Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

On the stability of life

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

60sec_082.jpgThe University of Pennsylvania hosts a 60 second lecture series, in which faculty provide a perspective on their scholarship in just one minute. The constrained format seems to produce lectures that are more like performance, and language that is more like poetry. It’s an unusual opportunity to hear how scholars address some of the broadest philosophical questions in the simplest terms possible… in some cases, revealing some elegant thinking along the way. The lectures—all available for viewing online in the archives—have included topics like “John F. Kennedy’s Sex Life” and “Why is Mathematics Useful?

Today’s lecture, “On the Stability of Life,” was delivered by Joshua Plotkin. He links thermodynamics and the evolutionary process in describing the existence of life:

Ask yourselves: Is life possible? It doesn’t seem so, at least thermodynamically. After all, your skin cells are replaced every 6 weeks. All the atoms in your body are recycled each year, replaced by other atoms that were created billions of years ago, light-years away. And so in what sense are you the same person from year to year? Certainly in no physical sense. But you think you are alive, and stable enough to call yourself an individual. In what sense, then, are you stable? In an evolutionary sense. Your genetic information, though thermodynamically fragile, is dynamically repaired and transmitted with fidelity. Not perfect fidelity, thank goodness. Imperfections do arise from time to time. Without these mutations, evolution could not proceed. And so, the same entropic forces that threaten to destabilize life also allow life to evolve. Think about that, for a minute.

Upcoming year of evolution events

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Update: Tickets (free) are required to attend the Darwin’s Legacy symposium. Access yours online here.

Update: Due to overwhelming interest, the Darwin’s Legacy symposium has been moved to a larger venue. It will now be held in Harrison Auditorium.

yearofevolution.jpgAs part of the ongoing Year of Evolution, sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania and other Philadelphia institutions, February will be host to a handful of events celebrating the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species 150 years ago. These events will be held all over the city of Philadelphia and are open to the public. Visit the official site here to get more information about any of the individual events.

Thursday, February 5, 2009
Academy of Natural Sciences, 5:30 PM

The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment in the Obama Administration

Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, will speak about biological conservation and environmental protection.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
University of Pennsylvania bookstore, 6 PM

Banquet at Delmonico’s: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America

Barry Werth, author of Banquet at Delmonico’s, will explain how a British book of science came to radically change our American identity.

Thursday, February 12, 2009
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, 6 PM

Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution

Ken Miller, author of two books about evolution, creationism and intelligent design, will speak about this conflict in American culture. This lecture is the keynote address in the two-day colloquium, Darwin’s Legacy in 21st Century Biology.

Sunday, February 15, 2009
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, 1 PM

Darwin Day and Evolution Teach In

In celebration of Darwin’s 200th birthday, and in concert with Darwin Day celebrations all over the world, enjoy mini lectures on evolution, gallery tours, birthday cake and badminton.

Darwin Day celebration in Philadelphia: February 10, 2008

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

darwin-day.jpgWhat: Second annual Darwin Day and Teach-In

Where: University of Pennsylvania Museum

When: 1:00 to 4:00 PM on Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why: It’s Charles Darwin’s 199th birthday.

Who: You! The event is free and open to the public.

Next month the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology will host its second annual Darwin Day, in celebration of Charles Darwin’s 199th birthday. This event is part of International Darwin Day, which recognizes “the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity.”

In addition to cake (first come first served), this Darwin Day celebration will have a “teach-in” lecture series. Speakers include Dr. Louise Krasniewicz, who will talk about about origin myths around the world, and attorneys Eric Rothschild and Steve Harvey, who were plaintiff’s counsel for the Kitzmiller vs. Dover School Board case. Don’t live near Philadelphia? Check here for other Darwin Day celebrations around the globe, or get tips on starting your own event.

Free library talk in Philadelphia on… asteroid symbolism?

Monday, July 30th, 2007

suntree4.jpgThe blog malcolmxpark.org describes a dubious upcoming event in the Philadelphia Free Library’s Summer Reading program. Author Jacob Schwartz, PhD has written books, magazine articles and computer software on asteroid symbolism and “maintains an active astrological practice in a Philadelphia suburb.” He will be speaking at the Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library on August 8 at 4 PM, where participants can learn about astrology and create their own birth chart.

Schwartz makes some peculiar claims about his Asteroid Signatures software package, purchase price $350:

Strangely, the names of asteroids relate to Earthly events and persons with the names! For openers, when Bill Clinton was born, the asteroids Monica, Paula, and Williams formed a stellium opposite asteroids Hillary and Gingerich! When George W Bush was elected president in 2000 and 2004, the asteroid Busch conjoined asteroid Washingtonia!

Where are the asteroids relevant to you at significant dates in your life? The collective names in your life are as unique as your signature! That’s why we call this program Asteroid Signatures! Type in your name, or any other name, and the program provides the positions of those asteroids at any time you select, the discovery dates and discoverers are listed, along with the keywords used in their original citation by the Minor Planet Center.

You’ll discover an awesome level of personal connection between asteroid names important to you and important dates in your life when those names connected.

Schwartz and his associates at astrosoftware.com reject accusations of pseudoscience and make detailed claims to scientific legitimacy. In fact, Schwartz runs fairly far afield from his degree in communications with this claim:

Asteroids point to an evolutionary breakthrough for humanity. If we accept the premise that the naming of new planetary bodies correlates with new centers of consciousness within us, then suddenly there are thousands of new centers of consciousness lighting up in the cosmos and in our minds. If we are on the precipice of a quantum leap of consciousness where a greater proportion of the brain will be utilized, then the awareness of asteroid relevance can stimulate those newly utilized brain cells. Is asteroid symbolism the next step in our evolution?

There’s a comprehensive collection of expensive products for sale through astrosoftware.com and, presumably, Dr. Schwartz himself. I hope the Free Library does not end up enabling a scam artist.

Opening of unnatural history museum

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

On May 28, the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky will officially open. The museum co-opts the frozen-in-time, diorama style of actual factual natural history museums to portray cohabitation of prehistoric humans and “thunder-lizards,” according to an article in today’s New York Times. But that may be the least excruciating distortion of reality this museum showcases. According to the article, the exhibits portray a timeline of events succeeding Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden of Eden, including modern-day catastrophes that have resulted from increasing secularization. The message is pretty clear:

Start accepting evolution or an ancient Earth, and the result is like the giant wrecking ball, labeled “Millions of Years,” that is shown smashing the ground at the foundation of a church, the cracks reaching across the gallery to a model of a home in which videos demonstrate the imminence of moral dissolution. A teenager is shown sitting at a computer; he is, we are told, looking at pornography.

The Times article shows little restraint in discrediting the museum and describing its efforts as a troubling departure from reason. But I can’t resist criticizing one niggling detail: journalist Edward Rothstein writes that, contrary to the biblical creationism story exhibited by the museum, scientists assert “that life’s diversity is the result of evolution by natural selection.” Well, yes, many scientists do assert that life’s diversity is the result of natural selection. But that’s a problem in its own right, addressed in my most recent post about Michael Lynch’s recent PNAS paper. Lynch explains that biologists too often attribute phenomena like genome complexity—or taxonomic diversity—to natural selection, and overlook the importance of stochastic processes in evolution. It may seem too fine-grain a point among evolutionists who agree that the larger battle is over whether evolution is accepted at all. But misunderstanding the knowledge that science research provides is dangerous in itself, especially in an intellectual battle for hearts and minds.