Friday, January 30, 2009

I am turning into a grumpy old man

I despair. Every day I am becoming more and more like Victor Meldrew. As if the twinges and aches that come with middle age weren't enough, nearly two years of immersion in Darwiniana has left me any unable to encounter any popular TV show or radio programme or magazine article about Darwin without shouting "No, that is not quite right!" And I am just an amateur on Darwin! How on earth do real experts like John van Wyhe or Janet Browne cope!

The latest outrage appears in this week's Radio Times, a publication from that bastion of British respectability, the BBC. There, on p. 20, is an article by Rod Liddle about David Attenborough, Darwin and religious belief (not available on-line). And slapped gratuitously on the image of Attenborough and Darwin's statue at the Natural History Museum is a quotation supposedly from "Charles Darwin, from On the Origin of Species":
"In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment."
Now my first thought was that this doesn't sound much like Darwin to me. Not his style...

So it took me all of five minutes to check on Darwin On-line. The phrase occurs nowhere in any of the six editions of The Origin. In fact, it doesn't appear anywhere in the vast corpus of Darwin's work that is available in Darwin On-line. And a quick check over at the Darwin Correspondence Project fails to find it in any of Darwin's letters. So I conclude: DARWIN NEVER SAID OR WROTE IT!

What's more he did not ever use several of the constituent phrases: "struggle for survival" "fittest win out" "expense of their rivals". This sentence is not even close to Darwin's style!

So, I guess we should blame the careless Liddle for not checking his sources? But where did the sentence originate?... 

Now it's time to get really grumpy! Because if you do a Google search for the sentence, you find about 10,400 results!! In other words, a sentence that Darwin never even uttered, has been copied around the Internet thousands and thousands of times without anyone even confirming its provenance! EVEN THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM ARE AT IT!--seems they haven't learnt from the tree of life fridge magnet gaffe and the left-handed polar bear fiasco!

I despair; I am now officially grumpy! 
And, if you, dear reader, know who made this phrase up, please let us all know!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rough Guide to Evolution on Irish Radio and the Origin in Irish

I was interviewed on the Dublin-based radio station, Newstalk Radio earlier today. You can listen to what I had to say about Darwin, his trip to Ireland and his youthful excesses here:

In preparation for the show, a colleague, Roisin Madigan, read out for me the closing words of The Origin of Species in Irish Gaelic (kindly translated some years back by members of the Irish Gaelic Translation Forum), in the hope that I might be able to read them out during the show:
Ta uaisleacht ag baint leis an dearcadh seo ar an mbeatha – lena cumhachtaí éagsúla ata tar éis a n-infheistithe i ndornán foirmeacha nó in aon fhoirm amháin, agus – tráth a bhfuil an pláinéad seo imithe leis ag cúrsáil de réir dlíthe seasta na himtharraingthe , ó thús chomh simplí sin, go bhfuil – agus go raibh foirmeacha as cuimse atá fíorálainn agus fíorshuntasach ag éabhlóid.

In fact, my mastery of the Irish version never got beyond the first phrase (the part corresponding to "There is grandeur in this view of life...") and in any case, there was no opportunity to recite it during the show. But here you can hear the closing words of the Origin in Gaelic read out by Roisin:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Of trees of life and straw men

I am trying to write a grant proposal, but cannot help but get distracted by all this discussion (stemming from a recent new Scientist article) about Darwin supposedly being wrong about the tree of life. All the new evidence about the role of horizontal gene transfer in bacteria and even in unicellular eukaryotes is of course all very interesting. But to try and depict this as a Darwin-was-wrong argument strikes me as misleading and risks casting Darwin into the role of a straw man. In fact, Darwin was ignorant of the existence of bacteria until late in his life and as far as I am aware never commented on their evolution. 

But more than that, he never said any so simplistic as "all life follows a tree-like pattern of evolution right back its origin and that's that!". 

The first point to note is that Darwin was always quick to point out the caveats and counter-arguments of any given proposition. Secondly, his discussion in The Origin of the tree of life sets the "universe of discourse" at the taxonomic level of Class, rather than universally applying to all life. 

Here is what he actually wrote, with my emphasis added:
From Chapter 4
The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth... As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications. 
(And even Dawkins can't top the elegance of Darwin's prose here!)
From the final chapter:
Therefore I cannot doubt that the theory of descent with modification embraces all the members of the same class. I believe that animals have descended from at most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number.

Analogy would lead me one step further, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants have descended from some one prototype. But analogy may be a deceitful guide.
Darwin's wasn't wrong about the tree of life—he accepted that the evidence before him was limited and it was unsafe to generalise it to the whole of life. Give the poor man--or should that be "straw man"--a break!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rough Guide to Evolution on Radio Scotland

I was interviewed for the BBC Radio Scotland show Radio Café earlier today. If you are interested to hear what I had to say, you can pick up the nine-minute interview from this YouTube entry:

Light blue touch paper and retire!

Remember the old instructions that went with fireworks: "light blue touch paper and retire!" Well, I am looking forward to seeing the explosion when this book, by the fearless Fern Elsdon-Baker, hits the shops in a few months' time:
The Selfish Genius: How Richard Dawkins Rewrote Darwin's Legacy

Of course, I have to declare a conflict of interest, in that
(1) Fern is part of the team running the British Council's Darwin bicentenary celebrations, which is funding our Darwin Day activities in Birmingham (but I have no idea how well she writes or whether any of her points are well made).
(2) I have read and enjoyed (but not uncritically) all of Dawkin's books (well, all apart from The Extended Phenotype).

I eagerly await Fern's analysis. But given the negative responses evoked by my one throwaway remark about a defence of evolution not needed to get entangled in atheism, I am looking forward even more to firestorm of comments that are going to follow publication of the book!


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Charles Darwin: ecologist

Our bicentennial Darwin Day celebrations in Birmingham are fast approaching (I will blog more on our exciting activities soon). Within our multi-disciplinary programme of events, we have a talk on invasive species by local ecologist/biogeographer, Jon Sadler. We have a rule stating that all speakers at our Darwin Day events have to include a quotation from Darwin in their talks, so Jon just asked me to help him find some appropriate quotes for his talk.

In The Rough Guide to Evolution I include a box highlighting Charles Darwin's status as an early ecologist:
The term “ecology” was not coined until in 1866 by Darwin’s German admirer Haeckel. However, in the third and fourth chapters of The Origin, Darwin’s emphasis on the “complex relations of all animals and plants throughout nature” guarantees him the status of an early ecologist. In Chapter 3, he puzzles out how enclosure of land can lead to a proliferation of fir trees and hits on the answer: the exclusion of cattle that graze on seedlings. He speculates on the cascade of ecological changes that might result from an increase in insectivorous birds in Paraguay. And he produces a beautiful English example of “how plants and animals, most remote in the scale of nature, are bound together by a web of complex relations”, by pointing out that (1) humble bees are needed for fertilisation of some plants; (2) the number of bees in an area depends on the number of mice; (3) the number of mice depends on the number of cats, so that the number of cats can determine the frequency of flowers in a district!
In Chapter 4, Darwin writes “It has been experimentally proved that if a plot of ground be sown with one species of grass, and a similar plot be sown with several distinct genera of grasses, a greater number of plants and a greater weight of dry herbage can thus be raised.” Many subsequent studies have confirmed this principle, which lies at the heart of organic farming methods. In his haste, Darwin unfortunately did not say when or where the pioneering study had been carried out. Recently, two British ecologists, Andy Hector and Rowan Hooper, have tracked the source of the information to George Sinclair, head gardener to the Duke of Bedford, who, in an 1826 article, described what must count as the first ecological experiments, conducted at Woburn Abbey in England, a few years earlier.
BUT, as if the above wasn't enough to establish Darwin's ecologist credentials, in trying to help Jon, I have just discovered this fascinating article from 2001:
Here, two modern ecologists, Stuart Ludsin and Andrea Wolfe, compare current thinking on the ecology of biological species with Darwin's views as expressed in the Origin. They draw on a conceptual framework on biological invasions set out by Williamson in 1996, considering Darwin's contributions under ten conceptual framework points:

  1. Most arrivals at present are from human importations, but natural arrivals also are of interest. 
  2. Most invasions fail; only a limited number of taxa succeed (“tens” rule). 
  3. Invasion (or propagule) pressure is an important variable, so invasions are often to accessible habitats by transportable species. 
  4. All communities are invasible, perhaps some more than others. 
  5. The a priori obvious is often irrelevant to invasion success. Among factors to consider: the intrinsic rate of natural increase (r), abundance in native habitat, taxonomic isolation, climatic and habitat matching, vacant niches. 
  6. Spread can be at any speed in any direction. 
  7. Most invaders produce minor consequences (tens rule). 
  8. The consequences of invasions can be severe, ranging from depressed populations to individual extinctions to ecosystem restructuring, and the causal mechanisms driving these changes can be diverse
  9. Genetic factors may determine invasion success; genetic factors affect events at the initial invasion; evolution may occur after invasion. 
  10. Invasions are informative about the structure of communities and the strength of interactions, and vice versa.
In each case, they provide good evidence that Darwin got there first (except for the point on genetic factors)!

They conclude:
"...The Origin of Species is so much more than a seminal text on evolution. Historians and biologists alike have argued that this work provided the basis of modern-day ecology, and a cursory read of The Origin of Species will reveal the true roots of many ecological theories and phenomena (e.g., competitive exclusion, limiting similarity, character displacement, predation, sexual selection, kin selection, island biogeography)...

Given that Darwin’s conceptualization of biological invasion success really does not differ much from the present conventional wisdom (regardless of the correctness of ideas, whether old or new), we, like others feel that Darwin’s insights into biological invasions should be recognized. Quite possibly, had some of Darwin’s observations on biological invasions been better noted, we might not be experiencing the severity and variety of problems that we currently face."
So, as well as one of the greatest travel writers, geologists, specimen collectors and natural historians, we should give Darwin additional credit as one of the founders of ecology!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Celebrate the Darwin bicentenary in ceramics

Despite the demise of Wedgwood brand, it appears that the ceramics industry is still going strong in that part of England known as the Potteries. I just received this message from a company called Ceramic Decals:

"Please find attached image of our Darwin 200 Collections. We are a growing company in Stoke-on-Trent specializing in the bespoke commission market. We have had several special commissions for one of the individual items in the Darwin Collection range to celebrate events being staged throughout the country and wondered if this would be of interest to you. We could include on the piece a special backstamp that incorporated your event as a memento of such a special occasion. If you would like more information please contact me at any time to discuss, or simply call the office on 01782 838000. Kind Regards, William Edwards"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Darwin and the Rough Guide to Evolution on the Radio and iTunes

On Tuesday I drove from Malvern to Norwich and back (a nine hour round trip) to give a seminar. I used the time to catch up on my backlog of radio programmes on Darwin. I worked through all the BBC Radio 4 In Our Time programmes, plus the Dear Darwin letters. In general, I thought they were all well done, although the acoustics on the In Our Time shows was sometimes poor. I did wince or even shout "no it is not, or get it right" at the car's stereo a few times (first sign of madness?) as some of the myths were aired (Darwin's delay, Annie's death, the Huxley-Wilberforce debate) or when Darwin was misquoted ("Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history", not "light will be cast"!). And to say that Hitler was a Darwinist was somewhat off the mark (see earlier posting).

But all in all, a good series, although two other programmes I listened to were even better:
  • Hunting the Beagle, Robert Prescott's search for the remains of this remarkable ship
  • Two views of Creation, from Radio New Zealand, in which Paul Nurse (a Nobel laureate and graduate of the University of Birmingham, where I work) does a good job comparing the world views of Milton and Darwin, who were both students at Christ's College, Cambridge.
And while on the subject of radio, the publicity office at Rough Guides has been working hard and has secured two radio interviews for me. I shall be on BBC Radio Scotland around 1.45 pm on Tuesday next week (20th Jan) talking about Darwin's influence on popular culture. Also, I should be appearing on an Irish radio programme, Weekend Blend on the station Newstalk, although precise timings have yet to be sorted (watch this space!).

And finally, it worth noting that The Rough Guide to Evolution playlist (a composite of two playlists from the book) featured in the Daily Mirror science blog recently. You can access the playlist as an iMix from iTunes via this link. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blogging the Origin

John Whitfield, a London-based science writer is reading a chapter of the Origin each day until Darwin's 200th birthday and is going to be blogging on the experience. I for one will follow his progress with great interest.

Here is the advice I provided in the comments on his blog:

I applaud your efforts. I first read the Origin five years ago in the run-up to my Inaugural Lecture and was surprised how contemporary much of it seemed, particularly when viewed in the light of my own field (bacterial genomics) about which Darwin could have known nothing. Having said that, some parts are hard-going!

If you, or anyone else, wants to supplement your reading of the Origin by having someone read it to you, then one good place to start is Richard Dawkins' five hour abridged audiobook version, which you can get from iTunes (at least in the UK) from here. Also worth a look for the less brave is the Penguin abridgment On Natural Selection. If you want someone to hold your hand while reading, try How to Read Darwin by Mark Ridley or Janet Browne's Darwin's Origin of Species, a Biography.

For the completist, a full 19-hour audio version of the Origin is available from Darwin Online, but as it is computer- generated it is hard work to listen to. More palatable is the Librivox audiobook version, but the readers are amateurs and tolerability varies from chapter to chapter.

I briefly discuss Darwin's use of language in the Origin in my own book The Rough Guide to Evolution and provide a one-page summary, which I won't share here for fear of giving away the plot ;-)

If you want a completely barking mad approach to the Origin, you should try listening/watching The Origin of Species in Dub, a celebration of Darwin's masterpiece through the medium of reggae music, which I created with a Jamaican friend a few years back. Currently, Canadian Lit-Hop artist Baba Brinkman is creating The Rap Guide to Evolution for our celebrations in Birmingham this year. He is also mapping each chapter heading from the Origin on to a separate Rap music track. I am very much looking forward to it. And of course to hearing your thoughts on The Origin as you go through it chapter by chapter!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

So farewell then, Josiah Wedgwood and Sons...

The china and ceramics firm Waterford Wedgwood, with its constituent companies, Wedgwood Limited and Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Limited, has gone into administration. Founded by Josiah Wedgwood, Charles Darwin's grandfather, the Wedgwood china business stands tall in the history of ideas and the struggle for intellectual and political freedom, for two reasons.

Firstly, Wegdwood himself used his pottery business as means of supporting the struggle against slavery, manufacturing countless copies of a slave medallion, which adorned brooches, hat pins, necklaces etc across Britain. (link)

Charles Darwin's other grandfather, physician-poet Erasmus Darwin even encapsulated the emblem twice in his epic poetry:

"To call the pearly drops from Pity's eye,
Or stay Despair's disanimating sigh,
Whether, O Friend of art! the gem you mould
Rich with new taste, with antient virtue bold;
Form the poor fetter'd SLAVE on bended knee
From Britain's sons imploring to be free"


"Hear, oh, BRITANNIA! potent Queen of isles,
On whom fair Art, and meek Religion smiles,
Now AFRIC'S coasts thy craftier sons invade
With murder, rapine, theft,--and call it Trade!
The SLAVE, in chains, on supplicating knee,
Spreads his wide arms, and lifts his eyes to Thee;
With hunger pale, with wounds and toil oppress'd,
"ARE WE NOT BRETHREN?" sorrow choaks the rest;--
--AIR! bear to heaven upon thy azure flood
Their innocent cries!--EARTH! cover not their blood!"
(experience this as a roots reggae track here)
Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood were firm friends and members of the Lunar Society of Birmingham (a discussion group of ground-breaking industrialists and scientists). Josiah’s daughter Susannah married Erasmus' son, physician Robert. The British slave trade was abolished in 1807 and slavery itself was abolished in British territories in 1838.

There is a second good reason for us to remember Josiah Wedgwood here—as I think Janet Browne has shown, it was the inheritance from Josiah Wedgwood, along with Robert Darwin's income and investments, that allowed Charles Darwin to go off around the world and then settle into a life of study where he did not have to earn his living. Without the wealth from Wedgwood’s pottery, there would have been no Darwin’s theory of evolution!

The first Josiah Wedgwood started a dynasty that included at least five more Josiah Wedgwoods. His great-great-grandson Josiah Wedgwood IV, later 1st Baron Wedgwood (1872-1943) was a war hero and radical Labour politician. Josiah Wedgwood V was managing director of the family firm from 1930-1968, turning the company’s fortunes around.

It is particularly sad that the Wedgwood business collapse comes so close to the celebrations of Charles Darwin's life and legacy. I will leave the last word to Erasmus Darwin:

"GNOMES! as you now dissect with hammers fine
The granite-rock, the nodul'd flint calcine;
Grind with strong arm, the circling chertz betwixt,
Your pure Ka-o-lins and Pe-tun-tses mixt;
O'er each red saggars burning cave preside,
The keen-eyed Fire-Nymphs blazing by your side;
And pleased on WEDGWOOD ray your partial smile,
A new Etruria decks Britannia's isle.--
Charm'd by your touch, the flint liquescent pours
Through finer sieves, and falls in whiter showers;
Charm'd by your touch, the kneaded clay refines,
The biscuit hardens, the enamel shines;
Each nicer mould a softer feature drinks,
The bold Cameo speaks, the soft Intaglio thinks."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ten myths about Darwin and his theory of evolution

One of the things I discovered while writing The Rough Guide to Evolution was how much that I thought I knew about Darwin and his theory of evolution turned out to be wrong. There are many suppositions masquerading as facts-- for example, how many times have you seen it written that Darwin suffered from Chagas disease or his daughter Annie died from tuberculosis, when there is no way anyone can make a definitive diagnosis in either case. These are just educated guesses. And despite what Claire claims in the TV series Heroes, Darwin never said "It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change"--that quote originates from Clarence Darrow!. But worse still, there are plenty of myths among the dozen things that everyone "knows" about Darwin that have no substance in fact or which can neither be falsified nor verified.

To liven things up for the Year of Darwin, here is my choice of ten myths about Darwin and his life and times! I do not have time and space in this one post to elaborate the history of all the myths here nor the reasons why they count as myths rather than reality (some are discussed in the book), but I will set my self the challenge of exploring one myth in detail each month for the ten months (Feb-Nov) that span the two Darwin anniversaries this year.

Feel free to suggest your own myths in the comments section or challenge my assignments. But please don't just parrot biographers and other self-styled authorities: challenge the assignments only if you are prepared to quote the primary literature--there is no excuse not to, now with Darwin Online and The Darwin Correspondence Project available online and freely searchable.


Myth 1. Darwin lost his Christian faith because of the death of his daughter Annie.
Brief response: There is no direct documentary evidence for this in anything Darwin or his contemporaries wrote. Darwin certainly never said anything about it. It is a hypothesis formulated by Darwin biographer Jim Moore. Darwin describes his own loss of faith in his Autobiography and brings in plenty of other good reasons that explain his loss of faith that have nothing to do with Annie's death. See earlier posting.

Myth 2. Darwin delayed publication of his work on evolution fearful of its consequences for religion and the reception it would receive.
Brief response: He didn't delay. He was busy working on lots of other projects. Plus there is little or no evidence for this myth from anything Darwin or his contemporaries wrote. It is a modern invention. See van Wyhe's paper. [covered in the book]

Myth 3. Marx offered to dedicate Das Capital to Darwin.
Brief response: No he didn't. This myth is the result of a mix-up in letters assigned to Marx and his common-law son-in-law Aveling. [covered in the book]

Myth 4. Darwin lied about the timing of when Wallace's package arrived and stole some of his ideas.
Brief response: No he didn't. This issue is explored in the introduction to the relevant section of Darwin's correspondence.

Myth 5. Darwin was scooped by the Baghdad scholar Al-Jahiz, who hit on the idea of evolution a thousand years earlier than Darwin did; Darwin learnt Arabic from his Cambridge friend Samuel Lee and then stole ideas about evolution from the Islamic tradition.
Brief response: There is little or no evidence in English as to what Al-Jahiz actually wrote, but a lot of uncritical acceptance of material misrepresented in the Wikipedia. There is no evidence that Darwin ever knew anything of Al-Jahiz and other Islamic scholars and evidence for only one brief dinner party meeting with Lee. [covered in the book]

Myth 6. Huxley and science trounced Soapy Sam Wilberforce and religion at the BA meeting in Oxford in 1860
Brief response: there are few contemporary accounts of what happened here and at least three participants claim to have won the day (Wilberforce, Hooker and Huxley). Huxley did not deliver any decisive knock-out blow and Wilberforce argued against Darwin on scientific not religious grounds. [covered in the book]

Myth 7. Darwin underwent a deathbed conversion to Christianity.
Brief response: no he didn't. This myth starts with the accounts of certain Lady Hope, who claimed to have visited Darwin during his final illness. The family strongly denied that she was ever there and if she was, she never claimed that Darwin underwent a conversion.

Myth 8. Darwin abandoned a belief in God as a direct consequence of his discoveries in the field of evolution.
Brief response: as noted above, in his Autobiography, Darwin put forward plenty of other reasons for abandoning his belief in conventional Christianity and on several occasions stated that he saw no incompatibility between evolution and religion. He never became an atheist and even well into middle age claimed that "the conclusion was strong in my mind" [that] "I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist". See earlier posting.

Myth 9. Darwin was responsible for the Holocaust.
Brief response. There is no direct link between Darwin and Hitler. Darwin never advocated anti-semitism or genocide. Hitler never cited Darwin as an influence. Even if it could be established that Darwin's view had any kind of impact on Nazism, attaching personal blame to a historical individual for the unforeseen consequences of their work is fraught with difficulty. Should we blame Jesus for the Inquisition or Mohammed for 9/11? A more obvious historical figure to blame for the Holocaust is Martin Luther, who advocated the burning of synagogues. [covered in the book]. See this earlier posting.

Myth 10. Darwin experienced a eureka moment while visiting the Galapagos, where on glimpsing the resident finches and tortoises he immediately hit upon his theory of evolution.
Brief response: no, he didn't. His notebooks reveal that it was only months later, during the journey home in the summer of 1836, that the Galapagos mocking birds (not finches) raised his first doubts as to the fixity of species. Darwin's finches played only a minor role in his thinking and only well after his return to England. He does not specifically mention the Galapagos finches in The Origin. [covered in the book]

BBC Radio 4 on Darwin

BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting various Darwin-related programs this week:

If you don't get to listen to them in real time, you can listen to them via the links on the Radio 4 site or via the BBC iPlayer service:

I have listened to Craig Venter's Dear Darwin , which covered advances in our understanding about DNA and DNA sequences since Darwin's time and Venter's own work on genome sequencing, Venter's oceanic voyages and surveys (inspired by Darwin's Beagle voyage) and his attempts at synthetic biology. Sadly, although Venter has a reputation for being a mover and shaker in the field of genomics, he is not a natural orator. Also I feel he could have made more of the argument he used when recently taking to Dawkins--that we could recapitulate evolution, even if there were no fossil record, just from genome sequences. But it was worth listening to nonetheless.

NB: these programs may be available only for a short time and on most platforms come only as streaming audio. If you want to download them as MP3s to keep and listen to when you like, Mac users should use iPlayer Grabber (which pretends to be an iPhone):
and Linux/Windows users should look here: (but you will need to install Ruby).

Also, if you are outside the UK, follow the instructions here on how to find and set up a UK proxy server:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

DARWIN ORIGINALS: 3-minute films on Channel 4

Artsadmin has joined up with DVDance and Channel 4 to commission eight artists’ films inspired by Darwin, four of which will be broadcast on Channel 4’s Three Minute Wonders series between 11 & 14 February.

The films will explore Darwin and his legacy from a very different perspective. Ranging from Emma Darwin’s remedies for her sick husband or Darwin’s worms, to the genetics of red hair and Darwin’s ‘thinking path’ in the grounds of Down House, Darwin Originals will be unorthodox, political, humorous and unexpected.

The films will be screened at venues, museums and festivals in the UK and abroad throughout 2009. Darwin Originals was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

For more information, visit the project's website or check out the contributing artists:

Results of RGE New Year quiz and competition

Happy New Year to all blog readers!

Well, I am pleased to announce that Glenn Branch of the NCSE achieved the highest score in the quiz with 71 correct answers out of 75. Glenn will receive a signed copy of The Rough Guide to Evolution (NB readers should take a look at the piece by Glenn and Eugenie Scott on creationism in the special Scientific American issue on evolution).

Here are the answers, with stack loads of hypertext annotations to inform and entertain you this New Year's Day! As I pointed out before, all of the answers can be found in The Rough Guide to Evolution, illustrating the unique breadth of coverage of this concise but wide-ranging volume.

  1. What Darwin descendant died fighting with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War? John Cornford, poet and partisan: take a look at this cool image of the man!
  2. What did English schoolboy Roger Mason discover in the Charnwood Forest in 1957? Charnia masoni, a key early example of the Precambrian Ediacaran biota.
  3. According to Darwin in his M Notebook, with what kind of animal did a "Shrewsbury gentleman" attempt an "unnatural union", only to be "restrained by remonstrances on him"? A turkey cock.
  4. What colour eyes did Darwin have?
    grey blue
  5. What is the subject of Isaac Asimov's short story The Ugly Little Boy? time travel involving a Neanderthal boy.
  6. Which American creationist and founder of the organisation Creation Science Evangelism is currently in prison on tax offences? Kent Hovind
  7. Which husband and wife exponents of evolutionary psychology claim that "our modern skulls house stone-age minds"? Leda Cosmides and John Tooby
  8. Which American lawyer wrote the 1991 book Darwin on Trial despite a lack of any formal education in biology? Philip johnson
  9. What living land mammal is most closely related to a whale? hippopotamus;
  10. Which nerdcore artist has released a track "F*#k the creationists"? MC Hawking

  11. Which physician-scientist who headed the human genome project proposes a theistic evolutionary view he calls BioLogos? Francis Collins
  12. Who was chief plaintiff in the Dover, Pennsylvania trial? Tammy Kitzmiller

  13. In which city is the cathedral from which Stephen Jay Gould borrowed the term "spandrel"? Venice: Saint Mark's Basilica
  14. What is best-known creation of concerned Kansas citizen, Bobby Henderson? Flying Spaghetti Monster
  15. Who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest"? Herbert Spencer
  16. Which Darwin descendant stars in the Chronicles of Narnia films? Skandar Keynes
  17. What was Megalonyx jeffersonii? extinct North American ground sloth
  18. What ceremony occurred for the first time in the Australian federal government building on Darwin's 199th birthday? Welcome to Country ceremony:

  19. What did German archaeologists Ralf Schmitz and Jürgen Thissen re-discover in the late 1990s? original site where type specimens of Neanderthal Man discovered in 1856
  20. What did Darwin learn from John Edmonstone? taxidermy:
  21. Where is the likely resting place of the hull of Darwin's HMS Beagle Near Potton Island in the Essex marshes
  22. What shop now occupies the site of Darwin's first lodgings in Cambridge? Boots the Chemist
  23. Why was John Maynard Smith's poor eyesight a selective advantage? Prevented him from serving in the military: "it stopped me getting shot"!
  24. What kind of animal was "Mr Arthrobalanus"? a barnacle, this phrase used by Darwin here:; name later changed to Cryptophialus. Note Darwin's excited use of exclamation mark to describe length of its penis!
  25. Where is Darwin's daughter Annie buried? In the churchyard of Great Malvern Priory in Great Malvern. About a mile from where I am now sitting.
  26. Which Polish-born Jew wrote to Darwin in Hebrew, praising The Origin of Species? Naphtali Halevi
  27. Which German taxonomist is buried in a mountain cemetery in Tübingen? Willi Hennig
  28. Why did ALH84001 hit the headlines in the mid-1990s? meteorite; because it may contain Martian microfossils.
  29. What did Scottish bus driver Mike Newman discover in 2004? 428 million-year-old millipede Pneumodesmus newman
  30. Which German philologist pioneered the phylogenetic approach to manuscript research known as stemmatics? August Schleicher
  31. Whose landmark 1970 book, The Origins of Eukaryotic cells, breathed new life into the endosymbiotic theory of mitochondrial origins? Lynn Margulis
  32. What did Lars Ramsköld and Hou Xianguang do to Hallucigenia? inverted it, interpreting the tentacles, which they believe to be paired, as walking structures and the spines as protective.
  33. Which zoologist who attended Marx's funeral also corresponded with Darwin? Sir E. Ray Lankester;col1
  34. According to the fantasy Darwin's Watch, what book does clergyman Darwin write after being prevented from travelling on the Beagle by the Discworld deities? Theology of Species
  35. To what phylum do conodonts belong? Chordata
  36. What is the more accurate name for sea scorpions? eurypterids
  37. How did the Beagle's captain Robert FitzRoy die? cut his own throat with a razor.
  38. What was the shortest distance, by road, in miles, that ever separated Darwin and Mendel in life?  ~17-20 miles (depending on what route finder software you use); in July and August 1862, Mendel attended the London International Exhibition, while Darwin was home in Down with a sick child.

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  39. Which American founding father wrote an essay in 1751 on population growth that later influenced Malthus who in turn influenced Darwin? Benjamin Franklin (read it here: Franklin was a bit of a racist, like most men of his time!)
  40. Which Scottish fruit grower outlined the concept of natural selection in 1831, at least a decade ahead of Darwin? Patrick Matthew
  41. What is the name of the 1972 evolutionary progrock album by Italian rock band Banco del Mutuo Soccorso? Darwin!

  42. What divorce lawyer worked alongside Clarence Darrow defending John Scopes in Dayton Tennessee? Dudley Field Malone
  43. Which American President made an analogy between the US Constitution and Darwin's theory of evolution, stating that "living political constitutions must be Darwinian"? Woodrow Wilson
  44. What term did Nobel laureate Walter Gilbert coin to describe a primordial biology that existed before DNA became the chief genetic material? RNA World
  45. What did John Fallon find in a mutant chicken? alligator-like teeth
  46. What happened to William Jennings Bryan five days after the end of the Scopes trial? he died in his sleep.
  47. What was discovered in Liang Bua? Homo floresiensis
  48. What black African tribe from Southern Africa claim Jewish ancestry and possess some genetic markers to support their claim? The Lemba
  49. Which Permian tetrapod is widely hailed as the first exponent of monogamy? Diictodon
  50. What is the silversword alliance and what evolutionary principle does it illustrate? Adaptive radiation of ~50 species of sunflower family in Hawaii derived from single ancestor.
  51. Which contemporary English novelist weaves Darwinian themes into his 2005 novel Saturday? Ian McEwan
  52. What is Coelurosauravus jaekeli famous for? First air-borne tetrapod; Rex in TV series Primeval.

  53. What new species of australopithecine did Meave Leakey describe in the mid-1990s? Australopithecus anamensis.
  54. Which Birmingham University anthropologist championed the hypothesis of ancestral arboreal bipedalism in 2007? Susannah Thorpe
  55. What gruesome end did the head of the Taung child come to? killed by eagle:
  56. In which species has Ted Garland bred hyperactivity? mice
  57. What predicted feature of Velociraptor was confirmed in 2007? feathers
  58. What is the olm and what evolutionary principle does it illustrate? blind cave salamander; loss of eyesight in cave animals
  59. What is the link between the eye of a squid and recovery from a human hangover? The omega-crystallin in squid eyes and photophores has been recruited from the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase, one of many examples of evolutionarily opportunistic recruitment of lens proteins from enzymes. Aldehyde dehydrogenase detoxifies the hangover-inducing acetaldehyde produced from ethanol by alcohol dehydrogenase.
  60. What nickname did JBS Haldane apply to Cambridge University's academic lawyers, who found him guilty of sexual impropriety? The sex weary (a pun on their Latin title, the sex viri or six men).
  61. Which American palaeontologist starred in a cameo role in The Simpsons? Stephen Jay Gould.
  62. Which Welsh song did Darwin commonly hum to himself? "Ar hyd y nos"
  63. If punctuated equilibrium is "evolution by jerks", what is the alternative, phyletic gradualism? "evolution by creeps"
  64. Which British astronomer gives humanity only a 50% chance of surviving the next century? Martin Rees
  65. What relic of the Carboniferous period did Howard Falcon-Lang discover in an Illinois coalmine? large fossilized forest
  66. Which American theoretical physicist has proposed a theory of cosmological natural selection? Lee Smolin
  67. Which nineteenth-century German linguist proposed a family tree theory of languages that paralleled Darwin's theory of common descent? August Schleicher
  68. Which Austrian-born philosopher wrote that "our theories... suffer in our stead in the survival of the fittest"? Karl Popper in
  69. To what species are the earliest European hominins from Atapuerca assigned by their discoverers? Homo antecessor
  70. Who or what were the rudists? Jurassic marine heterodont bivalves 
  71. Which English clergyman-scientist mentions Darwin, Huxley and Owen by name in his children's novel The Water-Babies? Charles Kingsley
  72. Where and what is the Chicxulub crater? Mexico (Yucatan peninsula), site of asteroid impact which killed dinosaurs and other species 65 mya.
  73. What common name is applied to the phorusrhacids? terror birds
  74. Which Victorian novelist, who attended Darwin's funeral, makes geologist Henry Knight the hero of his novel "A Pair of Blue Eyes"? Thomas Hardy
  75. What did Ahounta Djimdoumalbaye discover? cranium of Sahelanthropus tchadensis, nicknamed Toumaï