Dodos flock to Darwin Day celebration

Lecture, film, exhibits pay tribute to evolution

For an example of how evolution works, look no further than Richard Schowen’s inflamed sinuses.

Schowen, who gave a lecture Monday as part of the “Darwin Day” festivities on the Kansas University campus, is taking the drug Augmentin for a sinus infection – a drug that became necessary only after bacteria evolved to develop a resistance to penicillin.

“Evolution is in full swing now, just as it always has been,” said Schowen, a KU professor emeritus of pharmaceutical chemistry. “It’s happening to us all the time. It’s happening throughout the biosphere all the time.”

Schowen’s noon-hour lecture was one of about a dozen events on the KU campus to commemorate the birthday of Charles Darwin, who would have turned 198 on Monday. The events included an evening screening of “Flock of Dodos,” a movie by a former KU student, Randy Olson, about the controversies in Kansas and Pennsylvania surrounding the teaching of evolution in schools.

KU researchers were on hand at an open house at the Natural History Museum. The faculty set up special displays of current research in evolution.

Town Peterson, curator of ornithology, displayed a few of the thousands of birds in the collection and explained the changes and variation among them.

“Evolution is a natural process,” he said. “It’s essentially indisputable.”

Steve Case, a KU researcher and chairman of the committee of scientists and teachers who developed science standards supporting evolution, helped organize the event.

He said the event stepped up to the challenge, set by “Flock of Dodos,” to communicate better.

“We have psychologists and paleobiologists and others who are demonstrating that evolutionary research is still fundamental to a lot of disciplines,” Case said. “I don’t think a lot of people know that.”

Today, some KU faculty and others plan to head to Topeka to speak before the Kansas State Board of Education. The board is expected to rewrite science standards to do away with language critical of evolution, which was added in 2005 by a conservative majority that was voted out last year.

Jack Krebs of Kansas Citizens for Science, a Darwin Day sponsor, said he plans to speak to the board. The day, from his standpoint, will be significant, he said.

“It’s been two and a half years since the standards committee was convened and at least a year and a half (was) wasted because of this intelligent design interference in the process,” he said.