Happy 277th birthday, Jean-Baptiste!


It has been customary for me to write a post every 1st of August celebrating the anniversary of the scientist who was, as far as I can see, the first evolutionary biologist. No, not Charles Darwin, but Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, the Chevalier de Lamarck. Born in 1744 to an impoverished branch of the French nobility, he wrote books on botany, coming to the attention of the Comte de Buffon, who employed him in the royal botanical garden in Paris. After Buffon’s death and the French Revolution, he was appointed to the least important curatorship in the new Museum of Natural History, as curator of “worms”, i.e., invertebrates.

Although originally a botanist, he became fascinated by the structure of invertebrates, and from 1801 on he argued that they had evolved in a treelike genealogy. His theory was propounded in his 1809 book “Philosophie zoologique”. Although it never convinced most zoologists, it influenced many thinkers in the early 1800s, including Charles Darwin.

Lamarck was not a crackpot but an important pioneer of invertebrate biology (he coined the words “invertebrate” and “biology”). He also put forward the first proposal for a mechanism explaining adaptation. No, not natural selection, but use and disuse. This is widely misunderstood, In what follows I want to briefly explain how it is that people who think of themselves as Lamarckians get it wrong.

Photography Contest XIII: Voting Ends Sunday


1000 apologies, but I will be having a bit of tsuris next Thursday, so I plan to cut off voting on Sunday, July 25, at noon, MDT. I will post the winner on Monday, July 26, at noon, MDT. Voting has slowed considerably in the last day or two; if you want to vote, you have the next 3 days to do so.

Photography Contest XIII: Finalists


Here are the finalists of the 2021 photography contest. It was nice to see some new names as well as old friends. With assistance from Our Wife and Harshest Critic, we chose 8, which we display below the Figurative Fold. We chose the photographs more on the basis of their pictorial quality than on their scientific interest. The text, if any, was written by the photographers and lightly edited for consistency. The majority of finalists are either macros or close-ups, so we did not define a macro category, as we had suggested in the “RFP.”

The finalists are presented in alphabetical order of last name. Please look through their photographs before voting for your favorite. Polling will close Friday, July 30, at approximately noon MDT, and we will display the winner at noon Monday, August 2.

Please remember that this is a photography contest, not a popularity contest, and discourage your friends from enlisting others specifically to vote for you.

Double Rainbow


Photograph by Ivy Turner.

Double Rainbow
Double rainbow – Wilmington, Vermont, June 30, 2021, 7:40 p.m.

What’s nice about this picture, besides that it is a nice picture, is that it shows a bright sky inside the primary rainbow and outside the secondary rainbow. These occur because (for the primary bow) droplets of water reflect light at all angles inside the primary bow, but the rays bunch up at the angle of the bow and give a bright dividing line between inside and outside; you may see a nice, if complicated, drawing here. Rays are likewise reflected at all angles outside the secondary bow but bunch up at the angle of the bow. The bows are colored because the index of refraction of the water droplets varies with color, but that is another subject.

P.S. Don’t forget the Photography Contest; entries close on Wednesday.