Wild times for NCSE’s Science Booster Clubs! In just the last ten days we’ve interacted with about a thousand people at various events. In my last blog post I wrote about how I planned to bring evolution into the conversation while teaching about the natural world. As our organization is invited to more and increasingly diverse events, it’s been fun to figure out how to bring evolution—and climate change—into all kinds of conversations.
It’s a trilobite, sure; who didn’t know that it was a trilobite? But congratulations to Dan Coleman for identifying the genus: Flexicalymene.
Today I got to do two of my favorite things: think about how people learn science and walk in the woods. I was walking in the woods with a purpose, checking out the location for an upcoming Science Booster Club nature hike. These community nature hikes have been surprisingly popular; we’ve beat our expected turnout every time. At first we had experienced botanists lead these hikes and give more or less walking lectures, but now our crowds have become too big for this treatment. I was testing the trail for a group that had fifty families attend their last group nature hike.
The big blue Institute for Creation Research logo at the top of the page stood out from all the other colorless, bland papers and letters. What the dickens was Duane Gish, ICR debater extraordinaire, writing about to Jack Friedman (right), NCSE board member and chair of the New York Council for Evolution Education? I didn’t expect to find correspondence between these two opponents in the Friedman Archives at NCSE.
In part 1, I told you that Scott O’Neill wanted to know whether infecting Aedes aegypti mosquitos with a commensal bacteria called Wolbachia would make them resistant to the dengue virus, which they spread to tens of millions of people every year. So he and his team set out to infect A. aegypti, which don’t normally carry Wolbachia, with strains of the bacteria harvested from fruit flies. (Bear in mind that this requires getting the bacteria into the mosquitos’ abdomens without killing the mosquito. They call the technique microinjection, but that doesn’t really convey how ridiculously difficult it is.) Finally, they got it to work. And what happened? Well, it turned out that A. aegypti carrying Wolbachia are resistant to infection with dengue viruses. The mosquitos don’t live as long, and the virus doesn’t grow very well, so they carry fewer of them. When you put those two things together, the likelihood that a mosquito will pick up a dengue virus while feeding on an infected human and then transmit it to another person is doubly reduced. Introducing Wolbachia into wild mosquito populations should drastically reduce, or even eliminate, the transmission of dengue virus.
Still under discussion is the origin of the claim that “we may well suppose” occurs eight hundred times in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. As noted in part 1, the claim seems to have originated with “Evolutionism in the Pulpit,” by the pseudonymous “An Occupant of the Pew,” originally published in the November 22, 1911, issue of the Herald and Presbyter and subsequently republished in The Fundamentals. David N. Livingstone, in his Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders (1987), suggests that the Occupant may have been Frank (or Frank Emmet, or F. E.) Allen (1884–1977), the author of Evolution in the Balances (1926). But, as I argued in part 2, the identification seems dubious: Allen was a minister, while the Occupant was supposed to be a member of the laity; there’s no apparent reason that Allen wouldn’t have taken credit for the essay; the Occupant’s prose is overwrought, flowery, and allusive while Allen’s prose is generally straightforward and uncomplicated; and while the Occupant labors the idea that evolution is a theory in crisis and abuses the usual quotations to show so, Allen avoids the idea and is reasonably responsible in his use of quotations. Who, then, was the Occupant? Two observations might provide a clue.
My favorite place to be is outdoors, and I mean that in a purposefully vague way. Whether I’m by the beach, hiking, or canoeing through alligator-laden swamps, I’m by far the happiest and most in my element. Heck, the reason I got into the field of climate education was because of how much I love the outdoors. Naturally, one of my favorite days every year is Earth Day—the one day when the rest of the world hops the nature nerd train and comes together to make the world a better, more sustainable place.
Last week, in What We’re Reading, I recommended a recent Carl Zimmer article in The New York Times, "Bacteria-Infected Mosquitoes Could Slow Spread of Zika Virus". The article drew my eye because it described a new application of the research of Scott O’Neill, researcher and Dean of the Faculty of Science at Monash University in Melbourne. I heard O’Neill speak a few years ago and his talk was so clear, so riveting, and frankly, so inspiring, that I remember it vividly. Also—it had the coolest graphics! O’Neill’s story was so compelling that I’m not surprised other researchers have picked up the idea and are putting it to use in a new context, as Zimmer’s piece explains. What was so good about O’Neill’s talk?