28 April 2008

Speaking to a potential donor today...

'why', he asked, 'should this [a replica HMS Beagle] be built?'

Well, how about this BBC story headlined 'Darwin's footsteps: diving deep off South America's tip for climate change clues.' You click through and get this story about climate change in South America, which contains this:
"Charles Darwin came here in the 1830s.

It is where he began to formulate his Theory of Evolution, before sailing on to the Galapagos Islands."

I love the BBC, but from what I have read of Darwin's writings now available as primary sources at Darwin Online and the excellent biographies by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, and Janet Browne, this is a clanger. It was only in Darwin's ornithological notes on the Galapagos hummingbirds set down in late 1835 long after Beagle had left Tierra del Fuego that he writes that the 'stability of species' could be undermined should his specmens from different islands prove to be distinct varieties. His Beagle diaries for both visits to Tierra del Fuego betray no hint of what later became 'the species question'. He first committed his natural selection thoughts to paper in 1842, six years after he came ashore. (I am happy to be correct by more eminent Darwin scholars than I here...)

So, why the worry? Well, the British Broadcasting Corporation with educated correspondents, researchers and science reporters should not be getting the basics about a British hero of science so badly wrong. I emerged from my biology A level (precursor to my zoology B.Sc.) from a Yorkshire state school with only the vaguest knowledge of Charles Darwin and his work, and with absolutely no idea that he had posted his first copies of the Origin of Species from Ilkley only 50 miles from where I was being bored silly in double biology.

Other members of the Beagle Project management team have other hopes for what the rebuilt HMS Beagle will do. David Lort-Phillips (whose relative John Lort Stokes shared a cabin with Darwin and went on to become Beagle's captain on her third voyage to Australia) hopes that her voyage to Australia will move from the shadow of The Voyage with Darwin, and rightly so. Nunatak wants seas sampled, genomes shotgun sequenced, DNAs barcoded and greater science literacy among the general population.

I want every schoolchild in the country (and abroad) to be able to click a mouse and find out about Darwin (and Captain FitzRoy, who saw darwin safe around the world) through following a replica HMS Beagle as she sails and carries out her science and teaching work. Not everyone will become scientists, but they should carry on in their lives with Nunatak's improved scientific literacy and basic knowledge of how this giant of science came to establish one of the fundamental theories of biology. No science student should leave school without knowing this stuff, no BBC correspondent should sail Tierra del Fuego and write on their science pages in error about it. So, potential donor, that's why a replica HMS Beagle should be built.

2 comments:

alshell said...

I whole heartedly agree with the BBC article. .The Cape, Patagonia, Chile, were the geographical places 'Darwin 1:spent the most time, expericed an earthquake, a volcano erupt.,sent more speciman's back to England, is really where the real seeds of his theory begain. On the finches of the Galapo.. 'Darwin did not even understand , until his orthentholigst told him , after yeaes back in England that his island birds were most all finches, then the light lit up!., yes Chile , and South America, as the BBC stated , South America started his thinking on his theory, This I beleive. al shell , Tennessee.

nototen said...

I also think that the idea of evolution first appeared in Darwin´s mind after visiting Patagonia, after reading Niles Eldredge´s book on Darwin.