21 February 2010

A lifetime supply of data

Culture 3.0 has an interview with Darwin biographer Janet Browne entitled Darwin Behind the Scenes. One of the questions is about the Darwin's Beagle voyage:
Do you believe that the light bulb went off in [Darwin's] head during the voyage of the Beagle?

You know, I do think that. I think that historians have perhaps swung too far the other way for many years, and believed that it only happens after the voyage. But if we go back and we look at those notebooks, the field remarks that he writes down, his observations in his private diaries, it seems that he was becoming unsettled by the idea of "species".

We see in his notes an intelligent young person thinking through the consequences of what he was reading and what he was discovering, and beginning to formulate big questions. Yes, those big questions only really become answerable when he returns, when what had seemed like simple varieties became species, and he wonders: what kind of creator does such a thing? It was certainly a long process, but what we forget is that the Beagle voyage provided Darwin with a lifetime supply of data to pursue.

In fact, his first publications were in geology, he was a wonderful geologist, and had been places where very few geologists had traveled. We forget that he was also a zoologist, he loved botany, and so he was a very skillful, complete naturalist. Those of us who only read The Origin of Species tend to forget the other aspects of his life. And it’s the voyage of the Beagle that supplies him with that information.
Seems to me we could do with another HMS Beagle to inspire young scientists, and give them a lifetime supply of data with which to work.

[h/t Adrian Thysse]

19 February 2010

The Beagle Project on Little Atoms radio and podcast

Last Friday, the 12th of February (Darwin's 201st birthday, as it happens), I was interviewed by Skepchick extraordinaire Rebecca Watson and Neil Denny (not a Skepchick) on Little Atoms, a weekly live talk show on Resonance 104.4FM and official podcast of The Skeptic magazine. We talked about my work at the Natural History Museum on Darwin's mockingbirds and DNA barcoding and, of course, about The HMS Beagle Project. You can listen again to the 30-minute interview by downloading it or on iTunes.

From the left: Rebecca Watson, me and Neil Denny live on the air!

Links to projects I mentioned in the interview:
Notes and corrections:
  • How it is that I failed to say that the mockingbird specimens I worked on were the ones collected by Darwin and Fitzroy, I do not know.
  • The overall NASA budget wasn't cut, but the Constellation program was canceled.
  • I tend to say 'tend to' too much

12 February 2010

Astronaut Mike Barratt's guest post 'Cosmopithecus' selected for Open Laboratory!

Cosmopithecus, the Beagle Project Blog guest post by NASA astronaut and Beagle Project collaborator Mike Barratt, which he wrote during his long-duration flight aboard the International Space Station last year, has been selected for inclusion in Open Laboratory!

Mike emails to say he's really pleased and proud that his post was chosen. He wanted to write more posts during his flight but 'all the electrons were constrained to the mission and medical logs'. Yeah, what a slacker.... oh wait... he says that in addition to the blog post, he also wrote 'a few medical papers' during the flight. You heard that right, readers, he actually kept up his academic publication record while in space! Massive props.

Needless to say, we are honoured to have hosted his guest post and delighted that it's been selected for Open Lab!

Photo: NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, Expedition 20 flight engineer, holds storage containers with his legs while floating freely in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station.
NASA photo ISS020-E-021255.

Drift....ing along with the tumbling tumbleweeds

Wow. Sorry about that, folks. We probably should have given you some advance warning about what posterity may very well come to call The Great Beagle Project Blog Post Gap of 2010, but, to be honest, we didn't see it coming. In our defense, I've heard this happens to bloggers from time to time... I guess this was our time.

*shakes off cobwebs*

So, what better way to celebrate Charles Darwin's 201st birthday than by reanimating the blog associated with a project that not only celebrates Darwin's legacy but aims to re-live it?

In the coming days and weeks, you can look forward to:
  • an updated and refreshed side-bar
  • an updated blogroll
  • a new series of posts called 'And now, the news' that will keep you up to date with Beagle Project information, status and activities
  • a consolidation of labels, to help you navigate our archive and find what you're looking for
  • last but not least, regular posts!
Happy Darwin Day!