It Takes A Village To Boycott A Pop Science Book

“…Life [the book] is not the right target [for boycott], or perhaps is just an easy one. It demands much more courage, and by the entire scientific community, to individually and collectively go after the unquestionable adversaries of reason. Those who see facts and fiction indistinguishable, the ideologues and financiers of both the religion-in-science and the anti science movements…”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

If scientists wish to boycott a book, religious scriptures could be their priority. The holy books are the foundation of the anti-evolution movement worldwide; the anti climate change rhetoric over the belief that a Protector will shield his disciples from human-induced global pollution; the source of pray healing and its conjoined meme that vaccines are heinous; the primeval justification to bigotryhomophobia and misogyny; the validation of both intolerance to any action that is perceived as offensive –above all, freedom of speech– and the crusade to secure society’s protection of the intolerant him/herself.

It Takes A Village To Boycott A Science Book - Cover LifeIn such broad anti science and anti intellectualism contexts, John Brockman has edited yet another volume about science and technology for popular consumption, Life: The Leading Edge of Evolutionary Biology, Genetics, Anthropology, and Environmental Science (2016). I have read this multi-author compilation with special attention, since, upon its release, biologists active in the social media became disappointed with Brockman (and, by default, with the co-writers) for not featuring women authors. And this was legitimate criticism. If Brockman and associates wanted to educate the public about current trends in the biological sciences, they must stop ignoring the diversities of peoples contributing to this global enterprise.

But, of course, I did not agree with the subsequent call to boycott Life, without even reading it, and the deploy of bee-workers and drones to sabotage the purchasing of the work. Boycotting books can be dangerous. It always reminds me of the “burnings of knowledge” by the Nazis, prior to and during World War II, and comparable atrocities led by the Latin American dictators in Argentina and Chile, in the 1970s-80s. I learned of the former by precisely reading about it in my father’s book collection on international affairs (which included Churchill’s The Second World War, and even Hitler’s sickening My Struggle), and of the latter while in high school by following the news of La Guerra Sucia (The Dirty War, term coined a posteriori in the United States) that targeted the creativity of university professors, novelists, musicians and poets. Their books and records flamed, their voices and bodies vanished.

“…Researchers ought to be aware of the popular science-, pseudo-science-, and anti-science books that distress or seem insulting to the public. And, for modern biologists, the list includes the deceptive writings of the intelligent design movement…”

Researchers ought to be aware of the popular science-, pseudo-science-, and anti-science books that distress or seem insulting to the public. And, for modern biologists, the list includes the deceptive writings of the intelligent design (ID) movement and its Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed (2016), Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (2016), Debating Darwin’s Doubt: A Scientific Controversy That Can No Longer Be Denied (2015), Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (2013), Science and Human Origins (2012), The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science (2011), God and Evolution (2010), Intelligent Design Uncensored: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy (2010), Signature in the Cell (2009), Intelligent Design 101 (2008), Dissent Over Descent: Intelligent Design Challenge to Darwinism (2008), Understanding Intelligent Design (2008), The Cell’s Design (2008), The Design of Life (2008), Explore Evolution: The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism (2007), The Edge of Evolution (2007), Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (1999), Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (1996), and the villainous Of Pandas And People (1989), the foremost impostor exposed –and debunked– at the Kitzmiller versus Dover Area School District trial of 2005.

To Survive Darwinism ID had to evolve

Yes, I have these narratives of pseudo truths and quasi creeds, acquired over the years via used-books sellers –precisely to minimize supporting publishers of noxious fables (a micro sabotage of my own, one that does not discourage anyone to learn about ID). But I also possess the Holy Bible, the Qur’an, the Tanakh and The History of Western Philosophy of Religion (an academic series by Oxford UP, 2009), which I consider my duty to read as a secular scientist, and become aware of the idealistic beauty, historicity, obvious rooting in unreality, and evil, injurious teachings of religion.

Of Pandas And People - The Language of GodNext to the ID bestsellers stand the pro-religion-in-science counterparts. Also sponsored by writers with doctoral degrees and in positions of power, committed to force-marriage evolution with the belief in supernatural causation, to see the fingerprints of God in DNA and molecular processes, to satisfy the populous’ hope to find the Maker, Designer, or Creator in the gaps of knowledge. Francis CollinsThe Language of God (2006), Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith (2010), and The Language of Science and Faith (2011, coauthored with fellow evangelical Christian Karl Giberson) are iconic examples. Yet, none of these books deserves boycott despite their collective effect on disrupting, distorting, delaying or stopping the proper understanding and acceptance of evidence. But they do justify vigorous disapproval by scholars, who should uncover the capricious science emptiness of “evolutionary creation.”

“…Brockman’s edition of Life, despite its disgraceful exclusion of gender and cultural varieties among co-writers, is scientifically above –and by far– the ID’s pamphlets or the languages-[of God]-sequels’ by theistic evolutionists…”

John Brockman’s edition of Life, despite its disgraceful exclusion of gender and cultural varieties among co-writers, is scientifically above –and by far– the ID’s pamphlets or the “language-sequels” by theistic evolutionists. Life could be listed among the 100 required reads for graduate students in biology, and perhaps recommended to science majors in college, of course, with the warning that the contributors –busy reflecting about themselves– discounted Homo diversity as a crucial input in “the leading edge of evolutionary biology, genetics, anthropology, and environmental science.”

Life is “…the fifth volume in The Best of Edge series [edge.org], following Mind, Culture, Thinking, and The Universe…” As a collection of essays, interviews, transcripts of panel discussions, and biographical sketches of scientists and pop-science celebrities, the book is exciting, rich in brainy remarks and first-hand information. Eighteen pieces (from 2000 to 2015) summarize the major trends in science debates, applied DNA technologies, and bioengineering of the twentieth and twenty first centuries –the latter, superficially.

The_Selfish_GeneRichard Dawkins opens with Evolvability (2015), in part a recount of gene-centric evolution in the scenario in which The Selfish Gene (1976) was crafted, and the resulting discussions over replicators (genes), as units of selection, versus “vehicles” (the carriers of genes, our bodies). His classical analysis expands to “universal Darwinism” and the high probability that Darwinian selection of replicator-like molecules shall be a ubiquitous cosmic phenomenon if life exists beyond Earth.

The Dawkinsian argument, in elegant text, is followed by David Haig’s Genomic Imprinting (2002), Robert Trivers’ A Full-Force Storm with Gale Winds Blowing (2004), Ernst Mayr’s What Evolution Is (2001), Steve Jones’ Genetics Plus Time (2000), Edward O. Wilson’s A United Biology (2003), and Freeman Dyson’s Is Life Analog or Digital? (2001). Thus, Life relies on attractive topics, as well as familiar names in the pop-science arena, to lure readers.

“…Pages and reading hours elapse quickly… Soon, I find myself immersed in the book, joyful for learning material that I have missed… furious by the… broadcasting of long-ago-dismissed science concepts; but overall satisfied to have liked a book which I approached with so much skepticism…”

Pages and reading hours elapse quickly and Brockman succeeds at grabbing one’s attention. Soon, I find myself immersed in the book, joyful at times for learning material that I have missed over the years; disturbed occasionally when sensing plain egomania in the XY-only writers, who turn their texts into self-grooming bouts and testosterone excretion (an exception, not the only one, is Trivers’ auto-deprecating recollections, which are humorous and brilliant); furious by the redundant broadcasting of long-ago-dismissed science concepts; but overall satisfied to have liked a book which I approached with so much skepticism.

Chapter 8 (Life: What a Concept!) is the longest, with one hundred pages, and most captivating. It transcribes a panel discussion (2007) among Dyson, J. Craig Venter, George Church, Dimitar Sasselov, Seth Lloyd, Robert Shapiro, Ting Wu (not included in the list of authors), and moderator Brockman.

As introduction to the dialogue, Dyson, a theoretical physicist, discusses the garbage-bag-model of life. The origin of life, he explains, probably started with metabolism only. “…We know modern life has both metabolism and replication, but they’re carried out by separate groups of molecules. Metabolism… by proteins and all kinds of small molecules, and replication… by DNA and RNA. That may be a clue to the fact that [these processes] started out separate, rather than together… The early cells were just little bags of some kind of cell membrane, which might have been oily or… a metal oxide. And, inside, you had a more-or-less random collection of organic molecules, with the characteristic that small molecules could diffuse in through the membrane, but big molecules could not diffuse out. By converting small molecules into big molecules, you could concentrate the organic contents on the inside, thus the cells would become more concentrated and the chemistry would gradually become more efficient. So, these things could evolve without any kind of replication. It’s a simple statistical inheritance. When a cell became so big that it got cut in half, or shaken in half by some rainstorm or environmental disturbance, it would then produce two cells, which would be its daughters and would inherit, more or less, but only statistically, the chemical machinery inside. Evolution could work under those conditions.”

Columbia Glacier Landsat Satellite NASA 2014

Freeman Dyson: “…We know modern life has both metabolism and replication, but they’re carried out by separate groups of molecules. Metabolism… by proteins and all kinds of small molecules, and replication… by DNA and RNA. That may be a clue to the fact that [these processes] started out separate, rather than together…” – Earth, a planet with life, Columbia Glacier Landsat Satellite NASA 2014

“…Dyson’s garbage-bag hypothesis may be garbageous, but despite its teleological nature it is intellectually intriguing…” 

If these statements provoke in you, as bookworm, any of the emotions described earlier (i.e. joy, disturbed, furious, satisfied), your reactions are comparable to those of the panel. Dyson’s garbage-bag hypothesis may be garbageous (i.e. the divide metabolism versus replication is artificial, and relying on heavy statistical randomness diminishes how natural selection operates, or did in the past, in primordial soups), but despite its teleological nature it is intellectually intriguing. Irrespective of the transcript’s dryness, it happens that the sharp cuts, irony, disagreements and rescuing of the discussion by the panelists themselves grow evident while reading the fascinating exchange. And Brockman moderates it with minimal input, except for the sporadic injection of extra fuel to ignite healthy controversy.

The second half of the book proceeds with a one-on-one chat between Dawkins and Venter, refereed by Brockman, in The Gene-Centric View: A Conversation (2008), followed by Armand Marie Leroi’s The Nature of Normal Human Variety (2005), Daniel Lieberman’s Brains Plus Brawn (2012), Svante Pääbo’s Mapping the Neanderthal Genome (2009), and a transcript of On Biocomputation (2005), a TED event (Technology, Entertainment, Design) featuring Venter, Ray Kurzweil and Rodney Brooks.

Life closes with pieces by Drew Endy, on Engineering Biology (2008), Kary Mullis’ Eat Me Before I Eat You: A New Foe for Bad Bugs (2010), Richard Prum’s Duck Sex and Aesthetic Evolution (2014), Robert Sapolsky’s Toxo (2009), and Stuart Kauffman’s The Adjacent Possible (2003). All mix personal experiences with the authors’ making and living the developments of their own fields.

“…The lay reader might simply take pleasure in the journalistic ride and claim proficiency in pop-science culture at the end of the journey…”

Three out of five stars - Life edited by John Brockman 2016Titles like Life sell fine. The scientist reader can locate in the book historical relevance and depth if he/she looks for and wants to see them. The lay reader might simply take pleasure in the journalistic ride and claim proficiency in pop-science culture at the end of the journey. The spot-the-error copy editor will never forget, nor forgive, that the cover of Life lists “Matt Ridley” as contributor, a science personality nowhere else to be found (at least in the copy I have –see image above), a regrettable carelessness in book production. Plus, there is no leading edge in the compilation of articles, the average publication date (2006) is ten years too old.

It may take a village to boycott a pop science book, but Life is not the right target, or perhaps is just an easy one. It demands much more courage, and by the entire scientific community, to individually and collectively go after the unquestionable adversaries of reason. Those who see facts and fiction indistinguishable, the ideologues and financiers of both the religion-in-science and the anti science movements. — EvoLiteracy © 2016.

Cartoon by Rina Piccolo Book-burning Club

Book-burning Club, cartoon by Rina Piccolo (click on image to enlarge)

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

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D - Headline Book Measuring the Evolution Controversy 2016

Paz-y-Miño-C, G & Espinosa, A. 2016. Measuring the Evolution Controversy: A Numerical Analysis of Acceptance of Evolution at America’s Colleges and Universities. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle, United Kingdom. ISBN (10): 1-4438-9042-1, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-9042-7.

BOOK small format - Measuring the Evolution Controversy 2016Measuring the Evolution Controversy can be ordered directly from Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Amazon US, or Amazon CA . The publisher has made available a “VIEW EXTRACT” (in PDF), which includes the first 30-pages of the book: Cover, Table of Contents, Acknowledgments, Preface, Chapter ONE and the beginning of Chapter TWO. For PDF of color illustrations go to Image Resources of Didactic Relevance.

“The great contribution of ‘Measuring the Evolution Controversy’ is the rich content of data and analysis that asks detailed questions about the social, economic and political backgrounds of those who tend to reject evolution vs. those who accept evolution as science. Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa deftly analyze their data drawn from institutions of higher learning in the United States and particularly New England —which stands as a microcosm of the rest of the country, and indeed elsewhere in the world. It is their scientific approach to these issues which makes this book stand out as a uniquely original contribution.” — Niles Eldredge, PhD, Curator Emeritus of Paleontology at The American Museum of Natural History, New York.

“Pro-science activists and educators constantly bemoan the resistance to the teaching of evolution in the United States. All of us have anecdotes about encounters with the public, parents and students who are misinformed by their churches, Religious-Right groups, and creationist organizations. Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa present hard data that support the anecdotal evidence. They also show that although anti-evolutionism typically begins with religion, it is a multi-faceted problem that intersects with political and cultural ideologies. Gathered through careful research over a period of years, their data will enable scientists and defenders of science education to comprehend the roots of the evolution controversy and counteract resistance to evolution more strategically and effectively.”Barbara Forrest, PhD, co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (2007), and expert witness for plaintiffs, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005).

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Paz-y-Mino-C_Book_Cover_Evolution_Stands_Faith_Up_JPEGPaz-y-Miño-C., G. 2013. Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars. NOVA Publishers, New York. By NOVA Publishers, New York Soft Cover. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.comAmazon UK

“The sweet spot of this collection of essays is the interface of science, history and literacy. Paz-y-Miño-C is, in essence, a champion of rationalism and a passionate defender of literacy standards. His essays deftly weave hard survey data and memorable turns of phrase with evocative imagery… While the essays in this collection are vast in coverage —from climate change to energy policy, stem cell research, vaccinations and, especially, evolution— a clear underlying theme emerges: [the author’s] goal is no less than to counter, through the lens of history and the majesty of rationalism, social forces that sanction ignorance, celebrate denial and… continue to diminish our global status in the fields of science and technology.” Jeff Podos, PhD, Professor of Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA.

“Paz-y-Miño-C  is a firm believer in evolutionary processes. He would like to see decisions made on the basis of facts, not unsupported opinion. He abhors and fears irrational thinking, especially ‘the views of those who see evil in truth and menace in the realities discovered by science.’ He marvels at the intricacy and diversity of life, and how it came about through natural selection… and is clearly frustrated by the unwillingness of so many to see the beauty and majesty in this view of the world and all that it explains.” – Jan A. Pechenik, PhD, Professor of Biology, Tufts University, USA, author of The Readable Darwin: The Origin of Species, as Edited for Modern Readers.

World Visitors to EvoLiteracy

EvoLiteracy News 02 17 2016

World Visitors to EVOLUTION LITERACY – Readers from 103 countries visited EvoLiteracy during 2015. Three in every four readers were from the United States. About one in every five visitors were from Brazil, Canada, UK, Germany, India, Ecuador, France, Australia and Spain. And one in every ten cyberworms came from 93 other countries. EvoLiteracy is growing thanks to our world friends and followers. – Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

UPDATE – a supplementary post to this one is available at EvoLiteray January 1, 2017.

World Visitors to Evolution Literacy 2015

There are 190+ countries in the world (member states of the United Nations). EvoLiteracy reaches half of them (52%). The image below includes flags of nations, which total 230+. We still need to reach as many nations as possible. Please share EvoLiteracy with others.

Flags of the World

Flags of 230+ nations in the world. Click on image to enlarge. Source Danilka’s Blog.

Top 25 Most Read Posts of 2015

Here are the most popular postings of 2015. I was glad to discover that the biology science videos made much of an impact, particularly among science educators. I also liked that three crucial postings about higher education (marked with an asterisk * below) were well received. To my surprise (and I thank the readers for liking it), the posting about Ecuador’s Academy of Science was ranked top 10. My personal favorite was Science Challenges Golden Age of Violin Making, and this is because I am fascinated with string instruments (classic guitars, ukuleles, charangos); I learned much while investigating the violin ancestry. But I cannot close without admitting how much pleasure gave me to see our readers liking Evolution Wars Debunk II (ranked 13th, a lucky number). Plus the most commented story was Shroud of Turin, Poor Science, and the Persistence of a Myth, which was reposted in various blogs and generated two weeks of discussions. Thanks to all for supporting EvoLiteracy. – GPC

EvoLiteracy – Biology and Science Videos

Photography – Wildlife – Fossils – Landscapes – Museums – Monuments – Cities

GPC Scientific Publications

Evolution Controversy and the Incompatibility of Science and Religion

5 GPC BioArt

EvoLiteracy News 10 26 2015 Shroud of Turin, Poor Science, and the Persistence of a Myth

A Secular Humanist’s Plea for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Life

2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Goes to Curiosity-Based Research

Antivaxxers and the Educated-Public-Herd Effect

10 Ecuador’s Academy of Sciences Earns International Recognition

11 Science Challenges Golden Age of Violin Making

12 The “Jackprot Simulation”

13 Evolution Wars: Debunk II

14 EvoLiteracy News 05 08 2015 Should scientific journals request authors to change their practices for presenting continuous data in small sample size studies?

15 The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs Supernatural Causation

16 At The Down House: Darwin’s Home

17 The Art Of Nature: Sculptures Of Dinosaur Tracks and Traces

18 College Educated But Deeply In Debt For An Overpriced Degree *

19 New Book: Why does Evolution Matter? The Importance of Understanding Evolution

20 Imminent Collapse of Basic Science Under For-profit Model *

21 Dehumanizing Academia by Dismantling the Humanities *

22 EvoLiteracy News 03 19 2015 US Senator Ted Cruz Distorts NASA’s Mission Budget

23 Hiking among Trilobites, Ancient Whales and Dinosaurs

24 EvoLiteracy News 09 09 2015 Protisto-Biologists Flock to Seville for ECOP-ISOP Scientific Meeting

25 Reviews of Book Evolution Stands Faith Up – Reflections on Evolution’s War

The Art Of Nature: Sculptures Of Dinosaur Tracks and Traces

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C PhD — © 2015

New England Science Public – An Initiative for the Public Understanding of Science – on Twitter @gpazymino@EvoLiteracy – Facebook – ResearchGateAcademia.edu

An Amazing Museum in the Heart of Massachusetts

[click on subtitle to be redirected to The Standard Times]

“…Edward Hitchcock’s collection of fossilized tracks and traces of dinosaurs is one of the largest in the world and the Beneski Museum of Natural History exhibits them as fine art, carved by nature… Under soft lighting, a saturation of textures emerges from or deepens into the flat rocks. The 200-million-year-old footprints are so exquisite…”

Anchisauripus and Grallator tracks - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Cast of Anchisauripus and Grallator tracks at the Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

The United States houses the world’s best exhibits of natural history. From the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington D.C., which opened in 1910 and now cares for 126 million specimens (the largest collection ever), to smaller local displays of high quality, like the University of Nebraska State Museum, in Lincoln (85,000 specimens catalogued since 1871). Its “Elephant Hall” and skeletons of the North American megafauna —which vanished 5,000-10,000 years ago— are spectacular.

Beneski Earth Sciences Building - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C 2015

Beneski Earth Sciences Building – Photo GPC

But my latest encounter with fossils just happened at the Beneski Museum of Natural History in Amherst College, where precious casts of dinosaurs’ footprints are showcased as fine art, sculptured by nature. An award-winning facility (for its architecture), the Beneski Earth Sciences Building (2006) blends a permanent exhibit for the public with a research collection of 200,000 objects available to scholars and students, and the teaching labs.

I returned to inland Massachusetts attending an invitation to present a seminar at the UMass Amherst Graduate Program in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. A privilege to reach an audience of 70, including faculty, postdocs and graduate students, and discuss with them my research on acceptance of evolution. Professor Jeffrey Podos, the host, organized a visit to the Beneski Museum during my two-day stay. What a treat.

“…More than feeding the public’s dinosauria-frenzy, the goal of the Museum is to educate about the geology and paleontology of New England by taking advantage of the fossils’ beauty…”

Although the collection of dinosaur tracks is the main treasure guarded by the Beneski Museum, its 1,700 objects on display for the general public are, not only introductory for what the visitor will experience once face-to-face with the fossilized footprints, but also cleverly distributed in three floors within the building’s brick, steel and glass structure. More than feeding the public’s dinosauria-frenzy, the goal of the Museum is to educate about the geology and paleontology of New England by taking advantage of the fossils’ beauty.

Dire wolf and Sabertoothed Cat - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Dire wolf (left) and Sabertoothed Cat (right) at the Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Beneski’s main hall welcomes the visitor with gentle, almost unpretentious bone casts of a dire wolf and a sabertoothed cat (both roamed 100,000 years ago). Behind them, however, enormous skeletons of a mammoth and a mastodon capture all the attention, to the point that the wolf, cat, and the soon-to-be-seen cave bear and Irish elk appear small in contrast to the tusks protruding out of the proboscideans‘ (elephants’) skulls.

Mammoth and Mastodon - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Mammoth and Mastodon at the Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

This floor includes two more displays. The evolution of the Equids (horses), which took place almost entirely in North America, from ancestral forms of dog-sized quadrupeds, which over 50 million years —since the Eocene— gradually increased in mass, decreased in the number of toes —from 5 to 3 and to the single middle digit on which modern horses gallop— and changed their diet from browsing to grassing, as revealed by their teeth. All visible traits in the fossil record and unequivocal evidence in support to Darwinian evolution.

“…Brontops was a browser shaped like a colossal rhino and with two blunt horns over the snout. On display, its cast shrinks the presence of its wall-of-fame, equally extinct hoofed companions…”

The Ungulate Wall of Fame - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

The Ungulate Wall of Fame, with Brontops at the bottom, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

The last prominent display in the main lobby is of ungulates. On a wall, half of their skeletons, as seen from aside, come out as 3D sculptures mounted on the silhouettes of their flesh. The largest is a Brontothere, member of a lineage that became extinct 30 million years ago, and that was remotely related to today’s rhinoceroses, which, by the way, belong to the odd-toed mammals (together with horses and tapirs). This Brontops was a browser shaped like a colossal rhino and with two blunt horns over the snout. On display, its cast shrinks the presence of its wall-of-fame, equally extinct hoofed companions.

The Museum’s tradition goes back to the foundation of Amherst College (1821) and the hire of Edward Hitchcock, who by 1825 had left the Congregational ministry to become Professor of Chemistry and Natural History. His “Ichnology Collection” of fossilized tracks and traces of dinosaurs became one of the largest in the world and the Beneski Museum exhibits casts of them in its lower level. I counted 25 by 15 steps while assessing the tracks’ gallery. It was divided in four alleys with eight parallel displaying walls. On them, and under soft lighting, a saturation of textures emerged from or deepened into the flat rocks. They were so exquisite.

“…Footprints of early Jurassic dinosaur transients were left on muddy soils along the Connecticut River Valley. The tracks dried out, hardened and rock formed over time…”

Casts of Fossilized tracks and prints B - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Casts of fossilized dinosaur tracks and prints at the Wolansky Gallery, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC – Click on image to enlarge.

Footprints of early Jurassic dinosaur transients were left on muddy soils (200 million years ago) along the Connecticut River Valley, and the geological chronology of this ancient plateau is explained in the third floor of the museum. The dino-tracks dried out, hardened and rock formed over time. Nowadays, we know they belonged to the hind limbs of bipedal species like Eubrontes (3-toes), Grallator (3-toes), Otozoum (4-toes), and the quadrupedal Anomoepus, with 5-toed forelimbs and 3-toed hind limbs.

“…As former clergyman, Hitchcock could not avoid espousing the fallacies of Natural Theology, and during his entire career attempted —and failed— to prove God’s existence in (from) nature. A dead-end path taken with his contemporaries Louis Agassiz, Richard Owen and Adam Sedgwick, who also opposed Charles Darwin’s proposal of evolution via natural selection…”

Edward Hitchcock - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Edward Hitchcock as carved on marble by artist Martin Milmore, Wolansky Gallery, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

As former clergyman, Hitchcock could not avoid espousing the fallacies of Natural Theology, and during his entire career attempted —and failed— to prove God’s existence in (from) nature. A dead-end path taken with his contemporaries Louis Agassiz (Harvard), Richard Owen (British Museum) and Adam Sedgwick (Cambridge), who also opposed Charles Darwin‘s proposal of evolution via natural selection. By 1845, Hitchcock became President of Amherst College, at times when highly educated academic administrators were still on demand. But not surprisingly, a later President, Julius Seeyle, a Reformist Pastor, prohibited, in 1877, the teaching of evolution on campus. In retrospect, Hitchcock’s Ichnology Collection —rather than his bureaucratic and creationist distractions— was destined to become the most valuable possession of the Beneski Museum.

Despite the abundance of splendid natural history exhibits in the U.S., where evolution is so creatively communicated to the public, only 40 percent of Americans —or just 60 percent of New Englanders— embrace the reality of evolution. A regrettable contradiction in a nation that continues to lead today’s most meaningful scientific discoveries. — © 2015 by Evolution Literacy all rights reserved.

Image Gallery:

Mammoth frontal view B&W - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Mammoth, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Mammoth close up - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Mammoth close up, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Mastodon frontal view B&W - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Mastodon, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Mastodon hind leg - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Mastodon hind leg, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Mastodon African Elephant Mammoth Teeth - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Mastodon, African Elephant and Mammoth Teeth, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Cave Bear - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Cave Bear, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Diceratherium - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Diceratherium, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Eryops megacephalus - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Eryops megacephalus, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Gryposaurus - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Gryposaurus, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Tyrannosaurus rex - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Tyrannosaurus rex, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Tyrannosaurus rex upper jaw - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Tyrannosaurus rex, maxilla or upper jaw, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Tyrannosaurus rex lower jaw - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Tyrannosaurus rex, lower jaw, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Triceratops - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Triceratops, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Diplodocus longus - limb - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Diplodocus longus – limb, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Gastropod fossils - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Gastropods in the fossil invertebrate collection, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Ammonites - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Ammonites parkinsoni, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Promicroceras - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Promicroceras, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Clypeaster - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Clypeaster, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Phacops - trilobite - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Phacops – trilobite, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Hominid micro exhibit lateral view - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Hominid micro exhibit lateral view, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

Hominid micro exhibit front view - Photo G-Paz-y-Mino-C Beneski Museum 2015

Hominid micro exhibit front view, Beneski Museum of Natural History – Photo GPC

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On Whales And A Whaling Museum

Boston’s Hayden Planetarium carries standard of scientific study

Suggested Readings: click on image for open access PDFs

Journal Book Covers Paz-y-Mino-C Espinosa Articles

 

Science Challenges Golden Age of Violin Making

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2015

New England Science Public – An Initiative for the Public Understanding of Science – on Twitter @EvoLiteracy@gpazymino – ResearchGate Academia.edu

Golden Age of Violin Making Challenged by Modern Science

[click on subtitle to be redirected to The Standard Times]

“…As for the value of a Stradivari or a Guarneri del Gesu, they are priceless relics of our collective history, treasures from our always evolving civilizations. I wish they continue to be preserved for eternity, to be fervently admired for what they mean and meant; but not for what they no longer are.”

Stradivarius 60 minutes Evolution Literacy

Anastasiya Petryshak playing a Stradivarius at the Violin Museum of Cremona, Italy (CBS 60-Minutes, click on image)

Unsubstantiated beliefs interfere with the acceptance of evidence. Belief is a powerful cultural pollutant: it disrupts, distorts, delays and stops the assessment of reality, what I call in my academic work “the 3Ds + S cognitive effects of illusory thinking.” Indeed, I explore, at a scientific level, why people struggle when confronting inner beliefs with facts, and for that I examine acceptance of evolution by highly educated audiences —university professors, educators of prospective teachers, and college students at elite institutions, who, despite their fine education, embrace distinctive degrees of superstition.

But illusory thinking is not restricted to deniers of evolution or human-induced climate change, another truth rejected by the general public (although less frequently by the literate) upon the conviction that “as long as we faithfully repudiate imminent environmental menace, it shall never happen.”

Self-deceptive ideas, collectively or individually reinforced, affect our ordinary living; and science keeps documenting astonishing examples:

Let’s celebrate the New Year with music and with the most revered classical instrument, the violin. World class virtuosos believe that instruments crafted during the Golden Age of violin-making (1550s to 1750s), by Antonio Stradivari or Giuseppe Guarneri “del Gesu,” outshine the quality of other violins, chiefly the contemporary ones.

Various attributes have been hypothesized to account for the tonal superiority of Old Italian violins: local weather effects on wood growth, density of early– and late–growth layers in the wood, chemical treatment of the timber, varnishing, plate-tuning techniques, and the spectral balance of the radiated sound (efficient energy propagation in each of the instrument’s sound–producing–frequencies). However, no tests had been conducted to discern between the professed value (monetary, historical, or just musical) ascribed to the antique violins in respect to the plain acoustics of their modern counterparts.

Violin Making Evolution Literacy

Violin Making — Where And How To Start If You Want To Make Violins?

The first properly controlled study on player preferences among old and new violins was published in 2012, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). In it, 21 experienced violinists played and compared instruments crafted by Stradivari (one violin) and Guarneri del Gesu (two violins) with three new, exquisite exemplars. Under double-blind conditions, in which neither the violinists nor the experimenters knew the identity of the instruments, the players preferred the new violins over the old. In fact, the least appreciated was the Stradivari. And most players seemed unable to tell whether their favorite instrument was new or old.

“…the perceived monetary and historical value of the Old Italian violins were so ‘cognitively influential’ that they likely primed the violinists to believe that such instruments had better tonal quality…”

The combined estimated price of the antique violins was $10-million, about one hundred times that of the new instruments. And this was precisely what Claudia Fritz and her collaborators at the National Center of Scientific Research, University of Paris, who coauthored the study, intended to bring to our attention: both the perceived monetary and historical value of the Old Italian violins were so “cognitively influential” (my emphasis) that they likely primed the violinists to believe that such instruments had better tonal quality.

Of course Fritz and collaborators’ study ignited emotional responses among musicians. The very violinists who judged the virtues of the instruments hardly accepted the results of the trials. The research challenged conventional wisdom and a five-century old tradition. “There is nothing like an Old Italian violin sound,” goes the saying.

Violinis Itzhak Perlman 60 minutes Evolution Literacy

Violinist Itzhak Perlman “If you want to play a pianissimo, that is almost inaudible and yet it carries through a hall that seats 3,000 people, there’s your Strad… I can actually see the sound in my head …it has silk. God, it’s so difficult to describe …there is a sparkle to the sound.” (CBS 60-Minutes, click on image)

To overcome the passionate criticism –scientists adore rebuttals— Fritz and her team published a second paper in PNAS, in the spring of 2014. Their follow-up study contrasted soloist evaluations of six Old Italian (five Stradivari) and six new violins, thus increasing the sample size and sharpening the methods. Ten renowned virtuosos evaluated the instruments under, again, double-blind experimental conditions.

Six out of the 10 performers chose the new violins as “most preferred” over the Old Italians. The soloists also rated higher the preferred new violins than the older instruments in playability, articulation and projection; and at least equal to an old violin in timbre. Fritz and coauthors bravely reiterated: “some studies open new fields for investigation; [ours] attempts to close a perennially fruitless one —the search for the ‘secrets of Stradivari.’ Great efforts have been made to explain why instruments by Stradivari, and other Italian makers, sound better than high-quality new violins, but without providing scientific evidence that this is, in fact, the case.”

Belief disrupts, distorts, delays or stops the acceptance of scientific evidence. And only science can ultimately guide us to accurately explore reality, to demystify the polluters of our perception. As for the value of a Stradivari or a Guarneri del Gesu, they are priceless relics of our collective history, treasures from our always evolving civilizations. I wish they continue to be preserved for eternity, to be fervently admired for what they mean and meant; but not for what they no longer are. — © 2015 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

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Dehumanizing Academia by Dismantling the Humanities

Fragmentary Truths and the Intellectual Imbalance in Academia

The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs Supernatural Causation

Bill Nye defeats Ken Ham at Creation Museum

Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars

On Francis Collins’ and Karl Giberson “The Language of Science and Faith”

 

New Book: Why does Evolution Matter? The Importance of Understanding Evolution

Why does Evolution Matter? The Importance of Understanding Evolution

This historical documentation of the scientific discussions that took place in the Galapagos, 178 years after Charles Darwin visited the islands, attests to the legacy of a Voyage that transformed Darwin’s own understanding of nature; the discoveries that awakened humanity to accept the mutability of species, and later face the reality of evolution by means of natural selection. Evolution is true, it has always been. And this book adds powerful evidence in its support, from a social, environmental, molecular and public health perspectives…

Why Evolution Matters Book - Evolution LiteracyCambridge Scholars has just released (October 1, 2014) the book “Why does Evolution Matter? The Importance of Understanding Evolution,” edited by Dr. Gabriel Trueba, from the Microbiology Institute at University San Francisco of Quito (USFQ), in Ecuador. The volume is conceptualized in four sections (Evolution and Society, Environmental Change, Molecular Evolution, Evolution and Public Health) and includes twelve chapters written by international researchers.

Most of the chapters summarize the keynote addresses presented by the authors at the Galapagos III World Evolution Summit, which was organized by USFQ and its Galapagos Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS), in June 2013. “This historical documentation [the book] of the scientific discussions that took place in the Galapagos, 178 years after Charles Darwin visited the islands [September 1835], attests to the legacy of a Voyage that transformed Darwin’s own understanding of nature; the discoveries that awakened humanity to accept the mutability of species, and later face the reality of evolution by means of natural selection. Evolution is true, it has always been. And this book adds powerful evidence in its support, from a social, environmental, molecular and public health perspectives… An ideal compilation of material for a broad audience, particularly researchers in academia, and those seeking a volume for a graduate seminar on evolutionary topics.”

Under the scope “Why Does Evolution Matter,” the 200-attendee Galapagos III World Evolution Summit took place at the Charles Darwin Center in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island. At the Summit, USFQ and GAIAS launched officially the Lynn Margulis Center for Evolutionary Biology and showcased the Galapagos Science Center, an impressive research facility at the USFQ Galapagos campus. — © 2014 Evolution Literacy all rights reserved.

Related Readings:

Editing Darwin to Reach the Almost Unreachable Reader
Paz-y-Miño-C., G. & Espinosa A. 2013. Galapagos III world evolution summit: why evolution matters. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 6:28. [PDF]. Open Access.
Unforgettable Galapagos, a Summit, and Why Evolution Matters
Galapagos Evolution Conference Adds to Understanding Part II
Darwin Day Awaits Designation by U.S. Congress

 

Editing Darwin to Reach the Almost Unreachable Reader

Editing Darwin to Reach the Almost Unreachable Reader

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2014

New England Science Public – An Initiative for the Public Understanding of Science – on Twitter @EvoLiteracy@gpazymino

…If we possessed a perfect pedigree of mankind, a genealogical arrangement of the [ethnicities]… would afford the best classification of the various languages… [If] all extinct languages, and all intermediate and slowly changing dialects, had to be included, such an arrangement would… be the only possible one.

In 1859, Charles Darwin wrote, so Darwinianly, the passage above in “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” He envisioned the roots and evolution of languages via common ancestry, a process of gradual modification, from simple to diversified variants over time. In modern terms: an evolutionary phenomenon, not only factual for organisms that communicate complexly with one another, but also a feature detectable in non-human animal cultures (when sophisticated cognition allows culture), vocalizations and signals inherited through learning rather than by means of exclusive genetic programming.

The_Readable_Darwin_Evolution_Literacy_Paz-y-Mino-CPerhaps Darwin envisioned –as I wish to think— that his own Victorian writing style of the 1800s would change, drift comparably to a dialect, and in the future require a “translator” to bring up to date the Darwinian message. And this is what my valued colleague, Jan A. Pechenik, Professor of Biology at Tufts University, has done. In his 2014 “The Readable Darwin: The Origin of Species, as Edited for Modern Readers,” Jan takes the challenge to adapt the century-and-a-half-old book for a contemporary audience. And he does it in a unique manner: rather than abridging the text as, for example, in Richard Dawkins’ 2008 elegant audio-book narration of the first edition of The Origin; or expanding it, as in David Quammen’s 2008 illustrated volume, which includes hundreds of historic images, Pechenik sharpens the text, edits it to make it legible in current American English by, I suspect, primarily our youth.

Pechenik knows that in the Era of Vast Intellectual Emptiness, ours, when communication is not only restricted to the 140 characters of a tweet, but to the out-of- grammar, rebelliousness to syntax, or no spelling-rules revered by the blogging industry, persuading the public to treasure Darwin is almost impossible. Pechenik relies, however, on his college-instructor intuition, his patience and responsibility as educator, to be confident that some minds can be rescued, and that “…[this] wonderful reminder of the incredible diversity of life on [our] planet Darwin’s book  and honest argument [for evolution] based on evidence and logical thinking…” cannot continue to be rarely appreciated under the excuse that allegorical writing, the Victorian style, is unattractive to those whose neurons operate only when plugged into electrical appliances.

You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family” reads the opening quote to Pechenik’s preface in “The Readable Darwin.”

…A rebuke attributed to Darwin’s father when struggling to reason with the juvenile Charles, whose uncertainty to pursue an honorable occupation –either medicine or the clergy, as he attempted first in Edinburgh, 1825-1827, and later in Cambridge, 1827-1831, respectively— became a family concern. Thus Pechenik knows how to relate to the standard career-undecided college student, how to invite him/her to accept Darwin and fall in love with Charles’ story, his voyage on board of the Beagle (1831-1836), and his forever important contribution to universal knowledge and human history.

In “The Readable Darwin,” Pechenik edits The Origin under the recommendations of his own “Short Guide to Writing About Biology” (eight edition, 2012). He eliminates the copious prepositions (much common among Victorians), polishes the “Wimpy Verb Syndrome” (i.e. the use of multiple verbs to refer to a single action), warns us that examples are about to be generously listed, rather than appearing unannounced in long paragraphs; incorporates definitions of terms (not often given by Darwin), and reorders the sentences to convey the message straightforwardly. And Pechenik succeeds at editing Darwin without disrupting the beauty of the prose or distorting the message. To accomplish this, Pechenik recurs to his reflective understanding of Darwin, to his solid background in evolutionary biology and textbook-writing skills.

Each of the eight chapters edited in “The Readable Darwin” starts with an explanatory mini introduction to: Variation Under Domestication (Chapter 1), Variation in Nature (Chapter 2), The Struggle for Existence (Chapter 3), Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest (Chapter 4), Laws of Variation (Chapter 5), Difficulties with the Theory (Chapter 6), Miscellaneous Objections to the Theory of Natural Selection (Chapter 7), and Instinct (Chapter 8). About one hundred color images illustrate the chapters (note that Darwin’s Origin had only one visual, a roughly sketched evolutionary tree), footnotes, online resources, links to videos, and a list of classic and modern references.

Illustration_Origin_of_Species_Evolution_Literacy_Paz-y-Mino-C

The only illustration in Darwin’s On The Origin of Species (1859) was a roughly sketched evolutionary tree

I find of particular value the section Key Issues to Talk and Write About at the end of the chapters, where the reader, or an instructor using the book for proper college education, is confronted with testing queries and themes to essay about. This exposes the rigorous mind of Pechenik, the Professor, who now, after assisting the bookworm to enjoy the digested text, wants to know if some actual retention of content took place, if critical thinking can be exercised once each chapter has been handled to the reader-learner in a gracious format. But Pechenik goes beyond that: in Appendix A: Other Books by Charles Darwin, he overwhelms us with descriptions of fifteen additional books and four monographs authored by Darwin between 1839 and 1881, thus broadcasting that Darwin’s giving to science was monumental.

The Readable Darwin” is suitable for all audiences, particularly college instructors, undergraduate and graduate students, and I eagerly await for the second book in which Pechenik will present us with the remaining seven edited chapters of the 1872 sixth edition of The Origin. I emphatically recommend Pechenik’s work to those in administrative positions in academia, and to creationists who reject the reality of evolution; both audiences need rigorous schooling in matters of evolution — © 2014 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

Related Articles:

On the Wrongly Called “The God Particle”

Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars

On Francis Collins’ and Karl Giberson “The Language of Science and Faith”

Hiking among Trilobites, Ancient Whales and Dinosaurs

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2014

New England Science Public – An Initiative for the Public Understanding of Science – on Twitter @EvoLiteracy@gpazymino

Museums Display Truth of Evolution

[click on subtitle to be redirected to The Standard Times]

“Q?RIUS is about ‘Early Youth Engagement through Science;’ the visitor [to the museum exhibit] acts as curator, protector of Nature’s treasures. Thus Q?RIUS empowers our youth’s innate curiosity to seek and value the truth. And there is no more powerful scientific truth than evolution.” 

Albertosaurus Evolution Literacy G Paz-y-Mino-C photo

Albertosaurus —earlier relatives of Tyrannosaurus rex. Discovered by Joseph B. Tyrrell, in 1884, the “Alberta Lizards” were endemic to today’s Alberta region, in Canada, and ruled the top-predator occupation 70 million years ago; Royal Tyrrell Museum; GPC photo © 2014

I have previously stated that to be reassured that evolution is true one simply needs to visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Its displays of skeletons of a North Atlantic right whale with a calf, a humpback, a juvenile blue, and a sperm whale can impress anyone curious to compare human bones to those of cetaceans. And such comparison suffices to infer that common ancestry connects mammalian sea gallopers — whales and dolphins — to us, the upright bipedal apes who live in cities and launch vessels to explore the stars.

My addiction to the splendid North American science museums — antidotes to the impostors “Genesis Park” or “Creation Museum” — will remain pleasurably incurable. But a latest visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C., was certainly unique. It started while hiking among 540-million-year-old trilobite fossils, at the Burgess Shale deposit in the Canadian Rockies. What used to be the bottom of the sea is, nowadays, layers of flaked rock at 6,900 feet elevation, evidence that Earth’s crust moves and shapes the imposing mountains.

In 1909, Charles D. Walcott, paleontologist and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, discovered the first fossils of the Burgess Shale. He later brought to the National Museum of Natural History 65,000 specimens, mostly collected at Fossil Ridge, which runs from the Wapta Mountain to Mount Field, in British Columbia.

When alive during the Cambrian, the now fossilized Burgess Shale organisms anchored themselves to the sea floor, some were sessile, or dwellers on the muddy substrate, a few swam freely. Sponges, plenty of algae and arthropods like trilobites, or chordates like Pikaia (a tiny elongated and laterally flattened fish-shaped swimmer, related to modern vertebrates) enriched the biodiversity of the oceans. The most appealing to me are the trilobites and the predator Anomalocaris.

Trilobites Evolution Literacy G Paz-y-Mino-C photo

540-million year old trilobite fossils at the Burgess Shale deposit in the Canadian Rockies; what used to be the bottom of the sea is, nowadays, layers of flaked rock at 6,900 feet elevation, evidence that Earth’s crust moves and shapes the imposing mountains; GPC photo © 2014

To envision the complexity of the Cambrian ecology, one must immerse the imagination into the ways of the archaic ocean or, perhaps, enlarge all creatures 12 times their original size and gather people to watch them. The latter is precisely what the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Alberta — the second stop in my journey — has done. A well conceived exhibit helps visitors understand the relevance of the Burgess Shale fossils.

The adventure began in the dark. Spotlights shepherd our eyes to the colorful sponges Vauxia, Takakkawia and Pirania, which cohabited with green algae in an apparently serene environment. The cute trilobites, with their large-cockroach pretense and curled sensory antennae resembling groomed whiskers, emerged while the audience pointed at them with excitement as the lights brightened, thus bringing our sight onto additional life forms, like mollusks, sea cucumbers or velvet worms. This tranquility was interrupted by the sudden illumination of a 3-foot Anomalocaris (actual dimension of the “abnormal shrimp”). This segmented animal, distantly related to today’s arthropods, swam by undulating lateral flaps along its body. With huge eyes on stalks and two arched gripping appendages with spikes, one on each side of the mouth, Anomalocaris predated upon soft-shelled organisms and, arguably, on the armored trilobites.

Anomalocaris Evolution Literacy G Paz-y-Mino-C photo

Anomalocaris about to feed on Canadaspis; below are two sponges Takakkawia. Burges Shale diorama at the Royal Tyrrell Museum; GPC photo © 2014

The Burgess Shale exhibit was, however, just a warm up for what the Royal Tyrrell Museum had to offer: after the Cambrian interpretation dome, a world class display of more than 40 mounted dinosaurs and large mammals followed; a saturation of fauna, from the Triassic, 230 million years ago, to the Pleistocene, 2 million years ago. The museum’s most prominent specimens were the Late Cretaceous Albertosaurus — earlier relatives of Tyrannosaurus rex — discovered by Joseph B. Tyrrell in 1884. These “Alberta Lizards” were endemic to the region and ruled the top-predator occupation 70 million years ago.

Genome Smithsonian Evolution Literacy G Paz-y-Mino-C photo

‘Genome, Unlocking Life’s Code,’ an interactive touch-screen experience about how research in genetics benefits citizens and humanity; Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; GPC photo © 2014

In its entirety, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Alberta is a celebration of the 3.5-billion-year history of life on Earth, an elegant showcase of the evidence for evolution. But the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History — the last stop in my journey — has brought technology and modernity into two contrasting new exhibits: “Genome, Unlocking Life’s Code,” an interactive touch-screen experience about how research in genetics benefits citizens and humanity, and “Q?RIUS,” a hands-on access to real specimens in the Smithsonian collection. Both exhibits are exemplars of effective informal education.

I looked for Q?RIUS eagerly while walking through ancient whale skeletons, hanging from the ceiling, and a diorama of Cetacean evolution: Basilosaurus (35-40 million years ago), Maiacetus (40-49 million years ago), Dorudon (36-38 million years ago), and Llanocetus (34-38 million years ago), which looks comparable to the baleen whales displayed at our New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Q?RIUS is about “Early Youth Engagement through Science;” the visitor acts as curator, protector of Nature’s treasures. Thus Q?RIUS empowers our youth’s innate curiosity to seek and value the truth. And there is no more powerful scientific truth than evolution. — © 2014 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

QRIUS Smithsonian Evolution Literacy G Paz-y-Mino-C photo

Q?RIUS is about ‘Early Youth Engagement through Science;’ the visitor acts as curator, protector of Nature’s treasures; Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; GPC photo © 2014

Smithsonian Evolution Literacy G Paz-y-Mino-C photo

The splendid Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC; GPC photo © 2014