SUNDAY, 1ST JULY 2018
Dear Friend of Darwin,
Today seems an auspicious date on which to launch the Friends of Charles Darwin newsletter. Not that we science fans think some dates might be luckier than others. But today marks the 160th anniversary of Charles Darwin finally going public with his Theory of Evolution by Means of Natural Selection. As anniversaries go, that’s a biggie. So why not launch our newsletter today?
Darwin was famously startled into going public after receiving a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace. The letter included a paper describing a theory uncannily like the one Darwin had been working on for twenty years. To ensure Darwin didn’t end up being scooped, a couple of his friends arranged for Wallace’s paper to be read alongside some older, unpublished papers of Darwin’s. This took place at the Linnean Society of London on 1st July 1858.
The members of the Linnean Society were completely underwhelmed by the joint paper, but the shock of nearly being scooped startled Darwin into writing a brief ‘abstract’ of his theory. That abstract was published the following year. It was entitled On the Origin of Species.
Full article: 01-Jul–1858: Darwin goes public
Some Darwin- and evolution-related stories that caught my eye recently:
Friend or food? Why Venus flytraps don’t eat their pollinators
Darwin wrote an entire book about insectivorous plants, and performed all manner of weird experiments on them. But how do Darwin’s beloved Venus flytraps avoid trapping and digesting the insects that pollinate them?
How an extraordinary letter to Darwin spotted industrial melanism in moths
Interesting article about an apparently unanswered letter to Charles Darwin suggesting Natural Selection might be favouring industrial melanism (evolving a darker colour) in moths. Industrial melanism is often cited as a textbook example of Natural Selection in action.
Did flowering plants evolve on a lost continent, like Darwin imagined?
Knowing nothing about Continental Drift, Darwin hypothesised that flowering plants might first have evolved on a lost continent or large island. Turns out his idea might not have been quite so fanciful as it might sound.
How evolution turned a possum into a wolf
A nice new video about convergent evolution, explaining the difference between homologous and analogous features.
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Some book recommendations for you:
|The Ascent of John Tyndall
by Roland Jackson
An excellent, long-overdue biography of scientist, pioneering mountaineer, and friend of Charles Darwin John Tyndall: the man who explained the physics behind the Greenhouse Effect, why the sky is blue, and a whole bunch of other stuff.
|Dispelling the Darkness
by John van Wyhe
An fascinating, meticulously researched exploration, debunking numerous misunderstandings, myths, and conspiracy theories surrounding Alfred Russel Wallace and his ‘co-discovery’ of natural selection with Charles Darwin. Wallace and Darwin: what’s not to like?
by James T Costa
An enjoyable exploration of Charles Darwin the experimeter. Find out how and why Darwin carried out his long-term experimental research programme into such diverse topics as: barnacles, the dispersal mechanisms of plants, and the intelligence and actions of earthworms.
Journal of Researches
When friends found out I’d finally written a book, they naturally assumed it was about Charles Darwin. Well, yes, to some extent. Darwin makes several guest appearances throughout On the Moor: science, history and nature on a country walk. But, as the title implies, the book is really an eclectic mix of science-, history- and nature-writing.
As you might expect, my next book is likely to be far more Darwin-centric. I recently blogged about the problem writing a book about Charles Darwin. It’s early days yet, but I’m beginning to get a feel for what shape the book might take (and I don’t just mean rectangular).
As a way to spur myself on, I plan to make occasional progress reports about the book via the blog and in this newsletter. Nothing too detailed, but snippets about the stuff I’ve been finding out. Recently, I’ve been reading up on Alfred Russel Wallace and Darwin’s experiments (hence the book recommendations above).
A large part of the fun of writing my Moor book was going off on tangents, following hunches inspired by my research. The book about Darwin’s experiments has now got me thinking I need to start looking (quite literally) into foxgloves. More on this, maybe, in a future update.
Expression of Emotions
That’s all for the inaugural Friends of Charles Darwin newsletter. I hope it met your expectations. I’d like it to be useful and entertaining, so please feel free to send me feedback (positive or negative). And please forward it to any friends you think might enjoy it, suggesting they might like to subscribe for themselves.