The Infinite Monkey Cage (BBC Radio 4), July 23rd, 2013's broadcast (available here) dealt with Alfred Russel Wallace.
Brian Cox and Robin Ince discuss the life and works of Alfred Russel Wallace, the lesser known co-founder of the theory of evolution by natural selection. They are joined on stage by biologists Steve Jones and Aoife McLysaght and comedian Tony Law to ask whether Wallace is the great unsung hero of biology and why it was Darwin who seems to have walked away with all the glory.
Aoife McLysaght remindes listeners of Theodosius Dobzhansky's important summation: "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."
The study fills in knowledge about the relationships between breeds, many of which are centuries old with origins in the Middle East. Darwin argued that all domestic pigeon breeds descended from the wild rock dove. Shapiro says this study puts data behind that argument, as all the breeds sequenced are more similar genetically to one another than to another, closely related, species of pigeon, C. rupestris. It also found that street pigeons are genetically similar to racing homing pigeons, which frequently escape into the wild.
The last thing we want to do is water down the teaching of biology because some people don’t recognize that evolution happened. Evolution is the basis of modern biology and, in fact, if a lot of people don’t believe it, it only means we have to do a better job teaching it. So once again, I repeat, the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance, but to overcome it. And to overcome a situation where a United States Senator can speak such manifest nonsense with impunity is vitally important to the healthy future of our society.
Despite the white beard, Charles Darwin isn’t Santa Claus, but like Christmas, Darwin Day comes once a year, and when it comes it brings good cheer. Across the country and around the world, at colleges and universities, schools and libraries, museums and churches, people assemble around February 12 to commemorate the life and work of the British naturalist. But it’s not just about Darwin: it’s about engaging in—and enjoying—public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education.
It looks like Baba Brinkman is moving things into a new arena with the content of his live show, The Rap Guide to Evolution. Below is an update from his website. And if you happened to see his show, remember, you're a African! (Not "an"!) We all are!
We Are Made of DNA
Babosted onSeptember 21, 2011byBaba Brinkman
The Wellcome Trust Music Video Project continues to bear fruit, if perhaps a bit behind schedule. Earlier this year we completed a Crowdfunder.co.uk drive to fund the post-production phase of the project, adding £12,588 from more than 300 funders to the original Wellcome Trust grant. For those of you in the US, Crowdfunder is the UK version of Kickstarter, and they still list our project as their main successful case study.
During the crowdfunder drive we had hoped/intended that all twelve videos would be finished and ready to distribute on DVD by now, but the intricacies of coordinating a talented and underpaid team of in-demand video editors, animators, researchers, science consultants, and administrators has slowed our progress down considerably. Still, the end is in sight! Since most of the videos are mostly done and require only small fixes or tweaks, my best call at this point is that all twelve videos will be completed by the end of the year and we’ll have the educational DVDs ready for schools and funders by January. In the meantime, we’ll keep releasing the videos on the website as they are finalized, one every few weeks until the collection is complete.
The newest addition, DNA, features amazing James Bond-inspired animation from Tommy Nagle, with sultry belly dancers Sadiyya Vahed & Emmanuelle Julien illustrating the undulations of the DNA double helix, and gorgeous vocals from Noa Bodner. Science has never looked or sounded so sexy… you know, for the kids. Enjoy!
Darwin’s idea is arguably the most powerful ever to occur to a human mind. The power of a scientific theory may be measured as a ratio: the number of facts that it explains divided by the number of assumptions it needs to postulate in order to do the explaining. A theory that assumes most of what it is trying to explain is a bad theory. That is why the creationist or ‘intelligent design’ theory is such a rotten theory.
What any theory of life needs to explain is functional complexity. Complexity can be measured as statistical improbability, and living things are statistically improbable in a very particular direction: the direction of functional efficiency. The body of a bird is not just a prodigiously complicated machine, with its trillions of cells - each one in itself a marvel of miniaturized complexity - all conspiring together to make muscle or bone, kidney or brain. Its interlocking parts also conspire to make it good for something - in the case of most birds, good for flying. An aero-engineer is struck dumb with admiration for the bird as flying machine: its feathered flight-surfaces and ailerons sensitively adjusted in real time by the on-board computer which is the brain; the breast muscles, which are the engines, the ligaments, tendons and lightweight bony struts all exactly suited to the task. And the whole machine is immensely improbable in the sense that, if you randomly shook up the parts over and over again, never in a million years would they fall into the right shape to fly like a swallow, soar like a vulture, or ride the oceanic up-draughts like a wandering albatross. Any theory of life has to explain how the laws of physics can give rise to a complex flying machine like a bird or a bat or a pterosaur, a complex swimming machine like a tarpon or a dolphin, a complex burrowing machine like a mole, a complex climbing machine like a monkey, or a complex thinking machine like a person.
Darwin explained all of this with one brilliantly simple idea - natural selection, driving gradual evolution over immensities of geological time. His is a good theory because of the huge ratio of what it explains (all the complexity of life) divided by what it needs to assume (simply the nonrandom survival of hereditary information through many generations). The rival theory to explain the functional complexity of life - creationism - is about as bad a theory as has ever been proposed. What it postulates (an intelligent designer) is even more complex, even more statistically improbable than what it explains. In fact it is such a bad theory it doesn’t deserve to be called a theory at all, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
The simplicity of Darwin’s idea, then, is a virtue for three reasons. First, and most important, it is the signature of its immense power as a theory, when compared with the mass of disparate facts that it explains - everything about life including our own existence. Second, it makes it easy for children to understand (in addition to the obvious virtue of being true!), which means that it could be taught in the early years of school. And finally, it makes it extremely beautiful, one of the most beautiful ideas anyone ever had as well as arguably the most powerful. To die in ignorance of its elegance, and power to explain our own existence, is a tragic loss, comparable to dying without ever having experienced great music, great literature, or a beautiful sunset.
“…by and large, he proselytizes about evolution not by attacking its deniers, but by revealing the subject’s scope, from natural selection to the evolution of human culture and language. At the same time, he teases the audience, sends up post-modernism, mocks himself and satirizes the genre of hip-hop, all with fizzing energy and spell-binding charisma. Like I said, astonishing.” - The New York Times
“Brilliantly conceived and effervescently performed…not only is it factually correct, it’s also dazzlingly intelligent…after seeing this show, you'll never look at a hip-hop music video in the same way again!” ★★★★ - The Scotsman, Edinburgh
“One of the world’s great intelligent rappers…what Baba does is amazing - his knowledge of rap genres and styles is encyclopaedic…a flash of verbal fireworks!” ★★★★ - BroadwayBaby.com, Edinburgh
“The juxtaposition of hip-hop with Darwin is striking. By boldly making use of hip-hop in a most unusual but still provocative way, Brinkman harmoniously fuses art with evolution.” ★★★★ - Time Out Magazine, Hong Kong
“A work of genius. Never since Charles Darwin have we had a more eloquent exposition” ★★★★ Dr. Mark Pallen, author of The Rough Guide to Evolution
“With lyrics that were sometimes sly, often hilarious, and always smart and thought-provoking, Brinkman married the fast, complex, literate delivery of Eminem with the evolutionary expertise and confrontational manner of Dawkins… Anyone provided with an open mind and a hint of musical rhythm should rush out to see this show if they’re fortunate enough for it to make an appearance nearby.” - Science Magazine, Cambridge
Radio New Zealand Nation is featuring a lecture by Sir Paul Nurse recorded at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, on October 1st, entitled, "Two Views of Creation." Listen or download it here.
Nurse discusses how the 'creationist' view of evolution, as given by John Milton in his poem Paradise Lost, contrasts with the 'natural selectionist' view from Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species.