Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Rough Guide to Darwin

As part of my attempt to put all my talks, whether for teaching or research online, I have put these two talks I gave yesterday in Oxford on to YouTube.

The Rough Guide to Darwin
Talk given to doctoral students in Oxford 11th Oct 2011
Covers Darwin's early life, including wayward youth, before discussing his major work, impact and legacy

Warning: Explicit discussion of Darwin and sexuality. "Let's get Downe and dirty with Darwin!"
Ignore grey screen YouTube snafu at very beginning. Soon sorts itself out.

From Darwin to Drug Resistance
Talk given to doctoral students in Oxford 11th Oct 2011
Brief review of Darwin's legacy and evolutionary thinking in bacteriology.
Ignore grey screen YouTube snafu at very beginning. Soon sorts itself out.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wallace: Darwin’s Rival or Ambassador?

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) was born in Llanbadoc, near the Welsh town of Usk and grew up in Hertfordshire. He worked as an apprentice surveyor for the six years. During a brief spell as schoolmaster in Leicester, Wallace met entomologist Henry Bates and developed an interest in natural history. He worked for several more years as a surveyor/engineer. Then, inspired by Humboldt and Darwin, Wallace set off with Bates on an expedition to Brazil. In 1852, after four years collecting specimens and surveying the Rio Negro, Wallace set off back to England. At sea, a fire forced Wallace to abandon his specimen collection and, adrift, he spent ten days in a lifeboat, awaiting rescue.

Back safe in England, an insurance payment supported him while he wrote papers and forged links with naturalists, including Darwin. In 1854, Wallace embarked on an expedition to the Malay Archipelago (present-day Malaysia and Indonesia). During this six-year excursion, Wallace collected over a 100,00 specimens, discovered the discontinuity between the kinds of plants and animals found in the northern part of the archipelago and those found in the south (now called the Wallace line), and, crucially, hit upon the idea of evolution by natural selection independently of Darwin. Wallace’s experiences were written up as a lively travelogue, The Malay Archipelago.

During his middle years Wallace was beset with financial problems, which we largely alleviated in 1881 by a government pension that Darwin helped him obtain. In late life, Wallace extended his work on biogeography, became an early environmentalist and toured the US promoting evolution and natural selection. In old age, he settled in Broadstone, a suburb of Poole in Dorset. He is buried in Broadstone cemetery in a grave capped with a (rather phallic!?) fossil tree trunk and block of limestone.

Although often cast as Darwin’s rival, Wallace remained a loyal and lifelong supporter of Darwin, accepted Darwin’s claim to priority, dedicated The Malay Archipelago to Darwin and even entitled his major book on evolution Darwinism. Wallace was an altogether more colourful character than Darwin, but also rather more flakey. Wallace adopted spiritualism and unlike Darwin, expounded a progressive, teleological view of evolution, with the universe working towards the birth of the human spirit. He rejected natural selection as an explanation of the human mind, instead favouring interventions from the “unseen world of spirit”. He became a socialist and an opponent of smallpox vaccination. He got tangled up in disputes as to whether the earth was flat (in the Bedford Level experiment, he showed it wasn’t) or whether there were canals on Mars (he argued there weren’t). It is clear that, had Darwin died in South America, “Wallaceism” would have turned out quite different from Darwinism!

Further Online Reading
The Alfred Russel Wallace web page:

Image Rights
Wallace Grave George W. Beccaloni: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Open Education and Bio380 lecture on Neanderthals

This academic year I have set myself the goal of making all my lecture available for all, in the public domain, via YouTube and maybe also Slideshare. The technical side of doing this is fairly straightforward (capture a screen movie via QuickTime), but the major hassle is ensuring and documenting permissions for all images. In my first attempt, I quickly realised that putting this information on the same slides as the images led to cluttered chaos, so I have piled them all up at the end of the talk.

It is unclear to me what the rules are about using material from published papers, but cannot see how authors would not want students to know about their work. So, in general, I am proceeding along the course of it is easier to apologise afterwards rather than ask permission in advance. If anyone objects to anything I have done, let me know and I will remove the offending material from the public domain. Also, if anyone has tips on how to do all this as efficiently and fairly as possible, please let us know via the comments. Ditto if you want to send words of encouragement!

It will be interesting to see if anyone other than my own students look at this stuff, but here we go, the game's afoot! Information wants to be free!

Here is my first lecture for this year from the Bio380 course: Waking the Dead, on Neanderthals and their influence on the modern human gene pool. Enjoy!

Slidecast via YouTube

Slides via Slideshare

Great Read at Birmingham: Captain Kirkup and Chris Stringer

AV material associated with this week's Great Read at Birmingham events.

Captain Kirkup on Evolution and Game Theory

Video of the talk and subsequent Q&A :

Slides to go with this:
(Open these in a separate window as they will need to be manually paused and progressed forward: sorry no synchronised slidecast available)

Chris Stringer on The Origin of Our Species
Podcast of the talk via YouTube (publicly available):