09.12.2016

“You can’t do outreach on evolution and climate change here. Those topics are too hot to handle.” That’s what I heard over and over again when I started organizing a Science Booster Club in Iowa City last year. My goal—to provide a way for communities to promote science education and support their local science teachers—seemed uncontroversial.

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09.09.2016

The NCSE blog launched just over three years ago, on August 19, 2013. Since then, there have been 1,210 posts, or just about exactly one per day.

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In part 1, I relayed a story of the common carp. Long ago, the carp was domesticated by monks to have fewer, patchy scales, making the fish easier to prepare and eat.

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Original woodcut illustration for The Just So story 'The Elephant's Child' by Rudyard Kipling via Wikimedia Commons

I have to admit that I haven’t read anything, ever, by Tom Wolfe, whose new book The Kingdom of Speech (2016) apparently tries, in the words of the headline to Jerry Coyne’s review for the Washington Post, “to take down Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky.” And, after reading a few critical reviews of The Kingdom of Speech, I’m not feeling inclined to start reading his work; it hardly sounds like the right stuff. But a passage quoted from the book by a reviewer caught my attention:

Kipling’s intention from the outset was to entertain children. Darwin’s intention, on the other hand, was dead serious and absolutely sincere in the name of science and his cosmogony. Neither had any evidence to back up his tale. Kipling, of course, never pretended to. But Darwin did. The first person to refer to Darwin’s tales as Just So Stories was a Harvard paleontologist and evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould, in 1978. Orthodox neo-Darwinists never forgave him. Gould was not a heretic and not even an apostate. He was a simple profane sinner. He had called attention to the fact that Darwin’s Just So Stories required a feat of fiction writing Kipling couldn’t compete with.

The allusion to Kipling is, of course, to his collection Just-So Stories (1902), which began as bedtime stories told to his first-born child Josephine (who died at the early age of six). As the Kipling expert Daniel Karlin explains, “These are stories of origins: ‘How the Whale got his Throat’, ‘How the Camel got his Hump’, ‘How the Rhinoceros got his Skin’—stories that answer the kinds of question children ask, in ways that satisfy their taste for primitive and poetic justice.”

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I thought that I was doing my best to stay on top of evolution-related news, but now I fear that I’ve grown lazy, and for that I blame Ed Yong. Yong is a tremendously talented writer who, I can only assume based on his output, has somehow genetically engineered himself to require no sleep. We highlight his work every week in What We’re Reading posts, and I have come to rely on him to tell me what’s happening in the world of evolution research.

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