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Darwin Day recap

On Thursday, for Darwin’s 200th birthday, I went down to Raleigh to the Museum of Natural Science to hear Carl Zimmer’s talk. The room was packed – I got the last empty seat and there were people standing in the back. A very mixed audience, as Museum talks usually are – there were evolutionary biologists there from Nescent and the W.M.Keck Center for Behavioral Biology at NCSU, there were Museum staff, and then there were interested lay-people, museum-goers, with no formal background in science but interested and curious. It is not easy giving a talk to such a mixed audience – how to keep the jaded Evolution-warriors interested, while not going over the heads of the non-experts, but Carl delivered masterfully.

After introducing briefly Darwin the person and his work, in broad brush-strokes, Carl did an interesting thing – he chose several stories and told us what Darwin thought and wrote about them, and what we now know due to recent exciting research: from evolution of whales, through human evolution, to bacteria and viruses. The result was that he did not tell but demonstrated two points: first, that Darwin was generally correct, and second, that evolutionary biology made tremendous strides over the past 150 years. With each story one was left to think – how cool Darwin would think the new findings are if he were suddenly resurrected and shown the data!

The questions afterwards were good – not high-tech questions one would hear at a scientific conference, but good, thoughtful questions by lay audience, the kind often heard at Science Cafes. And only one question refered to the Culture Wars – how do we deal with the existence and influence of Creationists in the USA? If there were any Creationists in the audience, they certainly remained quiet and inconspicuous.

Afterwards, Carl and I went back to Durham and joined a bunch of local bloggers, scientists and science communicators, Craig McClain, Anton Zuiker and Russ Campbell among others, for some food and beer at Tyler’s. Good time was had by all.

Finally, you should also check Carl’s latest article in TIME: Evolving Darwin