“CW Prepping Charles Darwin Drama,” perfect opportunity for a Darwin facepalm

From The Hollywood Reporter:

CW Prepping Charles Darwin Drama, CBS Readying Gothic Horror Show

Hot writer Adam Karp is prepping two big-swing dramas for The CW and CBS. First, Karp — who won the 2012 Humanitas Prize’s New Voices Award — is readying Unnatural Selection, a drama set to explore Charles Darwin and Captain Robert FitzRoy’s journey through the Amazon.

The CW has handed out a script commitment for the drama that focuses on a 21-year-old Darwin, and his childhood friend Capt. Fitzroy’s journey through the Amazon to return the woman they both love to her native home. During the journey, they encounter a land ripe with political conflict, mysterious creatures, mythical cities and dangerous foes beyond their wildest imagination. The drama is based on Darwin and FitzRoy’s five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle, which established the former ahead of his Origin of the Species.



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?


[Cross-posted from Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas]

On Friday night Patrick and I headed to the Multnomah Arts Center in Portland for a free screening of the documentary PLAY AGAIN. Here’s a description:

One generation from now most people in the U.S. will have spent more time in the virtual world than in nature. New media technologies have improved our lives in countless ways. Information now appears with a click. Overseas friends are part of our daily lives. And even grandma loves Wii.

But what are we missing when we are behind screens? And how will this impact our children, our society, and eventually, our planet?

At a time when children play more behind screens than outside, PLAY AGAIN explores the changing balance between the virtual and natural worlds. Is our connection to nature disappearing down the digital rabbit hole?

This moving and humorous documentary follows six teenagers who, like the “average American child,” spend five to fifteen hours a day behind screens. PLAY AGAIN unplugs these teens and takes them on their first wilderness adventure – no electricity, no cell phone coverage, no virtual reality.

Through the voices of children and leading experts including journalist Richard Louv, sociologist Juliet Schor, environmental writer Bill McKibben, educators Diane Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, neuroscientist Gary Small, parks advocate Charles Jordan, and geneticist David Suzuki, PLAY AGAIN investigates the consequences of a childhood removed from nature and encourages action for a sustainable future.

I really enjoyed the film, and the different personalities of the six Portland-based teenagers and their various reactions to being outside. They were taken into wilderness by TrackersPDX, a wilderness survival education group in Portland. While the teenagers learned to construct their own bows and arrows, I felt something was lacking in the film: a general sense of wonder about nature. In order to connect our youth with nature, to get themselves away from their televisions, computers, and various hand-held devices, must they learn to be, as TrackersPDX classifies, Rangers, Wilders, Mariners, and Artisans? I believe connecting to nature is fulfilled by the simple act of being in nature, by observing landscapes and wildlife and flowers and rivers, and the interactions between it all. If students want to learn how to survive in the wild, that’s okay, but I think the first start to moving away from screens is by showing children the inherent awesomeness of nature.

That said, the film is great, and there are some nice thoughts from Louv, McKibben, and Suzuki about the larger picture. How can we expect our children growing up now and children-to-be to make crucial decisions about their world if they have never had any experiences in nature. From the film: “What they do not know, they will not protect and what they do not protect they will lose” (Charles Jordan, previous Portland Parks and Recreation Director).

I wish I had the money to buy a copy of the film they had there.

Producer Meg Merrill was on hand at the screening, as were two of the teenagers. Some photos:

Play Again producer Meg Merrill

Play Again producer Meg Merrill

Play Again producer Meg Merrill and teenagers from the film

Play Again producer Meg Merrill and teenagers from the film

Play Again poster

Play Again poster

Patrick on stage at the Multnomah Arts Center

Patrick on stage at the Multnomah Arts Center

Teenagers from Play Again film talk to viewers

Teenagers from Play Again film talk to viewers

I encourage you to peruse the film’s website, Facebook page, and here’s the trailer:

Further clips from the film (some not in final version):

Some local media:
Moms’ film counters nature-deficit disorder Moms make work of play, nature in film
New documentary ‘Play Again’ unplugs six Portland-area teens
‘Play Again’ returns to Portland roots with environmental cause

VIDEO: The End of God?: A Horizon Guide to Science and Religion (in 4 parts)

Thomas Dixon, this program’s host, is Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary University of London, and author of Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) and co-editor of Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives. You can also read an essay of his about Darwin and religion in America on the Darwin Correspondence Project website.


From the New York Times of January 24, 1986:



”SMITHSONIAN WORLD” has always been a good series. ”On the Shoulders of Giants,” the episode tomorrow night, is one of its best. Indeed, it is everything that a program about natural science is supposed to be. It will be shown on Channel 13 at 8 o’clock.

For one thing, it’s intelligent; for another, it’s wonderfully entertaining. It spends most of its time following a young scientist, David Steadman, who looks in passing like the actor Kris Kristofferson, as he scrambles around the Galapagos and Cook Islands.

Mr. Steadman, trained in ornithology, biology, geology and zoology, is looking for fossils. That might not sound like much fun to watch, but it is. The photography is wonderful. Mr. Steadman’s venues – beaches, forests, rock formations, caves – are unspoiled. We may not be able to visit, but this is the next best thing.

Moreover, the production has a feeling of playfulness. ”Smithsonian World” has always suggested that science isn’t a bad way of life. ”On the Shoulders of Giants” is positively overt about this. Thus, David McCullough, the knowledgable, intelligent and utterly-at-ease host of the program, watches Mr. Steadman sift through old bones.

”You’ve really got a good job, don’t you?” he says.

”I don’t complain,” Mr. Steadman replies.

How could he? We see him hobnobbing with marine iguanas, sea lions and giant tortoises. It’s a terrific job. Among other things, he’s proved that the giant rice rat and giant ground finch really existed.

The thread running through the program, as reflected in its title, is that Mr. Steadman is building on the work of Charles Darwin. This is no mere gimmick. Whereas Darwin, who began thinking about evolution when he visited the Galapagos in 1835, was on the islands only once, Mr. Steadman has been there seven times. Among other things, he has reclassified some of Darwin’s old evidence, and identified species that have vanished since Darwin’s visit.

The program, whose executive producer is Martin Carr, also visits Darwin’s old home, the British Museum, Tahiti and Mangaia. This last is a rugged, rocky outpost of the Cook Islands, and is home to some 1,200 Polynesians. ”On the Shoulders of Giants” savors some of their culture: dancing, churchgoing and stories of a ferocious, warlike past. This is a rewarding and well-done production.

“We will not give in to the thinkers!” (Futurama)

Futurama turns intelligent design on its head with robot evolution

A recap from io9 of the recent Futurama episode – “A Clockwork Origin” – dealing with evolution can be read here:

“A Clockwork Origin” had it all – the Professor was crotchety and insane in his devotion to science, robots literally took over a world, an orangutan in a snappy vest disproved evolution, Zoidberg attempted to be a father, limbs got cut off, and it all ended with a trial. If that isn’t classic Futurama, I don’t know what is.

Richard Milner’s “Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert” on Book TV

Richard Milner as Darwin

Richard Milner as Darwin

Book TV on CSPAN-2 will air:

… singing Darwinian scholar Richard Milner’s one-man show this Saturday, January 23 at 8 a.m., and Sunday, January 24 at 7 p.m. — taped at CUNY Grad Center in New York. [times are eastern]

Via The Theatrical Tanystropheus. Milner’s website and blog.

Dating Creationists

I was being lazy and watching TV last night. Ended up on an episode of Frasier from 2004. To my enjoyment, it included a creationist. Frasier signs up for an expensive matchmaker service:

Frasier is at first taken aback at Charlotte’s $10,000 fee – payable upfront, but Charlotte counters by asking him how much all those bad dates over the years have cost! She sets Frasier up with a series of women, who he decides he will take to the same restaurant, so the setting will not affect his decision, but each and every one seems to be a disaster – from a woman who believes in Creationsim [sic] to a horny drunk – leaving Frasier rather disappointed and was hoping rather more for his $10,000.

I’ve tried to find the episode (“Match Game”) online, but with no luck. In lieu of that, here is a clip from this season’s premiere of The Big Bang Theory (also on NBC):

Darwin’s Brave New World

In July of 2009, I posted about a forthcoming Australian Darwin film based on historian Iain McCalman‘s recently published book Darwin’s Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution:

Award-winning cultural historian Iain McCalman tells the stories of Charles Darwin and his most vocal supporters and colleagues: Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley, and Alfred Wallace. Beginning with the somber morning of April 26, 1882—the day of Darwin’s funeral—Darwin’s Armada steps back in time and recounts the lives and scientific discoveries of each of these explorers. The four amateur naturalists voyaged separately from Britain to the southern hemisphere in search of adventure and scientific fame. From Darwin’s inaugural trip on the Beagle in 1835 through Wallace’s exploits in the Amazon and, later, Malaysia in the 1840s and 1850s, each man independently made discoveries that led him to embrace Darwin’s groundbreaking theory of evolution. This book reveals the untold story of Darwin’s greatest supporters who, during his life, campaigned passionately in the war of ideas over evolution and who lived on to extend and advance the scope of his work.

McCalman also coedited a volume of papers, In the Wake of the Beagle: Science in the Southern Oceans from the Age of Darwin, based on a conference by the same name held at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney in March 2009:

Strange as it may seem, the long wake of the tiny HMS Beagle stretches from the nineteenth century into the future of our globe. Charles Darwin spent only three months in Australia, but Australasia and the Pacific contributed to his evolutionary thinking in a variety of ways. One hundred and fifty years after the publication of On the Origin of Species the internationally acclaimed authors of In the Wake of the Beagle provide new insights into the world of collecting, surveying and cross-cultural exchange in the antipodes in the age of Darwin. They explore the groundbreaking work of Darwin and his contemporaries Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley and Alfred Wallace, examine the complex trading relationships of the region’s daring voyagers, and take a very modern look at today’s cutting-edge scientific research, at a time when global warming has raised the stakes to an unprecedented level.

The film, Darwin’s Brave New World, is described as:

A 3 x 1hour drama-documentary TV series about how the Southern Hemisphere gave birth to the most controversial idea in science: evolution by means of natural selection. Interweaving dramatic reconstruction with documentary actuality and moving between the 19th century and the 21st, this series is the story of how Charles Darwin’s ‘dangerous idea’ developed during his epic voyage through South America, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and how that idea forever transformed society and science. A series to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’.

The film premieres at the University of British Columbia later this month, and airs on Australia’s ABC1 November 8th (ep. 1: Origins), 15th (ep. 2: Evolutions), and 22nd (ep. 3: Publish and Be Damned). An extended trailer:

Notice in the trailer a few historians or philosophers of science (Jim Moore, Michael Ruse, and Janet Browne), Richard Dawkins, and David Suzuki.

VIDEO: Newsnight Review: Special on Charles Darwin

From the website:

On a special Newsnight Review, eminent scientist Richard Dawkins, Man Booker prize-winning author Margaret Atwood, Reverend Richard Coles, and poet and descendant of Charles Darwin Ruth Padel, join Martha Kearney to discuss the cultural and philosophical legacy of the seminal work On the Origin of Species.

MOVIE: PBS airs ‘Darwin’s’ story

From Variety (23 July 2009):

PBS airs ‘Darwin’s’ story

Scripted feature film to air October 6

PBS will air the first scripted feature film produced by National Geographic TV, “Darwin’s Darkest Hour,” Oct. 6 on “Nova.”

Henry Ian Cusick (“Lost”) stars alongside Frances O’Connor (“Mansfield Park”) in the film, which depicts professional and personal traumas evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin faced in 1858, the year before his theory of natural selection was published in “On the Origin of Species.”

John Bradshaw directed a script by John Goldsmith (“Victoria and Albert”). Norman Stephens and John Bredar are exec producers. Principal photography took place in Canada.

Though scripted, Goldsmith worked with Darwin and evolution scholars to achieve accuracy. NatGeo prexy Michael Rosenfeld said the two-hour feature aims to show Darwin’s “vulnerabilities while also making his great insights understandable.”

Cinema Management Group is distributing internationally. Plans are already set for “Darwin’s” to air on Japanese pubcaster NHK via a co-production agreement attained by National Geographic Television Intl

BBC Tonight – 2 New Darwin Series start

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

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

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

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

Post Darwin Day Clean Out (of my inbox that is)

Darwin events at San Diego State University and University of California, San Diego. The San Diego Natural History Museum will be hosting the Darwin exhibition from November 7, 2009 to February 28, 2010.

George Beccaloni writes about the approaching 150th anniversary of Wallace’s Line.

Karen James of The HMS Beagle Project wrote as if she was Emma Darwin for the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology. Read it here.

Obama poster-like Darwin merchandise from Mike Rosulek.

Latest edition of the online graduate student history of science journal Spontaneous Generations is available, and includes an article titled “Is it Time for an Updated ‘Eco-Evo-Devo’ Definition of Evolution by Natural Selection?”

From Nature, a review of Barry Werth’s Banquet at Delmonico’s: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America.

Some Darwin jewelry from Surly-Ramicsphotos on Flickr.

Did anyone participate in the Center for Inquiry’s Darwin Aloud project

CBC Radio’s program about Darwin, listen to it here.

What does Darwin mean to Kenneth Miller? (video)

Darwin content from the February 12th issue of Nature.

Rachel Maddow’s piece on Darwin Day (video):

Adam Gopnik was on Charlie Rose discussing his new book on Darwin and Lincoln. Watch it here. (another interview here)

Collecting the Evolution Debate from AbeBooks.com.

Here is a video of historian of science Janet Browne’s lecture last fall on Darwin’s finances and personal habits. PZ blogged it here.

Historian of science Mark Borello discussed Darwin for Minnesota Public Radio.

Discussion boards on the Internet Movie Database for Creation

Darwin Day articles from Humanist Network News: Eat a Bug for DarwinNatural (?) Selection, and Parenting Beyond Belief: Evolution for Breakfast.

Darwin 200 from SEED magazine, Darwin content from Scientific American, The New York Times has a Darwin page, and Darwin content from Discover magazine.

The Daily Show’s Best Evolution Moments.

The National Science Foundation has a report/interactive, Evolution of Evolution.

Scientific Blogging’s Darwin Day 2009 (2008 here).

Some folks have created Beagle models, here and here, and the ultimate model here.

Cosmos magazine on Darwin, from Genomicron.

An excerpt from Iain McCalman’s forthcoming Darwin’s Armada: How four voyagers to Australasia won the battle for evolution and changed the world.

Darwin Day 2009 photosets: Penn Museum, Charlie’s Playhouse, University of Arizona, Shrewsbury Festival, Kennedy Library in San Luis Obispo, CA, theta sigma, Charlie D and His Natural Selections

Anyone been to The Evolution Store in New York? Looks spendy…