature,” and had “supplied a foundation” for the study of nature.

Linnaeus is well remembered. From the recent Nature issue on Linnaeus: “His categorizations were not uniformly valuable, but his systematic spirit, his stress on the concept of species, and the formal but adaptable conventions of nomenclature he introduced have endured” [“The legacy of Linnaeus” (editorial), Nature 446 (March 15, 2007): 231]. But since Farber, and Stephen Jay Gould [“Inventing Natural History in Style,” in The Lying Stones of Marrakech: Penultimate Reflections in Natural History (New York: Harmony books, 2000, p. 75-90; and “The Man Who Invented Natural History,” The New York Review of Books, October 22, 1998, part online here] explain the importance of Buffon’s contibutions to science, then why all the celebrations for Linnaeus and not so much for Buffon?

Here is an article [PDF: Richard Conniff, “Happy Birthday, Linnaeus,” Natural History 115 (Dec 2006/Jan 2007): 42-47] that answers the question, “Are we celebrating the wrong birthday?”

Come and stand here,” said a guide in a room on the second floor of the house where the naturalist Carl Linnaeus lived with his wife, five children, several monkeys, parrots, and a pet raccoon. The house, in Uppsala, Sweden, is now the Linnaeus Museum. “Do you feel the way the floor is worn away under your feet?”

Linnaeus’s sexual system for classifying flowering plants appears in the 1736 edition of his Species Plantarum. Linnaeus first assigned the flowering plants to classes according to the number of stamens, or male parts, of each flower, and further differentiated each class into orders according to the number of pistils, or female parts.

Linnaeus stood on this spot to lecture his students, in a corner of the room where the professorial elbow naturally eases back onto the carved mantle. By all accounts, he was a charismatic teacher, both ribald and full of religious fervor for the wonders of the natural world. The words Linnaeus spoke here inspired nineteen of his students to undertake voyages of exploration to the far corners of the Earth. He called them his “apostles,” praised their every “immortal” discovery, and saw half of them die overseas in the service of his mission. His ideas would also prove indispensable to later explorers, from Captain James Cook and Charles Darwin to biologists of the present day.

Linnaeus was, of course, the inventor of the system by which every living species gets its two-part scientific name, its genus and its species. Homo sapiens, for instance, was a name Linnaeus coined. People today tend to take his system for granted, and scientific names such as E. coli and C. elegans have become part of the common language. Of Linnaeus himself, even biologists specializing in natural history generally know little or nothing.

But for those who had struggled to make sense of the world before Linnaeus, the system he invented was cause for jubilation. “When Linnaeus started,” says Thierry Hoquet, a science historian at the University of Paris X-Nanterre, “natural history was a mess, and people needed guidelines. Do you know in Greek mythology the story of how Ariadne fell in love with Theseus, and gave him a ball of thread to help him find his way out of the Minotaur’s Labyrinth? Linnaeus gave us the thread.”

Having followed that thread myself, I wanted to know more about Linnaeus. A good way to do it, it seemed to me, was to look not just at Linnaeus, but also at his underappreciated French rival, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, whose encyclopedic Histoire naturelle became one of the best sellers of the eighteenth century. Both men were born in 1707, and so both are rapidly approaching their 300th birthdays. And both struggled with the same fundamental questions, which still trouble biologists today: What exactly is a species? Where does one species end and another begin? How do species and habitats affect each other?

Both Linnaeus and Buffon were towering figures in their day, and each despised the other. Linnaeus regarded himself as anointed by God to bring order to the chaos of creation. Buffon, who was in many ways the deeper thinker, questioned the very idea of creation and provided crucial scientific evidence against Biblical assumptions about the age of the Earth. Linnaeus focused his relentless energy on naming species and organizing them into groups. Buffon ridiculed the whole idea of imposing order on nature, preferring instead to focus on how species behaved and how they related to one another.

And yet with the questions they asked, Linnaeus and Buffon together launched one of the greatest intellectual quests in history–to understand life on Earth in all its diversity. In place of the animal folklore that earlier naturalists had complacently repeated since Roman times, they demanded specimens and eyewitness accounts. When they began their work, the number of species known to science was no more than a few thousand. Today, it numbers about 1.7 million. Linnaeus will get much of the credit for that, in tercentennial events around the world in the coming year. But as I learned about Buffon, whose own tercentennial will be largely ignored, I began to wonder: could it be that we’re celebrating the wrong birthday?

Botanical expedition to Lapland, where Linnaeus acquired the costume depicted in this 1775 lithograph, helped establish Linnaeus’s image as an explorer and proved critical to his success. Linnaeus portrayed his expedition as a perilous adventure among dangerous natives, though he probably spent only a few Weeks among the Sami people there.

The known world at the start of the eighteenth century did not include Antarctica, nor much more than a glimpse of the coast of Australia. But every ship coming home from Africa, Asia, and the Americas seemed to carry some bizarre new creature: an opossum appeared on the crowded London quays, an iguana in Antwerp, a chambered nautilus shell in Paris. How did such creatures live? Where did they fit in the scheme of creation? How did they affect ideas about our own species? Naturalists caught in the tide of strange new life-forms had no language or methodology for discussing such questions. They could not agree on how to name the plants and animals in their own backyards. How could they possibly make sense of species at the opposite ends of the Earth?

Linnaeus was hardly an obvious candidate to provide the answer. He was a provincial, descended from four generations of Lutheran parsons in the Swedish countryside. But he was a careful observer of plants and animals, and compulsively organized about recording his observations. He was also ambitious and spectacularly egotistical (“Nobody has been a greater botanist or zoologist,” he once wrote). By the age of twenty-five he had already completed an expedition to Lapland, sponsored by the Royal Society of Science in Uppsala. He later depicted his journey as a perilous adventure among dangerous natives in uncharted regions. But in her 1999 biography, Linnaeus: Nature and Nation, the historian Lisbet Koerner of Imperial College London concludes that he probably spent no more than a few weeks among the Sami people there. He also claimed double the distance he actually traveled, possibly because he was being paid by the mile.

His image as an explorer proved critical to his success. In Amsterdam, London, and Paris, he dressed in a showy variation on the native costume of the Sami. Together with his buoyant personality, the figure he cut gained him entrée with the leading scientists of the day. He quickly impressed his new friends with his ideas about the classification of species, which he published as Systema naturae, at the age of twenty-eight.

The Linnaean system incorporated three important innovations, none of them completely original. First, Linnaeus classified flowering plants according to the number of stamens and pistils, the male and female parts, in each flower. Such a simplistic sexual system was, he knew, artificial (other botanists soon replaced it with a reliance on a broader range of traits). But it instantly opened up the botanical world to anyone who could look into a flower and count. Second, he devised precise rules for describing any species, which, again, even beginners could follow. And third, he gradually introduced his binomial system. A species that used to suffer under the name Arum summis labris degustantes mutos reddens became instead simply Arum maculatum.

Cherubs and a trumpet-bearing angel weave garlands about the image of Linnaeus in this adulatory, 1806 portrait by Francesco Bartolozzi. The religious iconography reflects Linnaeus’s Bible-based beliefs, an integral part of his scientific approach. Like most of his contemporaries, Linnaeus rooted his definition of species in the plants and animals with which the God of Genesis populated Eden.

Linnaeus shrewdly served up this new system with a lyrical dollop of sexual innuendo. He described flower petals as “the bridal bed,” perfumed and hung with “precious bed-curtains,” awaiting “the time for the bridegroom to embrace his beloved bride.” He spoke blithely of two brides in bed with one husband (two pistils and one stamen).

Sex undoubtedly attracted newcomers to the charms of botany, and the simplicity of the Linnaean system gave them confidence in their identifications. The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau later celebrated the Linnaean system as a source of “great pleasure,” because the layperson was no longer confined to making isolated observations. Testimonials of delight and gratitude arrived from around the world. By the time he was thirty-three, Linnaeus was already boasting that scholars abroad regarded him on a par with Newton and Galileo.
Then, as now, Uppsala was a college town of pink-, cream-, and ochre-colored buildings arranged around a pretty little river, the Fyrisån. The garden where Linnaeus practiced his craft as a botanist and as a professor at Uppsala University occupies much of a city block in the middle of town, with his house on one corner. From here, Linnaeus used to lead regular collecting excursions into the local countryside joined by as many as 300 people at a time. With his characteristic passion for order, Linnaeus organized them into platoons. They armed themselves with butterfly nets and carried their trophies home pinned to their hats. Kettle drums and hunting horns announced their jubilant return at the end of the day, accompanied by cries of “Long Live Linnaeus!”

From the start, Linnaeus also attracted critics. The German botanist Johann Georg Siegesbeck protested that Linnaeus was turning innocent flower gardens into beds of harlotry. Linnaeus, who suffered criticism poorly, responded by giving the name Siegesbeckia to a small, foul-smelling weed. Another vocal critic, though not on sexual grounds, was the French naturalist Buffon.

The Jardin des Plantes in Paris is today an enclosed compound of rose gardens, tree-lined alleys, and museums about the natural world. Georges-Louis Leclerc, a son of provincial bourgeoisie, assumed the powerful title of administrator here in 1739, when he was just thirty-two. During the next half-century, he more than doubled the size of the Royal Botanical Garden, as it was then known, to its present sixty-four acres. He also laid the foundations for what was to become the Museum national d’Histoire naturelle, one of the finest natural history museums in the world. Leclerc was a talented administrator, politically adroit, a confidante of everyone from Benjamin Franklin to King Louis XV. But the key to his reputation was his writing, which made him internationally famous as Buffon–later Comte, or Count, of Buffon–a name taken from a small Burgundy village near his country home in Montbard.

From 1740 on, Buffon spent half the year in Montbard (“Paris is hell,” he wrote). Here Buffon set out to catalogue the king’s collection of natural artifacts, taking on his new task with such enthusiasm that he eventually wrote thirty-six volumes of his encyclopedic Histoire naturelle. It became an attempt to synthesize everything then known about the animal and mineral worlds. The Histoire naturelle was an immediate best seller–and remained a pillar of French literature until Buffon’s lofty prose fell out of favor in mid-twentieth century.

What made Buffon different was not just his style, but also his scrupulous avoidance of religious or supernatural explanations. Linnaeus and most other contemporaries still rooted their definition of species in the plants and animals created by God to populate Eden. Buffon, by contrast, thought it was absurd to imagine God being “very busy with the way a beetle’s wing should fold.” He defined a species scientifically, as a group of animals breeding together over time.

Such departures from orthodoxy angered religious authorities, who presented Buffon with a list of fourteen “reprehensible statements.” Buffon dutifully signed a declaration of his faith in Scripture. (“It is better to be humble than hung,” he remarked.) But he left his “reprehensible statements” unaltered.

Buffon’s keen interest in habitat and behavior anticipated sciences such as ecology and ethology, which were still 200 years in the future. And though he had no inkling of evolution, he wrote about how species could be transformed by their habitat. He believed, for instance, that a cold, wet climate caused animals in the Americas to be smaller. (His friend Thomas Jefferson, then the American ambassador to Paris, gently corrected this error by presenting the Royal Botanical Garden with the hide of a moose.) Buffon’s aim was to incorporate particular observations about animals into general theories about the natural world, and it earned him a reputation as “the Pliny and the Aristotle of France.” Given the egos involved, a clash with the “Newton and Galileo” of Sweden was inevitable.

Books, a globe, and a few animals serve as decorative elements in this 1769 portrait of Buffon, in contrast to the religious imagery in the painting of Linnaeus on the opposite page. Unlike Linnaeus, Buffon scrupulously avoided religious and supernatural explanations. Buffon suggested that animals were not immutable forms created by God, but rather adapted to their habitats.

Buffon struck the first blow in the mid-1740s, attacking Linnaeus for imposing an artificial order on the disorderly natural world. He gleefully pointed out absurdities in the groups Linnaeus had proposed. Did tulips really belong with barberries? Or elm trees with carrots? Linnaeus had mistakenly grouped those species together because he did not realize that a particular trait–the number of pistils and stamens, for instance–could evolve independently even in the most distantly related species. It was even worse in zoology. On the basis of dental structure, for instance, humans and monkeys both turned up in the order Anthropomorpha. But so did two-toed sloths. “One must really be obsessed with classifying to put such different beings together,” Buffon wrote.

Linnaeus dismissed his antagonist as a “hater of all methods,” who delivered “few observations” and much “beautiful ornate French.” He quoted the Bible (“And I have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight”) to prophesy that the “Frenchman named Buffon” who “always wrote against Linnaeus” would suffer the wrath of God.

Buffon’s objections to the Linnaean system arose partly from sincere belief. “Nature moves through unknown gradations and consequently she cannot be a party to these divisions,” he wrote, “because she passes from one species to another species, and often from one genus to another genus, by imperceptible nuances.”

He was highlighting a problem that bedevils biologists to this day. The Linnaean system, even in its modern form, is far from perfect. New evidence routinely obliges taxonomists to move species from one genus to another, or even to an entirely different order. At times, the revised groupings can seem as absurd as the ones Buffon lampooned. Buffon was also correct in arguing that the Linnaean system is often arbitrary. Taxonomic “splitters” tend to recognize new species on the basis of relatively small differences. Taxonomic “lumpers” group them together on the basis of traits they have in common. Then they fight.

But if the system Linnaeus invented is so flawed, why has his reputation endured? Partly it’s because binomial identification has proved so convenient. And partly it’s because Linnaeus was extraordinarily lucky. Although he was thinking about God and creation, he developed a rudimentary hierarchy of classification that would prove congenial, a century later, to the new evolutionary thinking of Darwin. His timing was also impeccable. He provided a coherent system of classification just as the age of discovery was revealing the overwhelming richness of plant and animal life.

Buffon, meanwhile, proposed no alternative way of coming to grips with the abundance of new species. He made the mistake, as absurd as anything in Linnaeus, of putting human beings at the center of the animal world, and his Histoire naturelle paid inordinate attention to species that were useful and familiar to us. Perhaps Linnaeus was a mere collector and classifier, as Buffon argued. And maybe he lacked Buffon’s insight into ecology and animal behavior. But Buffon somehow missed a point all modern scientists understand: Classification is the essential first step. You need to know what species you are looking at, before you can begin to talk about how they behave.

The attack on Linnaeus mainly hurt Buffon himself. According to Phillip R. Sloan, a historian of science at the University of Notre Dame, the Histoire naturelle was quickly translated into most major European languages. But it was twenty-five years before the first translation appeared in England, where the cult of Linnaeus was particularly devout. (Even in the eighteenth century he was celebrated there as “the immortal Linnaeus.”)

But does Buffon deserve to be forgotten? His relative obscurity, like the immortality of Linnaeus, also turns out to be largely a matter of luck.

From Montbard, I walked along a canal to a collection of handsome stone buildings with red tile roofs, just outside Buffon’s namesake village. It’s an old forge where, late in life, Buffon conducted a series of remarkable experiments. He had his workers take molten balls of iron of various size and composition from the smelter and carefully measure how long it took them to cool down. His theory was that the Earth originated as a fireball, gradually solidifying as it cooled. By scaling up from iron balls to the size of the planet, he hoped to estimate the age of the Earth. His numbers ranged from 10 million years to as little as 75,000 years, the estimate he published when his “Epochs of Nature” finally appeared in 1778.

Geologists now know that the Earth is billions of years old. But Buffon’s work was the beginning of the end for the biblical belief that all creation dated back just 6,000 years. According to the late Stephen Jay Gould, “Epochs of Nature” was “the most important scientific document ever written in promoting the transition to a fully historical view of nature.”

The forge is now a museum, but amazingly, the exhibits make no reference whatever to the experiments Buffon conducted there. And that seems to be Buffon’s fate in history. His ideas, though essential in their day to the advancement of science, were consigned thereafter to oblivion.

Le Jardin des Plantes, the most important botanical garden in France, is depicted around 1805. In his half-century as its administrator, Buffon more than doubled its size. According to one story, Buffon’s son was sent to the guillotine during the French Revolution by former neighbors that Buffon père had evicted in the course of expanding the garden.

Thierry Hoquet, the author of a recent book about Buffon, credits him with four important ideas in the history of science: the understanding of geologic time, the definition of species on biological terms, the role of habitat in shaping species, and the conviction that species can transform over time. Those ideas all stand up to modern scrutiny. But they are relatively complex, and buried in a prodigious stream of other ideas.

Buffon’s reputation also suffered for political reasons. He died in 1788, a year before the French Revolution, which, unsurprisingly, had little regard for such a close ally of the king. Buffon’s son went to the guillotine. At least the revolutionaries understood the value of Buffon’s work well enough to found the Museum national d’Histoire naturelle on the collections he had largely assembled. But one of the early zoologists there, Georges Cuvier, set out to turn natural history into a scientific discipline. And clearing the path to professionalism meant pushing Buffon and the kind of amateur naturalists he had inspired into the dustbin.

But even Cuvier later conceded that Linnaeus and Buffon together possessed the essential tools for rapidly advancing the scientific study of nature: “Linnaeus knew with precision the distinctive traits of creatures; Buffon comprehended in a glance some of their most remote relations.” Without both, natural science as we know it would not exist.

At the Jardin des Plantes, a bronze statue of Buffon presides in casual splendor over the gardens and the natural history museums he helped make great. One day this past summer, a worker–an unwitting agent of the cult of Linnaeus–set up a sprinkler directly in front of the statue, so that it seemed to be spitting indifferently onto Buffon’s ruffled blouse. But then the pressure went off, and for a little while, the image of Buffon glistened again under the Paris sun.

There is one institutional celebration for the 300th anniversay of Buffon’s birth, however – Symposium Buffon – this October at the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Today in Science History: Natural History

from Today in Science History:

Georges Cuvier was born in 1769

(Baron) French zoologist and statesman, who established the sciences of comparative anatomy and paleontology.

Philip Henry Gosse died in 1888

English popular science writer and naturalist who wrote books illustrating such topics as Jamaican wildlife and marine zoology. Stephen Jay Gould called Gosse the David Attenborough of his day.” However, he did not accept the theory of evolution, and in his best-known book, Omphalos [pdf], he attempted to apply biblical literalism in a way still consistent with uniformitarianism. His premise in the book was criticized by both sides of the debate. He invented the institutional aquarium when on 21 May 1853, he opened the Aquatic Vivarium, the world’s first public aquarium in Regent’s Park, London.

Alexander Wilson died in 1813

Scottish-born ornithologist and poet who left his homeland in 1794, aged 27, in search of a better life in America. Naturalist William Bartram sparked his interest in birds. By 1802, Wilson had resolved to author a book illustrating every North American bird. He travelled extensively to make paintings of the birds he observed. This pioneering work on North American birds grew to nine volumes of American Ornithology, published between 1808 and 1814, with illustrations of 268 species, of which 26 were new. As a founder of American ornithology he became one of the leading naturalists who also made the first census of breeding birds, corrected errors of taxonomy, and may have inspired Audubon‘s later work when they met in 1810.

"Unfinished Labors and Thwarted Ambitions": The Life and Science of Edward Forbes

At the Heritage and Research Center I have been searching newspapers for articles about Yellowstone National Park. I use, and so far I have come across some things of interest not related to Yellowstone. One such piece is a small article about the centenary of the birth of Edward Forbes in the Evening Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA) for February 12, 1915. Notice the date, February 12. Anyone else have the birthday?

I thought I’d disperse some online content (and pdfs I have available) about the naturalist Edward Forbes, who, according to this article, had “unfinished labors” and “twarted ambitions” due to his early death at the age of 39.

Forbes on Wikipedia
G. Wilson and A. Geikie, Memoir of Edward Forbes (1861) on Google Book Search
Much more by or about Forbes on Google Book Search
Professor Edward Forbes, F.R.S.,” Journal of Science and Literary Gazette (1854)
Robert Kunzig, “Deep-Sea Biology: Living with the Endless Frontier,” Science 302 (Nov. 7, 2003): 991.
Thomas R. Anderson and Tony Rice, “Deserts on the sea floor: Edward Forbes and his azoic hypothesis for a lifeless deep ocean,” Endeavour 30 (2006): 131-137.
Philip H. Rehbock, “Edward Forbes (1815-1854) – an annotated list of published and unpublished writings,” J. Soc. Biblphy. nat. Hist. 9 (1979): 171-218.
Eric L. Mills, “A view of Edward Forbes, naturalist,” Archives of Natural History 11 (1984): 365-393.

History of Science in latest Victorian Studies

The Winter 2007 issue of Victorian Studies has two history of science articles:

Orr, Mary, “Pursuing Proper Protocol: Sarah Bowdich’s Purview of the Sciences of Exploration.

Abstract: Attempting to correct, in small part, the invisibility of women participating in nineteenth-century science, this article brings to attention the work of the scientist, artist, and writer Mrs. Sarah Bowdich. Bowdich employed the vehicle of biography to overcome the obstacles that discouraged women from entering scientific disciplines, publishing her biography of the French scientist Georges Cuvier and her report of T. Edward Bowdich’s explorations in the Gambia to international acclaim. Through these publications, Bowdich succeeded in disseminating her own scientific contributions in field-based research, gaining respect in both English and French scientific communities.

Marshall, Nancy Rose, ” ‘A Dim World, Where Monsters Dwell’: The Spatial Time of the Sydenham Crystal Palace Dinosaur Park.

Abstract: The Sydenham Crystal Palace Dinosaur Park articulated a spatial model of deep time that both supported and subverted social and racial hierarchies. Intended to point visitors toward Creationist conclusions about history predicated on man’s central role in God’s scheme, the park thematized a divinely ordained progress of civilization of which Victorians were the final heirs. Yet despite such attempts at rigid hermeneutical control, the park nevertheless presented profoundly disturbing evidence of degeneration and extinction, thereby denying the verity of human progression and suggesting that the primitive and the civilized—the ancient and the modern—were intimately related.

Access is required for the links, but just let me know if you would like to see either article…

Kevin Zelnio’s Darwin and History of Science Slides

Kevin Zelnio, a graduate student at Penn State University, and author of the blog The Other 95%: An Appreciation of the Underappreciated Majority of Life, has made available online 3 powerpoint slideshows from his history of science talks here.

Direct links:
Sir Charles Lyell and Geology’s Influence on Darwin’s Theories
Hooker Huxley Haeckel: Darwin’s Apostles
300 Years of Linnaeus!

I also have my powerpoint slides from a paper presentation I did last year on Darwin’s seed experiments available here.

Mega-Post: Post-Sixth Week of Internship

UPDATE: I fixed the link for “What did Darwin think was his best feature?”

Another week of internship… and a nice weekend with my family. Bozeman’s annual Sweet Pea Festival was this weekend, and my son Patrick really enjoyed the parade. Here are the previous week’s links:

First, update your feeds for The Beagle Project Blog (old site), always something interesting…

Second, the Field Museum has a shirt and mug for the Darwin exhibit

August 1: Jean-Baptiste de Monet, Chevalier (Knight) de Lamarck born in 1744; Edward Tyson died in 1708
August 2: John Tyndall born in 1820

The Virginia Quarterly Review‘s Spring 2006 issue, “Why Darwin is still right
Here’s the site for a forthcoming book, Looking for Darwin
Richard Carter, FCD reviews Darwin’s Origin of Species by Janet Browne
ricklibrarian reviews Darwin’s Origin of the Species by Janet Browne
Guardian Unlimited: 2006 article on Darwin’s friends who “ensured the triumph of evolutionary theory” (w/ Janet Browne)
Darwin’s Bookkeeping at Thoughts in a Haystack, commenting on:
Guardian Unlimited: What did Darwin think was his best feature? (audio w/ Janet Browne) UF scientists spread ‘gospel’ of Darwin (more at Florida Citizens for Science)
A recent post at Post-Darwinist points to an older post and article on Darwin hagiography
Thoughts in a Haystack has several quotes from Darwin’s critics (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Darwin Exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago at International Journal
Scoop Independent News (New Zealand): Darwin – the most in depth exhibition ever (how will it be here if it is in Chicago until January 1st?)
Richard Carter, FCD on A modern seed dispersal mechanism
Darwin On Time (environmental periodicities) at A Blog Around the Clock
Darwin dramatized (on a performance of Re:Design) at Archimedes’ Hot Tub
U.S. Intellectual History on the plans for Victorian Studies’ Darwin issue
Historians: welcome to the 2009 party! at The Beagle Project Blog
Charles Robert Darwin pictures at National Portrait Gallery
Mr. Bergh to the Rescue, Darwin and gorilla cartoon from 1871
The Mount Residents’ Group: Charles Darwin in Shrewsbury
Story Field Conference Conversations on The Darwin Project
Charles Darwin Biography at
Great Entomologists: Henry Walter Bates at Ontogeny

Evolution News Roundup: August 5th, 2007 via Ontogeny
Mano Singham’s Web Journal’s 16th, 17th and 18th post on evolution
Evolution and how to turn little kids into scientists at The Beagle Project Blog
Guardian Unlimited: DNA pioneer’s legacy saved

Combating creationism with history at Laelaps
Paleontologists representing the SVP attack the Creation Museum

New Yorker: review of exhibit, “Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids “Deadly Medicine” Explores Dark Side of Eugenics
Two posts from PALEOBLOG offer photos from and comments about the Museum nationale d’Histoire naturelle
Natural History Museum at Tring: Walter Rothschild: The Man, the Museum and the Menagerie
H-Net: Hooke’s Books: Books that Influenced or Were Influenced by Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (go here for exhibit)

What big neural spines you have… at Laelaps (some paleontology history)
Laelaps’ 2nd installment of The Boneyard, a paleontology blog carnival
The Guardian of science at The Beagle Project Blog
June 2007 Endeavour table of contents
Sept. 22, 2007 Notes & Records of the Royal Society table of contents
Technology and Culture: A. Hunter Dupree’s Science in the Federal Government
History News Network: Historians and Wikipedia
Guardian Unlimited: Michael White’s Galileo Antichrist depicts the struggle between science and faith
Reports of the Death of Colonialism… have been greatly exaggerated at Occam’s Trowel, and more about Russia’s North Pole claim at … Or Something
The Resurre[c]tionists (bodysnatchers) at Curious Expeditions
Colonial Science and Its Instruments at Boston 1775

Mega-Post: Post-Fifth Week of Internship

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

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

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

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

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

World Wide Wunderkammern at the Hairy Museum of Natural History blog

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

Sunday Afternoon Dispersal Event

Ontogeny links us to a Bill Moyers (PBS) interview with E.O. Wilson, and so does Darwiniana
Post-Darwinist on History of science and popular culture: Isaac Newton and the end of the world
Evolution News & Views on A Science Myth from the New York Times (it’s about Erwin’s evolution article)

Articles from the June 2007 issue of the Journal for the History of Biology here, including a few Darwin-related:

Separated at Birth: The Interlinked Origins of Darwin’s Unconscious Selection Concept and the Application of Sexual Selection to Race” by Stephen G. Alter

H. G. Bronn and the History of Nature” by Sander Gliboff

Two New Volumes of Darwin’s Work: Essay Review” by Phillip R. Sloan

Dispersal for Weekend Reading

The Beagle Project Blog on Fitzroy and the HMS Beagle, and a plug for my blog.
Two posts (1, 2) at Post-Darwinist about Darwin myth-making (they are from March, but for some reason showed up in my feeds today).
Evolution News & Views: Pro-Darwin Biology Professor Laments Academia’s “Intolerance” and Supports Teaching Intelligent Design
Field trip to the Creation Museum at Aetiology
Some Thoughts On The Nature Of Biological Sciences at Northstate Science
The New York Sun: Dating the Earth (book review)
Evolution-2: The lack of evidence for perfect design at Mano Singham’s Web Journal (part 1 here)
The Huffington Post: A Modest Proposal: The Darwin Airlift (Darwin exhibit)
Newton, the Apocalypse, and Galileo’s Finger at The Age of Abundance Napolean’s toothbrush on display at museum (and Darwin’s walking stick)