Letters to Darwin from the future.
Students, using information gained since 1859, write letters to
Charles Darwin critiquing passages from the first edition of On the
Origin of Species.
Key Words: Letters to Darwin; origin of species; correspondence; nature of science; secondary education.
Communication in science (Educational aspects)
|Author:||Walsh, Joseph A.|
|Publication:||Name: The American Biology Teacher Publisher: National Association of Biology Teachers Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences; Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 National Association of Biology Teachers ISSN: 0002-7685|
|Issue:||Date: Feb, 2012 Source Volume: 74 Source Issue: 2|
|Topic:||NamedWork: On the Origin of the Species (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Named Person: Darwin, Charles|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
If your biology students could write a letter to Charles Darwin,
how would they critique the 1859 edition of On the Origin of Species?
Darwin had extensive correspondence throughout his lifetime, seeking
specimens, testing ideas, and maintaining his morale. In fact, newly
discovered Darwin personal correspondence turns up every year, adding to
the 18 volumes already published (Burkhardt & Secord, 2010). An
interesting class exercise is to have students imaginatively add to this
correspondence. They can select passages from the 1859 first edition of
On the Origin of Species and act as a correspondent with Darwin to
clarify some of the ideas in the passages. Table 1 lists passages in
which Darwin was observing facets of nature without the information that
was discovered since 1859. The left-hand column identifies the pages
containing the passages that deserve comment, and the right-hand column
identifies some of the people responsible for discovering or
popularizing the new information. In 1859, Darwin was operating without
knowledge of continental drift, transitional fossils, chromosomes,
genes, DNA, mutations, and molecular biology. Darwin had some famous
misunderstandings due to the gaps in scientific knowledge in his time,
for example his mechanism of inheritance via gemmules (Darwin, 1871),
but Table 1 lists only content in the first edition of On the Origin of
Species (Costa, 2009). Students can adopt the personage and time frame
of the scientists in the right-hand column and draft a letter to Darwin,
from the future, explaining the new discoveries to him. The student
correspondents can compare knowledge at the time of their writing to
Darwin's 1859 text and suggest modifications to the text. This
exercise shows the tentative and self-correcting nature of science, and
the benefit of collaboration and communication in advancing ideas.
Alvarez, L.W., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F. & Michel, H.V. (1980). Extraterrestrial cause for the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. Science, 208, 1095-1108.
Burchfield, J. (1974). Darwin and the dilemmas of geological time. Isis, 65, 300-321.
Burkhardt, F. & Secord, J.A., Eds. (2010). The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18: 1870. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Costa, J.T. (2009). The Annotated Origin: A Facsimile of the First Edition of On the Origin of Species. Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard.
Coyne, J.A. (2009). Why Evolution Is True. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
Darwin, C.R. (1871). Pangenesis. Nature,3, 502-503. Facsimile online at http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1871_pangenesis_F1751.pdf.
Dawkins, R. (1989). The Selfish Gene, 2r,n Ed. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
Dawkins, R. (2009). The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. New York, NY: Free Press.
Herdendorf, C.E. (1990). Great Lakes estuaries. Estuaries, 13, 493-503.
Jameson, R., Ed. (1839). The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, vol. 27, pp. 383-390. Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black. Facsimile online at http://books.google.com/books?id=zRgXAAAAYAAJ&printsec=front cover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Lawton, G. (2009). Axing Darwin's tree. New Scientist, 201, 34-39.
Lyon, M.F. (1961). Gene action in the X-chromosome of the mouse (Mus musculus L.). Nature, 190, 372-373.
Mendel, G. (1865). Experiments in Plant Hybridization. Read at the February 8th, and March 8th, 1865, meetings of the Brunn Natural History Society. 1901 Bateson translation online at http://www.esp.org/foundations/ genetics/classical/gm-65.pdf.
Monk, M. & Grant, M. (1990). Preferential X-chromosome inactivation, DNA methylation and imprinting. Development (Supplement), 55-62.
Morgan, T. (1911). Random segregation versus coupling in Mendelian inheritance. Science, 34, 384.
Newport, F. (2009). On Darwin's birthday, only 4 in 10 believe in evolution. Available at http://www.gallup.com/poll/114544/darwin-birthdaybelieve-evolution.aspx.
Perry, S.F., Wilson, R.J.A., Straus, C., Harris, M.B. & Remmers, J.E. (2001). Which came first, the lung or the breath? Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A, 129, 37-47.
Thewissen, J.G.M., Williams, E.M., Roe, L.J. & Hussain, S.T. (2001). Skeletons of terrestrial cetaceans and the relationship of whales to artiodactyls. Nature, 413, 277-281.
Vila, C., Savolainen, P., Maldonado, J.E., Amorim, I.R., Rice, J.E., Honeycutt, R.L. & others. (1997). Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science, 276, 1687-1689.
Walsh, J.A. (2008). Evolution & the Cesarean Section Rate. American Biology Teacher, 70, 401-404.
Way, M.J. (1963). Mutualism between ants and honeydew-producing Homoptera. Annual Review of Entomology, 8, 307-344.
Wegener, A. (1968). The Origin of Continents and Oceans. [Translated from the fourth revised German edition by John Biram.] London: Methuen.
Weismann, A. (1889). Essays upon Heredity, vols. 1 and 2 (pp. 431-433). Oxford at the Clarendon Press. Facsimile online at http://www.esp.org/ books/weismann/essays/facsimile/.
Williams, G. (1957). Pleiotropy, natural selection, and the evolution of senescence. Evolution, 11, 398-411.
Wilson, J. (1963). Hypothesis on the Earth's behaviour. Nature, 198, 849-865.
JOSEPH A. WALSH is Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Connecticut Health Center, 27 Maple Ridge Dr., Farmington, CT 06032; e-mail: jwalsh@ up.uchc.edu.
Table 1. What Darwin didn't know. On the Origin of Species (1st edition, 1859) Discoveries since 1859 Pages 17 and 254: all dogs not All dogs from gray wolf by genetic descended from any one wild analysis (Vila, 1997) species Page 86: "natural selection will Antagonistic pleiotropy model ensure that modifications states that a trait that is consequent on other modifications detrimental late in life may still at a different period of life be selected for if it enhances shall not be in the least degree reproductive fitness early in life injurious." (Williams, 1957) Page 87: short-face tumbler pigeon Bull dogs are bred with phenotypic bred so that fanciers must assist features that require cesarean in the act of hatching section for birth, and lack of selection against a small human pelvis or a large newborn head may have similar effects in humans (Walsh, 2008) Page 144: "What can be more Phenotypic traits can be linked singular than the relation between due to proximity on same blue eyes and deafness in cats, chromosome (Morgan, 1911); and X and the tortoise shell color with inactivation and mosaic phenotypic the female sex ..." effects for X-linked genes (Lyon, 1961) Page 134: inheritance of acquired Separation of soma from germ line characteristics (but admits on cells prevents inheritance of page 135 that mutilations are not acquired somatic characteristics; inherited) experiment on cutting off mouse tails (Weismann, 1889) Page 184: From observations of Whales most related to explorer Samuel Hearne in Canada, artiodactyls (Thewissen et al., Darwin could see how a bear 2001) ancestor could have evolved into a whale Pages 190 and 452: swim bladder, Dorsal swim bladder and ventral an organ of flotation, was then lungs not strictly homologous, adapted for respiration as lung with complicated evolutionary ties (Perry et al., 2001) Page 210: the mutualism of ants Aphids provide honeydew, ants and aphids due to ants offering supply protection (Way, 1963) cleaning service by removing honeydew from the aphids Page 237: selection for sterile Haplodiploidy and kin selection workers in bees due to family are the sources of apparent level selection altruism and selection for sterile castes (Dawkins, 1989) Page 273: First cross causes Particulate nature of inheritance decreased variation in offspring, with F1 heterozygosity and and then increased variation with dominance causing decreased succeeding generations phenotypic variability in F1, which then increases in second and succeeding generations (Mendel, 1865) Page 275: The offspring of a male Parent sex specific phenotypic horse and a female donkey (a effects can be due to differential hinny) looks different than the X chromosome inactivation or offspring of a male donkey and a genomic imprinting (Monk & Grant, female horse (a mule) due to 1990) prepotency Page 287: reasoning from Historical explanations for age of denudation of the Weald gives 300 Earth explored, includ- ing million years time from latter Kelvin's 1862 estimate of 93 Secondary million years based on heat dissipation from Earth, and current ideas (Burchfield, 1974) Pages 287 and 309: Darwin accepts Isostatic postglacial rebound can Lyell's proposal that land masses cause land to oscillate oscillate vertically, causing vertically, mechanism plausible cycles of flooding and water when plate tectonics theory retreat accepted in mid-20th century. Darwin accepted Agassiz's theory from 1839 of ice age glaciations (Herdendorf, 1990) Page 321: "... apparently sudden Impact extinctions mean there are extermination of whole families or examples of catastrophism instead orders, as of Trilobites at the of absolute gradualism (Alvarez et close of the palaeozoic and of al., 1980) Ammonites at the close of the secondary period ..." Page 357: dispersion over water The Theory of Continents and was the key in distribution of Oceans, first published in German flora and fauna throughout the in 1915, outlined continental continents, as continents were not drift, which in essence created united "within the recent period." the land bridges to which Darwin was opposed (Wegener, 1968), and plate tectonics provides the complete modern theory (Dawkins, 2009) Page 310: "The several Fossil evidence for transitional difficulties here discussed, forms for fish-amphibians namely our not finding in the (including Tiktalik 2004), successive formations infinitely reptile-bird (including numerous transitional links ..." Archaeopteryx 1860, and recent Chinese fossils), artiodactyls-cetaceans, and hominins (Coyne, 2009) Page 480: "Nature may be said to Even today there is resistance to have taken pains to reveal ... her accepting the fact of adaptive scheme of modification, which it evolution by natural selection, seems that we willfully will not such that only 40% of people in understand." the United States believe that evolution is a fact (Newport, 2009) Page 484: "... probably all the The base of Darwin's tree of life organic beings which have ever probably looks more like a web lived on this earth have descended than a linear branching stem from some one primordial form ..." because of horizontal gene transfer (Lawton, 2009), but given the near universality of the genetic code there probably was just one instance of the origin of life (Dawkins, 2009)
|Gale Copyright:||Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.|