MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXI No. 1
September / October 2008
Silence of the Lions
MIT's New Supercomputing Network
Problems in Evaluating
Four-Year Colleges
Agenda Items: New and Old
An Update on the Educational Commons Subcommittee
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
Moving From Two Degrees to
Double Majors
MIT 4th Best College,
Top Engineering School
Darwin Bicentenntial Events
Planned at MIT
What is the Global Education and Career Development Center?
The First Step Toward Solving Global Warming: Getting MIT to Listen
MISTI Announces the
MISTI Global Seed Funds
Workplace 2.0: Improving Generativity, Creativity, and Faculty Quality of Life
Why So Few Faculty
are Involved in Service
Research Expenditures by Primary Sponsor (1999-2008)
Printable Version

Darwin Bicentennial Events Planned for MIT

Jonathan King

2009 will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. The bicentennial provides a timely opportunity to recognize Darwin’s contributions – as important now as they were in 1859 – and the importance of evolution in modern science. Groups opposed to quality science education continue to interfere with the teaching of evolution in our schools; the legislatures of a number of states continue to attempt to weaken the teaching of evolution; the Republican vice-presidential candidate has spoken in favor of teaching creationism in public schools.

To promote the study and teaching of evolution, a group of faculty and students is organizing an MIT Darwin Bicentennial Program. Our goals are not only to bring a deeper understanding of evolutionary processes to students, staff, and faculty, but also to forge stronger links with high school science teachers in neighboring school districts. The opening event in the series was a talk given on Wednesday, September 11, by Dr. Louise Mead of the National Center for Science Education, Oakland, California. Dr. Mead followed up her talk with a discussion of approaches to teaching evolution in the face of opposition.

MIT Darwin Bicentennial Conference

To inaugurate the 2009 bicentennial year, we have organized a three-day conference, Thursday – Saturday January 22-24. Thursday afternoon’s agenda will focus on the history of the Earth, with an evening presentation on climate change. The Friday focus is on recent advances in understanding the evolution of animals.

The Saturday session, to be held at the MIT Museum, will include analyses of Darwin’s period and contributions, and culminate with a review of the struggle over teaching evolution in the schools. The latter will be given by Prof. Kenneth Miller of Brown University, the chief witness in the Dover, PA evolution trial.

The intended audience for the first two days is the MIT community of students, graduate students, staff, and faculty interested in broadening and deepening their appreciation of evolutionary processes. An IAP class will be offered with the conference lectures as the centerpiece. The Saturday sessions will take place at the MIT Museum, affording accessibility to the Cambridge community. This session will be advertised in the Boston area community, and we hope to attract area high school science teachers.
The draft conference program can be found at: The organizing committee includes faculty members John Durant; David Housman; Jonathan King (Chair); Susan Lindquist; Harriet Ritvo; James Paradis; Hazel Sive; Maria Zuber. They have been assisted by graduate students Emiko Fire, Sarah Bagby, Erika Erickson, and Administrative Assistant Cindy Woolley.

Darwin’s birthday February 12,  is celebrated as Darwin Day at many institutions around the world (

A series of related activities are likely to develop within MIT during the bicentennial year. These range from special seminars for undergraduates and graduate students; film showings (Inherit the Wind, e.g.); artistic performance-based activities, and formal scientific lectures and seminars. We hope faculty will add material relating to evolutionary analysis and mechanisms to their classes, invite additional seminar speakers in these areas, and otherwise enrich the bicentennial year. Please communicate these activities to Ms. Cindy Woolley (x34722) who will perform a clearinghouse function.

Linking university scientists and high school science teachers

The MIT activities are part of a broader Massachusetts Darwin Bicentennial Project, which involves outreach to colleges and high schools. Participating institutions currently include Brandeis Biology, Northeastern Biology, Harvard Biology, and New England Biolabs. Outreach to other Massachusetts colleges and universities is continuing. Groups in these institutions will be contacting high school biology teachers in the area to plan joint activities, and to enhance inclusion of evolution related themes in the curriculum of area high schools. The talks by Louise Mead were the first step in the effort to prepare faculty and staff to be able to present the arguments for evolution in an effective and sensitive manner, in the diverse environment of a high school or even community forum.

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