Evolution today and tomorrow – Lisbon’s conference

Sunday, April 26th, 2009 | History of Science, Personalities, Theory, Web | Comments Off on Evolution today and tomorrow – Lisbon’s conference

I spend last Thursday and Friday attending a conference held at the University of Lisbon: Evolution today and tomorrow: Darwin evaluated by contemporary evolutionary and philosophical theories. 23 – 24 April 2009. Don’t let the event’s webpage design fool you, the conference was well organized and brought together a diverse array of interesting speakers, both Portuguese and from abroad. › Continue reading


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Marketing finally got me

Friday, March 13th, 2009 | Personalities | 4 Comments

Darwin's pencil 01

I resisted the black T-shirt with the bright red “Darwin’s Tree of Life” on sale at the AMNH Darwin exhibit. I resisted the elegant hardcover reissue of the Origin of Species with an introductory essay by E. O. Wilson. I resisted the little metal key-chain with the H.M.S. Beagle. But I couldn’t resist the pencils on sale at the Darwin’s Evolution exhibit presented by the Gulbenkian Foundation.

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Taxonomy’s rightful place in history

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 | History of Science, Personalities | 5 Comments
A talk given last February 13 by paleontologist Niles Eldredge in Lisbon perfectly exemplified the general opinion regarding how little role Taxonomy played in the development of the modern Theory of Evolution. Already in a hurry after spending too much time talking about Darwin’s childhood, he reached a slide showing some barnacles and said “oh, by the way, Darwin spend some time on the taxonomy of barnacles, but this didn’t have any relevance to the development of his theory”, next slide. That was it. Taxonomy is but an unnecessary extra slide in the history of evolutionary biology. To be fair to Eldredge, his talk entitled “Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life” was not an specialized talk but rather was meant for the general public of all ages wondering what was all the excitement about Darwin this year.

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Richard Owen’s archetype

Caricature of Richard Owen. "Old Bones" <em>Vanity Fair</em>, March 1st, 1873.

Caricature of Richard Owen. "Old Bones" Vanity Fair, March 1st, 1873.

I named this blog after the concept of the archetype as articulated by the Victorian naturalist Richard Owen (1804-1892). For Owen, the archetype was a representation that summed the most basic, most generalized structural arrangement common to all the members of a given group of organisms. Owen’s well-known and most important contribution to modern biological thought is, however, not his archetype concept but the clear distinction he provided between the concepts of analogy and homology. On his words:

Analogue.- A part or organ in one animal which has the same function as another part or organ in a different animal.
Homologue.- The same organ in different animals under every variety of form and function. (Owen, 1843: 374, 379)1

Homology is a concept that expresses the relationship between parts of organisms. It reflects the observation that we can identify a commonality of structure across the diversity of life. Homology thus forms the cornerstone of comparative biology.

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  1. Owen, R. 1843. Lectures on the comparative anatomy and physiology of the invertebrate animals. London: Longman Brown Green and Longmans

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Feliz cumpleaños Carlos.

Friday, February 13th, 2009 | Humor, Personalities | 1 Comment


Ever wonder how Charles Darwin gets celebrated the Mexican way? Well, with a piñata of course!

Meet the H.M.S. Beagle piñata.

If you are not familiar with Mexican culture I will just say that beating something with a wooden stick until it bursts into pieces is actually a sign of appreciation. I wasn’t there unfortunately, but I am sure the piñata was filled with exotic fruits and candy.


[Images courtesy of Rodolfo Salas]

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Happy bicentenary Darwin

Thursday, February 12th, 2009 | History of Science, Personalities, Science | Comments Off on Happy bicentenary Darwin


Charles Robert Darwin was born 200 years ago today.

As celebrations start around the globe, I just want to recommend a wonderfully written essay on Darwin by Aussie philosopher of science John S. Wilkins:

Not Saint Darwin [pdf]

It is a piece on why do we celebrate Darwin today that provides food for thought for the rest of Darwin’s year.


Darwin the taxonomist

Friday, February 6th, 2009 | History of Science, Personalities, Taxonomy | Comments Off on Darwin the taxonomist


Everybody likes popular science stories with clear and simple eureka moments. In the case of Charles Darwin’s theory of Evolution his voyage on board the H.M.S. Beagle and exploration of the Galapagos archipelago usually serves for such narrative purpose.

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And as we discussed last semester, the Army Ants will leave nothing but your bones.
- Tom Waits