Thursday, 30 July 2009

Darwin and his women

Tuesday's broadcast of the BBC Radio 4 programme Woman's Hour had a short section on how Darwin's relationships with women may have affected his great works.

The programme is still available to listen again until the end of the week. Skip to the 12m25s mark.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Hip Hop and Singing Darwin

Evolution like you've never heard it before. This is a promo for the Rap Guide to Evolution, a show by Canadian rapper Baba Brinkman that mashes up popular rap tunes with lyrics about the history and understanding of evolutionary theory.

The show has earned rave reviews and is currently touring the UK. More information is available from Baba's website.

If rap isn't your thing, you may prefer Richard Milner, a historian of science who has for over ten years been writing and performing songs about Darwin and evolution. His one-man musical Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert has been performed all over the world, including at the Edinburgh Festival and the Natural History Museum in London. Richard Dawkins is said to be a fan.

You can watch a video of his work (and order a CD) over on Milner's website.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Darwin Underground: a story in 12 poems

One of the more bizarre, but eloquent, additions to the Darwin celebrations this year is Darwin Underground: 12 canto poems written by Robert Whittle.

The poems imagine Darwin reappearing in London in 2009. As the story progresses, he learns how science has developed, its portrayal in the media and how it is viewed by members of the public and government. Along the way he becomes embroiled in a public debate over the creation of synthetic cells and is subject to an investigation by the police.

If you’re not used to canto poems (which I’m certainly not) it’s a tough read at first, but the story is very imaginative and encompasses so many of the issues affecting science today: from government legislation to science communication (TV in particular), the biotech industry and public perceptions. It also highlights just how much modern science can be linked to Darwin’s theories.

Update 29/7/09 Added a direct link to the Darwin Underground website

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Darwin: the graphic novel

Ever wondered what Darwin would look like in comic form? Wonder no longer.

Darwin: a Graphic Biography is a free 100-page comic by Simon Gurr and Eugene Byrne published as part of the Lost World Read 2009 project. It covers, as the name suggests, all the major events in Darwin’s life – from his youth, to the Beagle voyage and writing On the Origin of Species – in beautifully illustrated form.

Some of the pages are available to view on Flickr.

For more information, read Karen James post over at the excellent Beagle Project blog (where I first heard of this).

Not sure if there are still copies available (I am coming to this news rather late… ^^;) but if so, they are only available via downloadable coupon in a few regions (see Simon Gurr’s website for details)

Image credit: Flickr/Simon_Gurr

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Live-tweeting from the Cambridge Darwin Festival

Anyone interested in, but can't get to, the Cambridge Darwin Festival (or indeed, anyone already there) should check out the live-tweets on Twitter.

Karen James, from the Natural History Museum and the Darwin Beagle Project, and others are sharing snippets and thoughts from all of the conference sessions.

Just follow the hashtag #DarwinFest

Survey shows broad acceptance of evolution, with some worries

Last week, the British Council released the results of a survey it had commissioned, showing broad international acceptance for the theory of evolution.

The survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI and part of the Council’s Darwin Now project, questioned over ten thousand adults from ten countries about their knowledge and opinions on Darwin and his theory.

The results showed that 70 per cent of participants had heard of Darwin and most knew at least a little about the theory of evolution.

The highest level of knowledge was in Great Britain and the US (71 per cent in both), followed by Mexico (68 per cent), Argentina (65 per cent), China (54 per cent) and Russia (53 per cent).

However, in Egypt, 62 per cent of adults said they had never heard of Darwin or evolution – a statistic that reached a staggering 73 per cent in South Africa.

Other results:

- Most people (56 per cent, all countries) who had heard of Charles Darwin and evolution agreed that “enough scientific evidence exists to support Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution”.

- However, less than half of those surveyed in Russia (48 per cent), South Africa (42 per cent), the US (41 per cent), and Egypt (25 per cent) agreed with the statement.

- Asked if “it is possible to believe in a God and still hold the view that life on Earth, including human life, evolved over time as a result of natural selection”, people in India agreed most (85 per cent). This was followed by Mexico (65 per cent), Argentina (62 per cent), South Africa (54 per cent), Great Britain (54 per cent), Russia (54 per cent), US (53 per cent), Spain (46 per cent), Egypt (45 per cent) and China (39 per cent).

More specific results for Great Britain:

- 54 per cent of British participants believe it is possible to believe in a God and evolution.

- Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of those surveyed in London believe in creationism. Twenty per cent of London participants said they had never heard of Charles Darwin or evolution (though thankfully 48 per cent agreed that there was enough scientific evidence to support evolutionary theory).

- Up North, 23 per cent said they have no understanding of evolutionary theory.

- However, in each region of Great Britain, the vast majority of people (74-87 per cent) were aware of evolution and Darwin, even though, generally, only half of the participants in each region thought they had a “good” or “fairly good” understanding of how evolution works.

I don’t have the complete data in front of me, so I can’t tell how many people were surveyed in each region (which could skew the stats). However, I do find the results generally encouraging (even if the London results are a little bit worrying).

I am wondering though, whether the ‘understanding of evolutionary theory’ result is a worrying statistic or not. Is ~50 per cent good or bad? Because really, if only half the people feel they have a "fairly good" understand the concept, it’s no wonder there are still many who dismiss it out of hand. Indeed, the press release from the British Council points out that "one-in-five British adults surveyed had not spent any time thinking about the origins of species and life on earth" (again though, I don’t have the data to work out how they came to that statistic).

The British Council is running another, larger survey, for the general public to volunteer their opinions, which they hope will create the largest data set ever gathered on the public’s understanding of evolution. To take part visit the website.