Darwin Day was founded to celebrate science as an international language much like music. Darwin’s idea of natural selection as a mechanism of evolution has become a central organizing principle in biology.
Tuesday 09 February 2010
Hayes Auditorium in Hulman Hall
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
|“Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose”|
Dr. Lee A. Dugatkin
Department of Biology
University of Louisville
"Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose" is a tale of both natural history and American history. What started out in the Revolutionary War era as an international dispute over natural history quickly took on important political overtones. The story revolves around three fascinating individuals. One of these characters -- Thomas Jefferson -- is known to every schoolchild. The other two characters -- 1) the French Count and world-renowned naturalist, George-Louis Leclerc Buffon, who claimed that all life in America was "degenerate," weak and feeble, and 2) a very large, dead moose -- are less well known, but equally important to the story. Their interactions lay at the heart of an amazing tale in which Jefferson obsessed over a very large, very dead moose that he believed could help quash early French arrogance toward a fledgling republic in America, and demonstrate that a young America was every bit the equal of a well-established Europe. Despite Jefferson's passionate refutation, the theory of degeneracy far outlived Buffon and Jefferson; indeed, it seemed to have had a life of its own. It continued to have scientific, economic and political implications for 100 years, and also began to works its way into the literature of the day, with folks like Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, Washington Irving, Immanuel Kant, John Keats and Lord Byron entering the fray. Eventually the degeneracy argument died; but it did not die an easy death.