Consensus? Science Talks

Date: Saturday, 16 November 2013

Location: EXCEL London, UK

When you hear the word ‘evolution’, who is the first person that pops into your head? Probably Charles Darwin. People have created numerous monuments in his name including a statue at the main entrance of the Natural History Museum in London. The University of Cambridge has a college named after him. He is featured on the 10 pound bank note in the UK. There is a statue of him in front of Shrewsbury Library, the building which used to house Darwin’s school when he was a boy. In Australia, there is even a city named after him. Like Quentin Cooper, the event’s host and former presenter of Radio 4’s Material World said, please don’t ask the name of the city.

However, this event was held to celebrate another scientist who made a significant contribution to evolution. Who has heard of Alfred Russel Wallace? He was a British explorer, biologist, anthropologist and naturalist best known for his work on biogeography. Biogeography is a key concept in the Theory of Evolution. It is the study of how species and ecosystems are distributed through geological time.

On Alfred Russel Wallace’s 100th anniversary of his death, the first statue in the world of him was unveiled at the Natural History Museum in London by Sir David Attenborough. The reason that the event was held was to raise money for the statue. Also, since the Natural History Museum works on donations, if you would like to make a contribution (which you should since it is an amazing place that everyone should visit) please visit their website or the museum itself to do so.

Back to the event. The first speaker of the day was Bill Bailey, a comedian, musician and TV and radio presenter. He spoke of his most recent project, Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero, a documentary about Wallace. He traveled to Indonesia and Borneo, the same locations where Wallace did his research, to create his travelogue. Bailey said that Wallace had been “airbrushed out of history”.

The next speaker was Professor Richard Fortey with his talk ‘Something old, something new: Why fossils still matter in the era of molecular genetics’. What interests him the most is trilobites which he showed by wearing one around his neck. He is a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London. During his talk he spoke of feathered dinosaurs (could the feathers be an evolutionary adaptation to keep their eggs warm since dinosaur eggs were found in nests much like chicken eggs?) and imaging techniques used to derive whole structures of specimens just by scanning a fossil.

Professor Richard Wiseman was the next speaker. He is a Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, UK. He is also a member of The Magic Circle. His talk included optical illusions and magic tricks. Not to be disrespectful to all the other speakers of the day but Wiseman’s speech was the one the audience enjoyed the most (probably because it was mostly about finding out things about themselves, therefore agreeing with ‘the selfish gene’ explanation in a far-fetched way). He spoke of his studies on anomalistic psychology and the psychology of paranormal belief, making many people from the audience, including myself, want to buy one of his books, Paranormality: why we see what isn’t there.

The last, but most certainly not least, speaker was Professor Richard Dawkins. His talk was titled Evolution: The New Classics. He spoke of how evolution should be taught in schools just as classics are and how evolution can be found in every aspect of our lives including medicine, economics, politics, and many others. Of course, as soon as his talk was over, a record number of hands shot up for questions. He was very kind to sign his books to some eager fans including myself; my copy of The Selfish Gene is now signed by its author!

It is worth mentioning the day’s entertainment, the very talented Jonny Berliner with his ‘Science Songs’. He sang about dark matter, DNA (“three little letters with a lot to say”), Faraday, saving the humphead wrasse and, of course, Darwin and Wallace.

It was a day to remember. Unfortunately, people who attend events are the ones who already agree with these theories. People with different opinions should attend these events so that they can have both sides of the story (the never-ending Science Vs. Religion debate) and make an informed decision.

“Modification of form is admitted to be a matter of time” -Alfred Russel Wallace



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