27 September 2007

Understanding Evolution

a terrific site from the University of California Museum of Paleontology. If you are at all unclear about what is evolution and how does it work?, are having sleepless nights about how evolution impacts on your life, are going hairless as a naked ape wondering what is the evidence for evolution or wish to swot up on the history of evolutionary thought, or are on rocky ground about the science of evolution this is a good place to go. Here's one of the many gems in the "misconceptions about evolution" section:

Clear, elegant, the finest kind of science writing. Sou'wester tip to Kevin at The Other 95% for the link.

Darwin Correspondence Project founder dies.

Frederick Burkhardt, who has done so much to make Darwin's letters available to us through the Darwin Correspondence Project has died aged 95. Given that Dr Burkhardt was truly responsible for the dispersal of Darwin, where better to for an appreciation of his life and achievements than the Disperal of Darwin blog.

26 September 2007

On my honour, I will try (2/4)

This post is the second in a four-part series. The first, which includes an introduction to The Science Scouts, can be found here.

Without further ado,
here is my second batch of Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique badges.

The "destroyer of quackery" badge. My friends and colleagues are often surprised to learn that I had a Southern Baptist, creationist upbringing and, even more bizarre for a scientist working at The Natural History Museum in London, that I grew up in that religious, right-wing enclave, that very buckle of the Bible Belt, that city in the sky, sometimes known as the Evangelical Vatican, yes: Colorado Springs, Colorado. Documentaries like Hell House and Jesus Camp don't shock me, simply because I lived them. Not only have I personally escaped quackery, however, I am out to destroy it, hence this badge. In addition to an external review of this blog establishing me and fellow Beagle blogger Peter Mc as "gorers of creationist oxen", I also fly the flag of the scientific method at the museum, where I am helping to organise an internal workshop on communicating evolution more effectively in light of our "diverse" audiences.

The “sexing up science” badge. My PhD involved mating thousands if not millions of fruit flies to produce some cleverly messed-up offspring. How does one do this, one might ask? First, you collect virgins fresh out of their cocoons (you can tell them by their distended, translucent abdomens... hubba hubba) and put them in a separate vial. Then you get some sex-deprived males from another vial and put them in with the virgins. One calls to mind Monty Python's Castle Anthrax scene.

The "will gladly kick sexual harassers' ass" badge. I raised a big stink when I found pornography in the tool drawer in the lab (I won't say which lab or where). I also put the eternal kibosh on the plague of nudie post-cards that were regularly sent by male colleagues doing fieldwork in locales with topless beaches back to the lab ("Greetings from Morocco! Wish you were here!"). Puh-leeze. Science isn't just for boys anymore, get over it.

The "has frozen stuff just to see what happens" badge (LEVEL III). Liquid nitrogen is fun. 'nough said.

Coming soon, the third installment, with badges 9-12 (of 17).

25 September 2007

The NHM spirit room...

More pics of the Beagle Project trip to London where we saw some of Darwin's original specimens from the voyage of the Beagle. Have a look here.

We had an excellent meeting with a partner who, like us, wants to see a replica HMS Beagle sailing the world, celebrating Darwin, applying modern science to the Voyage and fascinating a new generation in the adventure of science.

20 September 2007

The Barcode Blog

Mark Soeckle at Rockefeller University offers us "a mostly scientific blog about short DNA sequences for species identification and discovery", The Barcode of Life blog. Welcome to the Beagle Blogroll, Mark.

Live from Taipei

Nunatak here, reporting live from the 2nd International Barcode of Life conference in Taipei, Taiwan.

Big doors opening in Taiwan

I'm fielding lots of interest in the Beagle Project here, recruiting researchers and facilitators to help create and support the science we will do aboard the Beagle, and ashore. Every specimen collected under the flag of the Beagle Project will be barcoded and included in the Barcode of Life database (BoLD). More details coming soon...

14 September 2007

Darwin's specimens at the NHM

I love British understatement.

Virginia Tech College Darwin expert retires...

after 32 years. Read about it here. We wish Dr. Porter a long and happy retirement, and hope that it gives him a little more leisure in his life, maybe enough to join us on the replica HMS Beagle for a sail.

13 September 2007

What a squiddy lady...

the Beagle Project went to London today for a meeting but the highlight was getting a nose around the spirit room of Natural History Museum's Darwin Centre, and what should we find, laid in state but this 8 metre squid caught in South Atlantic last yearMore pickled specimens later, including those collected by Darwin's own hand and a coeleocanth! The real lady of the day was the wonderful, welcoming and knowledgeable curator Mandy Holloway, for giving us the time and the tour. Many thanks.

OK, here's some more...

Goring creationist oxen

(reposted from 31 July)

It's good to be stroked every now and again, and this post from the Readers and Writers blog has left us purring. It says nothing about our shipbuilding but is very complimentary about the writing on the Beagle Project Blog:
And, as only the Brits can do, the blog is extremely well written. Now believers in creationism and intelligent design, take note: Our interest in the blog is its writing and history, but be warned that the Beagle bloggers do gore your oxen.

Much of the rest of the blog also is written with a sense of humour, but with a serious devotion to Darwin and the tall ship replica that will celebrate him and his groundbreaking science.

I hasten to point out that half the credit (and all the credit for the science) must go to fellow Beagle blogger Nunatak, who is from the USA (as is Stacey, who has yet to break her Beagleblogging duck).

Goring creationist oxen. We like that.

12 September 2007

Prompted by the Guardian newspaper's

James Randerson we asked who were your top 5 fave scientists (well, four because I threatened to duff up anyone who didn't include Charles Darwin. Possibly a little illiberal.) John Hawks posts his 4 here and includes Leo Szilard. Thousands of people every day walk heedless across the junction in London where he had the eureka moment which many years later led to the first nuclear fission reaction and the atom bomb. I'll walk across it myself tomorrow en route to seeing Darwin's fossil megatherium.

Oh, and doing some Beagle Project meeting stuff, too.

Project news...

First of all we had a good board meeting in Wales last week where we approved a few things:
1. We welcomed a new director aboard, Adrian Richardson who is Principal of the Cothill Educational Trust. His interest is in educational outreach, linking the work done aboard the Beagle to schools. Adrian, his expertise and enthusiasm are most welcome.
2. I've been told to ask you to design a t-shirt for us, of which more later.
3. Science: I'll leave to Nunatak to update you, when she has a moment.
4. We have an interesting and significant new partner coming alongside, whose involvement could open our exploring, scientific and climate change work into interesting new directions. David Lort-Phillips and I are off to London meet Nunatak, him and (Darwin's Megatherium - no that's not his megatherium of natural selection) tomorrow.

A note of support to our Darwin200 peeps in Scotland

Staff at The National Library of Scotland, fellow Darwin200 partner and caretaker of Scotland's greatest literary treasures including the John Murray Archive (Murray published the first edition of Darwin's On the Origin of Species...), worked through the night on Monday to save flood-damaged books from an otherwise mouldy and/or gluey death.

As the Scotsman tells us in their report of the flood, a water pipe burst on Monday night at 11:30pm and caused "heavy flooding" that "seeped through several floors" damaging books and manuscripts. The leak was stopped in just five minutes. An emergency team of librarians was then rapidly assembled in the dead of night to begin the time-sensitive work of separating pages, drying and in some cases freezing before mould could set in.

And so, we at the Beagle Project raise our glasses in thanks to those involved in stopping the leak (within five minutes) and especially to those librarians doing night shift book triage and conservation.

Very fortunately, the the Murray archive was not damaged, because, among other treasures it includes this letter Charles Darwin wrote to publisher John Murray on 31 March, 1859, pitching his book On the Origin of Species... . Here is page four of Darwin's letter, on which he lists the proposed chapter headings:
For those who, like me, can't read Victorian chicken scratch, here is the transcript.

A bit of archaic fun, and an eloquent lesson.

It's microbial week over at Deep Sea News and to help the week pass in flagellum tappin' style Kevin Z. (of the Other95, previously blogged about at this parish) has written and performs a song in honour of bacteria. It's good.

Kevin's current post The world inside a coconut contains a most wonderful description of why he fell in love with what he does. Kevin tells of doing scut work on a research boat and when the samples come up:
I also found my passion was sorting through rocks, sediment, snot, you name it and finding critters. I seemed to be very good at it as the Chief P.I. and other biologists seemed pretty please with my findings! Sorting is still something I take great pleasure in. I get all giggly when a box full of crap comes up from the seafloor, filled with various worms, gastropods, amphipods... its the "what new thing might I find if I keep looking?" that keeps my interests peaked.

10 September 2007


Is there anyone out there who could help us with translations into Spanish and Portuguese? We are finding a lot of interest from South America, and as noted in the previous post, Darwin and the Beagle spent a great deal of time in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru.

It would be great to have the website translated so that scientists, teachers and students to could find out what we are planning to do, and make some plans of their own. The translating would have to be unpaid, we're afraid: we have a boat to build.


is the neat little map widget down and right. It shows us where you come from and the good people at Clustrmaps have listed us on their User of the Month site, for which our prize is two years free up grade to their + service: thanks chaps! You will see an ever increasing number of blobs in South America : word appears to be spreading that we are planning to bring a replica Beagle back to the shores and ports visited by HMS Beagle, FitzRoy and Darwin. Charles Darwin had a terrific time in South America: most of the Voyage of the Beagle (chapters 1 to 16 out of 21) is devoted to his time on that great continent. The Galapagos finches get the credit, but the forests, fossil, flora, fauna, earthquakes, pampas, mountains and cordilleras of South America opened and prepared his mind. Without them he might have just looked at the finches like a clot, and thought they would be nice in a pie.

So go have a look at Clustrmaps and their User of the Month weblog. We like links. And we like South America: the enthusiasm of the approaches we are getting, the cheerful offers of cooperation are a lift to the spirits.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science

Festival of Science opens in York today. Yorkshire welcomes scientists: we welcomed Charles Darwin in 1859. He lurked in Ilkley taking quack hydropathic treatment (what would Dawkins have said?) and posting first editions of The Origin of Species with self-deprecating covering letters.

Obviously we at the Beagle Project are in favour of the advancement of science: will anyone be blogging from the fair? If so, gimme your feed url and we'll post it here. Meanwhile, Festival news from the BA is here.

So: Britain's biggest science promotion event opens. How sad the BBC doesn't bother to mention it on its news or science pages. Britney's been on TV, that's more important - website front page news - than scientists in York assembled. This is not a cheap dig, it's indicative of what we're up against in trying to convince young people that science matters and is relevant. Another reason we need a replica HMS Beagle.

8 September 2007

On my honour, I will try (1/4)

The folks over at The Science Creative Quarterly have hit on a stellar idea. They call it the Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique, and this is their (or should I say our) badge:
To qualify for membership, you have to meet their standards, not least you have to be "mostly in agreement with the truth". And, just like the normal scouts (now there's an oxymoron), there are merit badges. It's no fun just to show your badges. As you'll see, the whole point is to tell the story behind them. Turns out I have pre-qualified for 17 OOTSSOERAAAP badges myself. That's a lot of stories to tell, so I thought I'd add them a few at a time. Here's the first tranche:

Note: to see how one earns each badge, visit OOTSSOERAAAP.

The "talking science" badge. Well, this is sort of a no-brainer (or, perhaps, a brainer). I talk science, sometimes inducing acute boredom in others. I do think I deserve a special mention for talking so much science once that I lost my voice. Then I croaked science.

The “I blog about science” badge. Another no-brainer. See my posts on this blog. Nearly every one is about science. Some of the meatier ones are here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

The "arts and crafts" badge. My dear friend Jennie with whom I sat back to back for four years during grad school (and we still managed to like each other at the end), is my chief witness on this one. Some of our crafty sciencegeek hijinks included:

1) Home decorating ... but in the lab. You see, we spent an awful lot of time in there. And there weren't any windows. Add to that the sound of an interminably noisy shaking incubator named "Caligula", and what you get is a near-perfect prison cell. So, we did what any light-deprived grad students would do. We painted our lab orange.
2) Dissertation procrastination by means of arts and crafts. Some people go to the pub, some play video games, Jennie and I did arts and crafts, mostly using Photoshop. It could not possibly have helped me finish my PhD to have created variously colourised versions of this DAPI-stained Drosophila egg chamber (left), but I did it anyways (right).

The "I'm pretty comfortable around an open flame" badge. I have used bunsen burners to sterilise implements, yes, but also to clean my bench. It's very simple, you just (a) squirt benchtop with 100% ethanol and wipe all around, (b) light on fire. Voila, a sterile benchtop. Perfect right before a three-day weekend ...or after some less than tidy lab mate uses your bench for something, well, less than tidy.

Coming soon, badges 5-17. I know you can't wait.

7 September 2007

Welcome back, Detlev.

Continuing our introductions to the Beagle team (a few exciting new arrivals to come) meet shipwright Detlev Loell, who has just returned from sailing around Spitzbergen. Detlev is a master ship builder (which I think in German is a bootsbaumeister) and the go-to Herr for things square rigger. Detlev runs a shipyard in Peenemuende, Germany and is often to be found building, renovating, rerigging or repairing square riggers around the world. We asked him to send us a pic, and this arrived. Never say German's don't have a sense of humour - to explain, Frau Loell is also a master shipwright, and runs residential boatbuilding courses in Peenemuende. You turn up with enthusiasm, you drive away with varnish on your hands and a completed small boat strapped on your car-top. Here Detlev is sea-testing one of the yard's latest builds.

When Darwin met Fitzroy

On 5 September 1831 one of the most significant and tense relationships in modern history began. Charles Darwin met his 'beau ideal' of a captain, Robert Fitzroy. Fitzroy's initial reservations about Darwin's nose shape were overcome and Darwin was offered the berth. Darwin was Fitzroy's guest, there to take care of the science ashore and be a gentleman companion at the captain's table.

The two famously argued about slavery, and Fitzroy was both quick to anger and magnanimous in apology. By the time Darwin left Beagle in 1836, relations were still cordial. Then Darwin's drafts of the Voyage of The Beagle reached Fitzroy, who blew a gasket at Darwin's perceived ingratitude to Beagle and her crew, something Darwin rectified before publication.

Their respective careers developed and diverged. Darwin became a scientist, one of the most eminent of his (or any) age. Fitzroy (an outstanding seaman and meteorologist, and no mean geologist and natural historian himself) struggled for preferment in the Royal Navy, was sent to New Zealand as governor, and on his return to Britain founded what became the Meteorological Office. His later life was marked by regrets over his role in allowing Darwin to conceive his theory of natural selection, a deterioration in his mental health and eventual suicide.

Yet without the invitation to sail, the 5th September meeting between the Beau Idea of a captain and the man he would call Philos, history might have been very different.

Hat tip The Red Notebook, also covered at the Dispersal of Darwin. And in a neat bit of something that ends in -ity (serendipity?) the Dispersal of Darwin author thanks the Red Notebook's author for some Darwin memorabilia here.

5 September 2007

Darwin's Beagles...

if you're an undergrad with an interest in evolution and things connected therewith (and you should be) check out Darwin's Beagles. It was kicked off by the excellent blogger Laelaps, and deserves to become an evo site noted for its vim and vigour.

1 September 2007

Friends in hydrothermal places

Penn State marine biologist Kevin Zelnio over at The Other 95% has honoured little ol' us by listing us as one of five "new and interesting blogs" that he "regularly reads". The honour is heightened by his listing us alongside ScienceBloggers Deep Sea News and Zooillogix, that unflappable slayer of both HIV and creationism that is ERV (that's Endogenous Retrovirus to you), whose tag-line I vote the all-time best in blogdom ("If we're made in God's image, God's made of gag, pol, and env") and last but not least rock-flipping advocate Cephalopodcast (now with 20% more Kraken).

Sorry it took us so long to put you on our blogroll, Kevin. To make up for it you are cordially invited to join us for tea aboard the Beagle come the glorious day.