We spend a lot of time filtering dogs out of our news alerts. We even get the occasional email from a baffled breeder wanting to know what sort of kibble will bring out the best shine in his dog's coat.
Normally these items are instantly consigned to the electronic rubbish heap, but today seems like as good a day as any to give a shout out to the HMS Beagle's namesake.
According to Yahoo News, Uno, left, is best of the beagles at the 2008 Westminster dog show. With any luck, he'll go all the way and win Best in Show tomorrow, which also happens to be Darwin's birthday. Coincidence? Perhaps, but it's not the only one. You see, reading the Yahoo piece, I couldn't help noticing the parallels between beagle the breed and Beagle the ship.
For example, Ben Walker quotes Westminster host David Frei as saying, "Great show dogs often have an air about them. It's like this is their world and we're just living in it, but beagles want to be in our world." I can think of another Beagle that wants to be in our world.
Then Walker quotes Eddie Dzuik, one of Uno's co-owners, who said, "To have the general public see an average dog going and competing and actually winning would send a signal that everyone can do it." Everyone can do it: that is also the message of The HMS Beagle Project, except we're talking about science not the Platonic result of an intensive breeding programme.
"A beagle winning would bring down the house," Frei continues. You might say that the new Beagle will bring down a few ivory towers, too, by promoting participation in and understanding of science in all social quarters.
But the parallels don't end with the article. After all, an important part of Darwin's formulation and explanation of the theory of natural selection came from contemplating the results of artificial selection. Sure he focused primarily on pigeons in his masterful exposition, but he also pays quite a lot of attention to dogs. Just as Uno is the result of artificial selection for all the traits deemed essential to beagleness, so is the wolf the result of natural selection for traits that imparted enhanced survival and reproduction.
Maybe in 2009 Uno will agree to pose for the carving of the new Beagle's figurehead. I can think of no better emblem. Go Uno!
Update (12 Feb): Uno wins best in group!
Update (13 Feb): Uno wins best in show!