BILL #2: "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" by Sean Carroll

Bill&Ted2Crop.jpgThe second BILL is an entertaining and accessible introduction to evolution, with a focus on Mr. Darwin himself.

BILL the second is “Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” by Sean Carroll. (Not the cosmologist or the biologist formerly in Joe Thornton’s lab and currently at Harvard, but the evo-devo thinker who is Vice President for Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute [HHMI].) Carroll’s talk is the first in a four-part series on evolution, the 2005 Holiday Lectures sponsored by HHMI. The Holiday Lectures are probably an exaptation of The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures that gave us our inaugural BILL.

Here are some things to look for and think about:

  • An extensive historical account of Darwin’s thought, including some questions about the reactions of his family.
  • An emphasis on the fossil record.
  • A very interesting choice of an experimental study to illustrate natural selection: coat color in pocket mice. Why interesting? It’s the work of Hopi Hoekstra, coauthor of a harsh critique of evo-devo that started a quaint little scientific dustup. (The article and dustup were a couple years after the lecture. More at Pharyngula.)
  • Some simple math to show the reasonableness of evolutionary change over actual time scales.
  • Good questions from the audience, about how the mutations got there in the first place and whether the changes are a “coincidence.”

The lecture begins and ends with comments by Tom Cech. If you just want Carroll’s talk, start at about 4:00, and skip to 6:50 if you don’t want the intro video on Carroll’s background. And there’s a transcript here.