Category Archives: History of Science

Open Science – post-mortem analysis of H.M.’s brain

As you know, H.M. died last week.
Listen to this brief (9 minutes) NPR Science Friday podcast – you will be able to hear Henry Gustav Molaison’s voice. But most importantly, he has donated his brain to further scientific study. His brain will be sliced and stained and studied at The Brain Observatory at the University of California, San Diego.
But the way they are going to do it will be in a very Open Science manner. Dr. Jacopo Annese, who is leading the project said, in this interview, that the entire process will be open – there will be a forum or a blog where researchers from around the word can make suggestions and discuss the procedure and the results. This will include, especially, people who have worked with Molaison when he was alive and may, thus, have the most insight into what would be most important to study, e.g., exactly what dyes to use to trace which brain circuits, etc. It will be interesting to watch.

We’ll remember H.M. even if he could not remember us

Everyone who’s ever taken a Neuroscience class in college remembers the strange case of H.M.
H.M. suffered from epilepsy. Back in 1953, his brain was operated on – some large chunks (the hippocampi) were removed. Epilepsy was gone. So was his memory.
He could remember his life before surgery, but could not form any new memories. More specifically, he could not remember any new events (‘declarative memory’), things that happened to him. Whatever he experienced years, months, weeks, days, hours, even minutes before, was forever lost. Every moment was a fresh moment. Every day a new beginning.
But there were things he could remember – new skills (‘episodic procedural memory’). If he practiced something one day, he would be better at it the next day even though he could not remember he ever did it before. His brain could remember those subconscious new memories.
Of course, he was studied and studied all his life. A lot of what we now know about memory, we learned from studies on H.M.
H.M. died this Tuesday at the age of 82. His real name was revealed after his death: Henry Gustav Molaison. When we talk about “heroes of science” we usually think about scientists. But in cases like Henry Gustav Molaison, the real scientific hero was a subject.
Mo, DrugMonkey, Greg Laden, Omnibrain and Jake Young have more.

What goes around comes around

For instance, the Earth going around the Sun instead of vice versa. Or Copernicus starting the Scientific Revolution which eventually brought about the technology – DNA fingerprinting – that could be used to positively identify Copernicus’ remains.

The Birthday of the Origin

349px-origin_of_species_title_page.jpgThe Origin originated on this day exactly 150-minus-1 years ago.

Darwin’s Legacy: Evolution’s Impact on Science and Culture

This is in March and close enough – Wilmington, NC – for me to go:

UNCW’s Evolution Learning Community will be hosting “Darwin’s Legacy: Evolution’s Impact on Science and Culture,” a multidisciplinary student conference on March 19-21, 2009.
The conference will be a unique opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students in the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and arts who are conducting research or creative endeavors related to evolution to present their research, investigate graduate study opportunities, network, enhance their resumes, and enrich the body of knowledge surrounding evolution.

Blogger meet-up, anyone?

Virtual journey with Darwin

Check out the new NHM’s interactive Voyage of the Beagle:
[Hat-tip, of course, to Karen]

The Giant’s Shoulders!

The Giant’s Shoulders #5 – The Magic (Blog) Circle! – is now up on PodBlack Cat blog! Enjoy the best recent blogging on the History of Science.

Beagle Project liveblogging the visit to the Darwin exhibition

Go here (requires a 5-second process of signing up for FriendFeed, a move you will not regret, if you want to comment instead of just reading) and participate in liveblogging as the Beagle Project crew visits the opening of the Darwin exhibition.

Ships and Spaceships

Yes, this has been in the works for a long time, and a few hints have been planted here and there over the past months, but now it is official – NASA and The Beagle Project have signed a Space Act Agreement and will work together on a host of projects including scientific research and education. You can read the details on The Beagle Project Blog – space, oceans, biology, science education, history of science, exploration and adventure: all at once. How exciting!
The text of the agreement is under the fold:

Continue reading

Shaking Up Computer History: Finding the Women of ENIAC


Thursday, Sept. 25
11:30 a.m – 1 p.m
(Free lunch if you’re early)
Lecture: “Shaking Up Computer History: Finding the Women of ENIAC”
Historian, computer programmer, telecommunications lawyer, and film producer Kathy Kleiman will speak about the women who programmed the first all-electronic programmable computer, ENIAC, over sixty years ago. Sponsored by Duke University’s Office of the Provost, Office of Information Technology, Women in Science and Engineering, and RENCI.
Bryan Center, Von Canon A/B/C, Duke

William James – The PhD Octopus

A century ago, yet nothing has changed: William James, March 1903:

…………..Human nature is once for all so childish that every reality becomes a sham somewhere, and in the minds of Presidents and Trustees the Ph.D. degree is in point of fact already looked upon as a mere advertising resource, a manner of throwing dust in the Public’s eyes. “No instructor who is not a Doctor” has become a maxim in the smaller institutions which represent demand; and in each of the larger ones which represent supply, the same belief in decorated scholarship expresses itself in two antagonistic passions, one for multiplying as much as possible the annual output of doctors, the other for raising the standard of difficulty in passing, so that the Ph.D. of the special institution shall carry a higher blaze of distinction than it does elsewhere. Thus, we at Harvard are proud of the number of candidates whom we reject, and of the inability of men who are not distingues in intellect to pass our tests.
America is thus a nation rapidly drifting towards a state of things in which no man of science or letters will be accounted respectable unless some kind of badge or diploma is stamped upon him, and in which bare personality will be a mark of outcast estate. It seems to me high time to rouse ourselves to consciousness, and to cast a critical eye upon this decidedly grotesque tendency. Other nations suffer terribly from the Mandarin disease. Are we doomed to suffer like the rest?
Our higher degrees were instituted for the laudable purpose of stimulating scholarship, especially in the form of “original research.” Experience has proved that great as the love of truth may be among men, it can be made still greater by adventitious rewards. The winning of a diploma certifying mastery and marking a barrier successfully passed, acts as a challenge to the ambitious; and if the diploma will help to gain bread-winning positions also, its power as a stimulus to work is tremendously increased. So far, we are on innocent ground; it is well for a country to have research in abundance, and our graduate schools do but apply a normal psychological spur. But the institutionizing on a large scale of any natural combination of need and motive always tends to run into technicality and to develop a tyrannical Machine with unforeseen powers of exclusion and corruption. Observation of the workings of our Harvard system for twenty years past has brought some of these drawbacks home to my consciousness, and I should like to call the attention of my readers to this disadvantageous aspect of the picture, and to make a couple of remedial suggestions, if I may…..

Read the whole story…

‘The places in and around London that shaped the naturalist as a young man’

Heart of Darwin:

Even the founding father of evolutionary theory was not born a gloomy old man. I began to wonder if it might be possible to walk Darwin’s London and get a sense of him as a young man caught up in the fray. The landmarks of his life turned out to be all around.

I hope you don’t faint while reading this post….

…but if you do, I hope it was enjoyable! And edifying, of course. Kind of science that is amenable to experimentation at home.

The Genius of Charles Darwin

Not on US television (Channel 4 in the UK only):

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Importance of History of Science (for scientists and others)

My SciBling John Lynch recently published a very interesting paper, on a topic close to my heart: Does Science Education Need the History of Science? by Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky. Isis, 2008, 99:322-330
This is a part of a broader focus issue of Isis on the topic of History of Science. I got the paper two weeks ago, but only now found some time to sit down and read it. And I was not disappointed! Fortunately for all of us, the entire paper is available online for free (yeah!), so you can read it in its entirety.
While using the fight against Creationism (including Intelligent Design) in the USA as an example of how history of science education can help in the public arena may or may not appeal to everyone, the main thesis of the paper – that History Of Science classes to science students will make them better scientists – is what I always thought was an obvious truth. They write:

First among them is that at least one Nobel laureate (in physics) has already found benefits in introducing history of science in the precollege science curriculum. Kenneth G. Wilson, in collaboration with Constance Barsky, has conducted over a decade of research on the impact of such integrated historical teaching in that particular educational sector. They argue that exposure to the history of science helps students considering science as a career to think, ask questions, and explore the concepts and ramifications of broad topics, enabling them to grasp what science is about and how it is conducted. In particular, they suggest focusing on such topics as the history of engineering and the recognition that the existence of a large number of concurrent redesign processes in science and technology can build understanding of how and why socioeconomic changes arise as new versions of artifacts are introduced. More generally, they suggest that knowledge and understanding of the history of science can enable future practitioners of science better to anticipate and respond to the challenges of rapid globalization and be better prepared to mold our future.

Perhaps if scientists-in-training learned the history of the way science has been done, funded and communicated over the centuries (e.g., for communication: books, monographs, letters to societies, journals, peer-reviewed journals, conferences, the Web), they would be better prepared for the changes currently happening in the way science is done, funded and published. That is why I thought that placing current changes in the publishing world would be better understood in the context of history.
I have also written before about the way I got into my own field – because the course was heavily anchored in the history of the field:

I got excited about my area of research BECAUSE of the way the course was taught on it. Every topic started with “the first guy” who thought about it, then went through the history, stopping to analyze the key experiments and how they were interpreted by the authors and readers at the time (and why – the importance of context), and ended with the current knowledge, including some “hot off the presses” stuff. There was no way anyone could have taken the class without leaving with an impression that everything is tentative, that new research can change stuff really fast, and how much still there is to learn. That feeling that the field is wide open, feeling I got due to the way this was taught, made me want to jump into the discipline and do my own research.
[It] was a great example of teaching a field of science using a “Great Men in Context” approach. We learned names of people who did stuff, but also why they did it, i.e., how was it possible for them to even think that way at the time they lived. Why was a certain interpretation of data possible or impossible in 1700s, or 1920s, or 1950s, although we have a different interpretation today, with 20/20 hindsight. This approach made the class extremely effective, and I wish more science classes are taught this way.

Gooday at al. have some similar thoughts:

By contrast, studying the history of science as a process of perpetual flux and innovation can cultivate their expectations of how they might contribute to future forms of its change, especially by interactions with medicine and technology. Moreover, if student expectations are better attuned to open-endedness in the character of science, they can more readily appreciate the incompleteness and fallibility of models and theories they regularly (and thus perplexingly) have to discard as they encounter each new stage of their curriculum. Much more of science thus becomes comprehensible through study of its history–and in ways that cannot easily be addressed by scientists working within a time-pressured science curriculum.

Hopeful Monster is trying to do something similar:

…..the article also argues that training science students about the history of science will produce scientists that are better informed about their disciplines and have a better understanding of how science changes–or even that science changes. One major flaw I see in my own students is that, even as college juniors and seniors, they still see science as a collection of facts that they can memorize for the exam, rather than as a process. I try as much as possible to get students to analyze, predict, and interpret far more than I ask them to memorize. I have also tried to incorporate history–having students interpret data from classic experiments, for instance; investigating how models have changed–to emphasize science as process. It’s possible that I didn’t take much concrete away from the article because I had already been sold on the idea. But I could probably still work on the implementation.

Or, as John and his co-authors say in the paper:

Arguably most important is the understanding of the broader processes of science that studying its history can uniquely offer. The key role of history here is characterizing the complexities of how science changes. So many science textbooks unhelpfully–and above all inaccurately– cultivate a rather static image of scientific disciplines, as if they were completed with comprehensive certainty. It is perhaps not difficult to understand how this gross oversimplification might arise as the result of a pedagogical need to “tidy up” the
presentation of science to meet the needs and capacities of students. But faced with the textbook spectacle of such an apparently unalterable monolith, is it any wonder that students can have difficulty conceiving how they might ever contribute to science?

This is also why, as an Open Access evangelist, I particularly stress the need for making old papers OA and having them available in classrooms at all levels.
Bob O’Hara, though, warns about naivete with which some science professors introduce the historical context into their science classes:

Ever since I was an undergraduate, I read histories of science written by historians. It became apparent that the history we are taught in science is very much a fake history – the Good Guys make great advances by carrying out the crucial experiment, and once it was published the best of the scientific community accepted it and moved on the next Great Advance. Only the elderly professors and the less competent objected, and they were wrong. Aspects like Mendel being ignored are treated as some oddity – how on earth could scientists have ignored the ground-breaking work of an obscure monk for 40 years?
Once you start to read “proper” histories, you see that reality was different. It was never as clean: the original experiments were not definitive, there were valid criticisms of them (some were even fiddled!), or were not understood the way they are today. Sometimes experiments had to be placed in the right context before they could be properly understood (this is more or less the issue with Mendel: he was thnking along different lines when he did his experiments). If we are ignorant of this sort of history, we can end up with a distorted view of science and its progress – we can become naïve scientific triumphalists (to use a phrase one of my genetics lecturers used about her head of department). It should be clear that, by implying the inevitability of progress, this can breed undue arrogance.

I had the same feeling when I started. So, in grad school, I took four History of Science courses – those I wanted, not those marked as necessary for getting a Minor in it – and those four were some of the most fun and edifying classes I ever took. The first was a general survey course of History of Life Sciences (about a third devoted to history of medicine starting with Vesalius, a third on evolution, and a third on the birth of molecular biology). The second was Biology In History seminar looking at broad patterns in history (one of the main readings was Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’) and how agriculture, diseases, domestication, drugs, etc, affected those. The third was ‘Darwin in Science and Society’, where we read mostly secondary sources (just firt 5 chapter of the ‘Origin’). The fourth was ‘Darwin (Re)visited’ seminar in which we actually read the entire Origin, entire Voyage, almost entire Descent, bunch of letter, autobiography, a couple of papers, some excerpts from his other books, etc.
Finally, I taught a graduate seminar in ‘Readings in Behavioral Biology’ in which, for each week’s topic, I paired a classical paper to a recent one so we could discuss the topic within a historical framework.
Will Thomas, who is a historian of science, writes among else:

More to the point, the article portrays history as a potential force of enculturation while science courses portray a more “static” and stripped-down picture of what science is. We can show how scientific communities work, and how scientific knowledge changes over time, thereby relieving the perplexity caused by the discarding of simplified notions for more advanced treatments offered in more advanced courses. To a degree, I think this is true. One of my science students this spring even mentioned that the course ought to be required of science students (I suspect flattery here). But, other means of enculturation, such as contact with science professors and working in labs, is surely more important and can present a nuanced view a history of science class would likely lack (although maybe sociology of science can find a place here?). If science students get perspective on what it means to be a scientist from our courses, that’s good of course: we do offer a broader picture in scope and in time. But if we are a primary means of enculturation, it tells me that science departments aren’t really doing their jobs.

I think that science departments are, actually, not generally doing a good job. Contact with professors and working in labs is not enough – you are told what to do, you are given recipes for techniques/kits you will be using, and you are urged to read the latest, sexiest papers in the narrow area of research that the lab is focusing on.
This differs between disciplines, I have observed, with ecology, evolutionary biology, behavioral biology, and organismal/systems physiology generally inculcating the new students into the historical lore much more than Big Science labs (biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics except Population genetics which does pay attention to its history). In those disciplines, new students are pointed to the Classical papers in the field. I have greatly profited from reading the ancient (often 60 pages long) papers by Achoff, DeCoursey, Pittendrigh, Ehret, Gwinner, Daan, Halberg, Bunning and even Frank Brown (who got it all wrong, but it is enlightening to see how and why he did get it wrong) – those papers gave me a good grounding, gave me ideas, told me what would NOT work, reintroduced concepts that everyone seemed to have forgotten in the decades since their publication.
As John and others say in the paper:

And last, but not least, students can become acquainted with the key institutions, formative episodes, and accomplishments of their fields, a process that can contribute to the formation of professional identity in ways that are probably more effective than simply learning and replicating the contents of science textbooks and laboratory routines.


Good science on the blogs these days!

Broca’s Area, 1865:

This doesn’t sound too out there to us now, but at the time it caused a lot of controversy. The problems wasn’t the localization to the inferior frontal lobe, it was Broca’s claim that it was the LEFT inferior frontal lobe. This didn’t sit well with a lot of scientists at the time. It was pretty accepted that, when you had two sides or halves of an organ, the both acted in the same way. Both kidneys do the same thing, both sides of your lungs, and both of your ovaries or testes. Your legs and arms will do essentially the same thing, though due to handedness (or footedness), you may have more strength or dexterity on one side. Therefore, if the left part of your brain was involved in language, the right must be also.

Operant and classical learning can be differentiated at the genetic level:

Learning about relationships between stimuli (i.e., classical conditioning) and learning about consequences of one’s own behavior (i.e., operant conditioning) constitute the major part of our predictive understanding of the world. Since these forms of learning were recognized as two separate types 80 years ago, a recurrent concern has been the issue of whether one biological process can account for both of them. Today, we know the anatomical structures required for successful learning in several different paradigms, e.g., operant and classical processes can be localized to different brain regions in rodents and an identified neuron in Aplysia shows opposite biophysical changes after operant and classical training, respectively. We also know to some detail the molecular mechanisms underlying some forms of learning and memory consolidation. However, it is not known whether operant and classical learning can be distinguished at the molecular level. Therefore, we investigated whether genetic manipulations could differentiate between operant and classical learning in Drosophila. We found a double dissociation of protein kinase C and adenylyl cyclase on operant and classical learning. Moreover, the two learning systems interacted hierarchically such that classical predictors were learned preferentially over operant predictors.

This food doesn’t taste right … or is it me?:

Flavor is a result of what happens with taste-receptors in the mouth (including but not exclusively those on the tongue) and with olfactory receptors. The 40 or so kinds of taste-receptors interact with the chemicals in what you’re tasting (yes, all your food is made of chemicals!) and create a nerve impulse that sends a signal to the brain. Meanwhile, the 300 or so olfactory receptors send their own smell-signal based on the volatile components of your food. The taste-signal and the smell-signal are correlated in the brain to make the flavor you’re experiencing.

Evolving snake fangs:

I keep saying this to everyone: if you want to understand the origin of novel morphological features in multicellular organisms, you have to look at their development. “Everything is the way it is because of how it got that way,” as D’Arcy Thompson said, so comprehending the ontogeny of form is absolutely critical to understanding what processes were sculpted by evolution. Now here’s a lovely piece of work that uses snake embryology to come to some interesting conclusions about how venomous fangs evolved.

The Evolution of Cats: Sabertooth vs. Regular:

There are two kinds of “true cats”. Cat experts call one type feline or “modern” partly because they are the ones that did not go extinct. If you have a pet cat, it’s a modern/feline cat. This also includes the lions, tigers, leopards, etc. The other kind are called “sabercats” because this group includes the saber tooth. It is generally believed but not at all certain that these two groups of cats are different phylogenetic lineages (but that is an oversimplification).

Male fish deceive watching rivals about their top choice of females:

They say that all’s fair in love and war, and that certainly seems to be the case of Atlantic mollies (Poecilia mexicana). These freshwater fish are small and unassuming, but in their quest to find the best mates, they rely on a Machiavellian misdirection.

CLOACA, the Defecation Device:

This made me wonder – what exactly IS poop? Other than having a vague idea of nutrients, bacteria, and fiber, I had never deeply contemplated it before.

The Giant’s Shoulders – call for submissions

The second edition of The Giant’s Shoulders, carnival of history of science, will be hosted by The Lay Scientist on August 15th. Check out the first edition to see what it is all about, then submit your stuff. If you appeared in a previous edition, you need to write something new, but if this will be your first time, you can sneak in some of your best old stuff, I’m sure that will be OK…

Obligatory Readings of the Day: Darwin and Evolution

Olivia Judson has, so far, posted four parts of her Darwin series. We (“we” meaning “bloggers’ including myself) have already commented on some of these, but here is the entire series (so far, I hope there will be more) for ease of use:
An Original Confession
Let’s Get Rid of Darwinism
A Natural Selection

Make your own HMS ‘Beagle’ ship

From the The Beagle Project Blog:


Olivia Judson is absolutely right – let’s get rid of the terms “Darwinist” and “Darwinism”. She writes, among else:

I’d like to abolish the insidious terms Darwinism, Darwinist and Darwinian. They suggest a false narrowness to the field of modern evolutionary biology, as though it was the brainchild of a single person 150 years ago, rather than a vast, complex and evolving subject to which many other great figures have contributed. (The science would be in a sorry state if one man 150 years ago had, in fact, discovered everything there was to say.) Obsessively focusing on Darwin, perpetually asking whether he was right about this or that, implies that the discovery of something he didn’t think of or know about somehow undermines or threatens the whole enterprise of evolutionary biology today.

I am glad to see that John Wilkins, Jonah Lehrer and Brian Switek also agree with this, though each one cites a somewhat different reason for it. Many of those reasons have been put together into a table form (with deep explanations) by Wilkins before – a good reference for the future, something to bookmark.
Brian Switek says, and I agree that at least for us in the USA, this is the most pressing reason to abandon the terms:

I’ve never liked the term “Darwinism.” To me it has always been more of a watchword that might indicate that I was talking to a creationist, a term I generally do not encounter unless I’m reading or hearing an argument against a straw-man version of evolution. (I’m not a big fan of “evolutionist,” either.) It may have been useful in the past, when evolution by natural selection (as popularized by Darwin) was competing with other systems like Neo-Lamarckism and orthogenesis, but today it doesn’t have any relevance. (It should also be noted that A.R. Wallace wrote a book on natural selection called Darwinism. Despite his own work on the same subject he calls evolution by natural selection “Darwin’s theory.”) If anything it continues the myth that Darwin is the be-all and end-all of evolutionary science, and while he certainly deserves a lot of credit On the Origin of Species is not some kind of secular Bible where every word is dogma.

According to Blake Stacey (and I have heard this before), the terms is used much more widely in the UK, including, until recently, by Dawkins who should have known better about the power of words:

I’ve written before about the different ways people define the word Darwinism and its close relatives. The short version is that American biologists and other academics don’t seem too likely to use the word: they just like to say “evolutionary biology” and be done with it. In the U. S. and A., hearing the word “Darwinism” is a pretty sure sign you’re dealing with a creationist, or at least a person whose knowledge of science derives too much from creationist misinformation. Over in Britain, serious academics still use the word, as do people who appear fairly pro-science (maybe there’s some kind of national pride thing going on?). One can still see negative uses of the D-word over in the UK, of course, particularly from people who confuse “social Darwinism” with actual biology or radically misinterpret kin selection and the “selfish gene” idea, but sorting out all their problems would require a book of its own.

Perhaps, I thought, this is because Darwin was British, so there may be an element of national pride involved. But then, smalled nations with even bigger reasons to push national pride, would have gone further than this, yet I have never heard a Serb proclaim to be a “Teslaist” or “Milankovichist”.
I have ranted about this before (e.g., here, here and here). For instance, here I wrote:

Bashing evolution is an example of phatic language. Words like “Darwinist” and “evolutionist” that are never used by actual evolutionary biologists serve as code-words for belonging to the Creationist Village, just like saying “Democrat party” instead of “Democratic party” immediatelly signals one’s political party affiliation (GOP). These two words, ending with “-ist” also serve to provide equivalency between creationist belief and evolutionary methodology, infering that evolutionary theory is a religious belief instead of a method for understanding the material world. If the two are seen as two opposed religions, they can have a war on equal footing in which “my religion is better than yours” contest can take place and Christians, due to sheer numbers and the tight community spirit are confident in victory. This kind of rhetoric also allows the creationists to show up on TV as equals to evolutionary biologists, as the naive media misreads phatic language as logical language and, following the American fairness sentiment, indulges in destructive “He said/She said” pseudo-journalism.

And here I wrote:

I am not an “evolutionist”. I am not a “Darwinist”. I am a biologist. Thus, by definition, I am an evolutionary biologist. Although my research is in physiology and behavior, I would never be able to make any sense of my data (or even know what questions to ask in the first place) without evolutionary thinking.
As I am also interested in history and philosophy of biology, I consider myself a Darwinian. But not a “Darwinist” or “evolutionist” – those two words are Creationists’ constructs. They arise from the basic misunderstanding of evolution. Being religious believers they cannot fathom that people can operate outside of the realm of belief, thus they assume that evolution is a belief, akin to and in competition with their belief.
I do not believe in evolution. It is not something you believe in or not: it is something you understand or not. I judge the evidence. If I think it is fishy I will delay my judgement until more data comes in. If the evidence looks good, I will tentatively and temporarily accept it as correct until more data come in. Evolutionary biology is sitting on such large mountains of strong evidence collected over the past 150 years that it appears impossible that over the next 150 years we will be able to collect an equivalent amount of data challenging it in order to question the validity of evolutionary theory. It is one of the strongest supported theory in all of science. For all practical purposes, evolution (as in “common descent”) is a fact, an d natural selection is the strongest of several mechanisms by which evolution operates. There is nothing controversial about this.
Those two terms (“evolutionist” and “Darwinist”) have lately also been used on purpose, as code-words for their own audience. They understand that using these terms implies (and turns on a frame of mind in the listeners) that evolution is a religious belief. It is similar to the way I think of myself as a member of the Democratic Party, but Republicans prefer to use the Luntzism “Democrat Party”. It’s all about framing the debate.

Note a little difference between me and Olivia here. I want to preserve one of the three words – Darwinian, but only in the sense of “Darwinian Scholarship”, i.e., the historical and philosophical study of the history of evolutionary thought, rightfully centered around Darwin, and including the world he lived in – the Victorian England. Darwin is a gold mine for scholars. He was a little, let’s say, anal-retentive, so he preserved all of his correspondence, his papers, books, notebooks and diaries. Hundreds of biographies of Darwin have been published, in addition to book about Darwin, about the history of evolutionary thought, biographies of other players (e.g., Huxley, Wallace, Lamarck). I doubt that there is any other aspect of history that is known and studied more than British aristocracy of teh 19th century, so the context for Darwin’s life and work is well understood. The Darwinian Industry has enough material to keep thriving for decades to come.
However, another important reason is the one that Jonah Lehrer empasizes:

My problem with “Darwinism,” then, is the exact opposite of Judson’s. She dislikes “Darwinism” because she thinks the noun is applied too broadly, so that Darwin gets implicit credit for things like population genetics. But I think that “Darwinism” misleads because it causes people to underestimate Darwin’s real achievement, which is far grander than merely getting people to believe that species change. If “Darwinism” should be a synonym for anything it should be the ideology of unrepentant materialism, which is the underlying philosophy of modern science.

I completely agree. Actually, in a very old post I wrote something similar:

What we, who consider ourselves rational are, is not Aristotelian, but Darwinian. What????!!!!! Forget Darwin’s contribution to biology, or the misuse of his name by eugenicists and social-Darwinists of all kinds. The greatest contribution of Darwin is the way we in the Western world THINK! We require data! Give me information! Empirical proof! Statistics! At least give me polls! Before Darwin, people thought their great ideas in the seclusion of their homes and published books. It was my word against your word. Many philosophers became famous this way. Descartes and others started, earlier on, asking for empirical proofs but nobody provided them. Darwin did – he showed how philosophy is done! There were evolutionary theories before him, written by Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, Chambers and others that were laughed out of court. Everyone took “The Origin” seriously because it provided a consilient set of proofs: not just internal logic of the argument (many earlier philosophies had that) but a link to the reality of the world. That was the Day One of the Age of Rationality. If asked who my favourite philosopher was, I would have said Darwin and lost the Presidency that very moment! But it is true. The Western world lives in a Darwinian worldview – the worldview of empiricism.

The Giant’s Shoulders #1

Welcome to the Firstest, Biggestest, Inaugural Edition of The Giant’s Shoulders, the carnival of History Of Science! The carnival grew out of the Classic Papers Challenge by gg of Skulls in the Stars. That was so much fun, several of us thought this is something that should be done regularly, perhaps every month. So, gg and I got together and got this thing started.
I know some of the future hosts will do this very creatively (and yes, you can volunteer to host, though you will have to wait six months for your turn!), and I envisioned doing this in a form of, perhaps, a vigorous debate at the meeting of Royal Society or something like that. But then I got so many entries and the carnival got so big, I decided I had to go with a simpler scheme – the link and brief quote from each post.
As I was reading all the entries, I realized how much I tend to read only within my own area of interest and rarely find time and energy to read science bloggers when they dig into the depths of their own fields which I do not understand well. And I realized how much fun it is to read about things one knows very little about. So, I wanted to organize the carnival in a way that will make you more likely to check “the other guys” instead of just checking out your best buddies. So, instead of grouping the entries by discipline, I laid them out in chronological order, from the oldest to the newest. I hope you read them in order. This way, you can get a feel for what was known at what time, what was in the news at each era, what was the Zeitgeist, and how the practice of science (and science-writing) gradually changed.
Without further ado, here are the exciting carnival entries for July 2008:
1543 – Vesalius. It’s hard to go any earlier than this in the history of modern science, so we have to start with catatau at catatau blog, with a brief post Humanis Corporis Fabrica de Vesalius with the famous illustrations:

Em 1543 Andreas de Vesalius publicou uma lição de anatomia intitulada De Humanis Corporis Fabrica. Como Copérnico, Vesalius foi considerado por muitos um “precursor” de formas científicas modernas.

1729 – De Mairan. Oh, this one is mine
Clock Classics: It all started with the plants:

In the old days, when people communed with nature more closely, the fact that plants and animals did different things at different times of day or year did not raise any eyebrows. That’s just how the world works – you sleep at night and work during the day, and so do (or in reverse) many other organisms. Nothing exciting there, is it? Nobody that we know of ever wondered how and why this happens – it just does.

1750 – La Mettrie. This post by catatau at catatau is in Portugese, so I do not understand it, but those of you who can (and you can give us a summary in English) will enjoy La Mettrie: O Homem-Máquina e A Arte do Gozo

Existe uma corrente atual (na verdade, ela é bem mais antiga do que admitiriam seus mais fiéis defensores) de pensamento que busca subsumir os dados históricos às “descobertas”, “avancos” e “temas” contemporaneos. Assim, um livro esquecido hoje teria sua justificativa de ser “esquecido” precisamente por nao ter relevancia alguma para historiadores ou cientistas: e algo como irrelevante, ultrapassado, demode.

1751 – Hill. Brian Switek of Laelaps goes back to rowdy days of scientific debates: Geese from barnacles

In 1751 John Hill, upset the Royal Society of London rejected his application for membership, published a scathing critique of credulous papers printed by that body. One such review focused on a paper printed about an old, but common, legend that the Brent-Goose (probably Branta bernicla) was born not of eggs but of seashells dropped like fruit from a particular type of tree. Hill could not stand to see such nonsense peddled to the people, and the fact that it was being promulgated by the Society that rejected him gave him an opportunity for some revenge.

1751 – Linneaus. Here is another one of mine, in the same vein as my previous one: Carolus Linnaeus’ Floral Clocks

Linnaeus observed over a number of years that certain plants constantly opened and closed their flowers at particular times of the day, these times varying from species to species. Hence one could deduce the approximate time of day according to which species had opened or closed their flowers.

1781 – Herschel and Herschel. John McKay of Archy tracks the history of discovering and naming planets in our Solar System in On Planets X and Names:

The bottom line is that we are just beginning to understand the outer solar system and to come up with plausible scenarios for the evolution of the solar system that account for all of its parts. If Lykawka’s theory proves correct and someone finds Planet X, the really important question will be what do we call it. George is still up for grabs.

1781 – Jefferson. Brian of Laelaps found the old politicians involved in scientific debates as well, in Thomas Jefferson’s All-American incognitum:

To Buffon the Americas contained a degenerate fauna, everything about them (including Native Americans) being inferior to Old World creatures. Although Jefferson admired Buffon’s general appreciation for natural history he would not sit idly by and let Buffon call the New World and his country (still experiencing labor pains as he wrote his Notes) degenerate. The discovery of the American incognitum earlier in the century and it’s identification as some variety of elephant (albeit a carnivorous one) by the 1760’s provided Jefferson with a perfect “American Monster” to counter Buffon.

1810 – Arago. This one is from GG, the carnival founder and manager on Skulls in the Stars – definitely a “Classical” paper: What a drag: Arago’s Experiment (1810)

From a historical point of view, Arago’s experiment* is absolutely fascinating: as we will see, it was a failed experiment, based on incorrect theories of light propagation, which was interpreted incorrectly by Fresnel, but this incorrect interpretation helped lead to the (correct) view that light has wavelike properties! The incorrect interpretation, however, also led physics into a hundred-year ‘red herring’ search that only ended with the advent of Einstein’s relativity. These are a lot of twists and turns to untangle, so let’s take them one step at a time.

1848 – Harlow. SciCurious from Neurotic Physiology tackles the most famous medical case of all times – Passage of an Iron Rod Through the Head:

When I ask people if they know who Phineas Gage is, most people stop and say “who?” Then you say five words “railroad spike through the head”, and everyone says “OH! YES!” The case of Phineas Gage is one of the best-known case reports in medicine, and since then, Phineas Gage and his tamping iron have been the source of numerous books, TV specials, retroactive research, review articles, and neurology lectures. This is pretty good fame for a railroad foreman whose only claim to fame was a freak accident.

1856 – Owen. Matt (and Darren) of Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week look at the early pioneering days: Sauropod pneumaticity, the early years:

Today, the idea that sauropods (and non-avian theropods) were pneumatic animals is well established and universally accepted (a minority view – promoted by those who insist that birds cannot be dinosaurs – maintains that non-avian dinosaurs were not pneumatic, but I see no indication that the workers concerned know what they’re talking about). Indeed, sauropod pneumaticity has been discussed a lot here at SV-POW! But have people always regarded sauropods as pneumatic? As someone particularly interested both in pneumaticity and in the dinosaurs of the Lower Cretaceous Wealden Supergroup of southern England, the whole ‘Pneumaticity: the Early Years’ story is of special interest to me. I hope you get something out of it too…

1858 – Darwin and Wallace. Greg Laden of Greg Laden’s blog goes for the Superheroes: Darwin and Wallace 1858

It has been fashionable to underscore the differences between them (and that is quite interesting) but if each of these writings were proffered as answers to an AP biology exam question asking “What is Natural Selection … how does it work and what is the evidence for it?” the two essays would score about the same grade. I wonder what the grade would be?

1880 – Dutton. This one by Tuff Cookie at Magma Cum Laude is about an entire book – A Report on the Geology of the High Plateaus of Utah:

Reading any of Dutton’s works is a pleasure – not only because they are accounts of the first explorations of the geology of the western US, but because of the writing style of Dutton’s time. It reads a little like a travelogue, a little like an adventure story, and is elegant, succinct and thoroughly insightful.

1881 – Reid. Here is Brian of Laelaps again, with a post that reminds us how far science has moved on since the old heady days – Wallowing dinosaurs and birds on the 5th day:

The fact that dinosaurs were envisioned by some as being giant, swamp-bound monsters during this time gave Reid a way out. The Genesis narrative was clear that birds were created on the 5th day, the same day as the great whales and other “moving creatures of the water” (within which Reid lumped non-avian dinosaurs). If mammals (including humans) appeared on the next day, representing the “Age of Mammals,” then the 5th must have been the “Age of Reptiles”.

1884 – Freud. SciCurious at Neurotic Physiology finds famous roots of the study of cocaine in Uber Coca, by Sigmund Freud:

Most people know Sigmund Freud as the founder of psychoanalysis, as well as originating the idea of the role of the unconscious in conscious thought, and of course for “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” But were you also aware that Freud was one of the pioneers of research into the properties of cocaine?

1885 – Ebbinghaus. Dave Munger of Cognitive Daily decided to check out The origins of the study of memory:

What’s notable about Ebbinghaus’s study isn’t so much the conclusions he draws from it, but the fact that he’s the first person to attempt a systematic, experimental study of memory. He actually devised his own system of accounting for error (anticipating standard deviation).

1887 – Petri. Epicanis at The Big Room explains where the Petri dishes come from in A small modification of Koch’s plating method:

This was kind of a pain to work with, so some clever guy named Julius came up with a modification of this method in 1887, using pairs of shallow dishes, one slightly larger than the other so that it could be turned upside down to use as a lid. Then, you don’t necessarily need the bell jar, and you don’t need to stack them so they’re easier to pour. Julius Robert Petri’s idea was so useful that we still use it today. Oh, yeah, and they named the dish-and-lid combination after him.

1890 – Wiener. This physics post is also by the carnival’s manager, gg at Skulls in the Stars: Otto Wiener’s experiment:

The experiment that Wiener performed, as we will see, is conceptually simple and elegant. I foolishly thought that this would “translate” into a short, easy to cope with paper. As one can see from the citation above, no such luck: the paper is 40 pages of somewhat antiquated German! I accepted my fate, though, and soldiered on.

1900 – Shinn. Another one by Dave Munger at Cognitive DailyA baby’s psychological development at six months:

In 1890, her niece Ruth was born, and Shinn spent hours carefully observing the child’s every behavior. This “large mass of data” became the basis for a book that was welcomed by the scholars of the day, The Biography of a Baby, which, while not the first of its kind, certainly was one of the most thorough scientific accounts of a baby’s cognitive and physical development in its time.

1914 – Hayes. The excitement of discovery in the field, by coconino at Ordinary High Water Mark: Another oldie but goodie…

There are actually few geologists I know who have and regularly use horsemanship skills in the course of their field work (I’ve only known a few who needed pack animals and a muleskinner usually came with the mules/ponies/horses/burros – my grandfather needed dog-sledding, fishing, and hunting skills for his gold-mining in Alaska). Besides that and a little gender-bias, his words remain fairly true. At least a couple of profs I’ve known over the years have wanted to instill this understanding in their field-oriented students.

1917 – Graham. SciCurious at Neurotic Physiology shows once again how an accident can teach us something very basic about the way the human body works – Diabetes Insipidus as a Sequel to a Gunshot Wound of the Head

But on the fourth day, he began to PEE. And pee. And pee. It was so bad that they couldn’t even collect it all, he would urinate in the bed before they could even get him to a toilet. He was voiding 4.5-5.5 liters per day, and drinking copiously to retain any fluid at all. It never seemed to stop, even after he was discharged (to a mental hospital, unfortunately he remained severely unstable for the rest of his life).

1917 – Barrell. Climate and tectonics and sedimentation and stratigraphy, all in one paper covered by BrianR at Clastic DetritusBarrell and the Rhythms of Geologic Time:

Before I get into the ideas of the paper, the first thing to note is the style of writing. Simply look at the page range in the citation above … these old-school scientists were verbose! If you’re looking for concise statements and something you can digest quickly, this is not the place to go. But, if you’re in the mood to read some great scientific prose and dive deep into an idea, these old papers can be a delight.

1921 – Kulik. JohnMcKay of Archy is a historian, so he prefers concepts to individual papers, but I picked the oldest of the papers he mentions in A Century of Tunguska:

As Kulik was boarding his train to the Far East one of his colleagues handed him a page torn from an old calendar that had a news article about a meteor fall in Siberia in 1908. Almost every detail of the article was wrong. It described a red glowing stone landing near the railroad and curious passengers standing around to watch it cool. However, from the date and location in the story, Kulik was able to figure out what had happened. He prepared a questionnaire about the event that he gave to people across Siberia. Comparing witness accounts he was able to calculate approximately where the streak in the sky should have touched down. Kulik had no doubt that the 1908 explosion was a meteorite.

1931 – Loomis, Brown and Brouwer. Tom of Swans on Tea covers something dear to my own heart (yes, there is even influence of the Moon!), from a physical perspective – two papers about time, in a three-part post: ‘Classic’ Timekeeping, Part I, ‘Classic’ Timekeeping, Part II and ‘Classic’ Timekeeping, Part III:

These are from 1931, fulfilling the pre-WWII criterion, when you still had individuals engaging in research that were self-financed or supported by a patron and much of the equipment was self-manufactured. The science in this case was largely self-funded, and as for the “basement,” well, it’s a pretty fancy basement as you’ll see, as one might suspect of someone who can fund his own science. But classic nonetheless.

1933 – Wright. From Barn Owl of Guadalupe Storm-Petrel, a famous person and a famous species – Otocephaly in the Guinea Pig:

Although mice and rats are far more commonly used animal models in biomedical research, we still refer to human test populations and volunteers for experiments as “guinea pigs”. Between 1915 and 1925, the Bureau of Animal Industry at the USDA maintained a number of guinea pig strains for genetics research, and this 1933 paper* by Sewall Wright describes the appearance of, and inheritance patterns associated with, “otocephalic monsters” in one inbred strain (“family 13″) of these rodents.

1933 – Schaeffer and Fulton. Here is another one by Epicanis at The Big Room, tracking the origin of standard lab techniques – A simplified method of staining endospores:

If you take a microbiology lab, this is the endospore staining technique (or “technic” as they used to spell it) that you’ll practice.

1935 – Windle and Austin. Barn Owl at Guadalupe Storm-Petrel repeats history in Earliest Axons in the Early Bird Embryo:

Compared to Windle and Austin, I had a lot of sophisticated equipment and labeling techniques at my disposal; in the end, however, my results were almost identical to theirs, with respect to the timing of arrival of the earliest central axons, and I had a nice historical confirmation for a section of the Neuron paper my mentor and I published.

1936 – Diserens and Wood. Podblack of the eponymous PodBlack Blog is skeptical – Belief in Fortune Telling Amongst College Students:

How does research on belief of college students in fortune-telling from 1936, compare to research today? Are the students that much different or does research now recognise a wider spectrum of influences that could have been included in the initial study? What were some of the socio-cultural influences that could have made a group of 101 students from the University of Cincinnati respond the way they did – and could a paper of that time recognised those elements?

1937 – Dingemanse. Here is SciCurious of Neurotic Phsyiology again with yet another weird historical experiment – Weird Science Friday REDUX

For this weird science Friday, I want to take you back. Back to a time before estrogen and testosterone. Back to a time when people were still trying to figure out was these “hormones” were. Back to when the grass was green, men had male hormone, women had female hormone, and roosters were castrated in the service of science.

1941 – Beadle and Tatum. This one by ecoli of Thoughts from gut bacteria is so famous, it is at least mentioned even in the intro genetics courses – Science Classics: The Beadle and Tatum Experiment:

About 15 years before Watson and Crick proposed a model for DNA and back when scientists were in disagreement about how genetic information was actually stored, there was the Beadle and Tatum experiment.

1942 – Coons, Creech, Jones, and Berliner. Mary from The OpenHelix Blog did some serious detective sleuthing to figure out who was the first to use labeling of a tissue sample with a fluorescent antibody and her digging uncovered some cool work in the basement and other nifty history – The Beginnings of Immunofluorescence:

Ok, so fluorescent antibodies didn’t just come out of the freezer (ice-box). They came from a process. And they came from a time when lots of things actually could have gone wrong. Coons might have not come back from the war. Not everyone made it through.

1944 – Avery, MacLeod & McCarty. Gerlach, who writes on Off Resonance, covers another Big Classic – DNA as the molecule of heredity

I would like to say that the Avery paper did not, at that time, definitively establish DNA as genetic material. Rather, it only showed that DNA was the transforming principle, and there were competing ideas about the mechanism of transformation. However, many scientists did interpret transformation as a genetic phenomenon, so the genetic implications of the paper were immediately recognized. That said, the paper did not find immediate acceptance.

1949 – Libby. Megs of Katzenklavier takes a look at the way Radiocarbon dating revolutinized archaeology, in Hot Dates in Chi-Town:

Archaeologists are notorious moochers. Or maybe I should be nice and just say we’re ‘highly adaptive’. Either way, we constantly pick up new techniques from other disciplines, such as using G.I.S. and performing DNA analysis on ancient skeletons. Even our trowels were designed for masonry work.

1952 – Lederberg and Lederberg. Mike of the Ramblings of a Mad Scientist blog, in On the shoulders of giants describes an important experiment that used a technique that is still the standard one in use in everyday microbiology to select for bacteria which are sensitive to an antibiotic, or a virus, or require a certain compound for growth:

So, thank you, Drs. Lederberg. this paper of yours not only established the importance of mutation prior to exposure to an environmental challenge, but also outlined a handy lab technique I’ve made repeated and systematic use of in my own experiments.

1953 – Salpeter. Eric Roston of Dispatches From Carbon Nation is, of course, covering something that has to do with carbon – how stars produce it – The Giant’s Shoulders: Edwin Salpeter edition:

In 1951, Salpeter spent a summer at Caltech, working with Willy Fowler, the amiable head of the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory. Fowler handed off some unprocessed 1949 nuclear physics experimental data to Salpeter to see if he could solve a tough problem: Physicists couldn’t figure out how stars make carbon.

1955 – Wertheimer. Here is another one by Dave Munger at Cognitive DailyGestalt-o-mania!:

Gestalt theory hit the psychology world by storm in the 1920s, and the Gestalt school’s unquestioned leader (though probably not the originator of the concept) was Max Wertheimer. While many people have an intuitive understanding of the concept of “gestalt” as the essence or overall meaning of something, they may not be as aware of the Gestalt school’s principles, which were laid down by Wertheimer and others in very specific and concrete ways.

1957 – Eshelby. Guru of Entertaining Research covers a pair of extremely influential and highly cited physics papers – Elastic stresses due to inclusions and inhomogeneities

However, as Eshelby himself seems to have noted, the most important reason why these two papers are classics are not for their results, but for the methodology that was developed in them, which continue to be of use fifty years after he published these papers.

1960 – Pittendrigh. Another one of mine, on the most famous (and probably most cited) paper in my field: Forty-Five Years of Pittendrigh’s Empirical Generalizations:

It appears that every scientific discipline has its own defining moment, an event that is touted later as the moment of “birth” of the field. This can be a publication of a paper (think of Watson and Crick) or a book (“Origin of Species” anyone?). In the case of Chronobiology, it was the 1960 meeting at Cold Spring Harbor. The book of Proceedings from the Meeting (Symposia on Quantitative Biology, Vol.XXV) is a founding document of the field: I have two copies, my advisor has three (all heavily used and annotated).

1962 – Binford. This post by cfeagans of Hot Cup Of Joe describes the beginnings of Binford’s push for a processual paradigm in American archaeology – A Classic Paper: Archaeology as Anthropology:

One of the things that makes this such a seminal paper is that Binford not only establishes his assertions and what he believes the future of archaeology should become, but he details why. More than this, he provides a working example of his proposed methods at work by using the Old Copper Complex of the Western Great Lakes as an example.

1964 – Heisuke Hironaka. Charles of Rigorous Trivialities gets deeply mathematical in Resolution of Singularities:

“…I’m going to talk about Resolution of Singularities. This is a very classical topic, and research continues in it to this day.”

1966 – Bauer, Kirby, Sherris and Turck. Here is another one by Epicanis at The Big Room
Antibiotic Susceptibility Testing by a Standardized Single-Disk Method

The authors here didn’t invent this trick. Not all antibiotic-susceptibility tests are “Kirby-Bauer” tests (the blurry picture there is of an experiment I did involving the beer ingredient hops, and is not a Kirby-Bauer test. Click the picture to go to my “Beer Cures Anthrax” post from long ago…). What this paper describes is a method that finally standardized this test.

1971 – Shepard and Metzler. Dave of Cognitive Daily casts his vote for The Greatest Cognitive Science Experiment, Ever?:

The design of the experiment is simple and brilliant; yet it was not easy to execute at the time. Today researchers studying vision almost always use computers to display stimuli. In 1970, when the experiment was designed, psychologists didn’t have easy access to computers capable of displaying Shepard and Metzler’s complex, three-dimensional images.

1973 – D.L. Rosenhan. Martin of The Lay Scientist goes into the roots of physchiatry in Into the Cuckoo’s Nest: The Rosenhan Experiment:

“….his simple question was: “If sanity and insanity exist, how shall we know them?” [1]. In order to investigate, he planted a number of perfectly sane patients in mental hospitals to see if staff would notice. The shocking results of his experiment sparked a fierce debate that continues to this day.”

1973 – Maynard Smith and Price. Another true classic by Winawer at Mild OpinionsThe beginning of biological game theory

The paper was a model of simplicity and clarity. It posed a central question: why aren’t more animal fights fatal? This was a question of some concern, because animals have large repertoires of nasty weapons with which to pursue violent conflicts, but as Maynard Smith and Price pointed out, animals rarely fight to the death.

1977 – Fox, Magrum, Balch, Wolfe and Woese. Microbiologist XX, whose blog is called, you guessed it, Microbiologist XX describes how our view of Life completely change with the publication of a single paper – Carl Woese Changed the Tree of Life:

Prior to 1977 the tree of life was composed of two branches, prokaryotes and eukaryotes. However, that changed when the Carl Woese lab published the classic paper Classification of Methanogeic bacteria by 16S ribosomal RNA Characterization. This paper introduced a new domain of life, archae (referred to at the time of publication as archaebacteria), and simultaneously created a new paradigm for understanding the origins of life on earth. Furthermore, this paper underscored the importance and power of classifying organisms using genetic relationships instead of morphological similarities.

1987 – Armando. PodBlack Cat has another one that is of quite modern interest: Dungeons And Dragons – Or Mazes And Monsters?:

Much of my current work as a research assistant deals with the theories of Csikszentmihalyi, and so I first came across research on games in relation to how Flow theory is used to explain the popularity of massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPG). Having seen the development and maintenance of peer cultures within forum boards develop, including negative aspects like cliques and bullying, which extended into the ‘real-world’, I wondered about the early research on games and whether it was just indeed just a bad experience of a few turned into unwanted hysteria. Certainly not all forum boards can be judged on less than a handful – so was it the same in this case, warranting such a study?

1992 – Kresge, Leonowicz, Roth, Vartuli and Beck. We will finish with a post on a chemistry paper that is not too ‘new’ (but still within our carnival criterion – older than 10 years), but since it has been cited over 6 thousand times it’s ‘classic’ enough, methinks. From Katy of Endless PossibilitiesClassic Chemistry: MCM 41:

As with many things, empty space matters as much in chemistry as the atoms or molecules that surrounds it. Some of the most intriguing and beautiful structures are found in the realms of porous (holey) materials.

And with this, we enter the most recent era, not really history yet. So, this is the end of the carnival and start of your own inspired writing for the next edition, which will be hosted by Martin on The Lay Scientist, exactly one month from today.

You have only Three days left!

The deadline for your entries for the first edition of The Giant’s Shoulders is the end of July 15th (deadline is midnight EDT). Your posts should cover one of the following:

Classic Papers – your blog post should describe what is in a paper that is considered to be a classical paper, or explanation why you think the paper should be considered classical, or foundational, or monumental, or seminal, or mind-boggling/earth-shaking/paradigm-shifting, or just plain cool. Then place the work in some kind of context: historical, philosophical, theoretical, technological, political, social. Try to persuade the readers that the paper is fascinating and really important. The paper cannot be younger than 10 years (thus, a moving target if this carnival lives a long time).
People – analyze the importance of a person in the historical development of science. Most people will cover the famous – Darwin, Newton, Linnaeus, etc. – but it is really cool if you dig out someone more obscure who nonetheless did something really important and we can see the importance from the present perspective.
Concepts – track the development and evolution of an historically important scientific concept and how the attitudes and understanding by the scientists (or lay audience) changed over time due to new discoveries.

The carnival will be posted here on July 16th. Keep track of the news about this carnival at its homepage. And also, please volunteer to host future editions.
As this is the inaugural edition of the carnival, you are free to send multiple entries and it is fine to send in old posts as long as they fit the above description. Send your entries to: Coturnix AT gmail DOT com.

Mammoth Hunting: does the memory still survive in the Native American oral folklore?

Archy tackles that question expertly. He’s on a roll these days! And this is the mammoth story, so of course, his blog is the place to go for such answers.

Natural Selection anniversary podcast

You can listen to the short and sweet Takeaway podcast:
A look at Charles Darwin’s legacy as the theory of evolution turns 150:

One hundred and fifty years ago, Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection were presented at the Linnean Society of London. A year and a half later, Darwin published what is now a monumental work: “The Origin of the Species.” The Takeaway looks at Darwin’s legacy and the continuing debate surrounding evolution.

By John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji.

Happy 150th Birthday to the Principle of Natural Selection!

On this day 150 years ago essays by Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles R. Darwin were read at the meeting of the Linnean Society in London. This was the first time in history that the idea of natural selection was presented to the world.
George Beccaloni and Wesley R. Elsberry wrote excellent pieces commemorating the anniversary.

Tunguska explosion

Something happened in Siberia 100 years ago – exactly, on this day. I always found the event very intriguing. If you want to learn everything one needs and wants to know about the event, written in a way that will make you excited – go and read Archy’s latest masterpiece (hmmm, anthology-worthy?).

Three weeks to go….

Are you writing your history-of-science posts yet? Let’s make the inaugural edition of The Giants’ Shoulders big and good!

More on Historical OA

As making historical papers OA is something I am very interested in, I am watching with great interest, as Jonathan Eisen attempts to make all of his father’s scientific publications freely available. I think we will learn a lot from his experience about copyright, fuzzy laws, attitudes of different publishers, etc., and can use that knowledge to help more old papers see the light of day online for everyone to see, read and use.

New carnival – The Giant’s Shoulders!

In the wake of great success of the Classic Science Papers Challenge, gg of Skulls in the Stars and I have decided to turn this into a regular monthly blog carnival.
Thus, gg has set up a carnival homepage and issued the call for posts and hosts.
You can read more about the carnival – named “The Giants’ Shoulders” – on the About page. In brief, once a month, the carnival will alight on one of the participating blogs. What kinds of blog posts are eligible?
Classic Papers – your blog post should describe what is in a paper that is considered to be a classical paper, or explanation why you think the paper should be considered classical, or foundational, or monumental, or seminal, or mind-boggling/earth-shaking/paradigm-shifting, or just plain cool. Then place the work in some kind of context: historical, philosophical, theoretical, technological, political, social. Try to persuade the readers that the paper is fascinating and really important. The paper cannot be younger than 10 years (thus, a moving target if this carnival lives a long time).
People – analyze the importance of a person in the historical development of science. Most people will cover the famous – Darwin, Newton, Linnaeus, etc. – but it is really cool if you dig out someone more obscure who nonetheless did something really important and we can see the importance from the present perspective.
Concepts – track the development and evolution of an historically important scientific concept and how the attitudes and understanding by the scientists (or lay audience) changed over time due to new discoveries.
The very first edition of the carnival will be held here, on A Blog Around The Clock, early morning on July 16th, so I need your entries by the end of July 15th (deadline is midnight EDT). Send your entries to me at: Coturnix AT gmail DOT com. Later we will have automated submissions through as well.
As this is the first edition, there is no requirement for a post to have been written ‘since the last edition’, thus, old blog posts are eligible. Also, in order to start the carnival with a Bang!, we will accept multiple posts by the same author, as well as posts that have already been included in the Classic Paper Challenge (I’ll take them automatically unless you say No). So, dig through your archives for posts that match the above criteria. I know there are plenty of those – several have already been included in the two Science Blogging Anthologies (I recently browsed them and noticed this).
Please spread the word about the carnival, bookmark the homepage, submit entries and think about topics to write about in the future.
Also, tell gg or me if you want to host a future edition – there should be one every month around the 15th of the month.

Historical OA

More and more societies are compiling their ‘classical’ papers.
Here is another one.
And here I wrote, among else:

“In discussions of Open Access, we always focus on brand new papers and how to make them freely available for readers around the world as well as for people who want to mine and reanalyse the data using robots. But we almost never discuss the need to make the old stuff available. Yet we often lament that nobody reads or cites anything older than five years. Spending several years reading everything published in the field in the 20th century up until about 1995 (as well as some 19th century stuff) helped me greatly in my own research. It would help others, I’m sure, especially those who are now revisiting old questions with new techniques. How are the classical papers going to be made available for today’s students?
SRBR is working on it now, and I assume that this will be done piece-meal, with each society doing their own work on making old literature available. What I saw (not yet available for public) is a development of a ChronoHistory website. Yes, people will send in pictures and anecdotes and old posters and stuff (and I hope once that material is online that SRBR will get a professional historian of science to make sense of it all), but the most important part of the site will be a repository of the old papers. Services of a real science librarian have been secured to deal with everything from copyright to technical problems in order to provide copies of many old papers on the site. Probably some of the papers will be available to everyone for free while others, due to copyright, may be available only to SRBR members with a password.”

I discussed this with Peter Suber and he says that we tend to focus on new literature because it’s the low-hanging fruit. Yet he agrees that ‘OA to past literature is highly desirable and that we should start thinking about ways to make it happen’. He wrote an article describing a *partial* solution to this problem: Unbinding Knowledge: A proposal for providing open access to past research articles, starting with the most important.
Peter says: “Ultimately we need all peer-reviewed journals to digitize their backfiles for OA. Some are already doing it. Some are digitizing their backfiles but charging for access. Some can’t afford to digitize their backfiles at all.”
Google is willing to digitize the backfile of any journal. Peter blogged about it in December 2006, although Google still doesn’t have a web page for the program. The Google deal isn’t very good. But for journals that can’t find any other funds to digitize their backfile, Peter thinks it’s better than nothing. Google does not have a website for this, but see this interview (this August 2007 interview – via):

Representing another effort to reach currently inaccessible content, Google Scholar now has its own digitization program. “It’s a small program,” said Acharya. “We mainly look for journals that would otherwise never get digitized. Under our proposal, we will digitize and host journal articles with the provision that they must be openly reachable in collaboration with publishers, fully downloadable, and fully readable. Once you get out of the U.S. and Western European space into the rest of the world, the opportunities to get and digitize research are very limited. They are often grateful for the help. It gives us the opportunity to get that country’s material or make that scholarly society more visible.”

Peter also said (personal communication): “As far as I know, the Open Content Alliance doesn’t (yet) digitize journals, but I hope it will start. However, when Google digitizes print literature it pays all the costs (and slightly restricts use of the results); but when OCA digitizes print lit, it requires the possessor or a donor to pay the costs (and provides full OA to the results).”
What do you all think? What is your Society doing about this, you favourite Journals?

Clock Classics: It all started with the plants

I was wondering what to do about the Classic Papers Chellenge. The deadline is May 31st, and I am so busy (not to mention visiting my dentist twice week which incapacitates me for the day, pretty much), so I decided to go back to the very beginning because I already wrote about it before and could just cannibalize my old posts: this one about the history of chronobiology with an emphasis on Darwin’s work, and this one about Linnaeus’ floral clock and the science that came before and immediately after it.
In the old days, when people communed with nature more closely, the fact that plants and animals did different things at different times of day or year did not raise any eyebrows. That’s just how the world works – you sleep at night and work during the day, and so do (or in reverse) many other organisms. Nothing exciting there, is it? Nobody that we know of ever wondered how and why this happens – it just does. Thus, for many centuries, all we got are short snippets of observations without any thoughts about causes:

“Aristotle [noted] that the ovaries of sea-urchins acquire greater size than usual at the time of the full moon.”(Cloudsley-Thompson 1980,p.5.)
“Androsthenes reported that the tamarind tree…, opened its leaves during the day and closed them at night.”(Moore-Ede et al. 1982,p.5.)
“Cicero mentioned that the flesh of oysters waxed and waned with the Moon, an observation confirmed later by Pliny.”(Campbell 1988, Coveney and Highfield 1990)
“…Hippocrates had advised his associates that regularity was a sign of health, and that irregular body functions or habits promoted an unsalutory condition. He counseled them to pay close attention to fluctuations in their symptoms, to look at both good and bad days in their patients and healthy people.”(Luce 1971,p.8.)
“Herophilus of Alexandria is said to have measured biological periodicity by timing the human pulse with the aid of a water clock.”(Cloudsley-Thompson 1980, p.5.)
“Early Greek therapies involved cycles of treatment, known as metasyncrasis….Caelius Aurelianus on Chronic and Acute Diseases…describes these treatments.. .”(Luce 1971, p.8.)
“Nobody seems to have noticed any biological rhythmicities throughout the Middle Ages. The lone exception was Albertus Magnus who wrote about the sleep movements of plants in the thirteenth century” (Bennet 1974).

de%20Mairan%20face.jpgThe first person to ask the question – and perform the very first experiment in the field of Chronobiology – was Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, a French astronomer. What did he do?
In 1729, intrigued by the daily opening and closing of the leaves of a heliotrope plant (the phenomenon of ‘sleep in plants’ was well known due to Linneaus), de Mairan decided to test whether this biological “behavior” was simply a response to the sun. He took a plant (most likely Mimosa pudica but we do not know for sure as Linnean taxonomy came about a decade later) and placed it in a dark closet. He then observed it and noted that, without having access to the information about sunlight, the plant still raised its leaves during the day and let them droop down during the night.
However, De Mairan was an astronomer busy with other questions:

“….about the aurora borealis, and the relation of a prism’s rainbow colors to the musical scale, and the diurnal rotation of the earth, and the satellites of Venus, and the total eclipse of the sun that had occurred in 1706. He would waste no time writing to the Academy about the sleep of a plant!”(Ward 1971,p.43.)

de%20Mairan%20paper.jpgHe did not wanted to waste his time writing and publishing a paper on a mere plant. So his experiment was reported by his friend Marchant. It was not unusual at that time for one person to report someone else’s findings. Marchand published it in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Paris as he was a member, and the official citation is: De Mairan, J.J.O. 1729. Observation Botanique, Histoire de l’Academie Royale des Sciences, Paris, p.35.
In the paper Marchant wrote:

“It is well known that the most sensitive of the heliotropes turns its leaves and branches in the direction of the greatest light intensity. This property is common to many other plants, but the heliothrope is peculiar in that it is sensitive to the sun (or time of day) in another way: the leaves and stems fold up when the sun goes down, in just the same way as when touches or agutates the plant.
But M. de Mairan observed that this phenomenon was not restricted to the sunset or to the open air; it is only a little less marked when one maintains the plant continually enclosed in a dark place – it opens very appreciably during the day, and at evening folds up again for the night. This experiment was carried out towards the end of one summer, and well duplicated. The sensitive plant sense the sun without being exposed to it in any way, and is reminiscent of that delicate perception by which invalids in their beds can tell the difference between day and night. (Ward 1971)”

Marchant and de Mairan were quite careful about not automatically assuming that the capacity for time measurement resides within the plant. They could not exclude other potential factors: temperature cycles, or light leaks, or changes in other meteorological parameters. Also, the paper, being just a page long (a “short communication”), does not provide detailed “materials and methods” so we do not know if “well repeated” experiments meant that this was done a few times for a day or two, or if the same plants were monitored over many days. We also do not know how, as well as how often and when, did de Mairan check on the plants. He certainly missed that the plants opened up their leaves a little earlier each day – a freerunning rhythm with a period slightly shorter than 24 hours – a dead giveaway that the rhythm is endogenous.
The idea that clocks are endogenous, residing inside organisms, was controversial for a very long time – top botanists of Europe were debating this throughout the 19th century, and the debate lasted well into the 1970s with Frank Brown and a few others desparately inventing more and more complicated mathematical models that could potentially explain how each individual, with its own period, could actually be responding to a celestial cue (blame Skinner and behaviorism for treating all behaviors as reactive, i.e., automatic responses to the cues from the environment).
The early 18th century science did not progress at a speed we are used to today. But the paper was not obscure and forgotten either – it just took some time for others to revisit it. And revisit it they did. In 1758 and 1759 two botanists repeated the experiment: both Zinn and Duhamel de Monceau (Duhamel de Monceau 1758) controlled for both light and temperature and the plants still exhibited the rhythms. They used Mimosa pudica, which suggests to us today that this was the plant originally tested by de Mairan.
Suspecting light-leaks in de Mairan’s experiment, Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau repeated the same experiment several times (Duhamel du Monceau 1758). At first, he placed the plants inside an old wine cave. It had no air vent through which the light could leak in, and it had a front vault which could serve as a light lock. He observed the regular opening and closing of the leaves for many days (using a candle for observation). He once took a plant out in the late afternoon – which phase-shifted the clock with a light pulse. The plant remained open all night (i.e.., not directly responding to darkness), but then re-entrained to the normal cycle the next day. Still not happy, he placed a plant in a leather trunk, wrapped it in a blanket and placed it in a closet inside the cave – with the same result: the plant leaves opened and closed every day.
So, he was convinced that no light leaks were responsible for the plant behavior. Yet he was still not sure if the temperature in the cave was absolutely constant, so he repeated the experiment in a hothouse where the temperature was constant and quite high, suspecting that perhaps a night chill prompted the leaves to close. He had to conclude: “I have seen this plant close up every evening in the hothouse even though the heat of the stoves had been much increased. One can conclude from these experiments that the movements of the sensitive plant are dependent neither on the light nor on the heat” (Duhamel de Monceau 1758). He did not know it at the time, of course, but he was the first to demonstrate that circadian rhythms are temperature compesated – the period is the same at a broad range of constant temperatures.
The research picked up speed in the 19th century. Augustus Pyramus de Candolle repeated the experiments while making sure not just that the darkness was absolute and the temperature constant, but also that the humidity was constant, thus eliminating another potential cue. He then showed that the period of diurnal movements of Mimosa is very close to 24 hours in constant darkness, but around 22 hours in constant light (using a bank of six lamps). He also managed to reverse day and night by using artificial light to which the plants responded by reversing their rhythms (De Candolle 1832) after the initial few days of “confusion”.
Another astronomer, Svante Arrhenius argued that a mysterious cosmic Factor X triggered the movements (Arrhenius 1898). He attributed the rhythms to the “physiological influence of atmospheric electricity”. Charles Darwin published an entire book on the Movement of Plants in 1880, arguing that the plant itself generates the daily rhythms (Darwin 1880).
The most famous botanist of the 19th century, Wilhelm Pfeffer, started out favouring the “external hypothesis”, arguing that light leaks were the source of external information for de Mairan’s and Duhamel’s plants (Pfeffer 1880, 1897, 1899). But his own well-designed experiments (as well as those of Darwin) forced him to change his mind later in his career and accept the “internal” source of such rhythmic movements. Unfortunately, Pfeffer published his latter views in an obscure (surprisingly, considering the short and catchy title) German journal Abhandlungen der Mathematisch-Physischen Klasse der Königlich Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, so most people were (and still are) not aware that he changed his mind on this matter.
In the early 20th century, Erwin Bunning was the first to really thoroughly study circadian rhythms in plants and to link the daily rhythms to seasonality. He and many others at the time mostly studied photoperiodism and vernalization in plants, two phenomena then thought to be closely related (we know better today). For the rest of the century, animal research took over and only recently, with the advent of molecular techniques in Arabidopsis, has the plant chronobiology rejoined the rest of the field.

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Three more days for the “Classic Papers Challenge”

The deadline for the Classic Papers Chellenge is looming – the end of May. Submit it to Skulls in the Stars and have it collected here. As I mentioned before, I’d like to see this turn into a monthly blog carnival. It would have some kind of criteria developed, but perhaps those should be flexible. Let’s say that a “classic paper” is one that gave birth to a new discipline (or subdiscipline), or rewrote the textbooks, and overturned a long-held pernicious dogma of some kind. And let’s say it is more than 30 years old, though this may be waived in cases of really young disciplines.
As I mentioned recently, old classic papers are essential for newcomers into any field. In order to be good and successful, one needs to grok the historical, theoretical, methodological and philosophical context of one’s discipline. I am finding it difficult to pick one to write myself because in so many posts I place new research in such context by also describing ancient experiments. I covered the early history of the field before, including some famous stuff. I posted new ideas based on some very old papers. I have re-visited what is probably the most cited paper in my field. I have used a classical paper in my Tutorials as illustrations of basic concepts. The currently most used textbook cites one of my own papers (twice!) – does that make it a “classic”?
I’ll think about it. Perhaps the old posts can be used for this first edition. Perhaps I can do one monthly post specifically describing one of the old classical papers. I’d enjoy doing this, actually.

Oldies and Goodies

You have only a week left to submit your entries for the Blog about a classic science paper challenge. The links to early bird posts are already being collected and I hope there will be more soon. If you intend to write about a paper in the field of psychology, SciCurious discovered an awesome website where you can find all the classic articles in the history of psychology. Just yesterday, I saw the website where there will be such a repository of historical papers (and other materials: photos, anecdotes, etc.) in the Chronobiology field. This will be built over the next few months. I’ll try to do my post over the weekend if I can.

Blog about a classic science paper

The challenge from skullsinthestars is up – pick up a very old, classic science paper and write a blog post about it. Put it in a proper historical, theoretical, methodological and philosophical context. You can always go back to blogging about the latest research or latest creationist idiocy tomorrow.

Spiders and Bycicles

From The Archives
Since everyone is posting about spiders this week, I though I’d republish a sweet old post of mine, which ran on April 19, 2006 under the title “Happy Bicycle Day!” I hope you like this little post as much as I enjoyed writing it:

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Happy birthday Robert Bunsen

Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen (31 March 1811 – 16 August 1899) was a German chemist. With his laboratory assistant, Peter Desaga, he developed the Bunsen burner. Bunsen also worked on emission spectroscopy of heated elements, and with Gustav Kirchhoff he discovered the elements caesium and rubidium. Bunsen developed several gas-analytical methods, he was a pioneer in photochemistry, and he did early work in the field of organoarsenic chemistry.


Isaac Newton….

Savior or Satan?

Yuri’s Night

Yuri’s Night is in 25 days, commemorating the date, April 12, 1961, when the first human, Yuri Gagarin went out in space. There are 12-hour long overnight parties all over the world and you can probably find one near you.
If everything goes as planned, I will be in Cambridge, UK on that day and the nearest party is in London. Perhaps a bunch of Plossians, SciBlings, Nature Networkers, other science bloggers, non-science bloggers and friends will be interested in going as a big group?

How The Planets Got Their Names

Ah, the quirky world of science! Archy gives us a tour of history of how various objects in the Solar System got named, and the intrigue and politics around it.

On this day in history

150 years ago Alfred Russel Wallace sent a letter to Charles Darwin, describing natural selection.
55 years ago, Watson and Crick announced the structure of DNA.

An Onion? Not a cancer?

Yes and No. But the article is not from the ‘Onion’, it’s from the Hot Medical News. It’s about an onion, in a strange place….

Darwin the Botanist – not just the orchids!

As a part of the Darwin Day celebration the North Carolina Botanical Garden has organized a series of events for today, culminating in the lecture “Darwin the Botanist” by Dr.William Kimler, a Darwinian scholar and the professor of History (of Science) at NCSU:

Most people do not think of Charles Darwin as a botanist. He is famously connected to the animals of the Galapagos Islands, and to the subjects of animal and human evolution and behavior. But Darwin’s famous curiosity did extend to plants. In fact, among his numerous publications are a book on carnivorous plants and one on orchid pollination titled, “On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects.” Dr. Kimler will discuss the influence of botany and some famous botanists on Darwin’s training and on his work as a naturalist. A look at Darwin’s lifelong interest in the biology of plants reveals some surprising insights into his scientific work on evolution.

The entrance fee of $10 rasies funds for the Botanical Garden, which is a Good Thing To Do. I’ll be there, too, so come along and bring your friends…

Happy Darwin Day

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
– Charles R. Darwin, the closing paragraph of the Origin Of Species, 1st edition, 1859.
Support The Beagle Project
Read the Beagle Project Blog
Buy the Beagle Project swag
Celebrate the Darwin Day
Prepare ahead for the Darwin Bicentennial
Read Darwin for yourself.
..and much, much more
Image, with permission, by Carl Buell (a.k.a.Olduvai George)

Darwin Day in the Guardian

Karen is excited this morning, reading the enormous Guardian edition full of good Darwiny goodness, chockful of articles by Dawkins and many others, as well as extracts from Darwin’s works.
The only part I find a little too narrow is The best Darwinian sites on the web which mentions only a small handfull of such sites, e.g., Darwin Online, Darwin Correspondence Project, Darwin Day Celebration, and Darwin Today (the last one yet to launch next month). I know, I know, these are the biggest and bestest, but there are so many others that I feel are snubbed by being left out – they should at least have been linked from a sidebar or a box. How about Talk Origins, Panda’s Thumb, The Dispersal of Darwin, The Beagle Project and The Beagle Project Blog, The Friends of Charles Darwin, or hundreds of other links you can find, for instance, here?

The Hopeless Monster? Not so fast!

Olivia Judson wrote a blog post on her NYTimes blog that has many people rattled. Why? Because she used the term “Hopeful Monster” and this term makes many biologists go berserk, foaming at the mouth. And they will not, with their eye-sight fogged by rage, notice her disclaimer:

Note, however, that few modern biologists use the term. Instead, most people speak of large morphological changes due to mutations acting on single genes that influence embryonic development.

So, was Olivia Judson right or wrong in her article? Both. Essentially she is correct, but she picked some bad examples, overgeneralized a bit, over-reached a little and she used the dreaded term that was bound to shut down all rational processes occurring in some biologists’ brains. Remember that she wrote to general audience. If she took time and space to explain all the nuances and details she would have lost her audience somewhere in the middle of the second paragraph. I think that her post explains the topic just fine for the intended audience, pointing out that not all evolutionary changes take millions of years of imperceptible change – some do, indeed, happen relatively abruptly (yet it can be explained completely mechanistically, not giving Cdesign Proponentsists any hope). Not every day, but they do.
So, who jumps first into the fray with an angry rebuttal – one of the Usual Suspects: Jerry Coyne in a guest-post on The Loom:

Unfortunately, her piece is inaccurate and irresponsible, especially for a journalist with a strong science background (Judson has a doctorate from Oxford). I’ve admired Judson’s columns and her whimsical and informative book Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation. But this latest posting is simply silly. As an evolutionary biologist, I’m used to seeing our field twisted out of shape to satisfy the demands of journalists who love sensational new findings–especially if they go against long-held Darwinian beliefs like the primacy of gradual, stepwise evolution. But I’m not used to seeing one of my own colleagues whip up excitement about evolutionary biology by distorting its findings.

Unfortunately, in bashing Judson along with making legitimate points (how many people will ignore this caveat in their responses?), Coyne ends up being more wrong than she is. And his intended audience is, arguably, better scientifically educated than hers – it’s the readers, not NYTimes. While bashing her head into a rock, Jerry makes visible his emotional enmity towards everybody who has a bigger picture of evolution than he has and has at their disposal both a methodological and a conceptual toolkit that Jerry lacks.
Before you jump on me, read the historical reviews of the concept of the Hopeful Monster by Brian and John. Then, read Greg and Razib who are far too lenient on Coyne but add good points of their own. Finally, read PZ Myers and especially Larry Moran for a clear explanation of the entire set of issues – the history, sources of current emotional disputes, and the current science. Reading all of these is essential to understanding the claims in this post as I do not have space/time to repeat all of their claims at length – so click on the links and read first before commenting.
In a back-and-forth with a commenter, Coyne defends himself that he is talking about the changes in genes, not evolution. This just shows his bias – he truly believes that evolution – all of it – can be explained entirely by genetics, particularly population genetics. His preferred definition of evolution is probably the genocentric nonsense like “evolution is a change of gene frequencies in a population over time”. I prefer to think of it as “evolution is change in development due to ecology” (a softening of Van Valen’s overly-strong definition “evolution is control of development by ecology”). Population genetics is based on the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium – pretty much all of it is a build-on and embellishment of it. Population geneticists tend to forget, once they get into complex derivations of HW, that HW has about a dozen completely unrealistic assumptions underlying it. Now, in a case-to-case basis, some of those assumptions can be safely ignored, some can be mathematically taken care of, but some are outside of the scope of mathematics (or at least the kind of math that can be integrated into the development of HW). Those are ignored or dismissed and, if this is pointed out by those working on evolution from a Bigger Picture perspective, met with anger.
When Goldshmidt’s book The Material Basis of Evolution was reissued, Stephen Jay Gould wrote a lengthy Introduction. About a dozen years ago I checked the book out of the library and skimmed the book itself. I read Gould’s intro very carefully (I wonder if it is available somewhere online for free? Update: Gould’s introduction is available online here, hat-tip to Michael Barton.). It is also worthwhile to read Gould’s 1980 essay The Return of Hopeful Monsters keeping in mind that evo-devo was barely beginning at the time (yes, it is 28 years old, so do not judge it by current knowledge – put a historian’s cap on when reading it).
In his Big Book, Gould wrote:

“By proposing a comprehensive formalist theory in the heyday of developing Darwinian orthodoxy, Richard Goldschmidt became the whipping boy of the Modern Synthesis–and for entirely understandable reasons. Goldschmidt showed his grasp, and his keen ability to utilize, microevolutionary theory by supporting this approach and philosophy in his work on variation and intraspecific evolution within the gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar. But he then expressed his apostasy by advocating discontinuity of causality, and proposing a largely nonselectionist and formalist account for macroevolution from the origin of species to higher levels of phyletic pattern. Goldschmidt integrated both themes of saltation (in his concept of “systemic mutation” based on his increasingly lonely, and ultimately indefensible, battle to deny the corpuscular gene) and channeling (in his more famous, if ridiculed, idea of “hopeful monsters,” or macromutants channeled along viable lines set by internal pathways of ontogeny, sexual differences, etc.). The developmental theme of the “hopeful monster” (despite its inappropriate name, virtually guaranteed to inspire ridicule and opposition), based on the important concept of “rate genes,” came first in Goldschmidt’s thought, and always occupied more of his attention and research. Unfortunately, he bound this interesting challenge from development, a partially valid concept that could have been incorporated into a Darwinian framework as an auxiliary hypothesis (and now has been accepted, to a large extent, if under different names), to his truly oppositional and ultimately incorrect theory of systemic mutation, therefore winning anathema for his entire system. Goldschmidt may have acted as the architect of his own undoing, but much of his work should evoke sympathetic attention today.”

So, Coyne’s Gould-bashing, as Larry Moran demonstrated, is just petty and baseless sniping by one scientist of limited scope at another who actually “got it”.
I thought the discussion so far has been far too tame. So, here is the red meat! I want to see a real fight – a blogospheric war that brings in some serious traffic, OK?

Cool new Open Access Journal

From Sage Ross, via John Lynch come exciting news about a new Open Access Journal – Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science

Spontaneous Generations is a new online academic journal published by graduate students at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto. The journal aims to establish a platform for interdisciplinary discussion and debate about issues that concern the community of scholars in HPS and related fields.
Apart from selecting peer reviewed articles, the journal encourages a direct dialogue among academics by means of short editorials and focused discussion papers which highlight central questions, new developments, and controversial matters affecting HPS.

Check out the first issue – there is some very cool stuff in there.

Do you know who programmed the first true computer (the ENIAC)?

You may be surprised

RIP: George Folkerts (November 26, 1938 – December 14, 2007)

George Folkerts was one of those naturalists of the ‘old school’, interested in everything and excited about learning and sharing the knowledge throughout his life. He died on Friday, suddenly and unexpectedly, at the end of a typically busy day at Auburn University.
Anne-Marie was his student, one of thousands who had the privilege to learn from and with Folkerts, and one of those who now has to carry on his work. She wrote about him in two very touching posts: Huge loss on many levels and Classifying grief.


Michael Barton has graduated! He got his degree in History of Science and will try to pursue a graduate degree in the same field. Hey, check out NC State as an option…

In Memoriam: Seymour Benzer

One of the greatest biologists of the 20th century, Seymour Benzer died last Friday. In his obituary post John Dennehy focuses on the bacteriophage work that led to deciphering of the genetic “alphabet”, and so does Carl Zimmer.
Readers of my blog probably know the name more in the connection with the discovery of the first clock mutants in Drosophila, by Ron Konopka in Benzer’s lab. You can read the paper itself (pdf) and watch a video in which Benzer explains it.