7 January 2009

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.

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