29 November 2007


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. —


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)....


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


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:

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...


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

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.


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.

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


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.