In 1939, the great African American physician and surgeon Charles Drew organized a massive blood bank, shipping thousands of pints of plasma from New York City to Britain. The shipment saved lives as German bombs shredded English cities. The Red Cross soon brought Drew on board to coordinate its blood banking efforts, a necessary step as World War II expanded through Europe, the Pacific, and to American shores.

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Astronauts surveying the geology of the Grand CanyonAstronaut Roger Chaffee and geologist Elbert King explore the Grand Canyon, March 5-6 1967.
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07.22.2015

Adrian Duplantier. Photo via United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana.

Prompted by his unlikely appearance, bragging of his youthful exploits eating oysters, in Jason Fagone’s Horsemen of the Esophagus (2006), a book on competitive eating that I happened to be reading, I’m discussing Adrian Duplantier (1929–2007), in particular his role in the legal history of the creationism/evolution conflict. (I’m not really all that interested in competitive eating, after all, although I recommend Fagone’s book.) As explained in part 1, Duplantier was the district court judge who oversaw Aguillard et al. v. Treen et al., the case that eventually produced Edwards et al. v. Aguillard et al., the 1987 Supreme Court case that established the unconstitutionality of teaching creationism in the public schools. At issue in the case was the constitutionality of Louisiana’s Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act, enacted in 1981. But, as it turns out, there was a competing lawsuit, which delayed—and indeed threatened to derail—Aguillard v. Treen.

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07.15.2015

Adrian Duplantier. Photo via United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana.

The history of the creationism/evolution conflict is stalking me again, and in the unlikeliest contexts. I was recently reading Jason Fagone’s Horsemen of the Esophagus (2006), a book about competitive eating that I acquired on a whim from a used book store in Clovis, California. In a chapter entitled “The Gurgitator Islands”—“gurgitator” is the trademarked term for competitive eaters preferred by the International Federation of Competitive Eating—Fagone relates his visit in March 2005 to Metairie, Louisiana, to attend the Acme World Oyster Eating Championship. While there, he encountered a seventy-eight-year-old federal judge who proudly displayed a plaque commemorating a feat from his younger days: eating forty-one oysters in a minute. “If they gave me two minutes, I think I could eat my age,” he bragged: that would be thirty-nine oysters in a minute. (That’s nothing: the current record for the event is apparently forty-seven dozen oysters in eight minutes, averaging to 70.5 oysters per minute.)

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07.08.2015

Philip Loeb in The Garrick Gaieties, via NYPL Digital Collections

I return at last to “And Thereby Hangs a Tail,” a sketch based on the Scopes trial that appeared in The Garrick Gaieties, a revue that originally ran in 1925. (There were sequels of the same name in 1926 and in 1930.) The lyrics in the sketch are by Lorenz Hart (1895–1943), while the libretto is by Morris Ryskind (1895–1985) and the revue’s director Philip Loeb (1891–1955). The sketch takes place in a courtroom in the jungle, where “[t]he defendant, Abbadaba Darwin, is charged with spreading the pernicious doctrine of evolution, which teaches that that stupid animal, man, is our grandchild.” William Jennings Bryan, played by Loeb (see above), is serving as the prosecutor. After he enters, singing a song praising his importance and betraying his avarice, he examines the defendant. Deciding, after a perfunctory questioning, that the defendant is unquestionably guilty as charged, Bryan turns to orate to the jury, composed of monkeys, about his respect and admiration for their kind.

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One of the joys of working at NCSE is the chance to explore and explain cool science to interested members of the public. Such a chance happened recently when I got a note asking why the Neanderthals went extinct.

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In part 1, I was describing how Kanawha County, West Virginia, almost anticipated Dover, Pennsylvania, in provoking the first legal case over the constitutionality of teaching “intelligent design” in the public schools. After a proposed equal-time-for-creation-science policy was unsuccessful in 1999, local Kanawha creationists regrouped with a campaign to press for the purchase of copies of the creationist textbook Of Pandas and People. NCSE was asked to inform the school district about what was wrong with the textbook, and complied, with Molleen Matsumura sending a superb detailed letter and plenty of supporting information to the superintendent of schools. What was the upshot?

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I’ve been volunteering in the NCSE archives since I retired, and it’s been a lot of fun rummaging through old files. I came across one this week that brought me up short, because its contents suggested the possibility that the 2005 “intelligent design” trial, Kitzmiller v. Dover, could have played out five years earlier, in West Virginia.

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07.01.2015

Philip Loeb in The Garrick Gaieties, via NYPL Digital Collections

I’m in the middle of discussing “And Thereby Hangs a Tail”—a sketch based on the Scopes trial that appeared in The Garrick Gaieties, a revue that originally ran in 1925. The lyrics in the sketch are by Lorenz Hart (1895–1943), and can be found in The Complete Lyrics of Lorenz Hart (expanded edition, 1995), while the libretto is by Morris Ryskind (1895–1985) and the revue’s director Philip Loeb (1891–1955), and can be found only in the Scherer Library of Musical Theatre at Goodspeed Musicals, the staff of which courteously and efficiently provided me with a photocopy. The sketch takes place in a courtroom in the jungle, where “[t]he defendant, Abbadaba Darwin, is charged with spreading the pernicious doctrine of evolution, which teaches that that stupid animal, man, is our grandchild.” The characters are wearing monkey masks. When part 1 concluded, the prosecutor, William Jennings Bryan, was waiting for the psychological moment to make his entrance to the courtroom.

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06.24.2015

Cover of Garrick Gaieties souvenir program, via NYPL Digital Collections

In part 1 of “Inherit the Wind Avant la Lettre?” I raised a question. Noting that Inherit the Wind—Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s 1955 Broadway play; Stanley Kramer’s 1960 film; and the three television adaptations (1975, 1988, and 1999)—was such a hit, I asked, “[I]f the Scopes trial was so dramatic … why did it take thirty years for someone to write a play based on it?” The remainder of the post and the two following posts (part 2; part 3) were devoted to investigating the claim, to be found in The New York Times for January 2, 1927, that Majomszínház, a 1925 play by the Hungarian novelist Ferenc Herczeg (1863–1954), was the first play to be based on the trial. (The Times was interested because a translation of the play, Monkey Business, was about to begin rehearsals in New York City. In the event, it seems never to have been produced.) I concluded, “Majomszínház was not based on the Scopes trial. … But I suppose that a theatrical publicist can’t be expected to worry about the accuracy of details when a headline is in the offing!”

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