Don’t forget Darwin

               OK. I’ve started writing this post four times now, and November is almost over, so I have to get this out there. This month marks the 150th year since the publication of Charles Darwin’s book, On The Origin of Species and this year is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Darwin’s ideas about living things being driven by environmental forces led to his theory of natural selection which, of course, contributed mightily to the theory of evolution

               The theory of evolution is an amazing insight into how nature actually operates, and it is akin to Galileo’s “discovery” that the earth revolves around the sun (it had been doing just that since it formed, despite our beliefs)*. Darwin’s contribution to natural science, however, is still a point of contention in some places right here in the United States. Worse of all, there are many charlatans and snake oil salesmen who have taken advantage of this situation to peddle their psuedo-science and nonsense to a scientifically illiterate population.

(* Galileo was considered a heretic for what he “believed” and was excommunicated from the church and imprisoned. Luckily for his soul, Pope John Paul II forgave him in 1992 and formally accepted the heliocentric model as true.)

               Rather than lament the sad state of affairs concerning evolution education in our schools, I would like to share with you some of my favorite sites that celebrate Charles Darwin, his discoveries, the theory of evolution and genuine science education.

  • On The Origin of Species: Why not begin by reading for yourself what Charles Darwin had to say? Even though it is a work of science and was produced a hundred and fifty years ago, the language Darwin uses to discuss his observations and explain his ideas is amazingly accessible and easy to follow. Best of all, you can read his own criticisms and discover how this genius of biology worked to clarify what he saw as weaknesses in his “laws of variation” and “natural selection”.
  • Darwin Online: Maybe reading just one book by Darwin isn’t enough for you. If that’s the case, then you can check out all of his significant writings online at this site. You’ll also find a great collection of diagrams and illustrations that accompanied his writing. The only resource I don’t like at this site is the audio files. The computer voice that is used to “read” the works is hard to listen to for a long time. 
  • Darwin Today: Interesting site with announcements to events connected to Darwin and his ideas. Updated regularly to stay current, this site also contains a few simulation flash games that deal with ideas in biology. Think you could be a successful wild plant? Go try it.
  • Teachers’ Domain resources about Charles Darwin: You must register with Teachers’ Domain in order to download materials, but it’s absolutely free. Produced by WGBH and sponsored by the National Science Foundation, this site has lesson plans, videos and slide show presentations that are all suited for the classroom. Bookmark this site and I promise it will reward you well on many topics, not just Darwin.
  • Evolution vs. Creationism: Is Evolution Just a Theory? There are plenty of YouTube videos that deal with the “controversy” between evolution and creationism. The truth is that there is no controversy and evolution is what the average non-scientist would call a “fact” or a “law”. This video should help clear things up a little as it is a critical discussion distinguishing how language can be used to both illuminate and/or obfuscate a position. My favorite part is when Dr. Eugenie C. Scott breaks down the scientific meaning of a “theory” by explaining that, “theories are the most important things in science … Theory to a scientist means explanation. And these are logical constructs of facts, of tested hypothesis, of laws, of all kinds of stuff that taken together and put in a logical descriptive fashion, help us understand some kind of natural phenomenon.” Got that? Good.

               I’m sure there are plenty of other great sites out there celebrating Charles Darwin, but I can’t list them all. Let me know if you find anything out there. Thank you for stopping by and I hope you find something worthwhile.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved

A return to Sunday posts; old habits and planning

               I haven’t found my groove yet this year with my writing schedule. Since September, I’ve only managed eight posts, including this one. Last year around this time, I was writing at least one post a week, usually on Sundays, with a mid week post happening about twice a month. I don’t know why this is, except to say that I have been less organized about gathering the things I see and learn about, to pass along to you, the readers.

               It’s easy enough for me to just float along and absorb tons of information, assuming that everyone is also seeing the same things I’m seeing. But the reality is that the way we consume popular entertainment and information today is very fractured and segmented, when compared to the media landscape of just thirty years ago. When I was in high school, MTV and HBO, for example, were still marginal cable television outlets, and there was no such thing as Discovery, History or the National Geographic  channels. Of course, the Internet was not anything like it is today either, though it did exist.

               What I am trying to say, is that it seems to me that in the past we could assume that people you knew and came in contact with were watching most of the same things you were watching on television, and hearing mostly the same things you were listening to on radio. Our media selection was much more limited in the past, and we therefore, had more in common with each other because there was only so much difference available.

               Nowadays, we have so many more options available for entertaining and educating ourselves, that many people see this as the golden age for the media consumer – free to pick what he/she wants to watch, whenever and wherever he/she wants to watch it. Personally, I only have basic cable and a fast Internet connection at home, which gives me access to about 70 channels and the world wide web. That’s enough variety to make my head spin, and it’s why I haven’t been writing regularly.

               There is so much content available, that I can’t keep up with everything that I’m seeing and learning. Furthermore, I pass along so much of this information to my colleagues and students verbally, that I overlook (or procrastinate) writing it down. Still, I have promised myself to become more focused and organized in the future, and I hope to start posting regularly on Sundays again.

               Here then, are some of the things that I’ve been watching and/or reading, and that I’d like to pass along:

That’s just a bit of what’s kept me busy. I’ll share more next Sunday. I promise. Thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved