History of Ornithology: The Osprey

tl;dr: My first post about the history of ornithology (fulfilling the “Kestrels” half o my blog name) discusses the osprey and how various naturalists perceived it. It’s a rather messy story.

Note: As is evident from the opening lines, I wrote this around the time the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. I wasn’t ready to relaunch my blog yet though, so I set it aside for a later time. It feels somewhat unfinished but whatever, it’s out there now!

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“Experimental Evolution Amongst Plants” (1895)

Tl;dr: This post features my (thus far) favorite quote that I have found when doing historical work on experimental evolution. In his speech/article, Liberty Hyde Bailey argued that the truth of evolution had already been demonstrated… centuries ago as well as in the present day, not by the academic elite, but by those involved in the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. For Bailey, the domestication of plants and animals was a form of experimental evolution.

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Francis Bacon: The Father of Experimental Evolution?

Tl;dr: Experimental evolution is partially about controlling and directing change for human benefit. Early experimental evolutionists cite Francis Bacon as a predecessor as both 1) inspiration for scientific practice and 2) creating an institution to which such practice could be carried out. Much like Bacon’s own perspective, there is little to no separation between basic and applied research. However, Bacon’s actual influence on later developments is questionable. Thus, titling Bacon the “father of experimental evolution” is probably not correct, but it seems as though experimental evolution could be titled “Baconian.”

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Blog Relaunch!

In hindsight, I abandoned this blog 2.5 years ago, only approving the occasional comment that showed up in my e-mail inbox. Now I am relaunching it under a new name with a new purpose.

Much has happened since my unintentional abandonment. As can be seen in this blog’s history, I transitioned from wanting to be a biologist to being a historian of biology. Now that I am a Ph.D. student in the University of Minnesota’s Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, I think I have succeeded!

Although I have wanted to resuscitate this blog for a couple of years, the burden of coursework prevented me from ever doing so. This was mostly a procrastination-fueled excuse that I can no longer accept. Furthermore, and this is silly, I could never come up with a name that pleased me. “Kele’s Science Blog” clearly no longer worked, and “Kele’s History of Science Blog” would be terrible.

Now the title is “Kestrels and Cerevisiae.” This reflects the (hopefully) dual purposes of this blog: Cerevisiae, from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or yeast, represents experimental evolution (and work on them is what inspired my interest in the topic); Kestrels, a small falcon, represents my interest in birds, and I am planning on including some history of ornithology here to satisfy that curiosity. I also have a love for the American prairie, so if I can find a way to integrate the prairie with the history of science, that will appear also. Unfortunately I could not come up with a good w-word for the prairie since as you may have noticed, K and C are my initials.

Anyway, I will end this post here. I simply wish to announce the blog’s return with a new name, a new purpose and most importantly, new content! I hope you enjoy my work here!

The Non-Linearity of the History of Science

As I mentioned in my last post, in a history of biology course I am sitting in on we were discussing Cuvier, and if we were discussing Cuvier, we were probably also discussing catastrophism vs. Lyell’s uniformitarianism. Which is true.

The story that is frequently told about this debate and its influence upon Darwin is, as is usual, simpler and a lot less interesting than what actually happened.

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The Historical Importance of Modularity

I am currently sitting in on a graduate philosophy of biology seminar and the theme of this semester’s seminar is evo-devo and we recently discussed the concept of modularity. I’m also sitting in on a history of biology course and we have talked a little about the early 19th century French scientist, Georges Cuvier. While attending the seminar, I was delighted to make a historical link between the two! (And oddly enough, one of the works we read in the seminar was a chapter from a book on modularity co-authored by Gunther Wagner which opens with the same link I had made.)

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Book Review: Biology’s First Law by McShea and Brandon (2010)

Book coverBiology is typically known as a science without laws. There is evolutionary theory, of course, but it’s quite complex and looks different depending on what level you are looking at it; nothing like Newton’s Force = mass * acceleration. Biology does have quite a few “rules” though, such as Cope’s rule, which states that “population lineages tend to increase in body size over evolutionary time,” but there, of course, always exceptions to the rule. The existence or non-existence of laws in biology (and specifically, evolution) is a large matter of debate in philosophy of biology and I am certainly not qualified to discuss it (especially because I haven’t read much about it!).

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Ants and Their Castes in the Spencer-Weismann Controversy

Wikipedia: Meat eater ant feeding on honey

Ant (Wikipedia)

Ants are evolutionarily weird and are quickly rising in my favorite organisms list.  The same evolutionary principles apply to ants as they apply to us, of course, but because ants are haplodiploid, live in large colonies, and have a caste system, biologists have to apply the same principles differently – it isn’t exactly intuitive. Ants (and other insects such as bees and termites) are frequently the subjects of hot debate when it comes to kin selection, but their role in evolutionary disputes is over a century old. Charles Darwin discussed them in The Origin of Species, but they were later the center of the controversy between Herbert Spencer and August Weismann.

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