Posts in Category: Science

Class by Morning, British Museum by Afternoon

Posted Jul 14th, 2009 at 7:28 am in Photography, Science, Traveling About | 2 Comments

My next installment of photos are up in the gallery, consisting largely of Amy and I’s short trip to the British museum on July 9th. In addition, I wanted to share a writeup about what the day was like. One of the requirements of the course is that we keep a journal each day. While I can’t promise to share this information every time (due to the time constraints), I wanted to give a picture of what a typical day is like.

Class in the Morning

In class this morning, Dr. Maxwell covered many of the most important naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries. I especially found the French naturalists and the events surrounding the French Revolution fascinating as I know so much less about them than I do the same period in England. For example, I found it fascinating that the French scientists changed the name of the Kings Garden to Plant Garden (Jardin de Roi to Jardin de Plantes) in order to try and survive the French Revolution and the anger directed towards the king and the nobility. Dr. Dowler talked more about museums, how they acquire specimens, set goals and policies, and the role and responsibility of a curator.

Getting Too Smart For Our Own Good

After lunch Amy and I took the subway to the British Museum, getting off at Russell Street. It was here that I learned a valuable lesson about being a visitor in other people’s country. If you see a bunch of British people doing something a certain way and think to yourself that you have a better solution, you are, quite simply, wrong.

Here’s what happened. After getting off the tube, we followed a herd of people and found ourselves at a lift (elevator) that was absolutely packed with even more people trying to squeeze on. “Let’s take the stairs,” we said. The fact that not a single person had opted to do the same should have been our first clue. Perhaps 11 stories later after taking one enormous, never ending, twirling staircase (that lacked even a single flat section) we understood why.

The British Museum

The British Museum itself was incredible, if just a touch overwhelming. (You can steal some really nice stuff given a few hundred years.) We didn’t really have enough time, but I actually think that was a good thing. Everyone knows my attention span isn’t always the greatest, and I actually think having a shorter amount of time helps me take in a lot of things without going a little stir crazy.

Amy at the British Museum
Amy at the British Museum.

We spent most of our time looking at fairly early cultures in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Assyrian, and some Greek and Roman artifacts. There were many stunning objects, either for their significance in what they said about the culture that produced them or the quality of the artwork. For example, there were some Roman Egyptian paintings around the turn of the common era (0 A.D.) that showed a level of sophistication in their shading and use of light that were seen again until the Renaissance. You look at these things and could literally imagine the real flesh and blood of these people walking around in the room with you.

Another exhibit that struck me was some of the religious practices of the Egyptians. One contained mummified cats, which were held in cat-shaped containers and elaborately adorned, not unlike sarcophagi of the Egyptian pharaohs. In some cases, the cat had its neck broken before being entombed. The Egyptians apparently believed that animals (not just cats but lots of different animals) acted as intermediaries for certain gods. Another practice included small human figurines placed inside people’s tombs to assist with work in the afterlife. Initially, tombs contained only one or two of these figurines, but over time the number increased. At the height of this practice, 401 figurines were buried with a person — one for each day of the year plus 36 overseers to manage all the workers.

The Rosetta Stone

Of course the main thing that we went to see was the Rosetta Stone. Not that it’s that impressive to behold or that we can understand any of the languages on it. Rather the significance is really impressive.

The Rosetta Stone

I also got a handful of really cool pictures of random people looking at the Rosetta Stone. This first is of the crowds that never stop trying to press in and get a closer view.

Crowds around the Rosetta Stone

Looking at the Rosetta Stone

The Enlightenment Room

The last thing that Amy and I looked at was a collection of items in the Enlightenment Room that were in the first holdings of the British Museum when the Crown purchased the collection of Sir Hans Sloan in 1753. This exhibit included many natural history objects (most in fairlypoor shape, small, or fossilized). Also included were other items and books from 18th and 19th century England, placed in shelves along the entire perimeter of the room. Maroon velvet paneling adorned the room’s walls, which was made with wooden floors, a yellow and white ornate ceiling, and gold brass trimmings. The entire atmosphere was of a “cabinet of curiosity” as one might have seen just before the dawn of the modern museum era.

I found myself enthralled by the experience and decided that this was easily my favorite room in the museum. The reason is that it contained two histories. That of the objects themselves — Roman soldier helmets, Egyptian artwork — and that of the people and the entity that had cared to collect these objects in the first place. And as I reflected, it became apparent that every object had a story of how it came to be at the British Museum (or indeed any other museum). I imagine that some of these stories are quite mundane. Others however are not, like the Rosetta Stone itself which was apparently recovered by Napoleon in 1799 in Egypt and captured two years later by British soldiers. I felt that so many of the other rooms and exhibits in the British Museum completely lacked this context. They felt sterile.

Amy and I walked back to our rooms stopping at a cheap place for a dinner of fish and chips.

Playing with DNA

Posted Dec 10th, 2008 at 9:59 am in Research, School, Science | 1 Comment

I had my first really successful day in the molecular lab yesterday.

This is a gel from a PCR reaction of beta fibrinogen intron 7 for eight cockatoo species.

PCR reaction of Beta Fibrinogen intron 7 for eight cockatoo species

While I promise not to show many more of these (it gets boring pretty quick), it’s exciting because everything worked. Lanes 1-8 have a single band, which shows that I successfully amplified the gene I’m interested in. Lane 9 is a negative control. It’s empty as it should be, showing that I didn’t have DNA contamination in the reaction. Lane 10 is a ladder. It has known sizes of DNA so that one can judge what size fragment the PCR reaction returned.

Now I just have to figure out how to sequence DNA…

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Homozygotes find Jesus, Heterozygotes Play Hopscotch

Posted May 1st, 2007 at 7:51 am in Evolution, Humor, Science | 2 Comments

So I’ve been extremely busy the last few weeks trying to get everything wrapped by the deadlines that always come with the end of the semester. I just completed working on a paper for Molecular Biology about cystic fibrosis. Before I go any further, let me define just a few genetic concepts using the analogy of shoes, so that I don’t have to worry about readers being completely lost. Thirty seconds of biology won’t kill you, I promise.

  • allele – alternative version of gene. If shoes are a gene, then cowboy boots, sandals, and tennis shoes would be alleles. For any given gene, you’ve got two alleles – one from mom and one from dad.
  • homozygous – you’ve got the same two alleles for a given gene. You’re wearing matching tennis shoes.
    • homozygous dominant – both of your alleles make the same working protein. You’re wearing matching tennis shoes.
    • homozygous recessive – both of your alleles either don’t make a protein or make a protein that doesn’t work. You’re not wearing any shoes and have two bare feet.
  • heterozygous – you’ve got different alleles for a given gene. You’re wearing one cowboy boot and one sandal, or one cowboy boot and one bare foot.

Cystic fibrosis is a homozygous recessive trait. You’ve got to get two CF alleles that don’t work right to get the disease.

Enough of the background information. I was focusing on one thing in particular. The allele that causes CF is a lot more common in European populations than one might expect for such a seemingly detrimental allele. In fact in Caucasian populations, the frequency of carriers can reach as high as 1 in 25 people! That’s pretty darn high when you consider that if two copies of those alleles end up in a child, that child’s dead before they’re three years old. How do you explain that? The likely explanation is what’s called heterozygous advantage, where heterozygous are better fit for their environment than homozygotes.

The classic example of this is sickle-cell anemia and malaria. It turns out that heterozygotes are much less likely to get malaria than homozygotes. I was looking on the internet for a reference to the scientific literature that discusses heterozygous advantage with sickle-cell anemia, when I came across this page from the website of a medical doctor at Harvard. (Incidentally, it’s a nice lengthy discussion if you want to learn more about natural selection favoring a detrimental allele through heterozygous advantage.) But it contained one little illustration that immediately caught my eye and made me laugh out loud.

heterozygous advantage

Figure 2. Schematic representation of the effect of the sickle cell hemoglobin gene on survival in endemic malarial areas. People with normal hemoglobin (left of the diagram) are susceptible to death from malaria. People with sickle cell disease (right of the diagram) are susceptible to death from the complications of sickle cell disease. People with sickle cell trait, who have one gene for hemoglobin A and one gene for hemoglobin S, have a greater chance of surviving malaria and do not suffer adverse consequences from the hemoglobin S gene.

Oh, okay. I get it. But still, it’s a rather odd and comical choice for the illustration. It tickled my funny bone so much that I had to share.

So getting back to cystic fibrosis, the main evidence for heterozygous advantage comes from a study1 which showed that the bacteria which cause typhoid fever use the protein that the cystic fibrosis gene creates. Thus, if you’re heterozygous (one good copy, one bad) then you have less of that protein on the surface of your cells lining your digestive tract. Using mice as a model, they showed that typhoid bacteria are 86% less successful at infecting cells of heterozygotes. They also showed that mice containing two bad copies of the CF gene were not infected by any typhoid bacteria. Thus typhoid are using that protein as their entries into the cell.

As typhoid is a disease that has ravaged Europe for many years in premodern time, it now becomes understandable why selection would increase the frequency of the CF allele in European populations.

1 Pier, G.B., M. Grout, T. Zaidi, G. Meluleni, S.S. Mueschenborn, G. Banting, R. Ratcliff, M.J. Evans, W.H. Colledge. 1998. Salmonella typhi uses CFTR to enter intestinal epithelial cells. Nature 393: 79–82.

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Getting Back in the Swing of Things

Posted Mar 29th, 2007 at 11:12 am in Evolution, Photography, Science, Site Announcements | 7 Comments

It’s been too long, hasn’t it? I’ve got friends asking me to write again, friends that are hilariously cajoling me into writing again, and absolute nutjobs that leave the craziest comments on old posts.

This latter comment is especially hilarious for it’s illiterate ramblings against evolution, repetition of the belief that no one is required to pay income taxes, and then a sudden divergence into the necessity of vitamins and seed eating to prevent cancer. The list of seeds we should eat are apple, peach, and apricot seeds, which as any good biologist can tell you are filled with cyanide. If you’re skipping the fruit and going straight for the seeds, it doesn’t take but a handful at once to provide a lethal dose. But hey, you don’t get cancer! I especially liked the National Cancer Institute’s description of a drug name Laetrile based on these seed products. “Laetrile has shown little anticancer effect in laboratory studies, animal studies, or human studies. The side effects of laetrile are like the symptoms of cyanide poisoning.”

Yes, it’s been too long since I’ve blogged.

Why did I stop blogging?

The short and sweet answer is that I suddenly got tired of it. It felt more like a chore than it did fun. As the amount of time I poured into school skyrocketed (and so did the amount of writing for school), it was hard to enjoy blogging.

I’m also completely done with these eternal debates about evolution and creationism. At least online anyway. Like the above comments shows, the number of people who froth at the mouth and show up to leave comments far outweighs those interested in learning how science works. We live in the age of Google. In 30 seconds you can get more information about a subject than you can read in 30 days. An understanding of evolution and how it works is not lacking because of a lack of information. Therefore, I’m much more interested in having real conversions with people, face to face, who actually want to learn how things work, not just argue. The time I’ve spent at church talking with people about it on a number of occasions is just so much more fulfilling than blogging about it.

I also face the problem of being a fairly good but extremely slow writer. One story in particular illustrates this better than anything. Not long after we got married, my wife was working on this very lengthy paper for a class. She called me in to ask for help with wording a single sentence. I spent 30 minutes and finally came up with wording that we both liked. So out of 10 pages, I wrote one sentence. When she got the paper back (with a good grade of course), the professor had underline that single sentence and written in the margins, “Nicely worded!” (I’ll smile about that for the rest of my life). But the problem you see is that I can’t spend that long writing a post to Ocellated. There’s not enough hours in the day.

So What Comes Next?

I didn’t want to post again until I really knew what I wanted to say. I think where I am right now is that I would love to post about science. There’s just too many cool little things that I learn to not share them with anyone. And I have fun whenever I can taking pictures, so there’s no better medium than the web for sharing the fruits of that labor.

I promise nothing. I certainly won’t be posting every day. Maybe once a week. Maybe once a month. We’ll just have to see how it goes. But I’d definitely like to get back to talking about science, birds in particular, and I’ve got a few papers that are worth sharing due to their general “cool factor.”

I can’t just leave you with nothing

So for all three of you still checking the blog, I’ll leave you with a few pictures. I have been busy working at photography when I have the time, and I’ve posted many of these quite some time ago, but never wrote a post announcing them. Here’s a list of the recent galleries. Some of the pictures are of course better than others.

The trip to Marfa, TX (which is in deep southwest TX north of Big Bend National Park, was probably one of the most enjoyable though. I managed to get a couple of incredible pictures of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.

juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

There’s more in that album too. And speaking of pictures, I’ve got lots more to process from recent trips which I’ll be posting shortly.

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I’m Not Dead Yet

Posted Oct 4th, 2006 at 9:17 am in Nature, Photography, School, Science | Comments Off

… as the famous line from Monty Python goes.

I’ve put up some pictures of an outing a couple of weeks ago to a local ranch, where my university’s biology department hosts an annual Bioblitz, identifying every species regardless of taxa they possibly can.

I managed to get one picture in particular that I just really like.

hole in the canopy

Another highlight of the weekend was this Hoary Bat, a species I had previously only seen in pictures. They are arguably the most beautiful of bats found in the U.S.

More from me if I survive today.

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Genetics of The Bruce

Posted Sep 9th, 2006 at 11:46 pm in Cat Blogging, Science | Comments Off

It’s Saturday (Sunday now that I’ve published it), but I feel like doing a little Friday Cat Blogging. I didn’t get to yesterday, though not for a lack of something to say.

I’m taking a graduate level genetics course this semester and low and behold what did we study Thursday night but the genetics of domestic cats… A whole evening spent talking about alleles, incomplete dominance, and epistasis. And looking at dozens of cat pictures.

Now I’ve mentioned before that The Bruce’s unique characteristics come in part from his Scottish Fold looks, namely a mutation which made his ears fold. I tend to talk less about his being half Siamese, since of course everybody knows what a Siamese looks like.

The Bruce

What I didn’t know until last night is that Siamese get their distinctive color because of mutations of their own. The dark areas of their fur are caused by a mutation in the gene that makes an enzyme necessary in the production of melanin. Melanin as you probably know serves as a dark pigment. (It’s the complete lack of it for example that results in albinism).

Here’s what’s so cool about this mutated Siamese enzyme. It’s temperature specific. The reason the extremities (legs, tail, and muzzle) are darker in Siamese is that they’re cooler than the trunk of the body. Were you to take a Siamese and put him in a refrigerator at 33 degrees for 6 months, you’d come back to find a black cat. If you left him outside the entire summer, his extremities would become much paler.

Interestingly, this same phenomenon occurs in other animals, like the Himalayan rabbit. Studies on this animal were what determined the temperature specific nature of this trait. You can fit the animals with a long term ice pack and get a black spot of fur underneath.

Pretty cool stuff.

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Ignorance as the Greatest Virtue?

Posted Sep 5th, 2006 at 10:57 am in Culture, Science | 8 Comments

There’s an article up on Fox News by John Gibson that’s just striking for it’s tone. It’s not the kind of ignorance that one just stumbles across in life. No, it’s the kind of ignorance that one must work really hard to cultivate, waking up each morning to seek out opportunities to display this level of stupidity. His grasp of ignorance is almost masterful.

Now scientists say Pluto isn’t a planet. It isn’t big enough. It’s something, but not a planet exactly.

My attitude is: Who says?

It’s been a planet my entire life. I learned that in the third grade. Might be the only thing I remember from the third grade.

It’s the cold one, the farthest from the sun and, yes, it’s the small one.

But no, you can’t unmake Pluto as a planet.

Long ago I learned it was a planet and I see no reason to unlearn it. Why should I? [emphasis mine]

Somebody somewhere, some mysterious person who answers to no one and seems to have dictatorial power sets new standards for planets and all of a sudden one of the original nine is dropped?

Now as a disclaimer, I don’t particularly care how the solar system is classified. I would like scientists to be consistent, and use all the information at hand (which naturally changes as the years go by). I trust that they do nothing less, though no doubt it’s a contentious process. (See here on why that’s a good thing). In short, I won’t get my undies in a twist if we’ve got 8, 12, or 30 planets.

But John Gibson’s point of not having to unlearn something just because he’s learned it is about the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. Where would that line of thinking take us? We would have ignored bacteria as the cause of ulcers. Reducing stress and staying away from spicy foods would still be the way doctors handled it. After all, that’s what many of them learned in school. Why should they unlearn it just because some stupid scientists come up with a different idea?

How about marriage. Anybody “learn” how to do something that just didn’t seem to work? Why should you have to unlearn it just because a different approach works better?

Religion. I learned some cool stuff as a kid. I think I’ll put the good book away and forgo church. I already know what I need to. Why should I revisit it again?

His attack on scientists (answering to no one with dictatorial power) is also breathtaking for it’s gross mischaracterization and slander. Whatever the politics and contention of planetary classification, I’m quite sure there’s no planetary physicist in an underground bunker stroking a white cat and smoking a pipe, deciding one day to use his unbounded power to blight Pluto.

Is there any area in life where we shouldn’t learn with a touch of humility, with the acknowledgment that we might be wrong and that new information might change the way we understand something?

Oops. I just thought of one… Apparently being a journalist for Fox News.

(Hat tip to John Hawks on the quote)

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A Beautiful Controversy on “Hobbits” and Science

Posted Aug 23rd, 2006 at 9:56 am in Evolution, Science | 1 Comment
Liang Bua 1's asymmetrical skull
Liang Bua 1′s asymmetrical skull

In 2004, scientists announced the discovery of a new species of small hominid which lived on the island of Flores (Indonesia), which they dubbed Homo floresiensis. The media, ever the bastions of scientific truth and accuracy, immediately popularized the discovery by calling H. floresiensis hobbits.

Recently however, a debate has flared up on what H. floresiensis really is. In particular, one of the specimens has a very asymmetrical skull which some scientists are now claiming is the result of disease. Other features of the skull, which were originally reported to be distinct from modern day humans, are now being challenged as falling within the range of modern day and prehistoric humans from that region of the world.

I don’t have anything to add to that discussion. Anthropology and human evolution are hardly my area of specialty. For a quick read about the situation though, MSNBC has the details. For a thorough but technical account, John Hawks’ anthropology blog provides (as always) a great deal of information on the controversy.

Here’s what I find so terribly interesting about the whole thing. It’s a beautiful example of how science works! Some scientists find some data, put the pieces together, go through the process of peer review, and publish a claim — “hobbits” on Flores! Some other scientists review their data, find that they may be a better explanation than “hobbits on Flores” and publish a rebuttal. A skirmish begins. People take sides and scientists take their best shots at each other in trying to explain these finds. Egos are perhaps bruised and battered along the way, but in the end, what we learn about these fossils is far more robust because of the scrutiny they receive.

In short, this is a beautiful example of science at work. This controversy and debate is not a sign that there’s something terribly wrong with science or the original researchers, but rather it’s exactly what healthy science is supposed to do.

Yet, I would bet everything I own on the predictable creationist rejection of this find. Whatever the consensus comes to be, creationists will use this debate, this robust discussion, to say to their followers, isn’t science sick. Science is damned if they get it wrong — that the fossils turn out not be a new species, H. floresiensis — because creationists will forever use it as an example of incompetence. But even worse, if science decides that H. floresiensis really is deserving of classification as a unique species, creationists will point to the controversy as proof that we’re wrong.

Does anyone doubt this? When creationists commonly go back 80 and 100 years to point to controversies or hoaxes (piltdown man, Nebraska man, etc) that existed in the past, and completely ignore that science has long ago fixed its mistakes, I have no doubt they’ll do exactly the same with H. floresiensis.

It’s really sad to me. At it’s highest levels, it’s incredibly dishonest — which is something that creationist leaders should know better than. For the most part though, it’s simply a matter of ignorance. Many people don’t understand how science works. They don’t understand that the controversy is a good thing, not a bad thing.

This debate on how exactly to classify H. floresiensis is a great teaching moment for those willing to learn. We should all sit back and be content to see what happens. Whatever direction it takes, the answers, as well as the process, will lead us closer to the truth.

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Neandertal Genome Project

Posted Jul 24th, 2006 at 6:57 pm in Evolution, Science | Comments Off

For those that haven’t heard yet, a project to sequence the Neadertal genome has been announced. The company doing it has a very nice press release available with a set of resources on the project. They also have a nice brief background (pdf format) on Neandertals.

What I found so amazing about this whole project is the ambitious goal of sequencing a genome from bones that long ago belonged to the deceased. Indeed, some of the main challenges to the project are dealing with very short pieces of DNA (something that happens as bones fossilize and decay) as well as lots of contamination from bacterial DNA. From what I gathered, the whole thing wouldn’t have even been possible if not for recent advances in sequencing technology.

I found the following particularly interesting.

Approximately 99% of the Homo sapiens genome is identical to the chimpanzee genome, our closest living relative. It is estimated that the Neandertal shares 96% of the 1% difference with Homo sapiens. The Neandertal shares the remaining 4% of the difference with the chimpanzee.

It will be fascinating to see what we learn about our own evolution, and what genes have undergone recent selection within the human genome, by getting something inbetween chimpanzees and humans to compare with. I also immediately wondered if it would be possible to get gene sequences from even older fossil species. I’m guessing that the older a fossil is, the less there is to work with. Still, I had no idea that sequencing a Neandertal genome was even a remote possibility.

For a little more insightful commentary, the anthropologist John Hawk’s blog has a write up on the project.

Update: I also noticed that the Questionable Authority has some nice comments on the project, explaining just how the genome comparisions can be put to use.

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Song of the Dodo Review

Posted Jun 17th, 2006 at 7:26 pm in Books, Evolution, Nature, Science | 3 Comments

It’s not my voice, it’s probably not yours, but it makes itself heard in the arenas of public opinion, querulous and smug and fortified by just a little knowledge, which is always a dangerous thing. So what if a bunch of species go extinct? it says. Extinction is a natural process. Darwin himself said so, didn’t he? Extinction is the complement of evolution, making room for new species to evolve. There have always been extinctions. So why worry about these extinctions currently being caused by humanity? And there has always been a pilot light burning in your furnace. So why worry when your house is on fire?

Song of the Dodo, page 605.

I’ve just finished reading The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, by David Quammen. Overall, I was very impressed.

The book mixes at least three types of narrative in telling its story. It explains hard, cold ecology. The science, the theories, how they work, etc. Why certain species need larger or smaller areas to exist. Why islands are such a cradle of biological diversity and the first to fall apart when humans alter the environment. Why some islands have exceptionally tame animals, and why non native species can wreak such havoc when they find themselves in a new home. In fact, I would recommend it as one of the best books I’ve come across to explain what basic ecology is to a lay person.

Secondly, it gives tons of real life examples, both from the past and the present, of species which illustrate the concepts that he delves into. The Dodo (naturally), the Passenger Pigeon, the lemurs of Madagascar, Komodo dragons and pygmy elephants, the adaptive radiations of honeycreepers and fruit flies on the Hawaiian Archipelago, and many, many more. The stories are interesting. Many of them I knew about at least vaguely from my background in science. Even then, I constantly learned new things.

Finally, he gives a good bit of historical background to the movers and shakers that brought these understandings to the world. Men like Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace (Quammen loves Wallace), Robert MacArthur, and E.O. Wilson. The history was one of the most interesting aspects of the book for me, because while I’d previously learned much of the science (at least the basics!), I was ignorant of the people and circumstances under which it came back about.

Quammen’s writing style is wonderful, as I’ve mentioned before. He manages to take a subject which can be tedious and explains it in ways that are interesting, funny, and engages the imagination of his audience. I particularly was impressed with the skill of his writing. He’s just got a gift when it comes to putting words together.

That’s not to say that I liked everything in the book

One of the areas that I think Quammen really makes a stretch on is his speculation on the timing of Charles Darwin’s and Alfred Russell Wallace’s theory of natural selection as the driving force behind evolution. It’s a complicated story, one that a historian would love. But essentially, what Quammen implies is that Darwin received a draft on natural selection from Wallace and held onto the paper not wanting his own work to be preempted.

The problem is that the evidence for this is scant, and Quammen admits that this view is held by a small minority of historians. The controversy centers on the timing of the arrival of a ship carrying Wallace’s manuscript, and the time it took for that manuscript to reach Darwin. (Wallace and Darwin were friends of a sort and corresponded). One historian in particular makes the claim that Darwin held onto this manuscript for at least a month, before passing it onto Charles Lyell (the famed geologist) as Wallace had requested.

Whatever actually happened, a meeting was held at the Linnaean Society where both men were given credit for the idea. This was something that Wallace seemed very appreciative of, as his stature and reputation was far less prominent than Darwin’s.

While Quammen readily admits this doesn’t prove Darwin’s guilt, I think he feeds the fires of speculation a bit too much. Even if Darwin held onto the manuscript, his thoughts on natural selection seem to extend back in time long before Wallace came to the same conclusion. Why would it then be a controversy for the two men to share credit? If anything, Darwin could have easily squashed Wallace’s paper and claimed the idea totally as his own. That he didn’t makes the accusation of foul play all the more questionable.

Still, this is a very short section of the book; a few pages out of 600. Besides these minor quibbles, Song of the Dodo is an excellent read. Anyone in the mood for learning a little ecology and natural history would do well to pick it up.