A (slightly embarassing) Darwin day at USC

This past Wednesday (4-15-09) I attended an interesting set of ‘Darwin Year’ lectures at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (Darwin Today: Evolution and Scientific Thought). The lectures were moderated by USC anthropologist Craig Stanford and the speakers included: Donald Johanson (paleoanthropologist and discoverer of the famous Lucy fossil), USC paleobiologist/ecologist David Bottjer, USC microbiologist Steve Finkel and last but certainly not least was my friend Eugenie Scott, director of The National Center for Science Education.

All the talks were interesting but the most entertaining was probably Dr. Finkel’s which focused on bacteria. In addition to all the fascinating stuff on evolution in prokaryotes his talk contained lots of amusing gross-out trivia about such things as how there are 300,000,000 bacteria per gram of fecal material living in the average persons colon (that’s about the same as the number of people living in the U.S.).

The talks wrapped up with an interesting round-table discussion of sorts between the speakers and the audiences (which contained several other USC faculty members), mostly revolving around the subject of Genie’s talk, which was of course on K-12 science education and the effects of antievolutionists on it.

I’ll be kicking myself for months because of Genie though (it’s not her fault though). Within the first minute of her talk she put up a slide of the NCSE’s logo and asked if anyone recognized the image. When no one spoke up she quickly said “tell’em Troy”.

Deer in the headlights.

I wasn’t expecting to be put on the spot, at least not that soon, I mean Genie has asked me questions during her talks before, which is normally fine, but this time my brain locked up. Fortunately she quickly let me off the hook and told everyone that it was based on a drawing from one of Darwin’s notebooks.

NCSE's logo

Of course this sort of thing happens to all of us, especially when we are surprised and under pressure, but in this case I have little excuse. You see just a few months ago I went to a special Darwin exhibit at the Huntington Library (San Marino, CA) and contained in that exhibit was the very notebook of Darwin’s in which appears the drawing which the NCSE’s logo is based upon. I even remember saying to myself, “oh look, there is the drawing the NCSE is using for their logo.”

The original from Darwin's notebook.

Flash forward to last Wednesday, and it’s “ah, uhm, ah, I don’t remember exactly where that’s from…”. Arrrrgh!

Ah well, as a consolation prize I was able to get a photograph of myself with Don Johanson to add to my collection.

Donald Johanson and yours truly.

Donald Johanson and yours truly.

[slapping self in head, “Darwin’s notebook, Darwin’s notebook…”]

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One thought on “A (slightly embarassing) Darwin day at USC

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