984-985 Correspondence.indd

NATURE|Vol 462|24/31 December 2009
Goodbye to Darwin
from a contemporary
with vision
One night some 40 years ago,
I was working late and alone in the
library at the Marine Biology
Laboratory at Woods Hole (in
those days, the library never really
closed), searching for something
in the 1882 volume of Archiv für
Protistenkunde. As I opened it, out
fell a folded page from the magazine
The Nation (still publishing today),
dated 27 April 1882.
The page, headed ‘Charles
Darwin’, was his obituary. As far
as I know, it has not been reprinted
or indexed in, for example,
the Darwin archive at http://
darwin-online.org.uk. There is no
indication of the author’s identity,
although it would be gratifying if it
were his supporter and friend, the
American botanist Asa Gray.
I was impressed by the
prescient observations on Darwin.
For example, the final paragraph
points out “There can be little
doubt that Mr. Darwin’s name will
go down in history as that of the
greatest scientific inquirer and the
most pregnant scientific thinker
that has lived since Newton.
Since the beginnings of modern
learning, probably no single idea
has wrought upon the minds of
men with such rich and manifold
results as the idea of ‘natural
selection’; and it is evident that
what we have already seen is but
an earnest of vastly more that is
to come.”
Richard Kool School of Environment
and Sustainability, Royal Roads
University, Victoria, British Columbia
V9B 5Y2, Canada
e-mail: [email protected]
Global Darwin: long
kept under wraps
in Pakistan
Marwa Elshakry’s Opinion article
(Nature 461, 1200–1201; 2009,
and see go.nature.com/97zlyr)
makes no mention of the
conflict of Darwin’s ideas with
popular religious beliefs in some
conservative societies across the
eastern world. There, the writings
and thoughts of intellectuals,
however influential, are no match
for traditional religion.
For example, in Pakistan it was
not until 2002 that a chapter on
evolution was included for the
first time in a school textbook, as a
result of the federal government’s
educational reforms. The earlier
decades of attempts to suppress
scientific ideas were certainly not
Elshakry makes reference to
Muhammad Iqbal, the Muslim
thinker and reformer from early
last century. Although Iqbal
sought to challenge the traditional
interpretation of religious beliefs
and to understand religious
principles in light of modern
scientific thought, he avoided
any direct mention of evolution
or natural selection in his Urdu
and Farsi writings. This was not
because he was unaware of
Darwin’s works, but probably
because he realized his audience
was not yet ready to appreciate
the significance of these ideas.
Given their background of
widespread illiteracy and poverty,
deep-rooted social and religious
conservatism, and colonial rule,
religion was these people’s last
hope — and it was not the time to
take that hope away.
Saheeb Ahmed Kayani National
University of Sciences and Technology,
Islamabad-44000, Pakistan
e-mail: [email protected]
Global Darwin: ideas
blurred in early
eastern translations
The early diffusion of Darwin’s
ideas into China resulted in
multiple interpretations, imperfect
translations and unsatisfactory
terminology, as James Pusey
notes in his Opinion article
(Nature 462, 162–163; 2009).
However, he inadvertently implies
that it was the Chinese scholar
Yan Fu who translated ‘evolution’
as jinhualun, which means
‘theory of progressive change’.
In fact, the word jinhualun
originated in Japan in the 1870s,
gaining popularity in China only
after appearing in Ma Junwu’s
later translation of Darwin’s The
Origin of Species.
Instead, Yan Fu coined the
term tianyanlun. The Chinese
words tian and yan are layered in
meaning, with tian translatable as
‘heaven’ and yan as ‘development’
or ‘performance’, among other
concepts. But most would agree
that tian corresponds nicely to
the English word ‘nature’, whereas
yan in this context denotes
So, ‘the theory of natural
evolution’ was Yan’s preferred
translation — a much more
agreeable term, whether or not
its alternative meanings are
David Flannery Department
of International Studies,
Macquarie University, Sydney,
New South Wales 2109, Australia
e-mail: [email protected]
Readers may comment on
the Global Darwin series at
Don’t forget the
artists when studying
perception of art
Martin Kemp in Books & Arts
(Nature 461, 882–883; 2009)
suggests using functional
neuroimaging to study the
viewing and reception of artworks.
But such direct measures of brain
activity allow only for correlations
between brain responses and the
task of the viewer.
Clinical neuropsychologists
have already studied the
consequences of brain damage
on cognition more directly. Insight
into neurocognitive factors
underlying art-making has come
from, for instance, the effects
of dementia on the abstract
expressionist William de Kooning
(1904–97) and of stroke on the
German artists Lovis Corinth
© 2009 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
(1858–1925) and Otto Dix
(1891–1969). Some milder
conditions can even enhance
productivity and creativity. For
example, the metaphysical art of
Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978)
may have been inspired by
migraine or epilepsy.
Kemp focuses entirely
on the beholder, as though
— to paraphrase the French
philosopher Roland Barthes
(Aspen 5–6; 1967) — the birth of
the viewer must be at the cost of
the death of the artist. However,
art historians and neuroscientists
also need to take into account
the maker and the making of
artworks — a collaboration that
is successfully being developed
in the Swiss Artists-in-Labs
programme (www.artistsinlabs.
Olaf Blanke, Luca Forcucci, Sebastian
Dieguez Laboratory of Cognitive
Neuroscience, Brain Mind Institute,
École Polytechnique Fédérale de
Lausanne, Station 19,
1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
e-mail: [email protected]
How much are
we willing to pay
for a fossil?
The outrage expressed by Elwyn
Simons and others over the sale
of a 47-million-year-old fossil for
an enormous sum (Nature 460,
456; 2009) may not be altogether
A fossil’s intrinsic value relates
to its preservation, rarity, scientific
interest and completeness.
Arguably, this may be reflected as
a commercial value to museums
or private collectors.
The price a fossil is likely to
fetch is of considerable interest
to modern Chinese farmers,
for example, as it was to their
European predecessors around
Bolca in the Italian Alps and
Messel in Germany. Their
excavations are often crude
and can damage the fossil, but
they still expect payment from
interested professionals.
Worldwide closure of the
NATURE|Vol 462|24/31 December 2009
“Kepler claimed that the star followed
by the Magi was the equivalent of the
stella nova of 1604–05.”Martin Kemp, page 987
A toast to Mendeleev,
who merits more
than periodic honour
market would have the unwanted
effect of causing illegal trafficking.
Regulations regarding fossil finds
are necessary.
In Italy, these are very strict:
like archaeological objects, fossils
belong to the state and cannot
be sold. However, their monetary
value is decided by professionals
appointed by an archaeological
board; a small percentage of the
sum is then divided between the
discoverer and the owner of the
land where the fossil was found.
This law has proved efficient in
protecting our natural and cultural
Elisabetta Cioppi, Stefano
Dominici Museo di Storia Naturale
dell’Università di Firenze, Sezione di
Geologia e Paleontologia, Via La Pira 4,
50121 Firenze, Italy
e-mail: [email protected]
‘Snow joke as festive
season gives rise to a
blizzard of fake flakes
Parts of the world are once
again knee-deep in images of
snow crystals for the Christmas
and New Year festivities.
Unfortunately, the grand diversity
of naturally occurring snow
crystals is commonly corrupted
by incorrect ‘designer’ versions
— as illustrated by the faux
octagonal snowflakes depicted
in a Nature online subscription
advertisement and, ironically,
captioned “...for anyone who
loves science”.
The snowflake’s natural sixfold
symmetry stems from the water
molecules’ hexagonal crystal
lattice, held together by a
hydrogen-bonding network and
the structural form of lowest
energy under the ambient cold
conditions. This hexagonal shape
has been known since at least
400 years ago, when the
astronomer Johannes Kepler
published a treatise on the subject
On the Six-cornered Snowflake (De
nive sexangula Tampach; 1611), as
a new-year’s gift to his patron —
modern editions are still available.
Beautiful photographs abound,
including those taken by Vermont
farmer Wilson A. Bentley starting
in 1885 (W. A. Bentley &
J. Humphreys Snow Crystals
McGraw-Hill; 1931), or see www.
snowcrystals.com. Why then do
many artists invent their own
physically unrealistic snow
We who enjoy both science and
captivating design should aim to
melt away all four-, five- or eightcornered snow crystals from
cards, children’s books and
advertisements, by enlightening
those who unwittingly generate
and distribute them. Let’s
welcome this as an opportunity
to share a discussion about the
true beauty of science over a mug
of hot punch.
Thomas Koop Department of
Chemistry, Bielefeld University,
33615 Bielefeld, Germany
e-mail: [email protected]
Rewilding can cause
rather than solve
ecological problems
Prehistoric-restoration schemes
such as those described in your
News Feature (Nature 462,
30–32; 2009) are highly unusual.
Introducing a mix of native and
exotic ungulates into former
agricultural land could constitute
a risky conservation strategy.
Reintroduction of native
species to portions of their former
range from which they were
extirpated is a well-established
conservation tool. But there are no
scientific grounds for introducing
animals such as elephants,
camels, cheetahs and lions into
novel environments. Numerous
scientifically driven concerns bear
on these maverick programmes,
including adverse effects of alien
species on the ecosystems they
are meant to foster; importation
of diseases that may leap to
native species; escapes that lead
to hybridization; and predators
jumping fences to endanger
There are sociopolitical
concerns too, such as plundering
wildlife from countries and
ecosystems where they are
naturally found in order to stock
game parks, and persuading a
conservation-weary public to
accept large charismatic exotics
as substitutes for contemporary
native species and ecosystems.
We therefore advocate a
moratorium on importing
non- indigenous megafauna
into ecosystems. Ill-considered,
poorly documented introductions
cannot be trusted to turn back the
ecological and evolutionary clocks
on anthropogenic change.
Tim Caro Department of Wildlife,
Fish and Conservation Biology,
University of California, Davis,
California 95616, USA
e-mail: [email protected]
Paul Sherman Department of
Neurobiology and Behavior,
Cornell University, Ithaca,
New York 14853, USA
© 2009 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
Before the year is out, let’s raise a
glass to the great Russian chemist
Dmitrii Mendeleev, to celebrate
the 140th anniversary of his
periodic table of the elements.
Russia has commemorated this,
and the 175th anniversary of
Mendeleev’s birth, with a postage
stamp (pictured) and a two-rouble
silver coin.
Mendeleev’s outstanding
achievement was to organize all
the chemical knowledge of the
day into a single table and to
predict the existence of new
elements such as scandium,
gallium and germanium. His
periodic table, published in 1869,
contained empty spaces to
accommodate these as-yet
undiscovered chemical elements.
Mendeleev’s periodic law and
periodic table of the elements
were welcomed by the world’s
scientific community, and yet
he received scant recognition
for his work during his lifetime.
He was never awarded a Nobel
prize, for example. And the third
Tsar Alexander is said to have
blocked Mendeleev’s election
as a full member of the Russian
Academy of Sciences, although
he was allowed to continue as a
corresponding member.
However, Mendeleev has been
recognized more recently. This
year, the American Chemical
Society celebrated his periodic
table during its national chemistry
week, with the theme ‘Chemistry
— it’s elemental’.
In keeping with terms such as
Newtonian mechanics, Darwinian
theory, Mendelian genetics and
Watson–Crick hydrogen bonding,
should the world not honour
Mendeleev by referring to his
achievement as the ‘Mendeleev
periodic table of the elements’?
Renad I. Zhdanov Functional
Genomics and Lipidomics Lab,
Institute of General Pathology and
Pathophysiology, 8 Baltiiskaya Street,
Moscow 125315, Russia
e-mail: [email protected]