It was Darwin’s birthday earlier this week, with lots of celebrations of the man and his work going on in many places (in addition to the year-long celebrations for Darwin year). On the other hand, there was at least one events last week that were rather sad and definitely not cause for celebration. You may have heard that evangelist Ray Comfort decided to launch an anti-science campaign on 100 university campuses by distributing copies of Darwin’s Origin of Species with a 54 page introduction written by Comfort which is basically a poorly written misleading piece of nonsense.

The day after this happened (I’d forgotten all about it as I am on a mission in Europe right now) I got an email from a USC student, Arvind Iyer, who was not only concerned about the content of what was being given out, but the very idea that such access could be given to the Comfort group. He wrote a letter to the campus newspaper, the Daily Trojan, about this, but they chose not to take up the issue at all. I’ll reprint it (with Arvind’s permission) and the end of this, and you are free to discuss with him in the comments what you think of his thoughts.

The issue of access (and freedom of speech, etc) aside for a moment, there is the issue of what kind of response is worthwhile. Most people just ignore the issue, saying that it does not matter, or that we should “live and let live”, etc., and in an ideal world where our society has a better grasp of basic science education, and where science and religion are not so tangled up in so many political discussions, I’d have agreed, but we do not live in that world. As a result, there needs to be some […] Click to continue reading this post


Well that was fun! I’m sitting on the bus on the way home [editorial note: I wrote most of this on Thursday afternoon], with the memory of the College Commons event that I just went to still fresh in my mind. (That and the tasty food at the end of the event.)


This event (“Discovering the World: Collections, Curiosity and Evolution”) was all about collecting and collections, from the institutional collections we have in our society today such as museums and libraries, through the “cabinets of curiosity” of earlier centuries, to the sort of obsessive collections of random stuff that sort of becomes a disease (I mentally glance over at the shelves, piles, and boxes of old New Yorkers in my house; I’ve not been able to throw away a single one since I started subscribing in the early 90s. Yes, I know, I know… I know.)

So many of these types of collections (and the resulting books and compendia which they themselves become the objects of collections and subjects of books and so on and so forth) formed the foundations of the culture, the raw material for scientific study, the inspiration for more collections and for more study, and so on…. So the event used that as a basis and dug out some wonderful articles for us to look and marvel at. The digging was done at USC’s own splendid Doheny library (original Audubon volumes, Cook’s journals, etc) the Huntington library (several illustrated tomes of natural history and an actual plate used long ago for printing Audubon illustrations which were then later hand-coloured by artists) and the Los Angeles Natural History Museum across the street. A number of my colleagues who are scholars in areas that these objects pertain to gave short, informative and […] Click to continue reading this post

Categorically Not! – Doing Darwin Differently

hyperbolic crochetThe next Categorically Not! is tomorrow, Sunday April 19th. The Categorically Not! series of events that are held at the Santa Monica Art Studios, (with occasional exceptions). It’s a series – started and run by science writer K. C. Cole – of fun and informative conversations deliberately ignoring the traditional boundaries between art, science, humanities, and other subjects. I strongly encourage you to come to them if you’re in the area. Here is the website that describes past ones, and upcoming ones. See also the links at the end of the post for some announcements and descriptions (and even video) of previous events. (Image above right is discussed in an earlier post here. The last paragraph of the description below made me think of it.)

The theme this month is Doing Darwin Differently. Here’s the description from K C Cole: […] Click to continue reading this post

Something to chew over…

skull  of sabertooth cat at page museum…while I prepare the longer post on the Tuesday special visit to the Page Museum at the Tar Pits.

I think it would be just fantastic if domestic cats had teeth like their cousins of 40+K years ago. (Click left for larger.)

Just great!

Would make for a considerably different dynamic while stroking them…

What do you think?

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Pit Stop

saber toothed catI’m going to another interesting College Commons event today. It’s an away mission. We’re off on a specially arranged tour of the La Brea Tar Pits! This is part of the 1859 celebration series, and of course Darwin is the focus here to some extent. We’re going to be taken around the famous Pit 91. I shall try to take some pictures and report later. The image on the left is a painting of the saber toothed cat, by John C. Dawson. (It is in the LA Natural History Museum.) (By the way – yes, the “Los Angeles 20059 B.C.” on […] Click to continue reading this post

Darwin in the Air

You’ll begin to notice a lot of discussion of Charles Darwin soon. Why? It is his 200th anniversary, and also 150 years since his Origin of Species was published, and so many people and organizations will be celebrating those landmarks. I did a couple of posts last year on Darwin that are worth a look, one about Darwin’s presentation of the evolution idea to the Linnean Society (150th anniversary of that last year) and the other about the wonderful Darwin Online project. See here and here.

Earlier this week I noticed that BBC Radio 4’s excellent series In Our Time (which I’ve mentioned a number of times here and will again) did a four part special documentary on Darwin. I’ve not listened to it yet, but I’ve a feeling it’ll be good. (I’ll be dropping all four parts onto my phone for listening to in those idle moments on some travel I’m about to embark upon.)

Snipping some of the synopses: […] Click to continue reading this post

Science and the New President

Last week the Guardian did a special podcast about Barack Obama’s science policies, and the challenges that lie ahead for the new administration. It’s actually rather good (at least the parts I’ve heard so far – I’m listening to it in pieces while travelling) and I recommend it. They have lots of guests, many of whom you’ve maybe heard of (Lesley Stone, Martin Rees, Diana Liverman, Chris Mason, P Z Myers, Lawrence Krauss, Martin Barstow), and the issue is explored from several angles, from climate change, through stem cells, to the space program. […] Click to continue reading this post

The Darwin Online Project

On NPR the other morning, I heard a piece about the Darwin Online Project. It sounds just amazing. I hope you find time to explore the site.

Extract from Darwin’s Notebooks

It has all sorts of fascinating things that you can download or view in the above (click for larger) manner (your very own copy of the Origin of Species, perhaps, or parts of his diaries and notebooks…), and is quite a treasure trove of one-stop-shop (but free) Darwin data. (There are even some of (his wife) Emma Darwin’s recipes.) The site is here.

Very importantly, the collection shows Darwin’s work in development, and not just the […] Click to continue reading this post

Flying Clams

There’s a lovely new book (or it sounds that way) out on Darwin. It’s a biography by David Quammen, called “The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution”. There was a very nice radio piece on it on NPR’s Morning Edition, on the segment by Robert Krulwich, with an interview with the author. I recommend it, as it is a very pleasant conversation that does not dumb everything down, for a change. From the […] Click to continue reading this post