30 January 2009

David Attenborough on 5 Live:

the podcast is here. Go and listen to those brilliant mellifluous tones right now.

David Attenborough

was on the Simon Mayo show (BBC Radio 5 Live) talking about Darwin today between 2 and 3 pm. Absolutely superb. I'm sure it will be a podcast very shortly. Unlike the TV programmes, the listen again facility does work outside the UK. Fans of Attenborough (and please leave your brains at reception if you are not) will be delighted to hear that he will be taking over the broadcasting slot on Radio 4 vacated by the sad death of Alastair Cook.

Cook for many years broadcast his weekly Letter from America, and while details are vague it seems that our airwaves may yet have Attenborough's wonderful voice narrating a weekly letter from the natural world.

29 January 2009

The one we've all been waiting for: Attenborough does Darwin

Of all the Darwin bicentenary coverage everywhere - in print, on blogs, on radio, on television and even in the cinema - there is one treatment of Darwin that I have been waiting for with particular excitement: David Attenborough's.

The octogenarian natural history filmmaker is a living legend, not just in UK but around the world, and, ever since I saw Private Life of Plants, he has been a hero of mine. His genius is his infectious enthusiasm for the natural world, his insatiable - almost childlike - curiosity, his eloquence, his tendency towards modesty, and above all his aim: to hold up in front of us all a looking glass to the natural world so that we can share in and be amazed by its abundance, diversity and the sheer power of its beauty, from wherever we are.

So when I heard a while back that he'd be making a documentary for the Darwin bicentenary, I couldn't wait. Well, finally, the hour is at hand. This Saturday, Attenborough does Darwin, on tv (BBC One), yes, but also online. The programme is called "Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life" and here's a trailer:


In association with the programme there is also going to be what promises to be a pretty kick-a** animation of the tree of life funded by the Wellcome Foundation, and you can even order a free Tree of Life poster from the BBC's partner in the series, the Open University (UK only, I'm afraid).

bow of the sprit to Michael Barton

Plan now for Darwin Day

As noted - rather flamboyantly - in the previous post, 'what are you doing Darwin Day?' is the question of the hour. Only two weeks left until Darwin's 200th birthday, so it's time to make your plans. Below are the Darwin Day public event listings for the UK. For those of you not fortunate enough to be celebrating in Darwin's native land, do not despair, there are 31 countries with events posted to the Darwin Day site, and you can find them by typing your city (and travel radius) into the event search page.

And, of course, you can celebrate online: every blogger worth their salt will be participating in the Blog For Darwin blog swarm between February 12th and 15th.

Date and Time: 2009-02-07 19:30:00
Humanist Academy
(Location TBA)
Glasgow/Scotland G129BB, UNITED KINGDOM

Date and Time: 2009-03-22 21:00:00
Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery
Glasgow/Scotland , UNITED KINGDOM

Date and Time: 2009-02-07 13:00:00
London/England , UNITED KINGDOM

Date and Time: 2009-02-12 18:30:00
Conway Hall
Red Lion Square

Date and Time: 2009-03-19 18:30:00
Conway Hall
Red Lion Square

Leviathan ( Public )
Date and Time: 2009-02-12 19:30:00
Ashcroft Road
Gainsborough/Lincolnshire DN21 1BY, UNITED KINGDOM

Date and Time: 2009-02-12 19:30:00
St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel
St Saviourgate
York/North Yorkshire YO1 8NQ, UNITED KINGDOM

Date and Time: 2009-02-12 19:00:00
The Glasgow Science Center

Date and Time: 2009-02-09 19:00:00
The Tower Room, Rutherglen Town Hall
139 Main Street
Rutherglen/Scotland , UNITED KINGDOM

Date and Time: 2009-02-14 14:00:00
outside the Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road
London/England SW7 5BD, UNITED KINGDOM

Date and Time: 2009-02-12 12:30:00
The Bellstone
Morris Hall Courtyard
Shrewsbury/Shropshire , UNITED KINGDOM

Date and Time: 2009-02-08 10:00:00
Beverley baptist church, Swinemoor Junior School
Burnden Road
Beverley/East riding of Yorkshire HU17 9LP, UNITED KINGDOM

Date and Time: 2009-02-11 16:00:00
Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road
London/England SW7 5BD, UNITED KINGDOM

28 January 2009

Here comes the jackpot question in advance

...what are you doing Darwinnnn, Darrrr-win Day? Whaaaat are you doing Darwin Day?
To be sung along to Rufus Wainwright's version of 'What Are You Doing New Year's Eve':

Seriously, 'what are you doing Darwin Day?' (i.e. February 12th) seems to be increasingly on everyone's lips, around London at least. Apparently there are several VIP parties (I count myself very lucky to have been invited to one of them, but not several like some people I know).

If you're not a VIP, never fear, why not join me at the annual Centre for Ecology and Evolution's Darwin's Birthday Party, this year on the 11th of February in the Flett Theatre at the Natural History Museum where 'all are welcome'! And as long as you're coming to the museum, you might as well take in the Darwin exhibition beforehand.

No matter where you are, you should definitely also check the Darwin200 website for events and exhibitions around the UK, and the Darwin Day website for events around the world.

Or you could always just sit back and relax, alone or with a few friends and a bottle of wine (or sherry, Darwin's drink of choice, as we are regularly reminded by the man himself) and watch/listen to some of the unstoppably brilliant content on the BBC Darwin website.

Whatever you do, please consider topping it off by giving a special Darwin bicentenary donation to the Beagle Project or buying something from our shop. After all, once Darwin Day has come and gone, we will still be here, working to support Darwin's future legacy in science, education and outreach.

27 January 2009

Darwin in a lake of fire

This just in from Anthony Smith, sculptor of the young Darwin statue to be unveiled on the 12th of February in Cambridge, a personal photograph of the statue being cast in bronze. This is just ...well, ...for once I have no words:

Young Darwin sculpture gets cast in bronze.
(c) Anthony Smith 2009 and reproduced here with his kind permission.

26 January 2009

Young Darwin sculpture by a young Darwin sculptor

Oh happy day! After literally years of asking the world for more images of the young Darwin, to remind us all how young he really was when he journeyed on the Beagle and began his intellectual journey towards natural selection (and thereby remind us all - especially young people - that you don't have to be a wizened gentleman to do great science), I am delighted to report that Anthony Smith is about to unveil his long-awaited sculpture of a young Darwin in Cambridge on - you guessed it - the 12th of February.

The sculpture, covered today by both BBC and the Times, is shown here (re-posted from Anthony's excellent website), in clay, before moulding and casting in bronze:

Left: Young Darwin sculpture. Right: young Darwin sculptor.


We first became acquainted with Anthony back in July 2007 when we covered his commission at our old blogspot, so it's particularly delightful to see it come to fruition. It was then that we learned Anthony's artistic skills extend to Photoshopping, as demonstrated by this rendering of Darwin in his elder years, wearing an XKCD t-shirt:

Congratulations, Anthony! I can't wait to go up to Cambridge and see the statue in person in all of it's bronzed, young Darwinny glory.

Bow of the sprit to Michael Barton (okay, and Google email alerts)

25 January 2009

Mike Haubrich: Beagle Projecteer Extraordinaire

Quite out of the (tangled up in) blue, Beagle Projecteer Mike Haubrich has taken some seriously admirable initiative on behalf of the Beagle Project and written to Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection the following letter:
One of the more important facets of understanding the effects of global climate change is understanding the effects that warming has on the oceans.

I have friends who are working to fund a project which will study the effects on the oceans. They are preparing to build a replica of Charles Darwin's home for five years on the ocean, HMS Beagle. This will be a working science ship that will follow the original ocean surveying voyage and gather new data.

The team have signed a deal with NASA to jointly measure the effects that change has on the ocean using satellites.

They will be gathering data on species sampling, cataloging organisms and also looking at the rapid loss of coral reefs and other effects that man has had on our environment.

The more important facet of this is as a tool to excite the curious about science exploration. How was the science done in the 19th century? How is it being done now?

A project this thrilling and exciting is sure to gather additional interest on the issue of climate change, and the prospect of a joint American and British project is certain to lead people into understanding what is at stake.

Imagine a square rigger sailing into the Galapagos Archipelago with live footage broadcast via satellite!

And so I write to ask if there are grant applications available through the Alliance for Climate Protection so that my friends can apply for funding through your group.

You can learn more about the project and the people behind it at :


Thank you for your consideration;

Mike Haubrich,
Mounds View, Minnesota
Mike, you are an absolute star - we may have to think of a special category for uber-Beagle Projecteers with you as the founding member. Thank you from the bottoms of our four-chambered hearts!

David Attenborough on Charles Darwin

in The Times. Go read.

24 January 2009

I'm ba-aaack!

Apologies, dear readers, for my lack of posts over the last couple of weeks (though Peter has been doing an admirable job in my absence not least his review of James Taylor's Voyage of the Beagle *applause*).

Before you deem me an unreliable blogger, however, please allow me to 'splain. You see, it's been a busy time for me. I know I run the risk here of who-cares-what-I-did-on-my-holiday blogging, but I don't do this often and I want you to know why I've been so slack (teh blogger guilt, it hurts).

First I went on a six-day skiing holiday in France which was, very sadly, marred by a particularly nasty encounter with the wee beastie at right. Then, with just an 18-hour turnaround I was off to North Carolina for ScienceOnline09, about which I shall shortly be posting.

Then I took the Amtrak train north to Baltimore so that I could attend - though I think the word witness might be more appropriate here - the inauguration of our* 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama *elation* ...which I twittered and posted on YouTube.

Left: tweeting the inauguration (photo M. Hoang).
Right: My view at the inauguration. More photos coming soon to my Flickr stream.

*for anyone who still doesn't know (I know there are at least a few of you out there because I still get the occasional surprised look when I open my mouth), I'm American; Peter and Richard are Yorkshiremen; Elke is Canadian. We are an international blog.

NASA's Expedition 19 to the International Space Station

We're tremendously excited and rather* proud of our link with NASA, which, as of October 2008, is formalised by an International Space Act Agreement. The partnership will do and promote global climate and biodiversity science by correlating time-stamped images from the International Space Station with biological samples taken by the new Beagle's science crew from ocean surface water.

But 'images from the International Space Station' don't just take themselves. They are taken by astronauts aboard, and it is in fact a future ISS astronaut Michael Barratt who first approached The Beagle Project with the idea for the collaboration. And so it is with even more great excitement and pride that we count down to Mike's launch into space for a six-month stay aboard the ISS, scheduled for 25th March this year, aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-14. Here is Mike (2nd from left) with the rest of the Expedition 19 crew.

Expedition 19 crew from the left: Commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineers Michael Barratt, Koichi Wakata and Timothy Kopra. Padalka is a cosmonaut representing Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. Wakata is an astronaut representing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Image credit: NASA

We'll be making a big hoo-ha about the launch and will provide links to NASA images, articles and video (including hopefully live feed of the launch) right here so stay tuned.

*grossest understatement in the history of understatements

23 January 2009

The Voyage of the Beagle by James Taylor.

Anovabooks, £20.00 ISBN 9781844860661

Until now I would have said that there were two essential books on the Voyage of the Beagle. The original by Charles Darwin and Fossils, Finches and Fuegians by Richard Keynes.

The Voyage of the Beagle by maritime historian James Taylor makes a third, because it sets the voyage in a wider and often neglected context. There is a whole story around HMS Beagle, the voyage and her crew that is readily lost in the Darwin-saw-some-finches-and-invented-evolution of popular myth. This book corrects that myth while keeping Darwin’s subsequent achievements in their rightful place.

First things first. This is one lovely book. The designer (Georgina Hewitt) deserves an award for her work. The book is a joy to read and very few of the pages are not complemented by beautifully chosen illustrations. Anyone putting coffee-cup rings on it should be sent to bed without any supper.

What more can be written about Darwin and the Voyage? He must be one of the best documented, most dissected figures in modern history and the Voyage likewise.

Well, in the hands of a maritime historian, there is plenty of new material to consider. There is a welcome chapter on FitzRoy’s officers and crew which brings these normally bit-part players to life and an excellent chapter on marine surveying, which was the main purpose of the 1831-36 voyage.

Those of us who sail take modern, accurate Admiralty charts or digital chart plotters for granted. The real heroes of the 18th and 19th century sailing world were the navigators like FitzRoy who sailed into unknown waters, landed on uncharted coasts and filled in the blanks. The work was incredibly painstaking, and the book contains reproductions of the charts made based on the work done by FitzRoy and his crew. The detail and precision are astonishing. That this kind of history is not taught in British schools is a disgrace.

The Beagle gets a chapter all to herself, and while it is obvious that Mr Taylor has thoroughly mined what sources there are, details of her build, refit, accommodation and life aboard are sketchy. She was one of many not well-liked line of workaday naval vessels all of which did valuable work. Had it not been for Darwin, they would otherwise have been remembered only for their wetness on deck and reputation for sinking. Most people don’t write about their offices, nor did Beagle’s crew.

The Voyage of the Beagle moves on to another under-appreciated aspect of the voyage in the chapter Earle and Martens: FitzRoy’s Painting Men. In the days before photography, the task of recording a coastline for navigational advice, illustrating a book or recording a specimen needed artistic skill and during the voyage Augustus Earle and Conrad Martens carried out this work. Sadly Marten’s stay aboard the Beagle ended when the Admiralty forced FitzRoy to sell his companion schooner and effectively lay off the artist in residence.

The book does cover the hinterland to the Voyage: Darwin’s early life, how he came to be aboard and the consequences both for the cast of characters and society. Given that this book is primarily about the Voyage, both of these chapters are overviews but still with nuggets for someone who thinks they know the ground well: I learned that Emma Darwin was a pianist who spent some time under the tuition of none other than Chopin.

To this sailor who has an enthusiastic interest in Darwin, this book is extremely welcome. I do occasionally get emails and comments here that Darwin gets all the puff and the poor old Beagle and FitzRoy none of the credit they deserve. They're right. This book goes a long way to righting that historic wrong, and spreads the story out into the voyages of Cook and Banks, the farsightedness of the Admiralty and the outstanding seamanship of Beagle’s crew.

James Taylor has done an excellent job telling the story of the voyage of the Beagle that is not told in The Voyage of the Beagle.

Now, can some philanthropist please endow every state school biology lab in the country with a copy for 2009? Oh and chuck a few coppers in the build-fund while you’re at it.

16 January 2009

I know we have our own t-shirts to flog...

and many thanks to all of you who have donated by buying Beagle Project swag from our Cafepress (US) and Spreadshirt (UK, Europe, Japan).

But T. Ryan Gregory over at Nature Network has come up with an excellent line of Darwin 2009 tshirts and a healthy slice of the proceeds are going to conservation charities.

To quote Ryan:
Our view is that Darwin Year is not just about Darwin, but is meant to be a celebration of the achievements of the entire scientific discipline that he helped to establish 150 years ago.
Dar-men to that.

15 January 2009

ScienceOnline09 on my mind

Tomorrow I fly to North Carolina for the third annual (and my second annual) science blogging unconference, though this year it's called ScienceOnline09, I assume to be a bit more inclusive of the whole online science thing, not just the blogging part.

ScienceOnline09 is very much about online participation (duh) so it makes sense that there are several ways to attend virtually:
This year I'm delighted to be helping moderate two of the unconference sessions:
Hey, You Can’t Say That!
This session is moderated by Greg Laden, Rick MacPherson, Karen James (that'd be me), Craig McClain, Mark Powell and PZ Myers: It’s tempting to think that what we contribute in our blogs is written with impunity. But what happens when readers react so negatively to your words that it can leverage pressure on you from your boss, peers, colleagues, or administration? What responsibility, if any, do bloggers owe to their “day job” in avoiding controversy (and vice versa)? Is it enough to say in your profile that “this blog is my personal space and does not reflect the views of my employer”? Is capitulating to pressure a failure or just savvy blogging? What are the rules, if any, to self-censorship? Should an employer have a policy or set of guidelines regarding staff’s personal & professional blogging (and other public and semi-public activities like Facebook)? And when does pseudonymous blogging become a necessity? Bring your own perspectives and experiences to a discussion that explores the ups and downs of science bloggers who navigate the stormy waters between free expression and reader/employer backlash.

Blogging adventure: how to post from strange locations
This is a panel discussion with Karen James (me again, though I'm more a future hopeful user of this skill than a wizened practitioner), Talia Page, Anne-Marie Hodge, Meredith Barrett, Kevin Zelnio, Vanessa Woods and Rick McPhearson: The stereotype is that bloggers write in their parents’ basements, wearing pajamas, covered with Cheetos dust. But some bloggers have done amazing feats of reporting from weird and far-away places. Do you intend to do something like that? What are the technological challenges – and solutions – and what are the pros and cons of blogging from the jungle, or Antarctica, from Mt.Everest, from a submarine, from a space-ship, from a research ship, from a sailboat, from a war zone, from a high-radiation zone, an ecological research station or a palaeontological dig, and is it worth it? Share your experiences, ask questions, and collect tips for your next trip to a Crazy Place.

And of course I'll be posting updates here and on the dedicated FriendFeed room (though I can't figure out if I should do that via Twitter or directly ...ach, me so confused...).

Congratulations to Lloyd's List for shoehorning The Origin of Species into an article about shipping liquefied gas.

Survival of the fittest
As the world marks the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’, the liquefied natural gas industry is realising that it too must evolve in a hostile environment.
The article on natural selection and the liquified natural gas shipping industry is here. Actually, it's not so tenuous. Charles Darwin's boyhood nickname was 'gas', acquired because he spent his spare time carrying out chemical experiments in a shed, causing noisome reeks and the occasional explosion.

Lloyd's List was first published in 1734, and is the authoritative guide to world shipping. I wonder if they recorded any of Beagle's arrivals and departures? It is read by wealthy ship owners, many of whom may need a bell lanyard for their supertanker. No supertanker is complete without one, and supertankers without bell lanyards are often commented on in the Supertanker high society magazine "Oilo!"

Fortunately we have one (or maybe two) for auction, and all funds raised will go to build a new seagoing Beagle to celebrate the achievements of Charles Darwin and Captain Robert FitzRoy. Lloyd's List needs an elegant square rigged Beagle to grace her pages and cheer people up, what with all the bad news coming out of the Asian dry bulk market.

Billionaire superyacht (or supertanker) owners!

Does your boat look naked without a bell lanyard?

This one was hand tied by George 'the knot tier' Hart a former fishing boat captain of Long Beach California. It is 7.5 inches (or 19cm) in length, lacquered against the elements, comes with a swivel and would make an elegant addition to any ship's bell.

It is available to the highest bidder, and any money raised will go towards the build fund for the new HMS Beagle, offers in comments please. Millionaire superyacht owners may also bid. Dammit, anyone can bid.

Deep Sea News (2)

We are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Sylvia Earle as one of the directors of the American Friends of the Beagle. She has just co-authored Ocean - an illustrated atlas for National Geographic. There is a superb New York Times interview with Dr Earle, covering the Atlas and the seas which inspired and informed it here.

Deep Sea News (1)

If DSN is not on your blogroll or feeds, it should be. It has a new home here, please update your blogrolls etc and all the best to Peter Etnoyer, Craig McClain and Kevin Zelnio in their new web abode.

14 January 2009

Evolution and Charles Darwin on UK stamps...

and the HMS Beagle Project is on a first day cover, from which we will be receiving a donation so many thanks to all at Buckingham Covers for their enterprise on our behalf. The first day covers can be bought here.

Buckingham Covers, there will forever be a Beagle plank with your name on it.

12 January 2009

This Darwin year is fascinating young minds

if this beautifully written post on a family visit to the Natural History Museum in London is anything to go by. Go read.

And if you haven't yet, make sure you get to the Darwin Big Idea Exhibition.

Help with website advertising.

At the London Earls' Court Boat Show someone pointed out that the Beagle Project website had a Google ranking of 6 and we should be selling advertising on it to help fund the build. Now, I'd rather not but we have an obligation to maximize revenue.

If there's anyone out there with experience in this area, who could point us in the right direction we'd be glad to hear from you. peter (at) thebeagleproject (dot) com.

More Beagle Project coverage...

BBC Devon has a report on the local Darwin 200 celebrations and the Beagle Project gets a substantial mention. We'll be getting a good shout in the Yorkshire Post shortly too.

10 January 2009

Review: Darwin's Sacred Cause

Darwin's Sacred CauseDesmond and Moore's 1991 book Darwin [UK|US] is still, for many, the definitive biography of Charles Darwin. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, it placed Darwin squarely within the context of his time: an era of great political unrest and reform.

The central thesis of their new book Darwin's Sacred Cause (to be published later this month) is that Darwin's abhorrence of slavery, and his support for abolition—the sacred cause of the book's title—heavily influenced his scientific thinking. The book claims that Darwin's belief, held by many abolitionists, that the various races of mankind share common descent, rather than always having been entirely separate species (a position held by many in the pro-slavery lobby), was a key driver in his later work to establish that all species share common descent. Ironically, most of Darwin's fellow abolitionists believed in common descent from Adam and Eve—a view which would be utterly discredited by Darwin.

I must admit that, when I first read of the book's central thesis, I was more than a little sceptical. While it seemed obvious that believing in the unity of mankind might make it easier for someone like Darwin to accept that all species are ultimately related, claiming, as Desmond and Moore do, that Darwin's evolutionary theorising came as a direct result of his stance on slavery seemed to be over-egging the pudding somewhat. But they make a compelling case in arguing that "[t]he social context of Darwin's offensive [against separate creations for separate species] has slipped away and been subsequently lost, but recovering it makes sense of the project in Darwin's moral world".

Darwin's Sacred Cause is a detailed and fascinating study of the Nineteenth Century abolitionist and pro-slavery movements on either side of the Atlantic. Although a fervent abolitionist, Darwin could hardly be described as a particularly active member of the movement. But, as in their earlier biography, the authors place Darwin within context, showing how much of his upbringing, and his family and social connections revolved around the abolitionist cause; how his experiences aboard HMS Beagle strengthened his views against slavery; and how his abolitionist belief in human common descent steered much of his scientific work. They do, however, issue the important disclaimer that "[h]umans were not the sole source of insights into transmutation, but part and parcel of Darwin's project".

Although it is only hinted at in a single sentence in On the Origin of Species, human evolution seems to have been very much in Darwin's mind when he asked many of his apparently innocuous questions about domesticated and wild animal species—and even about seed dispersal. When Darwin's masterpiece was eventually published, both the scientific world and the general public immediately saw its implications for the history of human descent. Desmond and Moore infer that this might have been Darwin's plan all along: make a brilliantly argued case for the evolution of animal and plant species, then let the reader come to their own logical, far more controversial conclusions about human evolution. But they also believe that Darwin was not yet able to make a strong case for human evolution, as many human racial differences did not appear to be adaptive. Darwin believed that such differences could be explained not by Natural Selection, but by his other great idea, Sexual Selection. The case for that, however, would have to wait until his later book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex.

Darwin's Sacred Cause is clearly an important book which will be much discussed, debated and argued about by Darwin scholars over the coming years. It will be interesting to follow the debate. Especially for someone like me, who finds himself considerably more open-minded than previously regarding the influence of Darwin's anti-slavery views on his science.

Definitely one for your Darwin library.

(All Amazon referral proceeds to the Beagle Project, obviously.)

Disclosure: Peter McGrath from the Beagle Project was sent a pre-publication copy of this book, which he forwarded to me for review. It was nice to see Peter's name mentioned in the acknowledgements. He's too polite to say so himself, so I'll say it for him: W00t!

Don't forget the kids in 2009.

I mentioned Charlie's Playhouse: games and toys inspired by Darwin a few posts ago. (I want the Hallucigenia on the banner!)

They have compiled a bibliography of books about Darwin and evolution so there's no excuse not to include offspring, siblings, nieces and nephews in Darwin 200. Download it here.

Coming up on the Beagle Project blog.

Richard Carter is reading Darwin's Sacred Cause by Adrian Desmond and James Moore and his review will be up shortly.

I have just got my hands on The Voyage of the Beagle by James Taylor and will have a review ready by mid week. My first impressions are that Anova have produced one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. The artwork is superb and a first glance through suggests that Mr Taylor's writing does it justice.

The Dispersal of Darwin also keeps a thoughtful eye on Darwin and evolution publications and if you haven't click over and visit.

9 January 2009

Hunting the Beagle...

BBC Radio 4, 9pm today. Hunting the Beagle was originally broadcast as a 5 part series earlier this year including contributions from Beagle director David Lort-Philips and myself.

David is measured. I call for the remains of the original to be dug up from the mud at Paglesham and placed on the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square. More here.

Pic: Dr Robert Prescott (who in 2004 announced that he had found Beagle's remains and now Chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Historic Ships), David Lort-Phillips (Beagle Project co-founder) and BBC producer Jeremy Grange recording a segment of the programme on the footbridge over the slipway at the former dockyard at Woolwich where HMS Beagle was built

7 January 2009

A tattoo or two for 2009...

HMS Beagle and the Galapagos.

H/t to Carl Zimmer at The Loom for the great idea of asking if anyone had any scientific tats. Oh yes. I was there reading his Open Lab 2008 post 'Even blook flukes get divorced.' An excellent piece of science writing (although I am partial to the critters, having studied them), and I fully intend to read every one of the other 51 Open Lab 2008 winners.

While I'm delighted to see HMS Beagle on a fan's flesh, there is a protocol to these things. Sailors are entitled to a tattoo of a swallow for each 5000 miles sailed (although most make do with one to celebrate their first 5000). An anchor if you have sailed in the Atlantic. A full-rigged ship (such as Beagle under sail) is merited only if you have rounded Cape Horn. And if you want to earn that ink on the decks of the new HMS Beagle, you will have to help us with donations. Few will round the Horn on the Beagle's circumnavigation, so shake up any CEO aunts or uncles, or philanthropic millionaires in the family. Re-assure them the tat doesn't have to be big and vulgar, it can be hidden under clothes. And what changing room bragging rights that would give you.

One stop shop for Darwin coverage on BBC

BBC coverage of the Darwin bicentenary has begun in force, and you've probably already seen some links to it both here and elsewhere in the blogsophere. But why rely on stumbling across random single servings when you can have the comprehensive buffet?

Tip: be sure not to listen to just the clips but to click
"Listen to entire programmes" links in each section.

I've listened to all of it to date and if you only have time to listen to one thing, I recommend Tuesday's In Our Time on the Beagle voyage featuring Darwin biographer Jim Moore, Steve Jones, David Norman and Jenny Clack.

...and I'm not recommending this one just because I'm a Beagle fangirl but also because it has some brilliant witticisms, moving insights and one-liners - Steve Jones is particularly on particularly good form in this one; for example, on the gruesome reality of collecting animal specimens, he says, 'This duck did not die in vain - though it probably felt that it did - it was hit smartly over the back of the head by a geological hammer, and on the other end of the hammer was Charles Darwin himself. You tend to forget that being a collector can be a rather bloody business: Darwin shot, strangled, beat, garrotted, poisoned, but at least he didn't eat this one' (as he did, partially, the rhea that now bears his namesake). Describing a collection of Darwin's specimens at the Grant Museum at University College London, Jones describes several of them in a rather hilarious fashion, including 'some dolphins looking rather sad', 'a specimen that would have been familiar to Darwin - a marine iguana - now permenantly in liquid', 'about 30-40 moles all pickled together in some great mole-ish holocaust' and 'a very ecclectic collection of rather disgusting things in glass jars full of liquid'.

Melvyn Bragg asks the panelists the question, 'what did the Charles Darwin who stepped off the Beagle know that the Charles Darwin who stepped onto the Beagle from Cambridge did not know?' The answers are eloquent and thoughtful; Steve Jones says '...the transforming power of time...' and Jim Moore says, 'I suppose in one word it's "patterns"'.

The Galapagos finch-eureka myth is tidily debunked (but we're reminded what a good example they are of evolution in action) and the tortoises and mockingbirds restored to their rightful place. In other words, all good stuff. Go listen and then explore.

5 January 2009

If you didn't catch "In Our Time"

about Charles Darwin's early life on Radio 4 today, get thee hence to their website and listen again. It was superb radio, which as those of us brought up on it knows, paints the best pictures.

Tomorrow's programme is about his Beagle years (9-9.45 am GMT, abridged repeat 9.30pm).

Also worth 15 monutes of your time each day this week: Dear Darwin in which modern scientists write audio letters to CD.

What, are you still here?

4 January 2009

The Dispersal of Darwin

...has moved to Wordpress. Go there and check out the Beaglicious banner ...I find it only fitting that a blog about dispersing Darwin should have as its header an image of the ship that actually did.

Got evolution?

Nature does, and you can too, free and fifteen-fold in the form of "15 evolutionary gems" (PDF).

And while you're downloading this most excellent learning and teaching resource from them, don't miss the Nature news special on Darwin 200, a nest of very good Darwin and evolution eggs with content ranging from slide shows to book reviews to peer-reviewed research.

The special website is graced by this really fabulous bit of artwork at right by someone called Jonathan Williams featuring a young Darwin (we like those) with his menagerie, including, apparently, a rare species of tweed-dwelling barnacle.

More about Nature's special section:
Darwin 200
The 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin falls on 12 February 2009. Darwin was arguably the most influential scientist of modern times. No single researcher has since matched his collective impact on the natural and social sciences; on politics, religions, and philosophy; on art and cultural relations, and in ways that the man himself would never have imagined. This Nature news special will provide continuously updated news, research and analysis on Darwin's life, his science and his legacy, as well as news from the Darwin200 consortium of organizations celebrating this landmark event.
Bow of the sprit to the National Center for Science Education, fighting the good fight since 1981, you know, way back when intelligent design was still called creationism in public.

Cue chorus of angels (ii)

Out of 581 entries, only 50 blog posts were deemed worthy of inclusion in Open Laboratory 2008: The Best Science Writing on Blogs (link coming soon) by editor Jennifer Rohn and a group of very, very hard-working* judges and I am extremely proud--chuffed, even--that my post Detecting natural selection: a pika's tale has made the grade! My chuffedness only increases when I see the other posts that have been included, not least the live-blogged vasectomy which I think deserves a very special round of applause and perhaps even a medal for service to science blogging in the face of adversity.

Previous editions of Open Laboratory can be purchased here:

The Open Laboratory The Open Laboratory

*I know they are hard-working because I was a judge last year and let me tell you, it's quite a job

3 January 2009

Thank you to our shop patrons and referrers

A big, baying Beagle woof-woof-woof to everyone who dropped some dough in our shop in 2008. Thanks too to the bloggers who regularly mention our shop in posts or sidebar widgets. Our top shop referrers include, in order, The Dispersal of Darwin, GrrlScientist, Deep Sea News (yes I added together referrals from both your ScienceBlogs and Discovery sites), Gruts/Friends of Charles Darwin/The Red Notebook, The Other 95%, Sorting Out Science, Tangled Up in Blue Guy, A Blog Around The Clock and Greg Laden's Blog. You are helping us to realise our vision of a new Beagle. Cocked hats off to Michael Barton of Dispersal of Darwin in particular, who managed to take the top spot by a long shot even without the benefit of being hosted by the Borg.

1 January 2009

Ringing in 2009

I'm sure I speak for all four of us Beagle bloggers when I wish the happiest and healthiest of complete rotations about the sun to all of our Beagle Project teammates, supporters, friends, blog peeps, readers and especially the Beagle Projecteers.

2009 is a very special year what with Darwin's 200th birthday (12th February) and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species (24th November) ...so special and so long awaited in fact that I'm still rubbing my eyes and blinking in surprise that it's actually here and that Darwin's big birthday is just a month and a half away.

In addition to enjoying the celebrations and using them to promote science, reason and a more universal passion for the natural world, we will keep working hard to see that it's a very very special year for the Beagle Project.

Over the last several years we have been slowly but very steadily ramping up our activities: raising awareness, building collaborations, raising basic operating funds to keep us chugging along and, most importantly, building up our fundraising capacity so that we can take advantage of the outpouring of Darwinmania that 2009 is bound to offer so that when 2009 is over, which will happen faster than you can say "there is grandeur in this view of life", we will have begun building the ship that will serve as a tangible long-term legacy to this anniversary season.

We've come a long way already, as documented in the archives of this and our old blog. Just this year we became a registered charity, entered into an International Space Act Agreement with NASA (somebody pinch me), had a reception at the House of Lords thrown for us, appeared in a reasonably impressive number and range of media pieces (see sidebar), went to SciFoo, and, most gratifyingly of all, fish-slapped Ben Stein.

In 2009 our ambition is no less than raising £5million and launching the build of the new Beagle. If all goes to plan, you'll have images of a nascent keel on this blog before the year is out. Don't forget: you (yes you!) can help us get there by donating to us (on PayPal for now but soon on various charity-more-friendly websites in the UK and abroad) and buying something in our shop:

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