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Darwin's Private Papers Get Released To The Internet 237

bibekpaudel writes "ScienceDaily reports that a wealth of papers belonging to Charles Darwin have been published on the internet, some for the first time. Some 20,000 items and 90,000 images were posted today to The new site is the largest collection of Darwin's work in history, according to organizers from Cambridge University Library 'This release makes his private papers, mountains of notes, experiments, and research behind his world-changing publications available to the world for free,' said John van Wyhe, director of the project. The collection includes thousands of notes and drafts of his scientific writings, notes from the voyage of the Beagle when he began to formulate his controversial theory of evolution, and his first recorded doubts about the permanence of species."
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Darwin's Private Papers Get Released To The Internet

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  • How fitting... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kingrames ( 858416 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:24PM (#23108400)
    ...that his works would be the ones to survive.
    • by Sabz5150 ( 1230938 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:26PM (#23108426)

      ...that his works would be the ones to survive.
      Naturally :)
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        One of the most interesting discoveries in these newly-released papers concerns Darwin's research into the FSM. Turns out that it originally swam before developing the ability to fly, the noodly appendages are actually vestigial flippers and the entire being evolved from a particularly virulent strain of fusili.
      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:53PM (#23108872) Homepage
        Now, quickly, everyone search through the papers for Swastikas or Nazi propaganda. I hear Ben Stein [] would sell out his dignity for something like that.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I hear Ben Stein would sell out his dignity for something like that.
          He can't sell something that he doesn't have. Wouldn't that be fraud?
        • Social darwinism IS an absolutely disgusting concept. Accepting it makes the logical leap that, because something exists in nature, it is morally justifiable. Canibalism exists in nature, as does rape, murder, starvation and genocide. Does anyone doubt this? And does anyone think these things are therefore justified?

          I can't believe anyone would be so f*@king stupid as to believe natural selection makes greed justifiable. I'd also like to point out that social darwinism has also been used to justify that whi
  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:26PM (#23108414)
    Should we tag this one "privacy"?
  • Survival (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wombatmobile ( 623057 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:30PM (#23108492)

    "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

    --Charles Darwin

    • Re:Survival (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:36PM (#23108572)

      "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

      A little off-topic, but this just looks like the epitaph on the RIAA's grave :)
    • Re:Survival (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hansraj ( 458504 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:37PM (#23108590)
      Exactly. Quite often I am amazed at how much misunderstanding there is about Darwin's theory. The part about who survives is pretty much tautological: "Whoever survives, survives", and hence not the interesting part. The interesting part is how big changes in species (even birth of completely new species) can be seen as aggregation of minor changes that increase the odds of one's survival, and the changes themselves do not always necessarily reflect our notion of "stronger" or "better".

      It is a pity really that many people have fallen in the social interpretation of Darwin's theory and more than once we have seen ugly consequences of that.
      • Re:Survival (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mikelu ( 120879 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:45PM (#23108714)
        The evolutionary tautology is more, "Organisms that survive long enough to reproduce, reproduce."

        The only question was how organisms transferred traits to their offspring, and this has since been answered to the professed satisfaction of even the creationists. Genetic passage of traits is indisputable, and evolution is a straightforward corollary.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by boris111 ( 837756 )
          • by Boronx ( 228853 )
            Don't worry, there are plenty of smart people breeding in poor countries that can't afford good birth control that will be happy to kill our idiot children for our land and resources.
        • Not really. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by jd ( 1658 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:11PM (#23109138) Homepage Journal
          Adaptation implies a flawed transfer, as a perfect transfer cannot yield the ability to adapt, only the ability to perpetuate. It may be a different permutation of traits, but the traits must already exist. The most adaptable, therefore, are those with the greatest number of flaws in the transfer of traits, as that will yield the greatest number of candidates with greater fitness for a new environment than the previous generation. Well, up to an extent. If the process exceeds an error rate proportional to the rate of change of the environment, you'd decrease the odds of holding onto traits that actually are useful/optimal. However, as the rate of change of the environment also changes, the ideal error rate changes, therefore what constitutes ideal adaptability must also change. This means that a species that is near-perfect in its ability to adapt at one point in time may be completely unsuitable at another point in time. It follows that the ability to adapt is a trait that itself must be held subject to the ability to adapt.

          I'd therefore rewrite the last piece to say something like "those with an ability to adapt most closely aligned with the pressure to adapt at that time, including those pressures exerted by changes within the pressure to adapt". Well, except that it's longer, less succinct, and less obvious in meaning to those not already familiar with the idea of evolution.

          It's not really a tautology. It's recursive and reversible (and therefore provable by induction from first principles) but the statement isn't necessarily true simply because of itself, mostly because "adapt" does not have a constant definition.

    • Is that a real quote? Where is it from?

      I've heard people dispute it, some have said it was Lamarck that said it.
    • How come us computer geeks, who are most adaptable to change of all, aren't getting laid?????
      • You have to leave your parent's basement first before you can start picking up chicks.
      • by mrbooze ( 49713 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:34PM (#23110310)
        Really? After 15+ years in IT, I haven't noticed that much adaptability to change in most IT folk. Confront a Windows admin with the need to work on UNIX, or a UNIX admin with the need to work on Windows, and hair starts falling out. Heck, sometimes asking a Linux admin to work on a commercial UNIX product gives them fits, and vice versa.

        And it goes on, make the sendmail person switch to postfix. The CVS expert switch to Subversion., etc etc.

        My experience leads me to believe that almost nobody hates change more than many IT professionals. Presumably because it means more hassles and work in a job where many are already overworked, maybe?
      • Hm, I always thought /. was a shining example of the least adaptability to change. How many getoffmylawn posts have you seen here? :) Why, when I was your age...!
    • by trb ( 8509 )

      It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

      This quote is quaint, and is often repeated on the web, but I see no record of it in "The Origin of the Species" or anywhere on the referenced Darwin site or in any other reliable source. Wikiquote claims that it's a misattribution. []

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

      --Charles Darwin

      And how do we measure "the one most adaptable to change"? Why it is whichever one survives, of course. Because of this definition it is not possible to falsify the claim that "the best-adapted ones survive". Imagine that we set out to corrupt an expirment which tries to prove, over a thousand years, that the best-adapted animals survive. The experimenters create a biodome out of an area of New Zealand and proceed to raise the temperature to 120 degrees. Then they wait a thousand years.

      If the thousand

      • The central insight of evolution is not that "the strong survive," that "the weak die off," or that "the best adapted have more offspring." These are fairly basic truisms that people have known, at an intuitive level, for thousands of years. Where do you think cows, sheep, wheat, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, and pigs come from? Domestic plants and animals are the result of thousands of generations of artificial selection. Farmers wanted larger kernels, so they bred corn plants with larger kernels to other
      • Your thought experiment is interesting, but it treads close to something like solipsism; how can we know that the outcome of *any* given scientific experiment hasn't been meddled with by Descartes' demon?

        You'd be just as well off stating that scientists are laboring under some misapprehension of causality.

        Besides, you think that the scientists haven't been watching through the windows for that thousand years?

    • "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

      --Charles Darwin

      He's definitely got a point, and it's something that's readily apparent if you look at people, civilisations, businesses... this is why the idea of "conservatism" seems completely counter-intuitive to me.

      OK, -1 Flamebait, I probably deserve it ;)
    • It should be noted that this does not mean "the one who changes the most", as many take it. The "change" is in the environment, and the "adaptation" need not be a change in direct response to the change of the environment. See: the sponge.
    • That's a weird quote. Google agrees that it's from Darwin, but I can't see a concrete reference at a glance. It sounds like a subtle mis-statement of his theory.

      Specifically, adaptability to change is only useful if there is a change in the environment which requires adaptation. If the environment is relatively stable from generation to generation (e.g. 10k years of savannah), being properly adapted is beneficial, but being adaptable in general is not.

      Or perhaps I am mis-parsing the quote. It sounds like he
  • Controversial? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KDan ( 90353 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:33PM (#23108530) Homepage
    ...when he began to formulate his controversial theory of evolution...

    Maybe it was controversial back then, but it sure as heck isn't now (not in civilised parts of the world, anyway). Should have phrased that "his then-controversial theory" - might have been a less controversial turn of phrase!

    • Re:Controversial? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FurtiveGlancer ( 1274746 ) <> on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:11PM (#23109124) Journal
      Does civility advocate|excuse dismissing opposing|differing opinions as meritless simply due to an innate sense of superiority? I've always believed that truly civilized indivduals have learned to disagree without being disagreeable. The quote was from John van Wyhe, director of the project. I'd think his opinion would hold some value in this dicussion. We seem to have a difference of opinion over controversy; how odd.
      • Agreeing to have differing opinions is one thing; blatantly disregarding concrete evidence and dismissing entire areas of proven science to promote your own fundamentalist beliefs is another thing entirely.

        I have no problem with the Wyhe quote, however, since the context of the sentence refers to the time period when the theory was first being proposed, when it was actually controversial.
      • Re:Controversial? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @05:45PM (#23111304)
        I think the GP was stating that in the field of science and especially biology there is no real controversy about the acceptance of evolution. There is a controversy in the acceptance of evolution in politics, education, and society. There may be some smugness by scientists about evolution but the main reason why most scientists dismiss alternates (creationism, intelligent design) is that those alternates are not grounded in science at all. Science generally welcomes differing opinions if they are grounded in good reasoning and are testable(and/or falsifiable). Anti-evolutionists do not present such opinions.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Does civility advocate|excuse dismissing opposing|differing opinions as meritless simply due to an innate sense of superiority?

        No, but it does allow dismissing opposing|differing opinions as meritless because they *are* meritless.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Deadplant ( 212273 )

      Maybe it was controversial back then, but it sure as heck isn't now
      I guess you weren't watching when the CNN moderator asked the republican presidential candidate contenders to raise their hands if they thought that the theory of evolution was incorrect.

      oh wait, you said 'civilized world'... never mind.
      • by xaxa ( 988988 )
        Even the Pope accepts evolution -- I think he said Genesis should be interpreted as how the human soul was 'created' (and also that it was written by people from an earlier time). I don't know why America has such a problem with this kind of reasoning.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:34PM (#23108532)
    News Item: Enforcement of 19th-century copyright precludes evolution of evolutionary sciences.
  • by Devin Jeanpierre ( 1243322 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:34PM (#23108536)
    Considering the 'evolution' (in the loosest possible sense) of his own theory, I'm wondering, first of all, how much it's really changed, and second of all, how many people will either get confused, or deliberately cause confusion, using these documents. It's not unheard of for certain creationists to misrepresent the theory, and the original flawed drafts and theory seem like fuel for this.
    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:44PM (#23108706) Journal
      Using Darwin's theory to attack evolutionary theory is rather like using Newtonian physics to attack General Relativity. Like physics, biology has grown substantially since both men's time.

      Darwin did get some things run. Most obvious was the means of heredity. He was not aware of Mendel's work. In fact, Mendelian genetics pretty much eclipsed Darwinian selection early in the 20th century. That, not Natural Selection, was the origin of a lot of the Social Darwinist/Eugenics movements; the application of barnyard selective breeding to humans, something that's quite opposed to Darwin's fundamental point that species could become better adapted to their environments naturally, whereas eugenics/social darwinism was more in the mode that a species needed active improvement, because the natural state was towards degradation.

      That's why Expelled and all those nuts out there trying to associate Darwin's theory with the eugenics movement and with Nazi race theory are completely off base. Darwin's theory is in opposition the very idea that a population's reproduction needs to be rigorously managed (as a farmer would do) for a "better" (which, in Darwinian selection, is always a relative, statistical view, and not an absolute one as it was with the eugenics proponents) species.
      • Detractors of evolution sometimes point to this misuse of evolution as why we must reject it. Interestingly these critics (most often creationists) fail acknowledge that the Nazis also used Christianity to justify their policies too. There are gads of propaganda that where Nazis proclaim that God has told them that Aryans are the master race. So the Nazis twisted science and religion to further their goals.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          The claims that Darwin inspired Hitler (which, from what I understand, is one of the major themes of the pro-ID film Expelled) is not as straightforward as Creationists would like to claim. First of all, Darwin seems to have been, for a Victorian, a rather enlightened man. He was against slavery, and doesn't seemed to have believed that any particular race was better or lesser than the other. He never advocated Natural Selection as some sort of social remedy, but rather as the way in which life has diver
    • the theory of evolution by natural selection has been refined and added to as more data was available, for example genetic studies, fossil records etc. as to whether creationists would try to use these documents to support their denialism, I have no doubt they will. In fact, in my experience, they are far more interested in quote mining/splicing sentences together that have absolutely nothing to do with one another to attempt to support their claims about prominent members/icons of the scientific communit
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by interiot ( 50685 )

      I'm wondering, first of all, how much it's really changed

      At the time, Darwin didn't know about any of the actual mechanisms that enabled the transmission of genes, he just inferred that they must exist via statistics. Since then, we've discovered DNA, and it confirmed most of his findings. We've been able to use population genetics to figure out what route humans took to initially expand to all the continents [], and everything else that the actual mitochondrial/nucleic DNA mechanisms taught us.

  • by QuantumHobbit ( 976542 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:39PM (#23108616)
    "Some 20,000 items and 90,000 images were posted today"

    I'll assume this means that no one read the article before posting, although that isn't anything new.
  • by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:43PM (#23108680) Journal
    THIS is what the Internet is about. This is why information wants to be free.

    Just 100 years ago, maybe less, you would have had to be someone very special to see this much information from one scientist, and most probably have to be vested in whatever answers or information can be gleaned from it.

    Now, however, the Internet allows us ALL to enjoy the privilege of reading his works, notes, and seeing his drawings... for free, at will, at home.

    If knowledge is power, this is some really powerful stuff. Forget listening to anyone tell you what he said, just look it up in HIS notes. I wonder how many college papers were written about Darwin and the fallout from this information to date? Wonder what future papers will look like?

    The Internet, for all its down sides, is a great thing....
  • spluff! (Score:5, Funny)

    by spazdor ( 902907 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:45PM (#23108726)
    That sound you just heard was the collective orgasms of the entire forum membership.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by williamhb ( 758070 )

      That sound you just heard was the collective orgasms of the entire forum membership.

      The sister project Darwin Correspondence Project [] provides access to the letters Darwin wrote, including those describing his own views on science and religion.

      According to someone close to the project, one of their hopes is that by opening up Darwin's letters to the public and showing how he took a moderate and considerate approach in his own correspondence, we can move away from the invective-filled polar

  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:49PM (#23108790) Homepage Journal
    20,000 items and 90,000 images were posted today... The new site is the largest collection of Darwin's work in history...

    Wow, quite a feat. Must have taken some really intelligent design to put all that together and make it work.
    • The new site is the largest collection of Darwin's work in history... Wow, quite a feat. Must have taken some really intelligent design to put all that together and make it work.

      I'm sure Antranig Basman (the technical director) will feel duly complimented! And he has fairly strong views on "reasonable design", in webapps anyway: Reasonable Server Faces []. (Ah, any excuse to gratuitously advertise a colleague's work!)

  • by interactive_civilian ( 205158 ) <{mamoru} {at} {}> on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:07PM (#23109066) Homepage Journal

    when he began to formulate his controversial theory of evolution
    It really seems sad to me that it is still considered "controversial".

    The theory of evolution through natural selection, while it has been modified to more accuracy through advances in genetics and our understanding of environmental science and ecology, is one of the best supported theories that science has to offer about how ANYTHING works. It's up there with things like "Ohm's Law" (E=IR), Newton's Laws of Gravity and/or Einstein's Theories of Relativity, the kinetic theory of gases, etc.

    People don't question the scientific understanding about what makes our computers, mobile phones, PDAs, microwaves, etc. work, yet they still have issues with evolution, despite the fact that it is all based on EXACTLY THE SAME scientific method (in a nutshell, "observe - question - hypothesize - test - analyze - repeat") as the those things. It really boggles the mind.

    I'm not saying the theory of evolution should not be questioned. ALL SCIENCE should be questioned, periodically even, but it should be questioned scientifically (i.e. does my hypothesis fit the data better, and can I devise a test to show this?) But, is it really so hard to accept the idea that we may not be "God's gift to the universe" and are only as important as we make ourselves to be, rather than relying on some higher power, some creator to make us the most important thing around? Honestly, and I grew up with religion, it is a concept that I can no longer understand (and I doubt I ever understood it in the first place)...

    What is it? Fear that there may be nothing but what we leave behind after we die? Fear that if we are the product of an unimaginable amount of interactions over a difficult to imagine number of years and nothing more than that? Is it hubris? Fear that we may share the same ancestors as gorillas and orangutans?

    Why is the theory of evolution still a controversy? As far as science goes, there is no other hypothesis that even comes close to explaining biology as well. How can so many people (and, honestly, mainly in the United States) still reject at most and at least question based on unscientific ideas -- i.e. not based on the scientific method -- the theory of evolution?

    I have no problems with the idea of questioning the theory of evolution, if you can do it on scientific grounds. But doing otherwise is the same (to me) as questioning gravity, electronics, chemistry, etc. If one can accept those things, then why is evolution so hard to accept?

    • by SpinyNorman ( 33776 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:15PM (#23110048)
      It's worse than that - evolution isn't just up there with things like Ohm's law and the law of gravity... it ceased being a theory/law altogether when DNA was discovered thereby making Darwin's hypothesized inheritable traits a reality.

      Given the now known existence of DNA & mechanisms of genetic variation, the tautology "the fittest survive" points out that evolution HAS to occur.

      variation + the fittest survive + hereditory traits => successive generations become fitter

      How could they possibly NOT become fitter (evolve)?!!

      Speciation is similarly unavoidable. Population genetic drift comes about by interbreeding, so lack of interbreeding will lead to diverging sub-population genetics, and there is nothing to stop this proceeding past the no-turning-back (speciation!) point of no longer being able to interbreed.

      Some of the reasons why some people find it hard to accept are :

      - It's personal - it clashes with their religious beliefs

      - It's personal - it clashes with their egotistical belief of being special, not an animal

      - Evolution of large animal species happens to slowly to observe, and most people are not familiar with other forms of evolution (e.g bacterial, or genetic design) that do happen observably quickly

      - It's taught horribly in schools. When you are taught properly about population speration and genetic drift, environmental change and punctuated equilibrium, speciation as evolution past the point of inability to interbreed, it makes sense. If you instead believe evolution happens to individuals vs populations, or that all genetic changes are claimed to be incrementally beneficial (vs punctuated equilibrium, or even Lamarkian drivel like giraffe's necks getting longer because of their stretching for leaves, then you will be very confused!
  • by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @05:19PM (#23110986)
    I'm pretty disgusted with Ben Stein. I used to see him as an example of an intelligent conservative, and yet now, he blows all his credibility.

    The problem with evolution is that it requires an amount of critical thinking to understand, and while subtle, the nuances are easily exploited by the cynical against the theory itself.

    The "Ben Steins" of the world mystify me. I can't believe someone is so evil to purposefully make an argument they know to be false against science. I can't also believe that he is so stupid as to believe ID.

    And yes, ID supporters, ID is stupid. It isn't science. It is religion, and "god did it" is not a valid scientific theory. ID is to biological science what "circle squaring" is to mathematics.

    Evolution is a proven fact. Organisms change with their environment. This is irrefutable. The "Theory" of evolution is the hows, whys, and over all path that organism A has taken to become what it is.

    In science, we seek to understand the hows, whys, and path better.
  • Just in time (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Plazmid ( 1132467 )
    Excellent, they released them just in time, that Expelled [] movie comes out tomorrow. Hopefully someone can convince Ben Stein that evolution isn't lightning striking a mud puddle.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.