24 December 2007

Happy Christmas to all from the Beagle Project

A new addition: Santa Darwin. Regular readers will remember that bioblogger MissPrism made and auctioned a puppet Darwin for Beagle Broject funds. The most generous bid came in from Humblewoodcutter, an evolved homeschooler from Canada and Canuck Darwin now graces their art table, except when it snows. So from us all at the Beagle Project, we wish you a happy Christmas and an energetic 2008 revving up for Darwin's bicentenary and the Year of Science in 2009.

23 December 2007

Hi, this is nunatak. Sorry I can't come to the blog right now...

Please leave your name and number after the beep and I'll get back to you as soon as I'm done judging the 468 posts nominated for Open Laboratory 2007, the 2nd anthology of the best writing on science blogs.

Open Laboratory 2006 can be purchased here.

Coturnix and friends have opened themselves up a big ol' can of worms by promising to have the 2007 anthology published in time for the 2nd Science Blogging Conference in January.

Yours truly will be attending, though whether in person or via live web-cast has yet to be determined.

20 December 2007

What can £3.5 million buy? Hmm, well, let's see...

The Sunday Observer tells us that a British business trust is planning a creationist theme park in Lancashire:
The latest salvo in creationism's increasingly ferocious battle with evolution is about to be fired in Lancashire. Not in a fiery sermon preached from the pulpit, but in the form of a giant Christian theme park that will champion the book of Genesis and make a multi-media case that God created the world in seven days.

The AH Trust, a charity set up last year by a group of businessmen alarmed by the direction in which they see society heading, has identified a number of potential sites in the north west of England to build the £3.5m Christian theme park.

£3.5 million, did you say? Funny, because that is exactly what it will cost to build the new Beagle.

So which is it to be, o wealthy British investor-types? Roller coasters of young-earth mumbo jumbo, or a charismatic sailing replica of the ship that carried Darwin around the world and inspired his theory of natural selection, a ship that will bring students and scientists alike on a new voyage of discovery?

As if this news wasn't worrying enough in itself, it looks like the 'AH Trust' has taken a page from the Discovery Institute's 'Wedge Strategy':
By producing its own films, the trust believes it will be able to provide an antidote to modern culture. It says on its website: 'On television today there is so much sex and violence, it is no wonder our youth are binge drinking ... This is a revolutionary scheme requiring innovative people with the vision to bring about change and a new direction.'
It declined to say who the backers were, but admitted it is talking to a number of businessmen who have invested in city academies, leading to speculation that it may have approached Sir Peter Vardy, who has given millions of pounds to advance the claims of creationism - the belief that God created the world and that Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong.
Surely if one British businessman is willing to fork over £3.5 million for a creationist theme park, hundreds of British businessmen should be willing to do the same for the new Beagle. We're working on it, believe me, but it will help to get the word out about this 'competing interest' just to show how dire the situation is getting here in the UK, and how much we really do need the Beagle.

18 December 2007

Three wise men

In a quintessentially British display of royal pomp, Steve Jones, David Attenborough and E.O. Wilson were decorated last Thursday with three specially commissioned silver Linnean Society Tercentenary Medals for 'having made outstanding contributions to the world’s understanding of natural history and the environment'.

From left to right: Professor Steve Jones, Linn Soc president Professor
David Cutler, Sir David Attenborough and Professor Edward O. Wilson


David Attenborough was singled out as 'one of the world’s outstanding communicators of natural history'. In his acceptance speech, he said with characteristic modesty that he 'regarded himself as an amateur rather than a scientist and regretted his lack of involvement in natural history at that level'. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks he has done plenty to earn the moniker of 'scientist' (as have many 'amateurs' ....Charles Darwin for one).

Steve Jones was honoured for his 'achievements in making evolutionary biology accessible to a wide audience'. If you're new to Jones' writing, I recommend Almost Like a Whale, a re-write of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in modern language with modern examples mixed in to further support the original body of work (no Amazon link - support your local bookseller).

Edward O. Wilson was awarded 'for his outstanding achievement in widening our awareness of the complexity of biodiversity'. This one is especially well-deserved. E. O. Wilson could have chosen to settle comfortably into a quiet life of mermecological bliss but instead (or should I say in addition) he has tirelessly waged an eloquent, far-reaching campaign to promote stewardship of Earth's biodiversity.

So, I hope you'll all join me in raising a toast this holiday season to three really wise men.

15 December 2007

Me, Linnaeus and a big ol' tusker

Thanks to Agnes Balla, Beagle enthusiast and Project Specialist for the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL), who snapped this picture at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in November:

Nunatak FLS, and Carl Linnaeus* at the Smithsonian.

Notice how my meeting with Linnaeus is marked by the presence of a very large African bull elephant raising his trunk in approval (uhh, I sure hope no experts in elephant behaviour are reading this). And oh what a perfect post this would have been if Linnaeus had in fact named that species of elephant. Linnaeus did name an elephant in 1758, but it was the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). The African elephant, Loxodonta africana, was named by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in 1797.

Lest you think this post has no place on the Beagle Project Blog, I will remind you that the famous Darwin-Wallace joint paper on natural selection was read at the Linnean Society of London on 1 July, 1858 (complete text available here). Not only that, but Darwin was himself a Fellow of the Linnean Society.

*Hans Odöö, professional Linnaeus impersonator

13 December 2007

Congrats, Bulldog

Michael Barton who writes the excellent Dispersal of Darwin has just graduated with a bachelors is histroy, specializing in science, environment, technology and society. Michael's a great supporter of the Beagle Project (so many thanks and congrats from us) and does triffic work rounding up history of science facts related to Darwin and evolution, the kind of thing we'd all like to do but haven't got time. So click over and give him some congrats yourselves.

11 December 2007

Pics in space (update)

I posted Pics in space on Saturday, but at the time I didn't know that Nature was going to launch this excellent special collection on Earth Observation. It's worth a visit not least for Full Color Vision, a slideshow of different ways of photographing Earth from space (beyond the visible). For example, here's an infrared photo of a fire in Montana:

Also, a special thanks to Richard Carter FCD for appreciating my title. I'm very--no, extremely--proud. This photo is for you, Richard:

Pigs ... in ... Space! (announced with reverb)

8 December 2007

Pics in space

One of the most exciting science projects we plan to do aboard the new Beagle is to correlate ocean surface biological surveys with images of our position taken at the same time by our astronaut friends aboard the International Space Station.

The premise of such a study got a big boost this week when Nature published special News Features and Commentaries on earth monitoring.

The issue includes an essay by Stewart Brand of the Long Now Foundation. Way back in 1966 Brand promoted 'the idea of photographing the "whole Earth" from space, hoping that it would stimulate humanity's interest in its mega-habitat.'

And oh, how it did. Two years later, in December 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders became the first humans to leave Earth orbit and travel far enough away to see and photograph our fragile planet in the round.

On Christmas Eve, they transmitted the first images of the whole Earth that anyone had ever seen. One of their photos, called 'Earthrise', right, was beautifully described by Wolf Schäfer as 'the sublime Copernican spectacle of the earth rising above the rim of the moon'. The image galvanised the environmental movement.

Stewart Brand was right in 1966, so let's listen carefully to him now. This week, Brand wants something more specific than pictures the whole Earth from space. He wants to link images of Earth, taken from the sweet spot between Earth and Sun called 'Lagrange-1', with biotic surveys on Earth including those enabled by metagenomics. This will help us to understand, among other things, how Earth's energy dynamics are modified by life.

The International Space Station is nowhere near 'Legrange-1', but it is manned and can therefore capture not only detailed but also responsive pictures of Earth to relate to data on living communities (both macroscopic and microscopic/metagenomic) collected by none other than the new Beagle.

So, Brand argues, metagenomic data + information-rich pictures of Earth from space = 'a unifying body of data, ideas, models and images of the whole-Earth system' that 'could inspire the public and may shift scientific thinking.'

Throw in a charismatic tall ship with a scientific legacy like the Beagle's and we might find ourselves even closer to achieving Brand's vision.

6 December 2007

Original Darwin documents lost in fire

Darwin fans, brace yourselves.

The Santiago Times reported yesterday:
Valdivia’s Universidad Austral, one of Chile’s oldest higher education institutions, revealed that Monday’s fire (ST, Dec. 4) destroyed research materials, infrastructure and equipment worth 4.2 billion pesos (US$8.3 million). Among the documents lost are original research by Charles Darwin and German-Chilean paleontologist and zoologist Rudolph Amandus Philippi.

“This is a gigantic loss that goes far beyond infrastructural damage,” said University president Víctor Cubillos. “What is much more serious is the loss of the personal efforts, all the investigations, all the projects and all the original research material that the university had.”
Seconded.

All Headline News also reported on the fire, adding 'Original research materials of Charles Darwin on the theory of evolution were among the documents lost...'.

It brings to mind the recent near-miss at the National Library of Scotland.

1 December 2007

Not just an American problem (Part II)

As I have said before, and will assuredly do again, creationism is not just an American problem. The creationist creep is real, friends, and it's transatlantic.

In the latest episode, as reported by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, the Giant's Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, National Nature Reserve, and the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland, has become a target for creationist propaganda.

The 'Causeway Creation Committee' believe that Noah's flood, not a 60 million year-old volcanic eruption followed by accelerated cooling, created the distinctive hexagonal basalt columns of the Giant's Causeway. They also believe that dinosaurs walked the earth alongside humans. Sounds like someone's been spending too many hours on the Answers in Genesis website and not enough reading peer-reviewed dino-science.

The Causeway Creation Committee says Noah's flood,
not an ancient volcano, created the Giant's Causeway, below.

(c) National Trust

Just a harmless bit of willful ignorance? Unfortunately, no. The Causeway Creation Committee want their 'theories' (which are not actually theories but dogma) presented in the Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre and in the Ulster Museum, and in the long term they want intelligent design (creationism in science-sheep's clothing) to be taught as part of the science curriculum in Ulster schools.

But if any old dogma can make it into science class then why not also teach the legend of Finn MacCool? Supposedly the Irish giant built the causeway as a footbridge to fight his Scottish rival Benandonner (whose lair, Tolkien fans will appreciate, was called 'Fingol's cave'). Apparently, Finn MacCool got off to a good start, but then just as Benandonner approached on the new causeway, Finn collapsed with exhaustion. Fortunately the MacCool-witted missus saved Finn by covering him with a blanket and pretending he was a baby.

...to which I can't help adding (it being so close to Christmas) that this would not be the last time a supernatural being would be mistaken for a baby (oh wait, it's the other way around...).

So, to be fair (because we have to be fair, right?), the Giant's Causeway visitor centre should be teaching three theories for the creation of the Causeway: 1) 60 million year-old volcano, 2) Noah's flood and 3) Finn MacCool's giant biceps. After all, Stephen Moore from the Causeway Creation Committee did say that children should be allowed to have 'all the interpretations'.

I thought about ending my post there (boo-ya!), but there was one additional thing that concerned me about the Belfast Telegraph article, and I can't not mention it...

In the article, Jonathan McCambridge writes, 'Science tells us that the Giant's Causeway was created 60 million years ago....'. Hey, Jonathan, just who is this 'science' bloke, anyways? I'd sure like to meet him, because apparently he can 'tell' us all sorts of interesting things!

Science doesn't 'tell' us anything, folks. We help ourselves understand how the world works by using science as a method, but it is not passive and it does not involve 'listening' to some omniscient entity called 'science'. Sloppy language like this reinforces the commonly held misconception that science is something locked away in an ivory tower, and it also helps creationists claim that evolution is a religious belief.

But let's get back on track. Do we really need to worry about creationism creeping into British science education? I mean, this isn't some Kansas backwater, this is Britain! Surely these fundies won't be allowed to dictate what is taught in British schools, right? 'Fraid not: the creationists in Ulster have already racked up 1000 signatures but to date only the Belfast Humanist Society has spoken out publicly against Bible stories being taught in science classrooms there.

Which allows me to end where I began: creationism is not just an American problem. It's time for Britons to shake off the dust, proudly take up the mantle of their scientific legacy, and make some noise for the Enlightenment!

29 November 2007

BEAGLE PROJECT SHOP GRAND OPENING (2)

Announcing an all new Beagle Project shop created especially for our European supporters!

Now you can stop paying those pesky international shipping fees slapped on by our American-based CafePress shop and pay VAT instead! All purchases from our European shop include a £5 donation to The HMS Beagle Project.

So, just to summarise, now everyone can get their very own HMS Beagle Project gear and help us build the Beagle by shopping online at one of these two sites:
UK, Europe and Japan* HERE
USA and the rest of the world HERE
*Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Monaco, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom

1st Ed. of Origin to fetch world record at auction

The Shropshire Star reports today that a first edition presentation copy of Darwin's book On the Origin of Species... could fetch up to £150,000*, a new record, at auction at Sotheby's in New York on the 11th of December.

...and this is just for a book! How much for a sailing replica of the HMS Beagle you ask? A mere £3.5 million! Going, going... any takers? Please donate by Paypal or get in touch.

*about a gazillion US dollars at latest exchange rate

28 November 2007

Better ocean monitoring 'vital': POGO we can help.

From the BBC:
Warming seas, overfishing and pollution mean it is vital to improve the system for monitoring the world's oceans, says a group of distinguished scientists.
The group making the call is the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans, a mouthful bouncily acronymmed to POGO.

Twenty years ago it was suggested that there should be a worldwide ocean monitoring network, something which is half done, and POGO are off to Johannesburg for a meeting of Group of Earth Observations (acronym: GEO) where POGO will say that it's just not good enough (acronym: JUNOGOE). Dr Tony Haymet, Chair of POGO's executive committee and director of the US's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and an executive member of POGO said:
"The good news is that we have demonstrated that a global ocean observing system can be built, deployed and operated with available technologies."
POGO reckon that 'completing such a system over the next 10 years would cost an estimated $2-3bn (£1-1.5bn), and would include: some stuff and then: Research vessels - to be used for scientific surveys.

Well POGO, GEO and Dr Haymet, we could give you one of those gains right speedy or eftsoons. We could have a rebuilt HMS Beagle in the water in 2009 and it could be your flagship. After all, Darwin did kick a lot of this stuff off, plankton trawling, observing and recording plankton blooms, cetacean watching and recording long before marine biology became the fashionable and important science it is today. And don't forget Beagle's commander Robert Fitzroy who was the genius behind setting up Meteorological Office.

And unlike most research vessels stinking the planet up with their engines and steel hulls, the Beagle will be the ultimate low-carbon research ship. A good few dozen tonnes locked up in her wooden masts and hull, and being a sailing ship, when the wind is in the right direction, well, she'll sail. POGO, you need a BEAGLE.

Darwin plankton trawling in 1832:
it is a bag four feet deep, made of bunting, & attached to semicircular bow this by lines is kept upright, & dragged behind the vessel. — this evening it brought up a mass of small animals, & tomorrow I look forward to a greater harvest. —

11th

I am quite tired having worked all day at the produce of my net. — The number of animals that the net collects is very great & fully explains the manner so many animals of a large size live so far from land. — Many of these creatures so low in the scale of nature are most exquisite in their forms & rich colours. — It creates a feeling of wonder that so much beauty should be apparently created for such little purpose. — The weather is beautiful & the blueness of the sky when contrasted with white clouds is certainly striking.

Evolution: dragging Florida into the nineteenth century.

With some kicking and screaming, according to this blog report. There are, of course, hono(u)rable exceptions to the State's strange reluctance to mention the word 'evolution' in their science standards, like Florida Citizens for Science, and a big hurrah to them.

Florida has plenty of coastline, maybe a visit from a rebuilt HMS Beagle would help.

25 November 2007

Muchas gracias, Rocio!

Three cheers for Rocio Suarez, who has heroically translated our entire website and shop into Spanish! We will launch both soon, which is a good thing since the Beagle did (and will) spend most of her time in the Spanish-speaking world and we are very keen to work closely with our esteemed colleagues there.

Even without the translation, there is a lot of interest coming from South America according to our Clustrmap, our email inboxes, and let's not forget the letter of support from the Chilean navy, and we hope the new website and shop will make our project that much more accessible!

As it so happens, Rocio works with Hilda Suárez and Alejandro Balbiano, early and enthusiastic Beagle supporters from Argentina who have published about Darwin and the Beagle in the Argentinian sailing magazine Bienvenido a Bordo. We are very much looking forward to sharing a cuppa with Rocio, Hilda and Alejandro on deck in 2010!

Darwin's finches

are a worked-out seam of iconography, until you see this delightful painting of a befinched Darwin by artist Diana Sudyka. Diana's other work is on show at the Richard Goodall Gallery in Manchester (the original one in Old England), from 1 Dec - 5 January,and she herself will be gracing the place on Saturday 1 December 12 - 5pm.

A new book from the bestselling author of Voyage of the Beagle!

This is a postscript to Peter Mc's excellent post below celebrating the 148th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Zoom in on the title page and you can see this:

For those of you who haven't yet had laser eye surgery, it reads 'By Charles Darwin, M.A., fellow of the Royal, Geological, Linnean, Etc., Societies; author of "Journal of Researches during H. M. S. Beagle's Voyage Round the World."'

Imagine being a fellow of so many societies that listing them becomes tedious so you finally give up and just write "Etc." after the first few. And then there's the Victorian version of "bestselling author of Voyage of the Beagle", which reminds us that this book was intended for a broad audience. In other words, Darwin was a writer of popular science in addition to being a "hard" scientist (an important fact to have handy if your science boss sneers at the idea of writing/speaking for a general audience). Also, notice the lack of "Dr." before or "Ph.D." after Darwin's name. Message: it doesn't take a PhD to do groundbreaking science (though it does help you get a job if you don't come from a moneyed family).

24 November 2007

Happy birthday Origin of Species.

Sing it along with me now....
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday dear Origin!
Happy birthday to you!

148 years ago today, a book with the unpromising name 'On the origin of species by means of natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.' (all 1250 copies) hit the bookshelves. They went like the proverbial hot cakes including, to the spluttering indignation of Victorian conservatives, 'into the the drawing room and public street.' Open access science? Shocking.

Darwin, riding out the storm around the publication in Ilkley, Yorkshire, started corrections and revisions for a second edition of 3000 copies. The rest, as another cliché goes, is history. And, paradoxically, it was and still is the future.

Also on the subject: Pharyngula suggests a party, science blogger Corpus Callosum makes the telling point - probably what was causing those conservatives to have kittens at the time - that things haven't been the same since.

Right, I'm off for that party. (Pic: Facsimile of first edition of The Origin, held open by one of the unfavoured races in the struggle for life, the ammonite Dactyloceras sp. - I think, happy to be corrected - in a nodule taken from lower Jurassic shale cliffs, Runswick Bay which is in (appropriately for this story) Yorkshire.

Update: was going to do a further round up, but Bora at Blog Around The Clock has done the heavy lifting for me, missing only Formsmostbeautiful whose blog title is an 'omage to the wonderful last paragraph of The Origin:
Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

22 November 2007

"I boarded the Beagle, broken like my home."

Last month, Darwin200 partners were treated to a poetry slam about Darwin by young poets from The Roundhouse Studios in London. The poets drew their inspiration from those elements of Darwin's life that we Beagle Projecteers tend to champion: his youthful vigour, his love of the natural world, his humanity and, above all, his spirit of physical and intellectual adventure. Here is the second of four Darwin-inspired poems by young Londoners (the first is here)....

Darwin

my father spoke louder than he listened.
ripples coloured the walls with shame
as I became a grimace smeared across abrupt lips,
his dreams; veiny knots tangled in my stomach.

swallowing the screaming child
in my throat, silence
stung like blisters, threatening to burst
from the heat of his words

turning away, back arced
into the shape of a ?
I boarded the Beagle, broken
like my home.

with blind feet
in the belly of the Andes
sea drums sneering at the stench of my guts
I buried my father's fury
deep, like my hammer
into the earth

pounding, with the rhythm of a tribesman
a chorus begun,
sung in parables of bone and flesh.

the rest,
is history; her shadow
bathing in formaldehyde.

by Natacha Bryan

Fitzroy podcast

A Royal Society podcast about the brilliant Cap'n Fitzroy! (mp3)

Hat tip to Richard Carter FCD, Red Notebook blogger, founding member of Friends of Charles Darwin and last but most certainly not least the man who brought us Darwin (and the Beagle) on the £10 note.

Photo swiped from the Royal Society autumn events programme website.

19 November 2007

Thanks to Richard Carter

of Gruts and Friends of Charles Darwin. He 'done us an icon', the Beagle now gracing the url bars here and at The Beagle Project main site.

Houston, we have a partner

In the life of a scientist, there are a precious few moments that make all the long hard hours at the bench/microscope worthwhile, like getting the reprints of your first peer-reviewed publication or experiencing the thrill of a new discovery. And then, there's this:

Look, Mom! Hands!
Inside the Space Shuttle cockpit mock-up in Houston.
photo: Mike Barratt

Last week NASA astronaut Mike Barratt gave me a personal guided tour of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. I got to go inside Mission Control, see the eye-popping Neutral Buoyancy Lab, look at lunar samples (them's moon rocks) and, best of all, experience a Space Shuttle launch simulation from "T minus two" in the motion-based shuttle cockpit simulator.

But what, you might be wondering, does NASA have to do with The Beagle Project? A good place to start is with a review of the core commitments that we share:
  • to the value of human exploration
  • to the search for new life
  • to science education and outreach
  • to understanding Earth's past, present and future
Yes ma'am, NASA and The Beagle Project are peas in the proverbial (and real!) pod. As such, we are currently exploring the development of an International Space Act Agreement to enable a multi-focus collaboration including science, education and outreach. Now, I don't normally use fan-girl lingo, but I am pretty sure that "squeeeee!" is the appropriate exclamation in this situation.

I'm afraid that's all I can say for now, folks, but watch this space (pun intended).

18 November 2007

Asa Gray

top American botanist and friend of Charles Darwin was born on this day in 1810. Gray received one of the first copies of the Origin of Species posted by Darwin in 1859. Disperal of Darwin has more, with links.Bruce Olsen blogs about Darwin and Gray's friendship here.

16 November 2007

Open access science publishing lands a big one:

Bora at Blog Around the Clock is strutting like a peacock today, and quite right too. He works as online community manager for the science journal PLoS ONE and the journal had just seen the publication of a paper announcing a new and exciting dinosaur find.

It's an herbivore, and it has some new questions to ask of our understanding of big veggie dinosaurs: not least of which is how the hell can a critter that big have a skeleton so delicate?

But here's the exciting thing, the paper by Sereno, Witmer, Wilson, Whitlock, Maga, Ida and Rowe is available for you and I to look at, free. I don't have to have an expensive, exclusive subscription to a journal to read about their work. This matters, because the world increasingly relies on science and we can't have its practices and practitioners arrogating to themselves the trappings of alchemists or gospel writers. Science is a rational, not a gnostic practice: hiding literature in subscription only journals keeps the rest of us out, and makes itself a priesthood and a discipline accessible only to those who have special access and cash.

Some science reporting in the MSM is good, pop science mags are an informative but costly habit but they mediate the work done by scientists. Oftimes that is very necessary, but sometimes it's good to plunge your mind into the raw stuff of science.

Here's a glass of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon to PLoS ONE, Sereno et al and their decision to reveal Nigersaurus taqueti in an open access journal. I don't work as a professional scientist, but I'm a scientifically literate cheerleader from the sidelines (and I'm not the only one), and it's fantastic for me to be able to read this stuff: some of it is above my pay grade, but with a bit of reading around I can understand it all, and even without understanding every word I can relish the work. The more science is freely available the more interested minds might be able understand what science does and what science means.

Finest kind work by all concerned. And the point of all of this to the Beagle Project? We aim to make as much of our education work, our film clips, lecture-lets, blogs from the boat, photos freely available so that students and teachers the world over who can's sail with us can benefit. Our aspiration is to extend the same Open Access ethic to our grown up academic research too.

15 November 2007

Robert Fitzroy

gets some well-deserved credit and airtime in the Yorkshire Post, but I am sure he is spinning in his grave at his ship being called Charles Darwin's HMS Beagle. It seems to be catching.

13 November 2007

Darwin 2009 events...

The Beagle Project's mass outing to London included a workshop with the British Council to 'scope' their Darwin bicentenary activities for 2009.

Following this, a couple of projects asked for some link love: Miranda Gomperts at Cambridge University (Darwin was an 'indifferent' student there) asks for a plug for their Darwin 2009 festival. Miranda is a former square rigger sailor turned research scientist turned conference organiser and it looks like she's putting together a good one. Cambridge are also honouring their indifferent student with a new statue. (Link fixed, thanks Michael.)

Jonathan Silvertown from the Open University highlights the Open Learn site, a free source of learning materials and Evolution Megalab, which this year is looking for mass participation in a project to investigate the evolution of snail shell patterns.

Beagle becalmed:

River Plate 11 November 1832

The wind is unfavourable & we do not make much progress.

Montevideo 12 & 13 November
The wind continues dead in our teeth & although carrying on night & day we get on very slowly.
(From Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary blog)

That's why the rebuilt Beagle will have engines. We'll use them as little as possible, noisy filthy things, but sometimes we'll just have to cover the miles. There will be shore parties of scientists to meet up with, events to be Beagled-up, parties of school kids to bring aboard, exhausted voyage crew to send for a bath and a sleep, TV programmes waiting to be made, samples to send to labs, dignitaries to be given tea and cake.

12 November 2007

Recipricoblogshoppery.

Bora at A Blog Around The Clock has been a great Beagle Project supporter, so it is with great delight we hereby do command and direct you to go and visit his shop. It has t-shirts and mugs with his blog header, which is one of the coolest in the whole blogosphere.

The other HMS Beagle shop.

A blogging Midwest Rocklobster posts about a trip to the HMS Beagle science shop. It looks pretty bonzer, what with hugeous casts of dinosaur bones, rocketry equipment and people acting scenes from Hamlet. The shop motto is 'a voyage into scientific discovery'.

Not to be confused with the Beagle Project Shop, which is where you buy echt cool gear which helps up build the replica HMS Beagle to take part in the Darwin200 celebrations, then really transport young minds (and bodies, we'll need those bits to haul on ropes, climb masts and steer) on a voyage into scientific discovery in Darwin's wake.

The voyage of?

Thanks to Michael Barton of the Dispersal of Darwin for this: someone on eBay is flogging a poster of the BBC series The Voyage of the Beagle, except the eagle-eyed among you will see it's headlined the 'Voyage of Charles Darwin'. (Currently $7, £3.20 ish). Maybe HMS Beagle doesn't yet have the brand recognition she deserves.

Charles Darwin was accused by Captain Fitzroy of giving HMS Beagle and her officers insufficient recognition (read on), but there is one definite case of an ambitious naturalist barefacedly snatching all the glory from a ship and her commander: Joseph Banks. Banks sailed with James Cook during Cook's 1768-71 circumnavigation. Banks was independently wealthy, an aristocrat and a botanist of some ability. James Cook was a Yorkshire shopboy turned Royal Navy non-commissioned officer who safely commanded the tubby Endeavour around the world: also a man of great ability, a 'genius' according to Lord Colville .

On Endeavour's return, it was Mr Banks (according to the London Evening Post) who had 'discovered a southern continent' (Australia) and was 'one of the gentlemen who 'went to the South Seas to discover the transit of Venus'. Banks and his companion Solander were presented to the King, and in all their feteing and good press appear to have done little to credit the man who made it all possible, and even put up with Banks bringing aboard his greyhounds. There was no doubt in society's mind whose voyage it had been: Joseph Banks', not the bosun captain James Cook's.

Something of the Captain and naturalist guest rivalry spilled over into the Voyage of the Beagle, too. Captain Fitzroy was a very different creature to Cook, and when he received drafts of Charles Darwin's book about the Voyage of the Beagle he wrote to Darwin in something of a passion:
I will now tell you frankly my ideas upon the subject of prefaces to any of yours works immediately resulting from the Beagle's voyage.

Most people (who know anything of the subject) are aware that your going in the Beagle was a consequence of my original idea and suggestion—and of my offer to give up part of my own accommodations—small as they were—to a scientific gentleman who would do justice to the opportunities so afforded.— Those persons also know how much the Officers furthered your views—and gave you the preference upon all occasions—(especially Sulivan—Usborne—Bynoe and Stokes)—and think—with me—that a plain acknowledgment—without a word of flattery—or fulsome praise—is a slight return due from you to those who held the ladder by which you mounted to a position where your industry—enterprise—and talent could be thoroughly demonstrated—and become useful to our countrymen—and—I may truly say—to the world.

The sentence by which I was specially struck in your letter of Monday last—and for noticing which—to my astonishment—I was almost derided by a person I had thought your friend—and to whom therefore I went in the hope that he would suggest some change which I could not so well do being personally concerned—was this— “By the wish of Captain FitzRoy, and through the kindness of the Hydrographer— Captain Beaufort &c”—

I was also astonished at the total omission of any notice of the officers— either particular—or general.— My memory is rather tenacious respecting a variety of transactions in which you were concerned with them; and others in the Beagle.f1 Perhaps you are not aware that the ship which carried us safely was the first employed in exploring and surveying whose Officers were not ordered to collect—and were therefore at liberty to keep the best of all—nay, all their specimens for themselves. To their honour—they gave you the preference.

Some time ago—it occurred to me that you had consulted with some person, not aware of the whole state of the case, who looked at the subject in a peculiar point of view—and I was informed yesterday, by a conversation with Mr. Lyell—that my conjecture was well founded.

He does not seem to consider that the connection of your volume with mine—and mine with Captain King's—is one of feeling and fidelity—not of expediency.

Believe me Darwin—I esteem you far too highly to break off from you willingly— I shall always be glad to see you—and if there is any question to be discussed let us talk it over here—or in your room—before referring it to the partial views and perhaps selfish feelings of persons who neither know, nor feel for, you—or for me—as your Father would feel for either of us. (From the Darwin Correspondence Project.
But there is no doubt that it became known to history as the Voyage of the Beagle.

Cook's forbearance in putting up with his pretty shabby treatment at the hands of both Banks and the Admiralty one can (just) understand. The dogs are a different matter: greyhounds whining and crapping around the cramped boat? Had I been in Cook's shoes I would have given Banks two options for his dogs: ashore alive or in the crew's next meal. Greyhound tastes like chicken, as many of you who had cheap take away meals in the 1970s will know. Still, a pretty poster for anyone wanting some Beagle-abilia. Bidding closes in 2 days 13 hours.

10 November 2007

Little bones, big inference

Early one morning on the way to Heathrow Airport, a taxi driver challenged me to tell him what I thought was the single best evidence for evolution. The first thing to pop into my head was: what, before coffee?

Then, as my caffeine-deprived neurons groaned to life, a second thing came to mind: despite having no legs, nor any need for legs, dolphins and whales nevertheless have itty bitty legs and pelvic bones buried, useless, under mounds of blubber. These rudimentary legs and pelvises are called vestigial structures; they are relics of the whales' common ancestry with their legged cousins.

The taxi driver seemed intrigued, but, as Heathrow loomed closer, I could see that he was not going to be convinced. Gosh, I thought, if only I had a handy dandy photo of whale pelvises that I could whip out on just such occasions. Surely such a prop would deftly banish those pesky whiffs of creationist stubbornness that tend to linger at the ends of such conversations. If only... If only...

Well, warm up your inkjets, my friends, because today, in a New York Times slide show called "Bred in the Bone", I found THIS:

Photo: Patrick Gries/Oceanographic Museum, Monaco

Meet the striped dolphin, Stenella coeruleoalba. More to the point, squint your eyes and meet the striped dolphin's vestigial pelvis and legs. They are the small but unavoidably present bones you can see in the photo above, floating in space precisely where fully developed pelvis and legs would have been were the dolphin not so well adapted to its liquid environment.

At this stage I could go on and on about developmental constraints and common descent, but I'll never do it justice the way Thomas Henry Huxley did nearly 150 years ago, when he wrote in his Times review of Darwin's On the Origin of Species...:
"No adaptive reason whatsoever can be given for...rudimentary teeth, which are never used, in the gums of the young calf and in those of the foetal whale; insects which never bite have rudimental jaws, and others which never fly have rudimental wings; naturally blind creatures have rudimental eyes; and the halt have rudimentary limbs. So, again, no animal or plant puts on its perfect form at once, but all have to start from the same point, however various the course which each has to pursue. Not only men and horses, and cats and dogs, lobsters and beetles, periwinkles and mussels, but even the very sponges and animalcules commence their existence under forms which are essentially undistinguishable; and this is true of all the infinite variety of plants. Nay, more, all living beings march side by side along the high road of development, and separate the later the more like they are; like people leaving church, who all go down the aisle, but having reached the door some turn into the parsonage, others go down the village, and others part only in the next parish."
Touche, taxi man.

For more pictures elegant black and white skeletons to wave at evolution skeptics, visit the NY Times slide show or better yet, buy a copy of the book, Evolution in Action. For Steve Jones' take, see my previous post here. For an excellent, in depth essay on how whale pelvises confound creationism, be sure to read Ev Cochrane's On Whales Legs.

6 November 2007

Darwin at Downe (2)

Peter Mc already posted the new Darwin at Downe website, but having just been over there myself browsing the excellent resources captured in an aesthetic and user-friendly design, I think it warrants a second mention. Highlights include a section on Darwin's work at Downe Bank (the famous "entangled bank"), a collection of trail maps, a virtual tour, a Beagle cameo, a page called "Research" which has potential but needs some serious fleshing out, and last but not least...
a Down House promo video starring Steve Jones:

video

4 November 2007

"We live in the tight space between ideas and action"

Last month, Darwin200 partners were treated to a poetry slam on Darwin by young poets from The Roundhouse Studios in London. The poets drew their inspiration from those elements of Darwin's life that we Beagle Projecteers tend to champion: his youthful vigour, his love of the natural world, his humanity and, above all, his spirit of physical and intellectual adventure. So, without further ado, here is the first of four Darwin-inspired poems by young Londoners...

Notepad

The evening meal has ended
the table and chairs can breath for a while
before taking their next load.
I wait for him, spread myself across the table.

It’s not long before he comes,
lead by the soft bounce of candle light
His legs tired, arms aching, he sits
tests the frame of the chair, its creak a low wooden yawn

He takes me,
hands full of new discoveries,
writing the day onto my bare body
as the candle light casts shadows on my flesh.

Page after page he tells me of colours
that the brightest of rainbow can not conceive
Of a world so new that man’s tongue is yet to circle its irregular curve

We live in the tight space between ideas and action
With a single touch the slant of a V or the arch of an H
We give birth to more than words.

The evening meal has ended
The table and chairs can breath for a while
before taking their next load.
I wait for him, spread myself across the table.

Hands full of new discoveries
writes the day onto my body

Sometimes
I wish I could respond, catch his eye
Maybe place a few words in my margins,
show him my skin is the beginning of all voyages.

Pressed somewhere between my pages are stories,
like species, still to be found.

by Yemisi Blake

About the poet:

Yemisi Blake is a writer, performance poet, workshop leader and social entrepreneur. He is currently working part-time as Operations Co-ordinator at the innovative personal development charity, The Hanover Foundations. Having benefited from of their courses for young people, and becoming an employee, Yemisi went on to found Hanover Connect (a group of young people who advise the Foundation on issues that affect the current youth generation).

Yemisi’s creative work fuses narrative poetry and story telling, turning everyday experiences into extraordinary tales. He has performed at such venues as Tate Britain and RADA, alongside artists including Michael Horovitz, Roger Robinson and Fleur Adcock. Having worked with BBC Radio 4 and The Roundhouse Studios Yemisi co-founded the creative entrepreneurship, T-Shirt & Jeans. Most recently, Yemisi has worked with the multi-instrumentalist Nitin Sawhney, on a performance for the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall. He is currently Associate Artist at The Southbank Centre.

Websites/Blogs
http://yemisiblake.co.uk
http://myspace.com/yemb
http://www.last.fm/user/yemisiblake
http://osx.iusethis.com/user/yemisiblake

Also...
associate editor http://www.metaroar.com
co-founder http://www.tshirtandjeans.co.uk

150 years of Guardian/Observer now online

Fans of history of science (and history in general) take note: more than 150 years of Guardian and Observer back copies are now available online. The new searchable digital archive dates back to 1821 and thus encompasses Charles Darwin's entire career, pre-Beagle through his death in 1882 and beyond.

The archive is available as an online subscription service, but throughout this month (November 2007), they are offering a free 24-hour pass. In one short hour of searching, I discovered a clutch of deliciously historic articles including this 1971 piece about the filming of "The Darwin Adventure" (1972)...

3 November 2007

Darwin's bulldog flying lemur

On 30th June 1860, just over six months after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species..., the so-called "Great Debate" between Samuel "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce and Thomas "Darwin's Bulldog" Huxley took place at a meeting of the British Association in Oxford. Huxley trounced Wilberforce and scored a big victory for science and reason1. But reader, our story doesn't end there...


SCENE I. A hot and crowded theatre in Oxford. 30th June 1860.
Wilberforce (to Huxley and audience): Pray tell me, is it through your grandfather or your grandmother that you claim to be descended from an ape?1

Huxley (in hushed tones to Sir Benjamin Brodie) : The lord hath delivered him into my hands.1

Huxley (to Wilberforce and audience): I would rather be descended from a monkey than to be connected with a man who uses his great gifts to obscure the truth.1

(Woman in audience faints2)

Robert FitzRoy (shouting from audience and brandishing The Holy Bible): I implore you: have faith in God!2
SCENE II. Science Magazine. 2 November, 2007.
Janecka et al3: Our data show that colugos are the closest living relatives of primates and indicate that their divergence occurred in the Cretaceous.
NOT THE END.

References: 1JR Lucas (1979). Wilberforce and Huxley: A Legendary Encounter. The Historical Journal, 22, 2, pp. 313-330; 2Natural History Biographies. The Natural History Museum website; 3JE Janeka et al (2007). Molecular and Genomic Data Identify the Closest Living Relative of Primates. Science. Vol. 318. no. 5851, pp. 792 - 794.

Darwin at Downe

is the campaign to have Charles and Emma Darwin's Kent home* declared a world heritage site. We at the Beagle Project think this is a good idea. Others disagree, but they are egregiously wrong, and should be sent to bed without any supper. Darwin at Downe has relaunched its website, and it is worth a visit.

Darwin did the groundwork on HMS Beagle, but the hard mental grind of turning his observations and ideas into The Origin of Species was done at Down House. (As was much other outstanding, but sadly overshadowed, science.)

* Down House is in the village of Downe. The pronunciation is the same, but the 'e' matters. English, eh?

2 November 2007

Yeehar.

The post on Pharyngula announcing the opening of the Beagle Project shop is in the list of top 5 most emailed posts on Scienceblogs.

Thanks to everyone who helped: each purchase includes a donation towards our project to build a replica HMS Beagle to celebrate Darwin's bicentenary and sail it round the world applying the tools of modern science (metagenomics, DNA barcoding, satellite imagery) to the science opportunities en route. We don't want 2009 to be just lectures and museum exhibits, we want something a 10 year old can see, get aboard, look around and think 'Cor! I want to be a part of this.' Then follow online wide eyed as we sail around Cape Horn. Buy the t-shirt, help the Beagle sail again.

1 November 2007

In London

for a series of meetings with a TV production company, potential funders and groups interested in collaborating with us on the science and educational fronts. Tomorrow it's the British Council and the National Maritime Museum.

The TV company is heartening, because after some indifference on the part of broadcasters, someone has seen the light and realized that a replica HMS Beagle being built and launched, and re-staging the Voyage of the Beagle with a crew of young scientists aboard might just be the most exciting and televisual damn thing to happen in the 2009 Darwin200 celebrations.

And don't forget to visit the Beagle Project Shop.

27 October 2007

Evolution In Action

While you're here, be sure to
check out our new shop!

In Saturday's Guardian Steve Jones waxes skel-oquent about a new book by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu and Patrick Gries called Evolution in Action, writing:

"It was a great puzzle to me why the Grand Gallery of Evolution in Paris's Museum of Natural History was renovated at great expense in the 1990s to muddle what had been a classical display of the logic of life and replace it with a series of tableaux of mildly interesting but quite unrelated creatures (the British equivalent in South Kensington is, if anything, worse). Now, the Paris museum has returned to its roots with a marvellous evolutionary account of the skeletons in its huge collection."

As an employee of London's Natural History Museum in South Kensington, I wholeheartedly agree with Professor Jones. Random selections of specimens, no matter how spectacular, are no substitute for, as Jones puts it, "the logic of life".

The good news is that starting in 2008 the NHM in London will host the excellent Darwin exhibition (on loan from the American Museum of Natural History - does anyone else see the irony in this?), and has also already begun the process of developing a new permanent evolution gallery which will open sometime in the next five to ten years.

"Many popular books have tried to put flesh on the bare bones of Darwin's theory, but this one does the opposite," Professor Jones continues, "The stark photographs in Evolution In Action make an eloquent case for evolution."

"Charles Darwin, in The Origin Of Species, often refers to the great French anatomists such as Georges Cuvier," Jones reminds us. "Darwin's best-known adversary was Lamarck, a founder of the Museum of Natural History. Lamarck was a proponent of evolution, in that he believed in the 'inheritance of acquired characters' (if giraffes spend a lifetime stretching for leaves, they will pass on a longer neck to their offspring). Darwin believed this, too; he despised his continental cousin for a more subtle reason, for the Frenchman had that very French notion, the law of necessary progress - that every day in every way things are bound to get better and better, with the whole of creation striving to achieve, as Lamarck himself did, a place in the Académie Française."

Fittingly, Professor Jones ends with a lesson about the superior power of spectacular objects to inspire: "As I never tire of reminding people, UCL's biology department is on the site of Darwin's London home. Its building is now under renovation and the huge skulls of the Irish elk and various skeletons in the entrance hall are going into store - the molecular people resent what they call 'hunting trophies' distracting visitors to their shiny laboratories. They may not realise it, but most of their own effort is just comparative anatomy, on a reduced scale. The only difference is, it costs a lot more, and astounds a lot less, than the real thing."

We're all in favour of the astounding potential of real things over here at The Beagle Project.


Read the full Guardian article here and see more spectacular skeletons here.

26 October 2007

BEAGLE PROJECT SHOP GRAND OPENING

Update (28th October): By popular demand, the following have just been added to the shop: black and other dark-coloured tees for men and women ("Claudia" print only for now), a few more varieties of white and light-coloured tees for women and bumper stickers. Other suggestions? Leave a comment here or email nunatak.


tee-shirts!



mugs!




buttons!




tote bags!




organic tees!



Get your very own HMS Beagle Project gear and help us build the Beagle by shopping online here. Every purchase includes a $10 donation to help us build a sailing replica of the HMS Beagle, the ship that carried Darwin around the world, inspiring his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Here are a few things to remember as you shop:
  • Help build the Beagle and a better environment by checking out our 100% organic cotton tees.
  • Most of our tees have designs on both front and back, so be sure to click on each item to see both sides.
  • Yes, international orders are accepted!
  • Individual buttons include a $2 (rather than $10) donation.
  • ¡Proximamente, versión en Espanol!

Hallelujah! The Beagle Project shop coming soon.

25 October 2007

Darwin's bioluminescence.

Anyone who has sailed in seas where the plankton phosphoresces will smile at Darwin's sense of wonder on this 24 October entry:
Bahia Blanca to Montevideo
The night was pitch dark, with a fresh breeze. — The sea from its extreme luminousness presented a wonderful & most beautiful appearance; every part of the water, which by day is seen as foam, glowed with a pale light. The vessel drove before her bows two billows of liquid phosphorus, & in her wake was a milky train. — As far as the eye reached, the crest of every wave was bright; & from the reflected light, the sky just above the horizon was not so utterly dark as the rest of the Heavens. — It was impossible to behold this plain of matter, as it were melted & consuming by heat, without being reminded of Milton's description of the regions of Chaos & Anarchy.
From Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary.

The Beagle Project: all at sea

From the UK sailing magzine All At Sea.

Darwin Day 2008

Prof Bob Stephens of Darwin Day sends an email reminding us that while 2009 may be the Big One, 2008 is not to be forgotten. It is the 150th anniversary of Darwin and Wallace's joint paper announcing natural selection to an underwhelmed Linnean Society, and a chance for us to organize a slew of science communication events to celebrate Darwin and wind up the effort to spread scientific literacy.

If you organize a Darwin Day event, be sure to register it with the Darwin Day website.

Here's what Bob Stephens says:

The name “Charles Darwin” uniquely focuses the attention of both the press and the citizens of the world and by declaring February 12th the common date on which to celebrate science, scientists can establish a new tradition – one that honors our most valuable knowledge system, and is based on empirical data. According to Darwin scholar, Janet Browne, it was the ‘Great Debate at Oxford University’ in 1860 between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and scientist Thomas Huxley (Darwin’s defender) that settled the long-standing question of whether theologians or scientists had the right to explain the origin of living things, and science won! Henceforth, all scientists have been able to interpret their empirical data in accordance with the laws of nature instead of through the lens of theology.

In 1893 Huxley pointed out that “we are all scientists” when we solve our practical problems on a daily basis and, while modern scientists must use powerful instruments to extend the sensitivity of their five senses to study the very small building blocks of living matter and the very large components of the universe, we all can appreciate the value of knowledge gained by empirical evidence. Thus an ANNUAL CELEBRATION provides an opportunity for scientists to informally share the excitement of their new discoveries with the general public. The public, in turn, will gain a greater appreciation of modern science.

24 October 2007

Simon Gurr responds

...to my open letter, saying exactly what I hoped he would say, and more!
I am pleased that the Darwin200 website is generating interest about the book Eugene and I are working on, especially when the interest comes from a source as knowledgeable as the HMS Beagle Project.
As Peter Mc would say, "Cor!"
I can reassure you that neither Eugene or I see Darwin as a stuffed shirt, if that was the case our job would be much more difficult. I hope I can allay your concerns regarding the cover image too. It was created some time ago as part of a proposal and will not be used on the finished book. Good luck with the project, Simon.
So, all's well that ends well ("well" in this case meaning a comic-strip version of Darwin that is not prematurely aged). Thanks, Simion, and good luck with the book.

23 October 2007

Craig Venter and the F word.

More on the world-sailing, metagenomic doing Dr J Craig Venter on respectable BBC news and current affairs programme Newsnight here. The man - through his Institute - is doing some interesting things, things that could be used as the definition of 'pushing the boundaries'. The media reaction highlights the need for a scientifically literate population, one of the things we want to help with our public outreach work on the replica HMS Beagle.

Any interviewer who uses the word 'Frankenstein' in relation to such work should be ashamed of themselves for barrelscraping cliché, sloppy thinking and lazy journalism. It's as relevant as calling it Dumbledore science because it's like magic.

Anyway, Baron von Dr. Venter is in the UK promoting his autobiography, reviewed in The Times here. No link to Amazon, support your local bookshop.

22 October 2007

Darwin harbour is a biodiversity hotspot

Though Charles Darwin never got the chance to visit the harbour in Australia's Northern Territory that now bears his name, he almost certainly would have been delighted to learn that his namesake is now known to be a one of "the most diverse habitats not only in Australia but the Indo-Pacific region," according to Dr Kristin Metcalfe of Charles Darwin University.

Darwin Harbour, Northern Territory, Australia

Dr Metcalfe's discoveries include a whole new genus of coral which grows on mangrove leaves, which provides yet another connection to Charles Darwin. In Geology of the Voyage of the Beagle, he set out an elegant theory which provided a unified explanation for the formation of lagoon-islands, atolls and coral reefs.

Indeed Darwin seems to have had a penchant for coming up with grand unifying theories. In his autobiography he wrote, "my mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts."

According to Wikipedia, the first Brit to see Darwin harbour was Lieutenant John Lort Stokes on the third voyage of HMS Beagle in 1839* (Lort Stokes just so happens to be the forebear of our very own HMS Beagle Project co-founder David Lort-Phillips). The Beagle's then-captain, Commander John Clements Wickham, named the port after Charles Darwin who had sailed with both of them on the second expedition of the HMS Beagle, 1831-1836.

*Thanks to John Wilkins for correcting my century-spanning typo

Craig Venter

was a guest on BBC Radio 4's cobweb-blowing away Monday morning programme Start The Week (it 'sets the cultural agenda for the week', apparently). Venter talks about his autobiography A Life Decoded: My Genome, My Life. Start The Week Website and a chance to listen to the programme again here.

Ok, ok.

Just editing miles of film of my frock-coated performance of Friday to take out the admission that I burned down Cutty Sark*, the Sex Pistols reference that went over the audience's head by about two decades and my quote from Desolation Island (my favourite Patrick O'Brian novel) which ends in a pretty salty oath.

The evening was spectacular, dining in the great cabin of a genuine 1817 frigate, surrounded by people dressed as ships Captains, a Colonel of Marines and a carpenter of c. 1793. Everyone was genuinely interested in the Beagle Project and there were promises of support: these people are true enthusiasts for maritime heritage and keen, like many, to see a square rigger afloat and involving young people in sail training and science afloat. Many thanks for the invitation, gentlemen.

* Note for the Metropolitan Police: that was a joke.

21 October 2007

Pharyngula's mutating meme: ahhh-CHOO!

While we're all waiting in eager anticipation of the promised videos from Peter Mc's gig on the HMS Trincomalee last night, what better way to pass the time than with Pharyngula's mutating meme?

Yes, a little tells me that Kevin Z at The Other 95% has kindly infected us with the meme. It would be science blogging sacrilege to ignore a tap on the shoulder from Pharyngula, even if by several degrees of separation.

So, without further ado, I herein reproduce, albeit with replication error, the mutating blog meme started by Pharyngula. The rules are simple:

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...". Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:
  • You can leave them exactly as is.
  • You can delete any one question.
  • You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".
  • You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".
  • You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.
Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

[my two mutations are shown in green -nunatak]
The best romantic couple in SF/fantasy is: Apollo and Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica (re-imagined series).

The best hip hop Song from 80s hard rock is: "Walk this Way" by Aerosmith and Run DMC (is there any other answer to this question really?)

The most disturbing movie in animated film is: Aladdin (“Oh, I come from a land / From a faraway place / Where the caravan camels roam. / Where they cut off your ear / If they don’t like your face / It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”)

The best Ocean Song in Working-Class Folk Music is: "Blow Me Jack" by Devil's Interval.
My pedigree:
P: Pharyngula.
F1: The Flying Trilobite and Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
F2: Flying Trilobite and Leslie’s Blog.
F3: A Blog Around the Clock and The Meming of Life.
F4: From Archaea to Zeaxanthol and The Primate Diaries.
F5: The Other 95%
F6: me

I am infecting the following with this meme, go forth and replicate! Apologies to anyone already infected.
The Science Creative Quarterly
Friends of Charles Darwin
Sandwalk
Free Range Academy
The Dispersal of Darwin
The Red Notebook
Readers and Writers blog
Capacious handbag