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Appreciating evolution on Darwin's 200th birthday

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Geplaatst op 12 februari 2009 - 12:05

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Today marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, and later this year will see the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. Scientists have a reputation as being a bit unsentimental, but we do have a habit of marking major intellectual milestones; 2005 was the Year of Physics, celebrating Einstein's anno mirabilis, and this year is also notable as the Year of Astronomy in recognition of work by Galileo and Kepler. Still, the celebration of Darwin seems to focus on the man himself as much as the theory he produced, in part because he seems to have accomplished what every scientist wishes they could do. He made insightful observations in locations from remote islands to his own back yard, integrated them with information from everyone from Thomas Malthus to pigeon breeders, and produced a theory that was argued in such compelling terms, that the Origin was widely read by the public. All that, and he appeared to remain a generous and humble person, by all accounts.

So, pretty much the entire scientific community—the AAAS, the National Academies of Science, Nature Publishing, the UK's Wellcome Trust—is celebrating Darwin this year. But it's difficult not to sense a bit of a need to defend Darwin to the public, as well. Even though his initial proposal has evolved and expanded to form the foundation of modern biology, the news hasn't seemed to reach many of those outside the scientific community, as evolution is widely mistrusted, both in the US and abroad. In light of this, we're going to join with Nature in reviewing some of the most compelling new research, which not only supports the general outlines of the theory, but shows what a vibrant area of science it remains.

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