30 June 2008
There will be space occupied in the newspapers by this and the Daily Telegraph is off the mark today with a comment piece.
Charles Darwin was not the father of atheism, by a Mr Pitcher who on a little further digging turns out to be a Reverend Pitcher.
Indeed, Reverend. In some years of education about Darwin and evolution, and many more talking to people who know far more than I no one has ever suggested, even after injudicious amounts of booze, that Darwin was the father of atheism.
In this spirit, may I agree that Darwin was not the father of atheism, that apples are not oranges and entropy is not Treebeard with a hangover. We could fill whole felled rainforests with what Darwin is not, with what other people are not, with what things which exist are not, and with what things not yet invented are not or may not become.
But in this magnificent 18 months when we are celebrating the achievements of great scientists and explorers - Darwin, Wallace, Fitzroy, the entire crew of the Beagle, Darwin's supporters when his work was contra mundum - and of science in its infancy could the media not try to encourage this pointless comment controversy and not walk the tired, oh so tired God vs science path.
Science: good in its own right.
He was a self-trained comparative anatomist of great ability, who proposed that birds are descended from theropod dinosaurs and in his early professional life did much work on marine invertebrates. Like Darwin, Huxley went to sea and obtained much his early scientific self-education to being on the decks of a ship. He sailed as an assistant surgeon on HMS Rattesnake (left) between 1846 and 1850, and like many who worked in the surgeon's berth it was understood that 'naturalizing' would occupying his time when not physicking the crew with the blue pill and the black draught.
His achievements and positions are too numerous to list without boring the face off you, Wikipedia does a good job of summarizing his life, although to do justice to Huxley's life does need the two volume biography by Adrian Desmond - Huxley: the Devil's Disciple and Evolution's High Priest.
Now help us build a replica HMS Beagle to asist with another of Huxley's geat concerns - scientific education and increasing the public understanding of science: eyes down and buy the brillig new t-shirt with Diana Sudyka's logo.
UK, Europe and Japan shop
USA, rest of world shop here.
29 June 2008
Remember, every purchase includes a donation to help us build the new Beagle, not to mention making you a walking advertisement for the project.
We've got two shops, depending on your location:
Diana Sudyka, who so generously donated her time and talent to our cause.
28 June 2008
26 June 2008
It would fair to say they were impressed with our idea and our vision for what we want HMS Beagle to do. We don't expect money from them (although it would be nice - we need £100,000 pronto to get the plan approval process underway) because they have scientists to support and a budget under pressure.
Also in the UK one of our patrons will today be raising our project with Rt. Hon. Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Climate Change forms a large part of their remit.
Given that the majority of the British public is still unconvinced about H. sapien's role in climate change, we hope that the Secretary of State with responsibility for the environment will look kindly on our project: science education and public understanding of science are at the heart of a sailing rebuilt HMS Beagle, and our efforts will be aimed at the generation in school today - young people who will be most affected by climate change and for whom an understanding of science will be crucial in helping departments like DEFRA counter it at a government level.
Beagle Project house keeping: we are at present a not-for-profit company, and according to our legal advisors, the application for charitable status is grinding through the channels.
25 June 2008
A faint but unmistakable rumble was heard in the vicinity of Westminster Abbey at about 2am on Friday night. Passers-by stumbling home from the bars were flummoxed, and those who didn’t have the misfortune of picking up a copy of the Financial Times the next morning remained blissfully so.
For the sad few who happened to read the balderdash passing for a regular column in FT Magazine on Saturday, though, the reason for the seismic shiver the night before became painfully and immediately obvious: at the precise moment the column was published, Charles Darwin rolled in his grave.
Though the columnist, “Mrs Moneypenny”, begins by claiming a more than a superficial interest in Darwin, she then proceeds to contradict that statement throughout the rest of her column. "I fully subscribe to Darwin's theory of natural selection” she proclaims, and then goes on to write errantly and at length on “survival of the fittest”, something that for her involves regular sessions the South Moreton Boxing Club.
"I am getting fitter,” she proclaims, “so I should survive." Actually, if what Mrs Moneypenny is interested in is Darwinian fitness, perhaps she should spend less time at the gym and more time with Mr Moneypenny.
Then, astonishingly, it gets worse. "I am not sure why we need lists of endangered species” she complains. “If species are not fit enough to survive, then surely they should be allowed to become extinct? The Red List…has evaluated 87 varieties of parakeet…what is the point of a parakeet?" For Mrs Moneypenny's sake, I sincerely hope that the cure for incurable cynicism is not found in the poo of a rare parakeet species.
Quips aside, Moneypenny’s question raises an important point. After all, she is not alone in wondering why the variety (rather than just the sheer number) of organisms is important. In case you are wondering yourself, there are loads of resources on the services biodiversity performs for you, but the main thing to remember is that all living things, including us, rely entirely on the existence of complex (and therefore robust) natural ecosystems. Yet another message that the Beagle will take to the masses.
24 June 2008
This is the second major contribution to British maritime heritage by Mr Ofer, who in March donated £20 million to the National Maritime Museum.
Once the replica HMS Beagle is built and launched, young people who have become fascinated with ships and the sea by visiting static (though still wonderful) vessels such as Cutty Sark or HMS Victory or seen the displays in the National Maritime Museum will be able to visit the rebuilt HMS Beagle in port, sail on her as voyage crew, to feel the heave of a living deck under their feet and follow her voyages, exploration and science work online. For an island nation with a rich maritime heritage we are woefully lacking in working examples of the square riggers which assured our trade and defended our shores (an assailed the shores and fleets of others, now our friends).
And for Britain to build a living, sailing square rigger, we too need donations. In 1820 the original was built at a cost of £7,803. The modern rebuild will cost rather more: £5 million. But the chance to sail the replica HMS Beagle around the Galapagos and endow a ship which will work in scientific and environmental outreach? Priceless. Contact us to donate or discuss sponsorship.
During his voyages abroad in the 19th century, a young, well-educated Englishman observed a world full of astonishing biological diversity. He developed an insatiable need to make sense of it all, so he kept meticulous records and stockpiled his specimens for further study back home. He drew inspiration from Charles Lyell, Alexander von Humboldt and Thomas Malthus. The combination of these experiences sparked his conception of natural selection as a mechanism for evolution.
His name was Alfred Russel Wallace and his ship was the brig Helen.
In 1848 at the age of 25, the year of this photograph, Wallace set out across the seas to do some naturalizing (as one did). After four years in the Amazon basin, he boarded the Helen with his specimens, and after three weeks at sea, the captain approached Wallace and calmly announced, 'I am afraid the ship's on fire. Come and see what you think of it.'
Though Wallace and the crew were rescued, Wallace's specimens were lost. Not to be put off, he trotted off on a second voyage, this time to the Malay Archipelago. It was here that he established himself as the "grandfather of biogeography" when he published his observations on the geographical line, later called the "Wallace Line" in his honor, that divides the fauna of Asia and Australasia. He also began to pull together a theory that explained the origin of the variety of species that he so energetically collected and recorded.
In the meantime, back in England, one Charles Darwin was sitting on the same theory, which he had hit on twenty years earlier but was keeping secret until he could amass the overwhelming amount of evidence he thought necessary to go public with such a blasphemous theory. When he received a letter from Wallace seeking his advice on publishing his (nearly identical) ideas on evolution, Darwin was spurred into action. In an admirable instance of scientific collegiality, Darwin and Wallace shared the limelight: their joint paper was presented at the Linnaean Society in the summer of 1858.
In other words, if it hadn't been for Darwin's stellar ability to communicate science to the masses, Wallace's penchant for for the supernatural, and a flaming shipwreck off the coast of Brazil, this might have been The Helen Project.
For more on Alfred Russel Wallace, visit the Wallace Collection website at the Natural History Museum in London and learn a bit more about the man who might have been Darwin.
19 June 2008
Yes, a Kansas City community college prof named "Craig" has had himself tattooed with our muse, the HMS Beagle herself. This is a cropped image. Click the tat to see it in its glorious entirety at Carl Zimmer's Science Tattoo Emporium:
"I teach English at a community college in Kansas City. My tattoo is attached. You might wonder why I am sending a tattoo of a sailing ship to you. That's not just any ship: it is the Beagle, in a famous image as it anchored off of the Galapagos. Darwin has long been one of my main intellectual heroes. In addition, I do teach science (evolution and climate change at various times) in writing classes because the "debates" about each represent much that is wrong with public discourse today and because we have a theme of informed citizenship in those classes; it is impossible to be an informed citizen without some understanding of what science is and how it works. For both of those reasons, teaching science in college writing classes is both relevant and very interesting"
I can't help wondering, does Craig's tattoo hurt in a Harry Potterish way when Bill Dembski comes near? Craig, if you're out there, do get in touch. We'd love to welcome you aboard the new Beagle once she's built - drinks on me.
h/t Kevin Zelnio, himself the owner of some impressive science tats
18 June 2008
The owner of the model, Simon Keynes, Cambridge professor and a great great grandson of Charles Darwin, tells me,
"My model of the Beagle, based directly on the drawings in Marquardt's book ... is a bit over 3 ft in length (from the tip of the bowsprit to the dinghy over the stern), and about 2ft 9 in from its base to the top of the main mast. (What you can't see is that one can lift off the poop deck, in order to reveal the poop cabin below, with the chart table, bookcases, etc.) ...
"I asked to have the courses and the royals furled (as seems generally to have been the case when the Beagle was drawn by Martens), with only the topgallants and topsails set, with two staysails and a jib, and the spanker on the mizzen mast (which must have been rather useful for steerage). I didn't ask for the main and fore trysails to be set, yet they couldn't resist providing them; but it's not clear to me that they would or could have been used at the same time as the square sails. I shall be very interested to have any comments from others."
16 June 2008
I quite like the oak tree idea... not just because it is a visual representation of evolutionary history but also because English oak is the main ingredient in a particular little ship that bore Darwin on a journey that he said was "the most important event" in his life.Kovats was selected over 9 shortlisted artists, including Turner Prize winners. She was awarded the honour of creating a new permanent installation artwork on the ceiling of a gallery at the Museum.
'The judges were unanimous in their decision that Tania's response to this challenge was the most appropriate, even exceeding the criteria, and is an excellent response from the contemporary arts,' said Bob Bloomfield, the project leader.
'It is considerate to the Grade 1 listed building and explores one of Darwin's core ideas, that all living things share a common evolutionary origin.'
'The work connects with the tradition of specimen collecting, preservation and curation, which lies at the heart of the natural history museums.'
Tania Kovats says, 'I am delighted to be able to make a tribute to this unique individual, in such a wonderful institution.'
One of the largest specimens
At more than 17m long, TREE will become one of the largest specimens at the Museum. Work will begin immediately and it will be unveiled on 12 February 2009, exactly 200 years after Darwin was born.
'TREE came out of my time in South America, where Darwin has been an inspiring travelling companion,' says Kovat.
'I think the tree is a really useful model of thought, and the cross-section is a way of understanding anything in the natural world.'
'Darwin's branching tree drawing in one of his notebooks, where he started to put his ideas down about evolution, is one I've thought about a lot. He wrote at the top of the page "I think" and then his thought breaks down and becomes an image.'
'It's a branching thought almost, whether a tree or a coral, quite remarkable for how it presents to him a proof of where his thoughts are going. It was a trigger for how I wanted to respond to working with the Museum.'
'What I have always loved about the Natural History Museum is how it is such a magnificent collection of real things and all the exquisite craft that has gone into both the building and the display of these things.'
The judging panel, of art, science and architecture experts was hugely impressed with the 10 proposals. They selected the final work by identifying which proposal:
Darwin's Canopy exhibition is the first event in a nationwide programme called Darwin200, celebrating Darwin’s ideas and their impact around his two hundredth birthday. It runs until 14 September and features the 10 artists' concepts for the ceiling.
- was one of the most outstanding works of contemporary art
- most encapsulates Darwin's ideas and their contemporary significance to our understanding of the natural world and understanding our place within it
- was most sympathetic/appropriate in its response to the Grade I listed Waterhouse building
- can be delivered as a completed work by the end of January 2009, to open on Charles Darwin's bicentenary on 12 February 2009
13 June 2008
I met Mike in November when I went to Houston to explore a collaboration between NASA and The Beagle Project involving joint science, education and outreach. A formal agreement is under discussion, so watch this space (heh heh, pun very much intended).
Astronaut and physician Mike Barratt inside one of several space shuttle
cockpit simulators at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
11 June 2008
"Digital Archive: Charles Darwin" contains some of the most delightful writing on Darwin/Beagle that I've read in a long long time. Here's a sample:
*wild applause from The Beagle Project*
Grave, sober Darwin. The melancholic Santa, staring out at us as if we were vandalizing his sleigh. This is the Darwin we remember: the tired revolutionary, the Devil’s Chaplin, a man so afflicted by ailments that he was a prisoner of Down House where he lived. Yet Darwin’s story — and the revolution he set off — grows out of his experiences as a youthful explorer, a roving naturalist aboard HMS Beagle.
The above calls to mind my ongoing championship of images (both written and visual) of Darwin the young explorer.
Then there's "The Reenacted Voyage", in which intrepid historian-blogger Michael Robinson documents his experience on a modern research sailing ship, the Corwith Cramer:
And so, from all of us here at The Beagle Project: welcome to the blogosphere, Michael! I'm very much looking forward to following your adventures and reading more of your brilliant turns of phrase along the lines of "melancholic Santa". What a keeper.In my former career in science, the mysteries of life were something best looked at indoors, preferably under a laminar flow hood where they wouldn’t infect you. Today my research questions are different. They focus on humans rather than marine ecology or rarefied microbes. And it was the human element of the voyage that made the its greatest impression on me, namely my own halting adaptation to life aboard ship.
10 June 2008
But in the meantime why not head over to Christie's auction house (Manhattan) and get yourself some revolution in book form?
Under the hammer this week is a collection of no fewer than 347 historical scientific writings by Darwin, Descartes, Newton, Freud, Kepler and Copernicus. Did you get that everyone? Darwin, blah, blah, Newton, blah... Copernicus.
We do tend to bang on here at about Darwin, and sure, I'd love to get myself a first edition copy of On the Origin of Species (though I'd trade it in a hummingbird's heartbeat for even a portion of a shiny new Beagle), but... Copernicus, people.
Darwin may have knocked man off from atop the living world by publishing evidence of (and a mechanism for) evolution, but Copernicus knocked man (and his ittle Earth) out of the centre of the cosmos by publishing evidence in support of a heliocentric solar system.
This is what revolution looks like:
"Nicolaus Copernicus's book 'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium' ('On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres'). In it, the Polish astronomer laid out his theory that the Earth and other planets go around the Sun, contravening a millennium of church dogma that the Earth was the center of the universe." (Caption lifted from NYT slide show about the auction.)
I love how ragged, stained, and read, it looks. You can almost imagine some 16th Century intellectual sitting down with a cup of coffee*, opening the book, reading the first couple of pages and then, upon reading the bit that says, "oh and by the way, we're not at the centre of the universe" (pardon my rough translation), jumping up and spilling their coffee all over the cover.
In his article about the auction in the New York Times, Dennis Overbye wrote, "It was a thrill to hold Copernicus in my hands on a recent visit to the back rooms of Christie’s and flip through its hallowed pages as if it were my personal invitation to the Enlightenment."
Also to be auctioned are Newton's Principia and Darwin's Origin (I like using these nicknames - you know a book is big when it can go by one word, sort of like Madonna):
I can't help mentioning that the $80,000 it would cost to take home this copy of Origin is the same amount that it will cost to build the laboratory aboard the new Beagle, and the $900,000 to $1.2 million Copernicus's book will likely bring in at auction would build the entire hull.
Come to think of it, who needs some old rag when you could have a new Beagle sailing the world, pushing science forward in her bow wave?
*16th Century Europeans would not have actually had access to coffee, or tea for that matter, those poor sods.
9 June 2008
Yes, I'm afraid a nasty cold (but doesn't "rhinovirus" sound both more serious and more sinister?) is to blame for the recent dearth of posts here at TBPB. I'm on the upswing now, though, so you can expect the regular flow to resume in the next couple of days. Now where did I put that box of tissues...
5 June 2008
4 June 2008
1 July 2008 - 150th anniversary of the day papers by Darwin and Wallace summarising, for the first time, their theory of natural selection, were read aloud at the Linnean Society in LondonThe launch event was held in the newly spiffed central hall of the Natural History Museum and was attended by several hundred delegates from the partner organisations (David Lort-Phillips and Adrian Richardson also present for The Beagle Project) and nearly a hundred journalists including good friend of the Beagle Project Matt Brown, who, like many of us, wears several hat: editor of Nature Network London, contributor to Londonist and, most importantly, ardent admirer of pickled giant squid.
12 February 2009 - bicentenary of Darwin's birth in Shrewsbury, Shropshire
24 November 2009 - 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, Darwin's "one long argument" that provided evidence and reasoning, not to mention accessible, inspiring prose, in support of evolution by natural selection
I very much enjoyed the speech by the President of the Royal Society, Lord Martin Rees, an astronomer who was quick to admit that "a star is easier to understand than the smallest insect", and the Darwin-themed poems read by four young poets from the Roundhouse in north London, two of which I've highlighted here before.
Now, with all those journalists there, you might expect to wake up the next morning and see a few write-ups. Strange thing was, my Google news search this morning for "Darwin" and "Natural History Museum" yielded very little. Maybe there was a little too much free champagne imbibed at the event, or maybe folks are planning pieces for their weekend editions. The shining exceptions were The Shropshire Star (hence my title) and the Londonist.
Ooo, and I can't sign off without mentioning the party favours: free copies of the beautifully illustrated hardback Darwin 2009 diary shown at left.
And for everyone who couldn't be there, here's a consolation prize: it's that handy little gadget, the Darwin200 events RSS feed.
Note: thanks to Michael Barton for pointing out the problem with the RSS feed linked above. The link itself is not broken (it worked for me earlier) - rather it's the XML itself that's the problem ...Darwin200's problem I'm afraid.
2 June 2008
LA CUMBRE DE DARWIN
Por Hilda Suárez y Alejandro Balbiano (Argentina)
En esta zona de la provincia de Buenos Aires existe un cordón serrano, cuyo cerro más emblemático es el Ventana, nombre que recibe por una formación natural: un hueco en su cumbre. Se pensó siempre que Darwin había escalado este cerro, pero resultaba extraño que no mencionara en su diario la existencia de tan notable característica.
El hueco, de 8 metros de alto, 5 de ancho y 10 de profundidad, fue una cueva que perdió la pared del fondo por la acción del agua y de los vientos, que actuaron sobre la roca durante millones de años. El lugar era frecuentado por los pampas serranos, antiguos pobladores nómades parientes de los tehuelches patagónicos.
Pero en su diario Darwin menciona que se encontró “con un valle al final del precipicio que me separaba de los 4 picos”. Y así es como se ve otro cerro de la zona, el Tres Picos, pero desde el río Sauce Grande, por donde él subió.
El Tres Picos es la cumbre más alta de la provincia de Buenos Aires, con 1.239 metros, y cuando se lo trepa por el paso Funke, como se hace actualmente, se pueden ver y visitar una serie de cuevas, que Darwin no pudo ver ya que lo ascendió desde el lado opuesto. En algunas de esas cuevas hay pinturas rupestres hechas por los nativos tehuelches. En una próxima entrega les contaremos algunos detalles del ascenso a su cumbre.
Antes de despedirnos, queremos contarles algo más. La zona de Sierra de la Ventana está ubicada en plena pampa argentina, y si bien es bastante seca, nunca lo fue tanto como este año. La región está bajo los efectos del fenómeno climático conocido como La Niña (con efectos opuestos al de El Niño) que aquí produce sequías.
Y este año las sequías fueron extremas, lo que contribuyó para que ocurrieran una serie de incendios, que afectaron un área protegida: el Parque Provincial Ernesto Tornquist, un lugar único de la Argentina y que protege a varias especies de aves, reptiles, anfibios y plantas, que solo viven en este lugar del planeta. Se quemaron unas 2 mil hectáreas de pastizal serrano.
La buena noticia es que luego del incendio llovió durante unos días, y después de una semana las plantas nativas o autóctonas comenzaron a brotar nuevamente…