Darwin Day 2009
    By News Staff | February 11th 2009 06:18 PM | 32 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    If you were here for Darwin Day 2008 you know what this is all about; a celebration of Darwin and all that his work has accomplished both during his lifetime and since.

      To spur participation from everyone, no matter where they are in the world or how much they write, we are giving away a complete three volume set of The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin which includes an autobiographical chapter from Sir Charles and was edited by his son Francis Darwin, printed in 1887.

    It's a terrific addition to any Darwin collection and everyone who participates will automatically be entered in the drawing.

    Darwin Day is an international celebration of Darwin's achievements in science held on February 12th, the day that Charles Darwin was born in 1809. The Darwin Day Celebration started with one event in 1995 and last year there were more than 850 Darwin Day events world-wide. Darwin Day festivities include debates, lectures, essay contests, film festivals and you can even have an "Evolution Banquet" with "Primordial Soup" followed by a "Darwin Fish Fry." Here we are mostly writing articles but if you have a fish fry, be sure to let us know and we'll link to it.
    Have a Darwin Day thing you want to share with readers here? Let us know by putting this code in your article or on your site and we'll link to it from this page:

    It will look like this:

    Since we carry an ad here but this is a community event, we're going to donate all the advertising proceeds to a worthy cause and you can help decide that also. We'll put this on a separate server if the traffic gets too high.

    If you have an event or activity or will be writing an article on Darwin or his works, leave a comment and we'll include it when this goes out for worldwide syndication.

    So let's get going! If you can read them all, please let us know and we'll get you some kind of award; a coffee cup or a shirt or something.


    Julia(the ethical paleontologist) also has a blog on, basically, dirt and she notes that Darwin wrote a lot more than one book, so she celebrates his work with compost. Which you don't see every day.


    Pip Wilsom says happy birthday and debunks the notion that he converted to Christianity on his deathbed (though that would have been the safe thing to do, just in case) and cites son Francis writing in The Life And Letters of Charles Darwin.


    Holy Schmoly is one of the religious people happy about the value of science and impact of Darwin - evolution taught him how to think. We didn't even know 'deconversion' was a word but "that's a story for another time" speaks volumes.


    Dale at Faith In Honest Doubt reminds us that Darwin was not infallible and not a saint - indeed, his idea of natural selection predated Wallace by some 15 years but he only published after Wallace continued to get tantalizingly close from the Malay Archipelago. He even admires Darwin's prose, which also doesn't often happen.


    Julia, The Ethical Paleontologist, much prefers Darwin the younger. And who wouldn't? As an elder statesman he was regarded as a great scientist but as a young man he was an adventurer and a naturalist, hated by no one.

    Darwin knew he was on to something by 1837 - and he also knew it could be regarded as heresy. Those lines show in his older pictures.


    How does the homeschooling family at The Voyage celebrate Darwin Day? With primates and cake and beaches. That actually sounds like a good way to spend every day of the year, actually.


    The Humble Woocutter took Sir Charles out for a walk to celebrate his special day. Details of their adventures can be found here.


    Rogue medic gives Ben Stein a science fail, which is nothing new in the science community, but also elegantly notes that Abraham Lincoln made the world a better place by suppressing a revolution and Darwin did so by starting one.


    João Soares notes that Darwin loved the Azores too, so Portugal shouldn't be left out. If your Portugese is not too rusty, there is good stuff in here. And a tree of life video explanation.


    Professor Massimo Pigliucci doesn't think much of Stony Brook University Neurosurgery Vice Chairman Michael Egnor's take on evolution in Forbes magazine and lets him know that biologists shouldn't talk about operating rooms and therefore ...


    In the mood for a walk? How about the random kind, namely genetic drift?
    Natural Selection is just one mechanism in the process. Because it's just one process, things can happen even if they are not beneficial and, because Ma Nature sometimes has a sense of humor, things can even go to a weird place on occasion.


    A Darwin Day bit of bad news. A year ago, for Darwin Day 2008, Jeff Medkeff at Blue Collar Scientist wrote a brilliant,succinct piece so I am going to reprint a part here:
    I’m currently fighting off a likely Streptococcus infection which I believe I caught on one of humanity’s new-fangled flying pathogen tubes - which I’ve noticed the megacorporations insist on calling airliners. My throat is currently a culture medium, rather than a properly functioning human wind- and food-hole.

    So as I drag my ass down to the city offices today, I have a choice. On the one hand, I can decide that Strep comes from god. I can decide that my creator, and the creator of everything, has specially and specifically made an organism that makes its living by attaching itself to the tissues of another organism, causing it pain and suffering, and sucking the life out of it. I can decide that the god who did this is clearly malevolent - which seems to have been the default position of most of the stone-age religions I know about - or I can come up with some elaborate story about how my very nature is tainted by the activities of a concestor stretching back some hundreds of generations; that I suffer because I am evil, and that I am evil because someone ate some fruit thousands of years ago, or something like that.

    Or, I can choose evolution. I can choose to believe the evidence that shows that Strep infects my throat not because some invisible sky-god is forcing it do so, but because this strain of Strep has evolved with a set of genes that allows it to take advantage of a convenient culture medium. I can take some comfort from evolution, knowing that the insane superstitious ramblings of my distant - and perhaps more recent - ancestors have nothing to do with the infection I have now; that the universe has not been designed in such a way that it is out to get back at me for something someone else did.

    I can also learn from evolution that I had damn well better finish my antibiotics, or I stand a good chance of unleashing a highly virulent, antibiotic resistant strain of germ on my fellow people. Fellow people whom I value, and don’t want to infect. Not because they are the trivial and badly-designed constructions of some allegedly omnipotent sky god, and not because they worship the same sky god that I do (and damn the the ones that don’t), but because they are incredible manifestations of the natural world. They are organisms that I can prove, beyond any doubt, are all related to me. They are also organisms I find special - people, alone in the bushy tangled bank of life, seem to be able to understand the universe we find ourselves in, and people, therefore, have a special meaning for me. Because I value reality.

    I can choose between evolution - an understanding that the universe is neutral, and that people and other life is to be valued - or I can choose religion - and believe the universe was made for me, but is now against me, and that only some life, only human life, and only human life I agree with, has any value or meaning.
    Because this is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, I let all of the participants in 2008 know about this year and I discovered that Jeff had died on August 3rd of 2008.

    The infections he had talked about in that and other pieces were actually liver cancer.

    Iatros Polygenos wrote a touching piece about Jeff's last weeks, days and minutes, including a visit to Darwin's grave and house in England shortly before he died.

    Jeff will be missed. RIP.


    In RNA, HIV, and the Origins of Life, Nicholas Horton says:
    The central dogma of Molecular Genetics is that information flow is unidirectional: DNA to RNA to PROTEIN. That is, DNA holds the blueprints, RNA is the messenger, and Proteins are the constructed functional units of life. This dogma seems to hold for most of the species on the planet. From bacteria to humans to insects, the central dogma acts as a unifying theory of life’s architecture. But, there are a few key exceptions.

    Exception, of course, being where all the magic of science happens.


    What Can Goldilocks Can Teach Us About Natural Selection?
    Natural selection is often much like Goldilocks - an organism's traits shouldn't be too hot or too cold; natural selection likes them just right. In other words, traits are under pressure to remain near an optimum. If they deviate too far, natural selection will not-so-gently prod things back to the center. This phenomenon is known as stabilizing selection.
    Of similar importance, who are the three bears of natural selection?


    How Would We Evolve If We Always Opened Beer Bottles With Our Teeth?
    Imagine a world where the major source of human nutrition was beer. That may sound fantastic to some of you, but now imagine that, in this beer-world, there are no bottle openers and no twist-off caps. To get at the beer, you have to open the bottles with your teeth. Day in, day out, you're opening bottles with your teeth. If the world continued like this for a few thousand generations, how would the human jaw evolve into a better beer bottle opener?


    Another Amazing Fossil: A Giant Tropical Snake
    A group of researchers has discovered the fossil vertebra of the largest snake known to date. At an estimated 13 meters (about 42.6 feet) long, this monster, named appropriately Titanoboa, lived in tropical South America about 60 million years ago.

    The Amphibious Ancestors of Whales
    In what is now central Pakistan, an eight-and-a-half foot long, pregnant aquatic mammal went belly-up, and sank to the bottom of the shallow coastal waters. 47 million years later, a huckster by the name of Duane Gish denied that such mammals ever existed:

    Poor Gene Copying and the Evolution of New Species

    30 Days Of Evolution Blogging: Who Is Writing "The DaVinci Code" About Biology?
    Where Is "The DaVinci Code" Of Biology?  I should be able to get this Hollywood movie made in two paragraphs.  

    What a New Fossil Tells Us About New Zealand's Watery Past
    A tuatara may look like an iguana, but it's a reptile in a category all its own. Tuataras are most closely related to lizards and snakes, but in some ways they are oddballs among reptiles, with unique characteristics among reptiles, like their affinity for cool weather, their nocturnal lifestyle, a third eye on top of the skull, and vertebrae that more closely resemble those of fish and amphibians than reptiles.

    Jerry Coyne: A Letter To Darwin - Here's What Has Happened In The Last 150 Years
    Happy 200th birthday! I hope you are as well as can expected for someone who has been dead for nearly 130 years. I suppose that your final book, the one about earthworms, has a special significance for you these days.

    30 Days of Evolution Blogging: The Long View
    It is well-known that I dig on evolutionary theory (as well as BBQ and pie). But, come on. The 150th anniversary? The 200th birthday?

    30 Days Of Evolution Blogging: What Tiktaalik Roseae Means To You And Me
    In 2004 a University of Chicago researcher discovered something every evolutionary biologist knew had to exist - a missing link between land animals and fishes.

    30 Days Of Evolution Blogging: The Origin of Galapagos Plume in Bloom
    Charles Darwin wrote in 1835 about the Galapagos Islands:

    Yet Another Gene to Create Species
    Yesterday we discussed the discovery of a gene that keeps mouse subspecies from producing fertile hybrid offspring. In other words, a gene that is putting a reproductive barrier between incipient mouse species.

    Hunting for Genes that Keep Species Separate
    Speciation Genetics is, in a sense, an oxymoron. Genetics is the study of heritable characteristics, but the researchers who study speciation genetics are looking for genes that cause inheritance to fail. 

    Deciphering the Tracks of Evolution in Our Genomes
    How did we become human? You can ask the same question in a slightly different way: how did we become different from chimps? 

    Size Matters for Plants Too
    Reproduction involves some tricky trade-offs for all species, and anyone who has watched a David Attenborough film knows that you can find a wide range of reproductive strategies in nature.

    Coffee Break Science Browsing
    It's Friday and time for a coffee break.  Looking for more Darwin reading? (If you're already sick of the Darwin Bicentennial, you're in for a loooong year.)

    Putting Evolution in Reverse
    How do two populations change genetically when they are subjected to different evolutionary pressures? To answer this question, many intrepid evolutionary biologists have trudged out into the field to painstakingly study wild populations, but in many cases, we can learn more by studying evolution in the lab.

    Primitive Dinosaur Feathers
    Birds are the modern day descendants of dinosaurs, or as paleontologist Kevin Padian likes to say, birds are dinosaurs. But how did birds evolve from grounded, naked reptiles into plumed aviators?

    ****, the Open University, is giving away a free 'Tree of Life" poster to UK and Ireland residents in celebration of Darwin Day 2009 -


    To mark the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, MIT will host a conference January 22-24 that will celebrate the famed naturalist's life and examine a wide spectrum of topics related to evolution. Speakers include: Kerry Emanuel, MIT; Russell Fernald, Stanford; Farish Jenkins, Harvard; Jonathan King, MIT; Diane Newman, MIT and many others. Agenda:


    Scientific Blogging scribe John Dennehy notes that Queens College in NY is having a Day for Darwin Friday February 13 2009 9:00AM - 1:00PM at the LeFrak Concert Hall.


    Christie Wilcox at is putting together a Darwin carnival so take a look and send your blogging links there.


    Auntie Em from University College London says they are having a Darwin Day lecture on the site of Charles Darwin's former home at UCL. Topic: Evolution of Evolution by Dr. Beau Lotto.
    The second law of thermodynamics states that a natural system will with time become increasingly random. There are, however, two kinds of natural system: those that follow this law and those that don’t. Living systems are of the second kind. Unlike the waves on the surface of the North Sea or an avalanche tumbling down the side of Ben Nevis, living structures ‘have a purpose’ … to survive, to invert the relentless move towards randomness – at least for a while. The brain is arguably the most complicated of these and thus one of the most difficult to describe. What is more, if we are to explain the brain we must first understand the code hidden in its described structure. Here, in celebration of Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’, we will talk about what this code might be and how it evolved … but not in the real world. Instead we will talk about the evolution of virtual agents in synthetic worlds and how this may help explain how natural brains halt the perpetual walk to randomness.


    Steve Robinson is having a Darwin Day Beach Observance
    • Where: Ormond Beach, Florida - Starting on the beach north of the natural area signs at the beach access at Granada Blvd (Hwy 40) and ending 1 mile north. Extra parking behind LuLu’s Restaurant. (Natural beach area – no cars allowed)
    • Who – Everyone, else why would we help them promote it? The world needs less selfish science media sites, not more.
    • What – 200 sea turtle sculptures to mark each year since Charles Darwin’s birth (2/12/1809). We will attempt to make 200 sea turtles each one in a 10 ft diameter circle and each circle 16 feet apart in a straight line stretching 1 mile long on the beach near the latest high tide water mark. The idea is watch them disappear into the next high tide thus marking the end of Charles Darwin’s birthday.
    • When – Thursday February 12, 2009 beginning at noon (Rain or Shine) The 1st high tide is ~9 am Eastern Daylight Saving Time so by starting at noon the tide should take the turtles by dark (2nd high tide at 9 pm DST).
    • Why – To observe Darwin’s birthday in a free, natural, fun, family-friendly, and non-controversial way! (Not a science vs. religion debate) - this is our favorite part, not taking the opportunity to just smack around religious people. Evolution already won, people. It's time to act like winners.
    • Rules – Sea Turtle sculptures are to be made of sand and shells only (non- polluting). The best turtle sculpture is the one you help make!
    • Bonus -Feb. 12 is also the tentative date for the Space Shuttle Discovery Launch and the beach is a great spot to get a good view of it!


    Evolution Matters, a series of evening lectures, will feature Harvard professors discussing evolutionary theory, the impact of Darwin’s work, and their own research. For learners of all ages, two weekend family programs in February will celebrate Darwin’s life and work. Lectures:

    * Darwin at 200: Rethinking the Revolution
    * Evolution in the Post-Genomic Age
    * Survival of the Swiftest, Smartest, or Fattest? Human Evolution 150 Years After Darwin
    * One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin
    * An Afternoon with Charles Darwin


    From Robert Olley: Sir Arthur Eddington used delightful evolutionary parables to show how we naturally tend to a Newtonian view, and have such trouble with Relativity and Quantum Theory.   Since it's Darwin Year, I would like to relate one of my own, in the form of a conversation between a Tyrannosaurus and a Triceratops.

    Tyr: You’ve been pretty unhappy lately. It’s all that religion, isn’t it?

    Tri: But don’t you see what’s written on the rock wall over there – ‘The Mammals shall inherit the Earth’?

    Tyr: You don’t want to pay any attention to that. Getta load of this instead!

    Tri: What’s that you’re reading?

    Tyr: ‘The Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin. Survival of the Fittest – that’s me! – and you too, in your veggie old way.

    Tri: I suppose you’re right, but ….

    Tyr: Oh, come along! You don’t think God’s going to wipe us all out with a bolt from Heaven, do you?


    What happened to the captain who took Darwin on his famous Beagle journey? Fitzroy and Darwin argued quite bit during their journey, it seems - and Fitzroy would have a tragic end. Read it all at Providentia.


    When you are finished, you can head over to Skeptic's Play and read about one thing Darwin got wrong - the flatfish,

    More links:

    Vishal D. Murthy's blog

    goodSchist - geology and planetary science. done good

    12 Days of Darwin sung, appropriately enough to the Christmas tune we all know and love, though the gifts are cooler.


    Regarding Darwin Day, I will be adding links for events as I get them but if you see some also, just add them in a comment here.  This was a big hit last year and there are a whole lot of other groups doing events this time so let's try to get them all some support.

    Because writing articles on Darwin and evolution (obviously, blog posts are easy) is a lot of work but is terrifically important in the interests of science outreach, we're going to add in a token to make it even worthwhile: if you write an evolution/Darwin article and use the Darwin Day 2009 badge above, you will be entered in a drawing to win an 1887 copy of the complete three volume set of  The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin edited by his son Francis Darwin and including an autobiographical chapter from Sir Charles.

    The only other qualification is this has to be real stuff.   No posts that are just links to other Darwin Day events or articles; that sort of defeats the point.  Otherwise, go for it.

    We're also going to donate the advertising revenue from this page to a worthwhile cause so suggestions on organizations that are in the evolution science education arena are welcome also.
    Becky Jungbauer
    It's Darwin Day? Man, how did I miss that? ;)
    In honor of Darwin, last week, a bunch of us have created a Facebook group called Can we find 200,000 by Feb 12 to wish Darwin a happy 200th birthday?

    We already have over 100,000 members! Please join us in making our goal and supporting Darwin. We'll be doing a free call for all of the members on Thursday at 1pmET to sing Darwin Happy Birthday and we'll have a couple of guest speakers.

    More info at: and on Facebook at

    Hope you'll be able to join us! SYP

    You quote Dr. Beau Lotto's talk abstract as saying that

    The second law of thermodynamics states that a natural system will with time become increasingly random. There are, however, two kinds of natural system: those that follow this law and those that don’t. Living systems are of the second kind.

    This is, of course, a misstatement of the universal and fundamental Second Law of Thermodynamics, and his belief that living systems violate it is false. The only kind of natural system that the Second Law says cannot become more ordered is an isolated system, one that does not exchange matter or energy with an external environment. This does not describe a living organism (not for long!), and so this particular implication of the Second Law in no way applies

    Living systems follow the same physical laws as the rest of the universe. Creationists, and Dr. Lotto, think otherwise.


    I think you are totally right, living organisms do follow the second law of thermodinamics. Because living organisms exist despite to the second thermodinamics law, one conclusion is that there should be some missing piece of the puzzle, otherwise life would never have appeared. Actually, because life exists and follows all physics laws, we could say that according to physics laws, life must exist.

    Another approach, is to consider that life is just an accident, it exists as a result of random interactions, but by the physics laws, it may or may not exist.

    I personally prefer the first approach, living organisms are present because the physics laws determined that something like life should exist (I am not a creationist), therefore, there should some missing piece of the puzzle, a physics law still not discovered that explains why life appeared and perhaps how it did.

    There will be a big celebration in Minneapolis, MN at the Univ. of MN's Bell Museum on Thursday from 7 - 9 pm, with an after-party. Details here:

    The speakers will present in the auditorium from 7 to 8 pm. Birthday cake and refreshments are served after the presentations.
    Celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday! Part of a world wide celebration, the Twin Cities’ version is at The Bell Museum of Natural History this Thursday night. Join in the fun with cake, drinks and presentations by U of M scientists and educators. They will present funny, outrageous and controversial rapid-fire, media-rich presentations about Darwin and evolution. From the big bang to the human genome, hear the newest research and controversy on evolution and Darwin. The presenters are:

    Keith Olive :

    Mark Decker :

    Sehoya Cotner :

    Greg Laden :

    Mark Borrello :

    For more information about the Bell Museum:

    To connect to these events on Facebook:

    Becky Jungbauer
    Mark Borrello is an interesting guy; I've heard him speak before. Wish I could attend the event!
    I wish someone would start addressing the problem of forming a basic cell in a sterile environment. If a scientist could create one protein out of 14 I could finally start to believe in Evolution.

    I plan on taking my little cousins to the nearby Royal Tyrrell Museum of Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. They will not only love the dinosaur fossils and all the environments, but they have an excellent demonstration of natural selection. It is a game with light-up butterflies, with colours ranging between Red, Orange, and Yellow, and Orange flowers. the goal is to hit as many of the butterflies as possible while they light up in the various shades. Inevitably there is a lower proportion of orange butterflies caught, and YAY! Natural selection!

    PS: Those book are beautiful... I wish I had a blog just so I could try... hmm... I will try adding it here...

    Depending on their ages, you might get them Evolving Planet: 4 billion years of life on Earth by Erica Kelly and Richard Kissel for a birthday or Christmas.  I'm not proud, I will confess to referring to it many times, but it is written for kids.
    A tribute to Darwin

    Here you go! Most likely not eligible, but worth viewing. :)
    Portugal don´t miss this important anniversary. Darwin otherwise was in Azores ;)
    I add your banner in my post:
    All the best

    I wrote a computer program which uses evolution to create super-difficult Sokoban puzzles from little more than random numbers. It works so well I cannot solve many of them! Getting something from nothing - it's just trial and error repeated a ridiculous number of times, and it works! Thanks, Darwin...

    Well that's not Darwinism, except when your catholic.

    Your Sudoku solver has a defined aim: solving a riddle given by an external brain. Meaning god defined man as final (or maybe not-final) destination that the evolution had to tend towards.

    Evolution would make it the other way: use an algorithm (using random numbers as a part of it too) to change a bundle of numbers (placement, dimensions, order, ...) and see which one is hanged up on the walls of one of millions of mathematicians ;) Then keep that algorithm, continue to modify finer "grains" of the structure and wait again how many of them are liked, ...

    I'm so glad Google used "Darwin's Finches" in their logo since they are evidence of Intelligent Design and not evolution. All the finches have the same DNA/genes, so there is no "evolution" from one beak sized bird to another. Designed in the finch is a regulator in the brain that releases the appropriate amount of protein to cause the beak to grown long or short. The same finch can have either a long or short beak - what an Intelligent Design.

    Did Google download our badge too?   I know Sergey wants these books.
    that regulator would be controlled by genes, no? So that means there is a genetic basis for beak length. there we go, natural selection! Besides, we consider the finches to be different species, and some even in different genera.

    that regulator would be controlled by . . .
    Reading these six words in What People Are Saying, I immediately thought that this was something to do with the financial crisis, until I read on ...
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    This is actually rather funny. So, there is proof then, that Pinocchio's nose issue is actually a viable genetic involuntary reflex?

    I am really curious about the studies that show this. Since regulators in the brain control beak length, can they think themselves to have long noses? Or at the time that the regulator genes control the expression of the length of the beak, which if it is unique to individuals would actually happen in the embryonic stage, is there a hormone that is activated in dry seasons when the birds are developing so that they can develop longer beaks? Is it inactivated during wet seasons? How does it all work? Where did you read this? I am curious and would like some links to the studies.

    Hahah... sources needed!

    Gerhard Adam
    There are indeed many things that function precisely in this fashion (although for this instance I couldn't say).  Read "The Plausibility of Life" for some good insights.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Here is one 2006 article from Harvard Science on the beak lenght issue:

    Experiments have shown that forcing changes in the protein level will cause short-beaked birds to develop long beaks. This says to me, before the birds needed to experience any natural selection, they were already designed with this feature.

    Of course.

    Analogy: assume some kind of machinery that creates something. That something is not exactly the same any time, but varies a bit, and then some parts are used (that fit a certain purpose the machinery was built for), and some are thrown away, the machinery creating too many flawed parts is thrown away, and the machines producing "good" parts are kept, get better maintenance and possibly (again random) improvements, etc.

    So would you again wonder about "they were designed with that feature"? Well of course birds are designed with the feature to have beads (well that again is a result of evolution if you go one step backwards) with inexact sizes. Natural selection does the rest.

    My afternoon with Mr. D at

    Happy Darwin Day!

    I just wrote about Darwin day celebrations with my children. We've had burgers, arks, well hung barnacles, primate action and cake.

    I put in my two cents on some of the flaws in the Creationism arguments in Ben Stein Fails Religion, Or Happy Birthday Charles Darwin

    Thank you for the inclusion. I think this is the first time anyone has described me as doing anything elegantly.

    As most of you may already now, Charles Darwin wrote "The Voyage of the Beagle", and it is thus not surprising for people to give him a nickname 'Mr Snoopy'. On a more serious note, I think he is quite insightful about evolution. The poignant changes to his perspective however occurs with the death of his daughter. As a respite, I was reading on a book on Darwin (just purchased) and I chance upon this giveaways on his diaries which I hope to read them. Does this few liners merit your consideration?