Setting the record straight

DARWIN'S MISTAKE and what we are doing to correct it (September 19-22, 2009)

Darwin wrote in his memories of the “Voyage of the Beagle”, when he stopped by the Azores on his way back home and visited Terceira Island, September 20th, 1836: “I enjoyed my day’s ride, though I did not find much worth seeing”. As Azoreans, scientists, we silently regret this most damaging statement about these islands, although we frankly understand that, after 4 years at sea, Darwin was tired and eager to get home…

About fifty years later, when corresponding with the Azorean malacologist Francisco Arruda Furtado, Darwin wrote: “I consider it a fortunate event for science, that a man like yourself [...] should inhabit a group of oceanic islands. [...] You have a splendid field for observation and I do not doubt but that your researches will be very valuable” (letter from C. Darwin to F. Arruda Furtado, July 3, 1881). As Azoreans, scientists, we secretly wish this comment would one day be applicable to us!


We want to be part of the worldwide commemorations of Darwin and his “On the Origin of Species”, for Darwin was here and species are presently being originated here. For this reason we are preparing a symposium, in the Azores, having the “AZORES ISLANDS” as the unifying theme:


“DARWIN’S MISTAKE and what we are doing to correct it”

(September 19-22, 2009)

This time we promise Darwin(ians) 4 unforgettable days in the Azores when, among others, we will humbly state our past/present and future contributions. A sketch of programme follows:

DAY 1. “The way we were”Although geologically young, the Azores have one of the few examples of neogene subtidal of oceanic islands and we have been digging it. We possibly hold an important key to the understanding of the effects of glaciations on the North Atlantic biota. Moreover, our hot-springs harbour archaic microbes that encrypt within the very secrets of life. Paulyn Cartwright, who searches for consistency for the evolutionary patterns in the fluidity of medusozoans, has kindly granted us the honour of this day’s opening address.

DAY 2. “The dynamics of colonization” – Isolated in the middle of the North Atlantic, at the crossroads of currents and winds, at the hinge of the temperate/subtropical realm, the Azores epitomise a biogeographical paradigm: against winds and currents, they are European! Peter Grant, who unravelled the interdependence of biotic/abiotic factors associated with the diversity of the Galapagos finches, has kindly granted us the honour of this day’s opening address.

DAY 3. “The dynamics of evolution” – Terrestrial molluscs are the Azorean “finches”; half of them are endemic and speciation can really be caught red-handed here. We are convinced that punctuated equilibrium is seen alive in our snails. Bruce Lieberman, who learned from the fathers of punctuated equilibrium – Niles Eldredge and Stephen J. Gould – and has tracked evolution from deep time, has kindly granted us the honour of this day’s opening address.

            “Darwin and Society” – Darwin’s work profoundly influenced the world, far beyond the realm of science; it touched the very roots of people’s lives, their social agreements, their religious believes. Here, reason and heart often have clouded the desire for a much needed mutual understanding. Eugenie C. Scott, who has devoted her carrier to promote the understanding and separation of science and faith, has kindly granted us the honour of this session’s opening address.

DAY 4. “The dynamics of conservation” – It is here (and we aren’t proud of it!) that lives the most endangered bird of Europe, the Azorean bullfinch Pyrrhula murina. It is also here that a prize-winning project to protect it is being developed. Rosemary Grant, who was here in the 70’s looking at our finches, has kindly granted us the honour of this day’s opening address.

Aware of our insignificance but strategically perched upon the shoulders of the tallest in the world of science, we proudly invite you to come and enjoy the Azores and the science herein developed.

Yours truly,

Fri 01 Aug 2008

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