February 5, 2009

Save the Zoos, Save Evolution

200 years after his birth, Darwin continues to inspire; read Charles Darwin: The 'Beagle' Letters for exquisite insight into the thoughts and actions of the biologist during his historic globe-circling voyage. Too bad zoos are losing funding, because the theory of evolution loses some of its bite without the magnificence of in-the-flesh confirmation: eye contact with an orangutan; polar bears frolicking; a mother penguin with her chick. Despite hard evidence like this week's discovery of a 47.5 million-year-old pregnant Maiacetus whale fossil on land (indicating a primitive shift from land-based to water-based whales), evolution's detractors have no shortage of energy: a January 2009 vote by the Texas Board of Education "opens the door to teaching objections to evolution," a decision that "will have consequences far beyond Texas." Fortunately, kids seem to be retaining an interest in science despite their elders' efforts to the contrary, with 85% of teens expressing an interest in science, technology, engineering and math even though two-thirds said they might feel discouraged from entering a scientific field for lack of a mentor. Obama's future scientists are ready, they just need some guidance: let's go, Michelle!

The Times reviews two additional Darwin titles: Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution by Adrian Desmond and James Moore and Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life by Adam Gopnik.

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