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Iowa City celebrates Darwin Day

BY ISAAC HAMLET | FEBRUARY 05, 2015 5:00 AM

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150 years ago, germs were still a new concept and the planet Neptune had only recently been spotted by astronomers. But Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, published in 1859, has stood the tread of time.

Darwin Day is celebrated globally to honor the influence of his findings on modern science. From today through Saturday, the Iowa City and University of Iowa communities will welcome scientists and speakers to honor Darwin Day.

“A common reaction to reading the Origin of Species is amazement and awe at how many things Darwin got right,” said Maurine Neiman, an evolutionary biologist and the president of Iowa City Darwin Day since 2010. “[He] figured out an incredible amount about evolution in the absence of modern genetics.”

Though Darwin has a clear connection to biology, events have also been geared toward other sciences and the community at large. In past years, the event has hosted poet Sarah Lindsay and rapper Baba Brinkman, both of whom had works in their respective field centered on evolution.

“Evolutionary science is not just biology,” Neiman said. “We’ve been trying to make what we do about more than the biology of evolution. We want to engage across all sorts of disciplines to show the significance of evolution.”

Guests will include Marlene Zuk, a behavior ecologist and evolutionary biologist who recently published the book Paleofantasy, and Sean Carroll, an evolutionary biologist and author of Brave Genius. Both speakers will be in Iowa City for three days to participate in talks and panels.

“There are a lot of offerings [at Darwin’s Day]. I want to bring a better appreciation of who the people were who came up with these ideas,” Carroll said. “I think most people have the stereotypical idea of Darwin as a gray-bearded elderly man who sort of looked like Karl Marx. [But] he was a 22-year-old man when he boarded the Beagle in what turned out to be a five-year voyage around the world. I think it’s much easier for younger people to relate to the 22-year-old Darwin than the 72-year-old Darwin. He went out, and he saw things that people hadn’t seen and thought things that people hadn’t thought.”

Though science has come a long way since 1859, Zuk said Darwin Day is still an event worth celebrating.

“Sometimes people think scientists believe Darwin’s original theories are absolute truth, but as with other sciences, we’ve gained more information since he developed his ideas,” Zuk said. “Still, his theories about evolution via natural selection are still basically robust today. [Darwin Day] will hopefully highlight to people how significant evolution is. It’s not just looking at dinosaur bones in museums. It’s happening now, and it’s important. Everyone can benefit from it.”

Visit www.IowaCityDarwinDay.org for a full schedule of events.


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