Category Archives: history of science

“Yours in distress”: a letter from Alan Turing

From Letters of Note we get a poignant letter from Alan Turing (1912-1954) written to the mathematician Normal Routledge in 1952, shortly before Turing pleaded guilty to “gross indecency” for having sexual relations with men. (It’s hard to imagine that being a crime, but of course it was the situation for many years in England; it was, in […]

The National Academy honors Ernst Mayr

by Greg Mayer Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was one of the greatest biologists of the 20th century, an architect of the “Modern Synthesis” of evolutionary biology which harmonized Mendelism and Darwinism and showed that the phenomena of paleontology, systematics, and genetics formed a mutually consistent and coherent whole. Mayr in particular identified and explicated the importance […]

Francis Crick hosts a groovy party

by Matthew Cobb As regular readers will know, Jerry and I are finishing up our books at the same time. His is The Albatross, mine has a name and a topic ‘Life’s Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code’. I hope to press ‘send’ to my publishers tomorrow morning. [JAC: Mine is hard on […]

Rembrandt and anatomy

by Matthew Cobb A few days ago (at Jerry’s suggestion!) I highlighted my imminent appearance on Adam Rutherford’s BBC TV series ‘Beauty of Anatomy’, in the episode on Rembrandt. Someone has now uploaded that episode onto YouTube. Watch the episode – not for me, but for Rembrandt and Ruysch, and for Rutherford, who is excellent […]

Rutherford (and Cobb) on Rembrandt

by Matthew Cobb UK readers might want to watch the third episode of Adam Rutherford’s new BBC TV series, The Beauty of Anatomy, which is on tonight, Wednesday 27th, at 20:30 on BBC4 (I’m afraid it clashes with the Great British Bakeoff if you’re into that). Adam’s 5-part series traces the history of anatomy through […]

Tw**ets from Darwin and the Beagle: the Great Man envies kittens

Darwin had both cats and d*gs, but it’s clear that he loved his d*gs more. I’ll forgive him for that; after all, he wrote the best science book ever, and that outweighs a lot of flaws.  In fact, I don’t think The Origin even mentions cats, though I recall that it has a few words […]

A peeved believer argues that science arose from Christianity

Yesterday reader “Py” wrote in trying to add a comment to an old post, “Did Christianity (and other religions) promote the rise of science?” Here’s the comment: I say without Christianity, there’ll be no modern science. An incomplete list of Christian Scientists (i’ve got a link to 80+ more, all YECs) vs. An incomplete list of […]

Must we study history to understand science?

I am a big fan of the history of science—not because it’s helped me do better science (though some of my research, including that on “Haldane’s Rule,” derived from papers that were largely forgotten).  I think that it’s interesting to understand the history of one’s discipline, but not essential for practicing good science. Alejandra Dubcovsky, […]

The kids who drew on the manuscript of On The Origin of Species

by Matthew Cobb PhD student Benjamin Breen at the University of Texas at Austin has posted this treasure trove at The Appendix. Maybe you all know about it, but I didn’t, and neither did Professor Ceiling Cat. (It was originally published by The Daily Telegraph in 2009, to coincide with an exhibition at Cambridge University […]

Darwin’s pet tortoise

by Greg Mayer (addendum below) Darwin lived in the country, and had many animals– for companionship, work, and research. For companions, his chief pets were d*gs (my favorite of Darwin’s d*gs was Bob), but he also had a tortoise that he brought home from James (Santiago) Island in the Galapagos. It has been claimed (most […]


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