Monthly Archives: February 2014

February 29 (O.S.=February 18), 1792 (a Wednesday)

Karl Ernst von Baer

On this date, the Estonian-born German biologist and embryologist Karl Ernst von Baer was born. He was an important precursor to Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution.

For more than a century, scientists had attempted to determine the exact nature and location of the mammalian egg. During his research in 1826, Baer discovered the mammalian egg by identifying a yellowish spot within the ovarian follicle visible only with a microscope. He developed this idea in his 1827 treatise, De ovi mammalium et hominis genesi (On the Origin of the Mammalian and Human Ovum).

Baer studied the embryonic development of animals, discovering the blastula stage of development and the notochord. Together with Heinz Christian Pander and based on the work by Caspar Friedrich Wolff, Baer described the germ layer theory of development (ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm) as a principle in a variety of animal species. He summarized his findings in his two-volume textbook entitled Über Entwickelungsgeschichte der Thiere (On the Development of Animals) which he published between 1828 and 1837, laying the foundation for comparative embryology.

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February 28, 1947 (a Friday)

An angry mob storms the Yidingmu police station in Taipei on February 28, 1947

On this date, about two thousand people gathered in front of the Bureau of Monopoly in Taipei, Taiwan to protest an incident on the previous evening. The Chinese Governor, Chen Yi, responded with machine guns, killing several people on the spot, which soon led to the massive slaughter of thousands of Taiwanese at the hands of Chinese troops sent from China by Chiang Kai-Shek.

After the end of World War II, the Allied Forces had left the occupation of Taiwan to Chiang, who was still holding on to large parts of China with his Nationalist forces. The Taiwanese, who had been under Japanese rule from 1895 through 1945, initially welcomed the Chinese Nationalist forces. But their joy soon changed into sorrow and anger, when the new authorities turned out to be repressive and corrupt.

The arrest of a woman selling cigarettes without a license on the previous evening (February 27) was the spark which led to large-scale public protests against repression and corruption. For some ten days, Chiang, still on the mainland, and his governor Chen Yi kept up the pretense of negotiations with leaders of the protest movement, but at the same time they sent troops from the mainland.

2-28 Incident in woodcut; the artist was executed.

As soon as the troops arrived, they started rounding up and executing people, in particular scholars, lawyers, doctors, students, and local leaders of the protest movement. A film that aptly recreates the ethos of the times is A City of Sadness(1989). In total between 18,000 and 28,000 people were murdered. Thousands of others were arrested and imprisoned in the “White Terror” campaign which took place in the following decade. Many of these remained imprisoned until the early 1980s.

The 2-28 Incident was the beginning of 40 years of repressive martial law on the island, during which Chiang’s Kuomintang mainlanders ruled the Taiwanese with an iron fist. The book A Borrowed Voice (eds. Linda Arrigo, Lynn Miles) has many first-hand accounts of this dark period in history; notably the cloak-and-dagger type underground activity that expats undertook to smuggle out of Taiwan the names of political prisoners to Amnesty International and the outside world. This period ended only in 1987, when martial law was lifted and Taiwan started to move towards democratization. This is the longest period of martial law in world history.

2-28 Massacre Monument

In 1987, the newly-formed Taiwanese democratic opposition and the Presbyterian Church started to push the Kuomintang authorities to stop covering up the facts and to come to a full airing of the matter. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Kuomintang finally decided, albeit reluctantly, to open the records.

A “2-28 Monument” was unveiled in Taipei in February 1995, which was designed by Mr. Cheng Tze-tsai, a former political prisoner. The following is a translation of text inscribed on the monument:

Governor Chen Yi asked for the dispatch of troops from Nanking. The chairman of the Nationalist government Chiang Kai-shek, without conducting a thorough investigation, responded by sending troops to Taiwan to crack down on [the protesters].

On March 8, the 21st Division of the army under the command of general Liu Yu-ching landed [in Keelung] and as the troops moved down to southern part of Taiwan, they began to shoot indiscriminately. On March 10, martial law was declared. The chief of staff of the Garrison Command, general Ke Yuan-fen, the commander of the fort of Keelung, general Shih Hung-hsi, the commander of the fort of Kaohsiung, general Peng Meng-chi, and the chief of the commander of the military police Chang Mu-tao were responsible for the death of many innocent people during the subsequent crackdown and purges.

Within a few months, the number of deaths, injured and missing persons amounted to tens of thousands. Keelung, Taipei, Chiayi and Kaohsiung suffered the highest number of casualties. It was called the February 28 Incident.

Few people know about the 2-28 Massacre outside of Taiwan, and many Taiwanese today seem to rather not talk about it. It’s a very sensitive issue still, probably because it affected so many people; they couldn’t talk about it then, or now, in their state of denial, preferring to forget the painful past.

For the international community, it is important to understand that the Taiwanese dislike and mistrust of the Chinese and their intentions is not only based on ideological or political differences with China’s present – and undemocratic – regime in Beijing, but deeply rooted in the anguish of a large-scale massacre followed by some 40 years of repressive rule by the Chinese Nationalists.

References:

February 28, 1953 (a Saturday)

James Watson (left) and Francis Crick in 1959.

On this date, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Frances H.C. Crick announced that they had determined the structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes. On the morning of February 28, they determined that the structure of DNA was a double-helix polymer, or a spiral of two DNA strands, each containing a long chain of monomer nucleotides, wound around each other.

In his best-selling book, The Double Helix (1968), Watson later claimed that Crick announced the discovery by walking into the nearby Eagle Pub and blurting out that “we had found the secret of life.”

Watson and Crick’s solution was formally announced on 25 April 1953, following its publication in that month’s issue of the journal Nature. The article revolutionized the study of biology and medicine.

Along with Maurice Wilkins, a colleague, Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their discovery.

February 24, 1803 (a Thursday)

The Constitution of the United States was not made to fit us like a strait jacket. In its elasticity lies its chief greatness.

— Woodrow Wilson

Zen stones

Scales of Justice

On this day in 1803, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, decided the landmark case of William Marbury v James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States and confirmed the legal principle of judicial review —the right of the courts to determine the constitutionality of the actions of the other two branches of government — in the new nation.  This principle was an important addition to the system of “checks and balances” created to prevent any one branch of the Federal Government from becoming too powerful.

Show-cause order served on James Madison, Secretary of State, 1802; Records of the Supreme Court of the United States; Record Group 267; National Archives.

Nothing in the Constitution gave the Court this specific power. Chief Justice John Marshall, however, believed that the Supreme Court should have a role equal to those of the other two branches of government.

When James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a defense of the Constitution in The Federalist, they explained their judgment that a strong national government must have built-in restraints: “You must first enable government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” The writers of the Constitution had given the executive and legislative branches powers that would limit each other as well as the judiciary branch. The Constitution gave Congress the power to impeach and remove officials, including judges or the President himself. The President was given the veto power to restrain Congress and the authority to appoint members of the Supreme Court with the advice and consent of the Senate. In this intricate system, the role of the Supreme Court had not been defined. It therefore fell to a strong Chief Justice like Marshall to complete the triangular structure of checks and balances by establishing the principle of judicial review. Although no other law was declared unconstitutional until the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the role of the Supreme Court to invalidate Federal and state laws that are contrary to the Constitution has never been seriously challenged.

February 24, 1871 (a Friday)

Charles Darwin

On this date, the first edition of Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex was published in two volumes. The word “evolution” appeared for the first time in any of his works. This first issue was of 2,500 copies.

February 23, 1863 (a Monday)

Chamberlain and Cycads in the University of Chicago Greenhouse

Chamberlain and Cycads in the University of Chicago Greenhouse

On this date, the American botanist Charles Joseph Chamberlain was born near Sullivan, Ohio. His research into the structure and life cycles of primitive plants (cycads) enabled him to suggest a course of evolutionary development for the egg and embryo of seed plants (spermatophytes) and to speculate about a cycad origin for flowering plants (angiosperms).

Chamberlain first studied botany and zoology at Oberlin College. After spending several years as a school teacher and administrator, he entered the University of Chicago where in 1897 he received the first doctorate in botany awarded by that institution. He organized and directed the botanical laboratories at the University of Chicago (1897-1931), where, with plants collected in Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Cuba, he created the world’s foremost collection of living cycads. His comprehensive work entitled Gymnosperms: Structure and Evolution was published in 1935.

February 22, 1830 (a Monday)

Geoffroy aged about 70

On this date, the historical debate that took place at the French Academy of Sciences between Georges Cuvier and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire began.

The zoologist and historian of science E.R. Russell summed up the great biological controversy of the first half of the nineteenth century: “Is function the mechanical result of form, or is form merely the manifestation of function or activity? What is the essence of life — organization or activity?” While Cuvier founded the “functionalist” school of organismal biology, with his insistence on animals as functionally integrated wholes, Geoffroy continued the more “formalist” tradition of biology that had started with Buffon and was being continued by Goethe, Lamarck, and others.

Cuvier viewed every part of an animal as having been designed by the Creator to contribute to the animal’s functional integrity. Thus, similarities between organisms could only result from similar functions, writing in 1828, “If there are resemblances between the organs of fishes and those of the other vertebrate classes, it is only insofar as there are resemblances between their functions.” Cuvier argued that all animals could be subdivided into four and only four distinct embranchements: vertebrates, molluscs, articulates (insects and crustaceans), and radiates.

Cuvier’s viewpoint is diametrically opposed to Geoffroy’s view, which stressed the primacy of structure over function; Geoffroy wrote in 1829: “Animals have no habits but those that result from the structure of their organs; if the latter varies, there vary in the same manner all their springs of action, all their faculties and all their actions.”

Geoffrey said that unity of plan could be identified by the relative positions and spatial interrelationships of elements, rather than primarily by their shape or size. Parts may expand and contract according to their function, but topology remains unaltered, and the archetype can be traced by an unvarying spatial pattern.  He called this the principle of connections. (This is still a favored basis for recognizing anatomical homologies.)

Geoffroy wrote in 1807 (see Appel, 1987, p. 89):

It is known that nature works constantly with the same materials. She is ingenious to vary only the forms…One sees her tend always to cause the same elements to reappear, in the same number, in the same circumstances, and with the same connections.

As Charles Darwin described his work in 1859, in The Origin of Species:

What can be more curious than that the hand of a man, formed for grasping, that of a mole for digging, the leg of the horse, the paddle of the porpoise, and the wing of the bat, should all be constructed on the same pattern, and should include the same bones, in the same relative positions? Geoffroy St. Hilaire has insisted strongly on the high importance of relative connexion in homologous organs: the parts may change to almost any extent in form and size, and yet they always remain connected together in the same order.

In 1822, Geoffroy had dissected a lobster and placed it in an inverted position with respect to the ground. In this upside down orientation the lobster’s normally ventral nerve cord was located above the digestive tract, which in turn was placed above the heart. In his own words: “What was my surprise, and I add, my admiration, in perceiving an ordering that placed under my eyes all the organic systems of this lobster in the order in which they are arranged in mammals?” Geoffroy went on to argue that there was a unity of plan, or unity of composition, among animals, so that the dorsal side of the vertebrates was homologous to the ventral side of the arthropods. In 1822, he wrote that “insects formed another class of vertebrated animals, and that they were, consequently, brought under the common law of uniformity of organization”.

Thus, Geoffroy and his followers argued that all animals, vertebrates and invertebrates alike, were built on the same basic plan. Therefore, animal life could be strung into a more or less continuous, related series, rather than broken into discrete “divisions”, as Cuvier had claimed. This series implied that the history of each organism, rising in complexity from starfish to humans, could be interpreted in an evolutionary manner.

Matters between Cuvier and Geoffry came to a head in 1830, when two young naturalists, Meyranx and Laurencet, presented a comparison of the anatomy of vertebrates and cephalopods (squids, cuttlefish, and octopi), claiming that they were based on the same basic structural plan. Geoffroy enthusiastically adopted this claim as proof of the unity of plan shared by all animals; Cuvier could not reconcile it with the results of his careful anatomical research. Thus was set up one of the most famous debates in the history of biology: eight public debates between Cuvier and Geoffroy, from February to April 1830. In these debates, Cuvier showed convincingly that many of Geoffroy’s supposed examples of unity of structure were not accurate; the similarities between vertebrates and cephalopods were contrived and superficial.

Generalized protostome and chordate body plans illustrating inversion in the two lineages.

Generalized protostome and chordate body plans illustrating inversion in the two lineages.

Remarkably, Geoffroy’s idea today is supported by a growing body of molecular developmental evidence. Holley et al (1995) have demonstrated that not only do the fruit fly and frog have homologous genes that promote dorsoventral patterning, but the homologous genes have opposite effects within each animal. In fact, the genes are functionally interchangeable –- even though the product of sog ventralizes fly embryos, it dorsalizes frog embryos just like its homologue in the frog, chordin.

It would be an error to call Geoffroy an evolutionary biologist in anything like the modern sense. Archetypes were abstractions, not once-living ancestors; shared archetypal form did not necessarily indicate common ancestry. Geoffrey used the term “homologous” in its anatomical sense, meaning those parts in different animals which were “essentially” the same, even though the parts might have different shapes and functions. However, later in his career, Geoffroy published some ideas that resemble the theory of evolution by natural selection. The following quote from “Influence du monde ambiant pour modifier les formes animales” (1833) shows that Geoffroy considered that heritable changes in an organism might be selected for or against by the environment, and thus that present-day species might have arisen from antediluvian (before the Biblical Flood) species:

The external world is all-powerful in alteration of the form of organized bodies.. . these [modifications] are inherited, and they influence all the rest of the organization of the animal, because if these modifications lead to injurious effects, the animals which exhibit them perish and are replaced by others of a somewhat different form, a form changed so as to be adapted to the new environment.

But these ideas apparently were never a key part of Geoffroy’s thought. Geoffroy believed that there were limits to how far an organism might evolve, and he never developed his ideas into a complete theory, as Darwin later did.

Part of the power of modern evolutionary biology comes from its ability to synthesize elements from both schools of thought. Organismal lineages change with time, in response to changing environments, and their form constrains the functions that they can take on; at the same time, it is the ability of organisms to function in their environments that is a major component of evolutionary fitness, and form is often altered to fit a particular function. Cuvier and Geoffroy had grasped separate parts of a more complex reality.

References:

  • Toby A. Appel. The Cuvier-Geoffrey Debate: French Biology in the Decades before Darwin (Oxford University Press, 1987).
  • Stephen J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Harvard University Press, 2002) pp. 298-312.
  • S.A. Holley, P.D. Jackson, Y. Sasal, B. Lu, E.M. De Robertis, F.M. Hoffmann, and E.L. Ferguson.  A conserved system for dorsal-ventral patterning in insects and vertebrates involving sog and chordin, Nature 376: 249-253 (1995).
  • Ernst Mayr. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982) p 262.

February 20, 1835 (a Friday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, a massive earthquake hit Valdivia, Chile and Charles Darwin was right in the middle of the action. While HMS Beagle tried to make anchorage at Concepcion, Darwin was dropped off at the island of Quiriquina. During his exploration of the island, he discovered areas of land that had risen a few feet due to the earthquake. Darwin was very excited about this find, as it was direct evidence that the Andes mountains, and indeed all of South America, were very slowly rising above the ocean. This confirmed Charles Lyell’s theory that land masses rose in tiny increments over an extremely long period of time. Given this fact, Darwin accepted the idea that the earth must be extremely old. The next day he went by ship to the town of Talcuhano, and from there rode by horse to Concepcion to meet up with HMS Beagle. As the Beagle sailed from Concepcion, Darwin wrote in a letter to his sister Caroline:

We are now on our road from Concepcion. The papers will have told you about the great Earthquake of the 20th of February. I suppose it certainly is the worst ever experienced in Chili [sic]. It is no use attempting to describe the ruins – it is the most awful spectacle I ever beheld. The town of Concepcion is now nothing more than piles and lines of bricks, tiles and timbers – it is absolutely true there is not one house left habitable; some little hovels builts of sticks and reeds in the outskirts of the town have not been shaken down and these now are hired by the richest people. The force of the shock must have been immense, the ground is traversed by rents, the solid rocks are shivered, solid buttresses 6-10 feet thick are broken into fragments like so much biscuit. How fortunate it happened at the time of day when many are out of their houses and all active: if the town had been over thrown in the night, very few would have escaped to tell the tale. We were at Valdivia at the time. The shock there was considered very violent, but did no damage owing to the houses being built of wood. I am very glad we happened to call at Concepcion so shortly afterwards: it is one of the three most interesting spectacles I have beheld since leaving England – A Fuegian Savage – Tropical Vegetation – and the ruins of Concepcion. It is indeed most wonderful to witness such desolation produced in three minutes of time.

February 19, 1942 (a Thursday)

Order posting.

On this date, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the War Department to define military areas in the western states and to exclude from them anyone who might threaten the war effort.  Key U.S. leaders claimed that all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast of the U.S. posed a risk to national security. This led to the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans in what Roosevelt called “concentration camps,” often located in Native American reservations.

When war had seemed imminent with Japan in the Fall of 1941, Roosevelt had assigned a Chicago businessman, Curtis B. Munson, to be a special representative of the State Department and to go to the West Coast and Hawaii to determine the degree of loyalty to be found among the residents of Japanese descent.  Munson toured Hawaii and the Pacific Coast and interviewed Army and Navy intelligence officers, military commanders, city officials, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The overall result of his twenty-five page report was that:

…there is no Japanese “problem” on the Coast. There will be no armed uprising of Japanese. There will undoubtedly be some sabotage financed by Japan and executed largely by imported agents.

…for the most part, the local Japanese are loyal to the U.S. or, at worst, hope that by remaining quiet they can avoid concentration camps or irresponsible mobs. We do not believe that they would be at least any more disloyal than any other racial group in the United States with whom we went to war.

Munson’s report was submitted to the White House on November 7, 1941. It was then circulated to several Cabinet officials, including Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Attorney General Francis Biddle, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. On February 5, 1942, Stimson sent a copy of the so-called Munson Report to President Roosevelt, along with a memo stating that War Department officials had carefully studied the document.

The Munson Report should have conclusively put to rest the existence of Japanese sabotage in the United States. The report also should have resolved any fears about the security of the West Coast as well. The lack of any evidence showing the Japanese-Americans being involved in espionage rings should have prevented the need for internment camps, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor the United States government chose to impound innocent people behind barbed wire. The results of Munson’s fact-finding mission were inexplicably suppressed until 1946.

Race prejudice and wartime hysteria.

Race prejudice and wartime hysteria.

Although two-thirds of the Japanese-American internees were U.S. citizens, they were targeted because of their ancestry and the way they looked. One internee, when told that the Japanese were put in those camps for their own protection, countered “If we were put there for our protection, why were the guns at the guard towers pointed inward, instead of outward?”

The living conditions in the concentration camps were often unsanitary, with families living in hastily constructed barracks near open sewers. Toilets were shared by everyone in the camp and had little or no privacy. Meals provided to the Japanese were meager and caused a great deal of malnourishment. Despite these poor conditions, programs were eventually put into place that improved the condition of the camps and allowed the prisoners to work for small wages.

On some occasions, riots broke out in the internment camps, resulting in death and injury. In January 1944, a military draft was produced by the government, forcing Japanese Americans in the camps to join the military and fight in World War II. Many of the draftees refused to join the military until they were given civil rights and the government, refusing, placed the resisters in federal prison.

Many prominent Japanese Americans formed lawsuits against the United States government during the internment. Among these were Hirabayashi vs. United States, Yasui vs. United States, and Korematsu vs. United States. These lawsuits placed a lot of pressure on the United States government and made many people question the constitutionality of the internment. On December 17, 1944, the United States declared an end to the internment and the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional on December 18, 1944.

After these events, Japanese Americans were allowed to leave the camps and return to their homes and live normally. By March 20, 1946, all of the internment camps had been closed, although most of the Japanese had become greatly disillusioned with the United States and continued to endure discrimination.

In 1983, a U.S. congressional commission “uncovered” the evidence from the 1940s proving that there had been no military necessity for the unequal, unjust treatment of Japanese Americans during WW II. The commission reported that the causes of the incarceration were rooted in ” … race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

During the Reagan-Bush years Congress moved toward the passage of Public Law 100-383 in 1988 which acknowledged the injustice of the internment, apologized for it, and provided a $20,000 cash payment to each person who was interned.

February 19, 1859 (a Saturday)

Svante Arrhenius

On this date, physical chemist and Nobel Prize winner Svante August Arrhenius was born at Vik (also spelled Wik or Wijk), near Uppsala, Sweden. He studied at Uppsala University, then under a professor in Stockholm. His 1884 thesis, on the galvanic conductivity of electrolyes, won him the first docentship at Uppsala in physical chemistry, a new branch of science. Arrhenius was also awarded a traveling fellowship and worked with scientists throughout Europe. Arrhenius was appointed professor of physics in 1895 at Stockholm’s Hogskola. He won the Nobel Prize for chemical research in 1903, for originating the theory of electrolytic dissociation, or ionization. He also investigated osmosis, toxins and antitoxins. He was offered the position of chief of the Nobel Institute for Physical Chemistry, founded just for him.

Arrhenius wrote classic textbooks in his field, which were translated into many languages, and also popularized science for the general public, with such books as The Destinies of the Stars (1919). His wide interests in science are exemplified by his contributions to the understanding of such phenomena as the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.  Arrhenius developed a theory to explain the ice ages, and first speculated that changes in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect.

Arrhenius also was the first to present a detailed scientific hypothesis of panspermia.  In this, he argued that life arrived on Earth in the form of microscopic spores that had been propelled across interstellar space by the radiation pressure of star light.   His seminal 1903 paper on the subject was in response to “the failure of repeated attempts made by eminent biologists to discover a single case of spontaneous generation of life”.  In its fully-developed form, Arrhenius’s hypothesis reached a wide audience through his book Worlds in the Making (1908, first published as Varldarnas utveckling in Sweden in 1906).  Arrhenius was optimistic that, subject to the low temperatures in space, spores would be able to remain viable for very long periods.  As for the effect of solar radiation, although Arrhenius was aware of the potentially lethal effect of ultraviolet light on living cells, he insisted that “All the botanists that I have been able to consult are of the opinion that we can by no means assert with certainty that spores would be killed by the light rays in wandering through infinite space.”  His support for panspermia tied in with his fundamental belief that “all organisms in the universe are related and the process of evolution is everywhere the same.”  He thought life on other worlds might be common, though he opposed Lowell’s claims about canals on Mars.

In 1914, he was awarded the Faraday Medal of the Chemical Society. During World War I, he worked to get the release of many German and Austrian scientists who had been made prisoners of war. According to historian Joseph McCabe, Arrhenius was a “Monist.”

February 19, 1626 (a Thursday)

Francesco Redi

On this date, the Italian physician and poet Francesco Redi was born.

Spontaneous generation (abiogenesis), a long-held theory that life springs up from non-living or decaying organic matter, was based on observations of rotting food seemingly producing living organisms. Francesco Redi, a respected philosopher at the court of the Medici Grand Duke in Tuscany, was the first scientist to question the idea of spontaneous generation. By setting up a simple experiment in which decaying meat was placed in three jars, one uncovered, one sealed, and one covered by mesh, allowing air to circulate, he demonstrated that only the open jar which flies could access produced maggots. Thus, decaying meat does not spontaneously produce maggots. Partially due to the simplicity of Redi’s experiment (anyone could reproduce it), people began to doubt spontaneous generation.

It is important to note that what Redi and others demonstrated is that life does not currently spontaneously arise in complex form from nonlife in nature; they did not demonstrate the impossibility of life arising in simple form from nonlife by way of a long and propitious series of chemical steps/selections under conditions that do not exist on Earth today. In particular, they did not show that life cannot arise once, and then evolve. Neither Pasteur, who put to rest the notion of spontaneous generation for microorganisms, nor any other post-Darwin researcher in this field denied the age of planet Earth or the fact of evolution.

February 18, 1839 (a Monday)

On this date, the English paleontologist Harry Govier Seeley was born. A man of humble origins, Seeley attended Cambridge University but quit before earning a degree. In 1859, he began working as an assistant to Adam Sedgwick at the Woodwardian Museum. For many years Seeley worked on his own, only much later in life accepting a position with King’s College.

Prior to Seeley, in the early 1840s, Richard Owen had established the order Dinosauria. Between 1866 and 1883, various authorities on dinosaurs, including Huxley, Cope, and Marsh, had produced classification schemes that attempted to bring order to the great variety of dinosaur specimens that had been and were being discovered. Marsh, in particular, had proposed to divide dinosaurs into four orders: sauropods, theropods, stegosaurs, and ornithopods; Cope had offered a different scheme. Most of the systems of classifying dinosaurs were based on the structure of their feet and the form of their teeth.

Ornithischia (above) and Saurischia (below).

However, in a paper delivered in 1887 and published in 1888, Seeley pointed out that the term dinosaur was being used for two rather different kinds of reptiles. There were those, like Marsh’s theropods and sauropods, that had a pelvis with a forward protruding pubic bone and those, like the stegosaurs and ornithopods, that had a divided pubic bone with one branch extending backwards along the ischium. Since the backward-protruding pubis is characteristic of modern birds, he called this group Ornithischia, the bird-hipped dinosaurs, and gave it the status of an order. He put the sauropods and theropods in another order he called Saurischia, or lizard-hipped dinosaurs. In the line drawing which Seeley printed with the paper, the top two figures represent the order Ornithischia, and the bottom two the order Saurischia.

Seeley not only argued for separate groups among dinosaurs, he even argued for separate origins, writing:

I see no ground for associating these two orders in one group, unless that group includes Birds, Crocodiles, Anomodonts, and Ornithosaurs; for differences of pelvic structure have been as persistently inherited as any condition of the vertebrate skeleton.

Saurischian hip (left side)

Even though Marsh had identified many characteristics common to all dinosaurs, Seeley’s interpretation held sway into the late twentieth century. In the 1980s, however, new techniques of cladistic analysis revealed that both groups of dinosaurs really did have common ancestors in the Triassic. Still, Seeley’s classification of saurischian and ornithischian dinosaurs remains intact, though, ironically, the birds have subsequently been found to descend, not from the “bird-hipped” Ornithischia, but from the “lizard-hipped” Saurischia.

Ornithischian hip (left side)

References:

  • Harry Govier Seeley, “On the classification of the fossil animals commonly named Dinosauria,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 43: 165-171 (1888).

February 17, 1600 (a Thursday)

The statue of Bruno in the place where he was executed.

On this date, the Italian philosopher and Dominican friar Giordano Bruno was brought to the Campo de’ Fiori, a central Roman market square. His tongue in a gag, tied to a pole naked, Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic.

The Fraternity of St. John the Beheaded recounted Bruno’s burning in this account which is considered authoritative by the Catholic Church:

But he insisted till the end always in his damned refractoriness and twisted brain and his mind with a thousand errors; yes, he didn’t give up his stubborness, not even when the court ushers took him away to the Campo de’ Fiori. There his clothes were taken off, he was bound to a stake and burned alive [e quivi spogliato nudo e legato a un palo fu brusciato vivo]. In all this time he was accompanied by our fraternity, who sang constant litanies, while the comforters tried till the last moment to break his stubborn resistance, till he gave up a miserable and pitiable life.

Bruno’s execution followed his lengthy imprisonment and trial that had begun on 27 January 1593 under the Roman Inquisition.

Bruno was born at Nola, near Naples, in 1548. Originally named Filippo, he took the name Giordano when he joined the Dominicans, who trained him in Aristotelian philosophy and Thomistic theology. Independent in thinking and tempestuous in personality, he fled the order in 1576 to avoid a trial on doctrinal charges and began the wandering that characterized his life.

In his book De l’Infinito, Universo e Mondi (On the Infinite Universe and Worlds), which was published in 1584, Bruno argued that the universe was infinite, that it contained an infinite number of worlds, and that these are all inhabited by intelligent beings:

Innumerable suns exist; innumerable earths revolve around these suns in a manner similar to the way the seven planets revolve around our sun. Living beings inhabit these worlds.

In Cena de le Ceneri (The Ash Wednesday Supper), also published in 1584, Bruno defended the heliocentric theory of Copernicus, but it appears that he did not understand astronomy very well, for his theory is confused on several points.

In still another book published in 1584, De la Causa, Principio et Uno (On Cause, Prime Origin, and the One), Bruno seemed to anticipate Einstein’s theory of relativity when he wrote:

There is no absolute up or down, as Aristotle taught; no absolute position in space; but the position of a body is relative to that of other bodies. Everywhere there is incessant relative change in position throughout the universe, and the observer is always at the center of things.

Closeup of the statue of Bruno in the Campo de’ Fiori.

Some say that Bruno was executed because of his Copernicanism and his belief in the infinity of inhabited worlds, but it may have been for theological errors, such as denying the divinity of Christ. In fact, no one knows for certain the exact grounds on which he was declared a heretic because the volume or volumes of his Roman trial is missing from the Vatican archives. The only remaining record is a summary of the trial, rediscovered on November 15, 1940 and published in 1942. Some abstracts of Giordano Bruno’s works, his interrogations, some of the records of an earlier Venetian trial in 1592 against him, and some other documents copied from the original Roman trial converge in the summary, which was probably used by the Assessor of the Holy Office of that period. In this document, Bruno is quoted in one of the last interrogations by the judges of the Holy Office (maybe in April 1599) before his execution. He defended his theories as scientifically founded and by no means against the Holy Scriptures:

Firstly, I say that the theories on the movement of the earth and on the immobility of the firmament or sky are by me produced on a reasoned and sure basis, which doesn’t undermine the authority of the Holy Sciptures […]. With regard to the sun, I say that it doesn’t rise or set, nor do we see it rise or set, because, if the earth rotates on his axis, what do we mean by rising and setting[…].

Interestingly, while there is no definitive documentary evidence of Bruno’s sexual orientation, his homosexuality has long been assumed, principally on the basis of his association with figures such as Marlowe, the accusations of “immoral conduct,” and his authorship of Il Candelaio (1582). The latter is a satiric comedy for the stage whose very title, “The Candleholder,” is a homosexual slang word of the time, perhaps best rendered in contemporary English as “The Fudgepacker” or “The Butt-bandit.” The play presents three characters who are often seen as three of Bruno’s alter egos, or three facets of Bruno himself: Manfurio, a pedantic scholar who speaks tortured Latin and loses his glasses; Bonifacio, the “candleholder” homosexual who finally ends up in his wife’s bed; and Bartolomeo, the scientist and alchemist who tries to transmute base metals into gold but fails. The final words of Bruno’s introduction to Il Candelaio tell the reader, above all, Godete dumque, e si possete state sana, et amate chi v’ama (Therefore take pleasure in things, stay as healthy as you can, and love all those who love you).

Moreover, there is no evidence of any interest on Bruno’s part in opposite-sex sexual relations.

Both historian John Addington Symonds and aesthete Walter Pater discuss Bruno in detail. Each refers to Bruno’s homosexuality as a known, if covert, fact hidden in sly innuendo. Symonds devotes an entire chapter of his groundbreaking Renaissance in Italy to the philosopher, while Pater comments in an 1889 essay that for a man of the spirit, Bruno possessed “a nature so opulently endowed [it] can hardly have been lacking in purely physical ardours.” Symonds adds that his own development as a man was due to his readings of Walt Whitman, Goethe, and Giordano Bruno: they “stripped my soul of social prejudices [so that]… I have been able to fraternise in comradeship with men of all classes and several races.”

Italian gay activist and literary historian Giovanni dall’Orto cites Bruno in his 1988 survey, “Sodomy as Phoenix: Being Homosexual in the Italian Renaissance.” In a discussion of “unnatural” desires, he notes that part of the philosopher’s offense against the Church was to ascribe the Copernican world outlook to nature itself: whatever comes from within a man is by definition within nature. Hence, Bruno’s scientific outlook challenges the very notion of “natural law” and “crime against nature.” Again quoting Bruno from De la Causa, Principio et Uno (1584):

All things are in the Universe, and the Universe is in all things: we in it, and it in us; in this way everything concurs in a perfect unity.

On August 7, 1603, the Church placed all his works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Forbidden Books). Four hundred years (!) after his execution, official expression of “profound sorrow” and acknowledgement of error at Bruno’s condemnation to death was made during the papacy of John Paul II.

Following the 1870 Capture of Rome by the newly created Kingdom of Italy and the end of the Church’s temporal power over the city, the erection of a monument to Bruno on the site of his execution became feasible. In 1885, an international committee, including Victor Hugo, Herbert Spencer, Ernest Renan, Ernst Haeckel, Henrik Ibsen, and Ferdinand Gregorovius, was formed for that purpose. The monument was sharply opposed by the clerical party, but was finally erected by the Rome Municipality and inaugurated in 1889.

A memorial to Giordano Bruno.

On March 2, 2008, a 6-meter-tall statue of an upside-down figure, evocative of flames, was unveiled in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz station as a memorial to Giordano Bruno and as a new reminder of the value and cost of free thought [Science 319(5869): 1467 (14 March 2008)]. The sculpture is by Alexander Polzin. Ernst Salcher of the Giordano Bruno Foundation, which helped fund the project, said the sculpture is designed to “irritate” the viewer into reflecting on the role of human reason in making the world a better place.

Also, the SETI League (not to be confused with the SETI Institute) has established “an award honoring the memory of Giordano Bruno, the Italian monk burned at the stake in 1600 for postulating the multiplicity of inhabited worlds.” It was first suggested by sociologist Donald Tarter at a SETI dinner held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in Atlanta on 17 February 1995 (coincidentally the 395th anniversary of Bruno’s death). The Bruno Award is presented annually to a person or persons making significant technical contributions to the art, science, or practice of amateur SETI.

References:

February 17, 1890 (a Monday)

Ronald Fisher

On this date, the English geneticist Ronald Aylmer Fisher was born. His book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), with its ground-breaking treatment of the concepts of fitness and dominance, was a milestone work in that field.

February 16, 1848 (a Wednesday)

Hugo de Vries

On this date, the Dutch botanist and early geneticist Hugo Marie de Vries was born. He is known chiefly for suggesting the concept of genes, rediscovering the laws of heredity in the 1890s while unaware of Gregor Mendel’s work, for introducing the term “mutation”, and for developing a mutation theory of evolution.

In 1889, De Vries published his book Intracellular Pangenesis, in which, based on a modified version of Charles Darwin’s theory of pangenesis of 1868, he postulated that different characters have different hereditary carriers. He specifically postulated that inheritance of specific traits in organisms comes in particles.

De Vries conducted a series of experiments hybridizing varieties of multiple plant species in the 1890s. Unaware of Mendel’s work, De Vries used the laws of dominance, segregation, and independent assortment to explain the 3:1 ratio of phenotypes in the second generation. His observations also confirmed his hypothesis that inheritance of specific traits in organisms comes in particles.

In the late 1890s, De Vries became aware of Mendel’s obscure paper of thirty years earlier and he altered some of his terminology to match. When he published the results of his experiments in the French journal Comtes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences in 1900, he neglected to mention Mendel’s work, but after criticism by Carl Correns he conceded Mendel’s priority. Thus, Correns, Erich Tschermak von Seysenegg, and De Vries now share credit for the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws.

February 16, 1834 (a Sunday)

Ernst Haeckel

On this date, the German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, and artist Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel was born at Potsdam. He is probably one of the most contentious evolutionary biologists that ever lived. He abandoned his medical practice after reading Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 and returned to school, studying zoology and anatomy and eventually earning a position as professor in Jena.

Haeckel embraced the pre-Darwinian notion that life formed a series of successively higher forms, with embryos of higher forms “recapitulating” the lower ones. He thought that, over the course of time, evolution of new life forms occurred by the addition of new adult stages to the end of ancestral developmental sequences. Haeckel, who was very good at packaging and promoting his ideas, coined both a name for the process – “the Biogenetic Law” – as well as a catchy motto: “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny.”

Thus, according to Haeckel, embryonic development was actually a record of evolutionary history. He expressed it this way, as quoted in Russell (1916) [1]:

The organic individual… repeats during the rapid and short course of its individual development the most important of the form changes which its ancestors traversed during the long and slow course of their paleontological evolution…

The human zygote, for instance, was represented by the “adult” stage of the protists; the colonial protists represented the advancement of development to the blastula stage; the gill slit stage of human embryos was represented by adult fish. Haeckel even postulated an extinct organism, Gastraea, a two-layered sac corresponding to the gastrula, which he considered the ancestor of all metazoan species. [2][3][4]

PZ Meyers at Talk.Origins Archive [5] writes that the Biogenetic Law as conceived by Haeckel says:

…that development (ontogeny) repeats the evolutionary history (phylogeny) of the organism – that if we evolved from a fish that evolved into a reptile that evolved into us, our embryos physically echo that history, passing through a fish-like stage and then into a reptile-like stage.

Haeckel came under fire for this embryo comparison, for excluding the limb buds of the echidna embryo.

Haeckel came under fire for this embryo comparison, for excluding the limb buds of the echidna embryo.

Haeckel was so convinced of his biogenetic law that he was willing to bend evidence to support it. In 1874, he had claimed that members of all vertebrate classes pass through an identical evolutionarily conserved “phylotypic” stage, which presumably represents the form of their most recent common ancestor. Only later in development would specific differences appear, he said.

In fact, there is a highly conserved embryonic stage among the vertebrate classes; at the late tailbud stage, vertebrate embryos of most all classes possess somites, neural tube, optic anlagen, notochord, and pharyngeal pouches. However, Michael Richardson and his colleagues (1997) [6] discovered significant differences between groups at this stage. For example, in echidnas, limb buds are already present at the tailbud stage, whereas in other species, these are not seen until significantly later.

But in his illustrations of vertebrate embryos, Haeckel deceptively omitted limb buds at an early stage of the echidna, despite the fact that limb buds do exist then, in order to make his vertebrate embryos look more alike than they do in real life. Haeckel’s motive is clear from the text accompanying his drawings: “There is still no trace of the limbs or ‘extremities’ in this stage of development…”. [7]

Near the conclusion of the Brass-Haeckel Controversy [8] of 1908, after months of vociferous and emphatic denial, in the Berliner Volkszeitung published on 29 December 1908, Haeckel apparently admitted he had altered drawings of embryos, as quoted in Haeckel’s Frauds and Forgeries (1915) [9]:

To cut short this unsavory dispute, I begin at once with the contrite confession that a small fraction of my numerous drawings of embryos (perhaps 6 or 8 per cent.) are really, in Dr. Brass’s sense, falsified – all those, namely, for which the present material of observation is so incomplete or insufficient as to compel us, when we come to prepare a continuous chain of the evolutive stages, to fill up the gaps by hypotheses, and to reconstruct the missing-links by comparative syntheses… After this compromising confession of “forgery” I should be obliged to consider myself “condemned and annihilated,” if I had not the consolation of seeing side-by-side with me in the prisoner’s dock hundreds of fellow-culprits, among them many of the most trusted observers and most esteemed biologists. For the great majority of all the figures – morphological, anatomical, histological, and embryological – that are widely circulated and valued in the best text- and handbooks, in biological treatises and journals, would incur in the same degree the charge of “forgery.” All of them are inexact, and are more or less “doctored,” schematised, or “constructed.” Many unessential accessories are left out, in order to render conspicuous what is essential in form and organisation. [ellipsis in original]

The truth is that the development of embryos does not fit into the strict progression that Haeckel claimed, but it has also been shown that ontogeny (development of a fertilized ovum through to maturity) and phylogeny (development of a species over time) are closely related. That is, similar features in embryos of different species often reliably demonstrate that the species share a recent common ancestor. This is nicely summarized by Douglas Theobald online at Talk.Origins Archive [10]:

The ideas of Ernst Haeckel greatly influenced the early history of embryology in the 19th century. Haeckel hypothesized that “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny”, meaning that during its development an organism passes through stages resembling its adult ancestors. However, Haeckel’s ideas long have been superseded by those of Karl Ernst von Baer, his predecessor. Von Baer suggested that the embryonic stages of an individual should resemble the embryonic stages of other closely related organisms, rather than resembling its adult ancestors. Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law has been discredited since the late 1800’s, and it is not a part of modern (or even not-so-modern) evolutionary theory. Haeckel thought only the final stages of development could be altered appreciably by evolution, but we have known that to be false for nearly a century. All developmental stages can be modified during evolution… [emphasis in original]

'Tree of Life' by Haeckel (1866).

‘Tree of Life’ by Haeckel (1866).

Interestingly, in 1866 Haeckel created the first evolutionary tree to incorporate all life known at the time.

Although a strong supporter and defender of evolution (especially against attacks from religious leaders), Haeckel did not share Darwin’s enthusiasm for natural selection as the main mechanism for generating the diversity of the biological world. Instead, he favored a type of Lamarckism.

According to Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), change in the environment causes change in the behavior of individuals; altered behavior leads to greater or lesser use of a given structure or organ. Use would cause the structure to increase in size over many generations, whereas disuse would cause it to shrink or even disappear, because physical characteristics acquired by parents during their lifetimes are passed along to their offspring. The mechanism of Lamarckian evolution is quite different from that proposed by Darwin, although the predicted result is the same: adaptive change in lineages, ultimately driven by environmental change, over long periods of time.

PZ Meyers explains in his essay why Haeckel was completely wrong:

He argued that evolutionary history was literally the driving force behind development, and that the experiences of our ancestors were physically written into our hereditary material. This was a logical extension of his belief in Lamarckian inheritance, or the inheritance of acquired characters. If the activity of an organism can be imprinted on its genetics, then development could just be a synopsis of the activities of the parents and grandparents and ever more remote ancestors. This was an extremely attractive idea to scientists; it’s as if development were a time machine that allowed them to look back into the distant past, just by studying early stages of development.

Unfortunately, it was also completely wrong.

The discoveries that ultimately demolished the underlying premises of the biogenetic law were the principles of genetics and empirical observations of embryos. Lamarckian inheritance simply does not occur… DNA is the agent of heredity, and it is not modified by our ordinary actions – if you should get a tattoo, it is not also written into the chromosomes of your sperm or ova, and there’s no risk that your children will be born with “Mom” etched on their arm. The discovery that Haeckel had taken unforgivable shortcuts with his illustrations was a relatively minor problem for his theory, because the general thrust of his observations (that vertebrate embryos resemble each other strongly) had been independently confirmed. What really scuttled the whole theory was that its foundation was removed.

Much later, Haeckel attempted to develop a comprehensive philosophical system informed by biological and evolutionary findings. This system was to encompass ethics, theology, psychology, and politics. Some authors claim that Haeckel’s work was later appropriated by the Nazis who used it as justification for their racism and nationalism. [11] Others dispute that claim. Complicating this issue is the fact that, depending on whether you disparage or praise Haeckel, you are often assumed to be either a fundamentalist Christian, opposed to evolution, or an atheist, opposed to morality.

Haeckel’s major works are The History of Creation (1868) and The Riddle of the Universe (1899). Some of the terms he coined are still in use today, including ecology, phylum, phylogeny, and Protista.

References:

  1. E. S. Russell. Form and Function (London: John Murray Ltd., 1916) p. 253.
  2. Ernst Haeckel. Generelle Morphologie der Organismen (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1867).
  3. —————— Anthropogenie. Third edition. (Leipzig: W. Engelmann, 1879).
  4. S.J. Gould. Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977).
  5. PZ Meyers. “Wells and Haeckel’s Embryos: A Review of Chapter 5 of Icons of Evolution.” The Talk.Origins Archive. Last modified 6 December 2006. Accessed on 14 July 2013 at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/wells/haeckel.html.
  6. Michael K. Richardson, James Hanken, Mayoni L. Gooneratne, Claude Pieau, Albert Raynaud, Lynne Selwood, and Glenda M. Wright. “There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development.” Anat. Embryol. 196: 91-106 (1997). Accessed on 17 July 2013 at http://www.oeb.harvard.edu/faculty/hanken/documents/Richardson%20et%20al%201997%20Anat%20Embryol.pdf. [Archived here.]
  7. Michael K. Richardson and Gerhard Keuck, “A question of intent: when is a ‘schematic’ illustration a fraud?” Nature 410/6825: 144 (8 March 2001).
  8. “‘MAN-APES’ THE SUBJECT OF A WAR OF SCIENCE; Between Prof. Haeckel and Dr. Brass Rages a Controversy in Which Prehistoric Heads and Tails Are the Fruitful Themes.” The New York Times, 7 February 1909. Accessed on 16 July 2013 at http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F30F11F83C5C15738DDDAE0894DA405B898CF1D3.
  9. J. Assmuth and Ernest R. Hull. Haeckel’s Frauds and Forgeries (Bombay: Examiner Press, 1915), pp. 14, 15.
  10. Douglas Theobald, Ph.D. “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent. Part 2: Ontogeny and Development of Organisms.” The Talk.Origins Archive. Last modified 17 May 2013. Accessed on 14 July 2013 at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/.
  11. Daniel Gasman. “From Haeckel to Hitler: The Anatomy of a Controversy.” eSkeptic, 10 June 2009. Accessed on 14 July 2013 at http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-06-10/#feature. [Archived here.]

February 15, 1861 (a Friday)

Leonard Horner

On this date, in his presidential address during the annual general meeting of the Geological Society of London, Leonard Horner (1785-1864) proposed removing the world’s “creation” date of 4004 B.C. from the English Bible, citing geological evidence of a much older planet.

…It will be useful to look into the history of this date of four thousand and four years, given with so much precision for the creation, not of this our earth only, but of the universe, and to inquire into the authority by which an addition of so much import is made to the sacred text…

…I have thus laid before you the origin of this settled point in Sacred History as taught at this day in our schools, and, from its juxta-position to the text of the Bible, held in veneration by millions, there is every reason to believe, as an undoubted truth. The study of geology has become so general that those who are instructed in its mere elements cannot fail to see the discrepancy between this date and the truths which geology reveals…

…To remove any inaccuracy in notes accompanying the authorized version of our Bible is surely an imperative duty…

References:

February 15, 1564 (Julian calendar/old style: a Tuesday)

Galileo

On this date, the Florentine-Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa, Italy. Galileo made a good discovery great. Upon hearing at age 40 that a Dutch optician had invented a glass that made distant objects appear larger, Galileo crafted his own telescope and turned it toward the sky. He quickly discovered that our Moon has craters, that Jupiter has its own moons, that the Sun has spots, and that Venus has phases like our Moon. Galileo, who lived to 1642, made many more discoveries. He claimed that his observations only made sense if all the planets revolved around the Sun, as championed by Aristarchus and Copernicus, and not around the Earth, as was commonly believed then. The powerful Roman Inquisition made Galileo publicly recant this conclusion, but today we know he was correct.

February 14-17, 1766 (Friday-Monday)

Title page of An Essay on the Principle of Population

Sometime on these dates, the English demographer and political economist Thomas Robert Malthus was born at Dorking, a place just south of London.

Malthus entered Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1784 and was ordained a minister of the Church of England in 1788. He earned his M.A. in 1791. He is best known for his An Essay on the Principle of Population, which was first published in 1798 and was read by Charles Darwin forty years later. This important essay first identified the geometric role of natural population increase in outrunning subsistence food supplies, prompting Darwin to explore the actual patterns of evolution.

February 13, 1913 (a Thursday)

His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso

On this date (8th day, first month, Tibetan year of the water ox), His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama asserted independence of Tibet after returning to Lhasa following three years of exile in India. [The year of declaration of Tibetan independence was mistakenly believed to be 1912 by many.] In the third and fourth paragraphs of the Tibetan Proclamation of Independence, His Holiness stated:

…During the time of Genghis Khan and Altan Khan of the Mongols, the Ming dynasty of the Chinese, and the Ch’ing Dynasty of the Manchus, Tibet and China cooperated on the basis of benefactor and priest relationship. A few years ago, the Chinese authorities in Szechuan and Yunnan endeavored to colonize our territory. They brought large numbers of troops into central Tibet on the pretext of policing the trade marts. I, therefore, left Lhasa with my ministers for the Indo-Tibetan border, hoping to clarify to the Manchu emperor by wire that the existing relationship between Tibet and China had been that of patron and priest and had not been based on the subordination of one to the other. There was no other choice for me but to cross the border, because Chinese troops were following with the intention of taking me alive or dead.

On my arrival in India, I dispatched several telegrams to the Emperor; but his reply to my demands was delayed by corrupt officials at Peking. Meanwhile, the Manchu empire collapsed. The Tibetans were encouraged to expel the Chinese from central Tibet. I, too, returned safely to my rightful and sacred country, and I am now in the course of driving out the remnants of Chinese troops from DoKham in Eastern Tibet. Now, the Chinese intention of colonizing Tibet under the patron-priest relationship has faded like a rainbow in the sky….

The Thirteenth Dalai Lama started international relations, introduced modern postal and telegraph services and, despite the turbulent period in which he ruled, introduced measures to modernize Tibet. On December 17, 1933 he passed away.

The following year a Chinese mission arrived in Lhasa to offer condolences, but in fact they tried to settle the Sino-Tibetan border issue. After the chief delegate left, another Chinese delegate remained to continue discussions. The Chinese delegation was permitted to remain in Lhasa on the same footing as the Nepalese and Indian representatives until it was expelled in 1949.

February 13, 1633 (a Sunday)

Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition.

On this date, Italian philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei arrived in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo officially faced the Roman Inquisition in April of that same year and agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Put under house arrest indefinitely by Pope Urban VIII, Galileo spent the rest of his days at his villa in Arcetri, near Florence, before dying on January 8, 1642.

Today, Galileo is recognized for making important contributions to the study of motion and astronomy. His work influenced later scientists such as the English mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, who developed the law of universal gravitation. In 1992, the Vatican formally acknowledged its mistake in condemning Galileo.

February 13, 1844 (a Tuesday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, Charles Darwin completed a 231-page essay on evolution by natural selection.

February 12, 1912 (a Monday)

Nanjing Road in Shanghai after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, full of the Five-Races-Under-One-Union flags then used by the revolutionaries.

Nanjing Road in Shanghai after the Xinhai Revolution, full of the Five-Races-Under-One-Union flags then used by the revolutionaries.

On this date, the Xinhai Revolution, or the Hsin-hai Revolution, also known as the Revolution of 1911 or the Chinese Revolution, culminated with the overthrow of the Empress Dowager Longyu and the infant Emperor Puyi that marked the end of over 2,000 years of imperial rule and the beginning of China’s so-called republican era.

The goal of the Xinhai Revolution, for its leaders, was to establish a democratic republic in China. In a speech given at a Tokyo gathering on 2 December 1906 (“The Three People’s Principles and the Future of the Chinese People”), Sun Yat-sen said:

As for the Principle of Democracy, it is the foundation of the political revolution…The aim of the political revolution is to create a constitutional, democratic political system…After the revolution in China, this will be the most appropriate political system. This, too, everyone knows.

However, the notion that the government should consist of representatives of the people rather than a tiny oligarchy and its closest families was a republican ideal no Chinese state since 1911, excepting Taiwan, has been willing to embrace. Is the absence of an emperor proof of the existence of a republic? It is arguable, therefore, that China’s current Communist regime, in power since 1949, is yet another dynasty in China’s long imperial era.

The Xinhai Revolution arose mainly in response to the decline of the Qing (or Manchu) dynasty, which had proven ineffective in its efforts to modernize China and confront new challenges presented by foreign powers, and was exacerbated by ethnic resentment against the ruling Manchu minority (see “The Revolutionary Army” published in 1903 by Zou Rong). The turning point of the revolution was the Wuchang Uprising in October 1911.

Dozens of uprisings against the Qing Dynasty had failed between 1895 and 1911, most the work of small secret societies. What distinguished the Wuchang Uprising was that it originated from inside the Empire’s “New Army.” The New Army had been created by the Emperor and his Manchu cabinet with the intention of putting down the many rebellions across China and protecting the country from foreign powers after the Boxer Rebellion.

The Army’s 8th Division, stationed in Hubei Province, differed from other divisions throughout the country for several reasons:

  • First, the 8th Division was perhaps the most highly organized and cohesive.
  • Second, it was stationed in a port city and major transportation hub, Wuhan, on the Yangtze River. Wuhan had been a cosmopolitan port. Thus, its members had access to foreign ideas and influence.
  • Third, its officers were highly literate. Many had studied abroad or graduated from military university.
The three flags of the early Republic of China

The three flags of the early Republic of China

Many in the New Army’s 8th Division were also members of secret societies, the two biggest being the Literary Society and the Society for Common Advancement. The two underground organizations merged in September 1911, united by their opposition to the Manchu government. (Most of the Hubei army and the members of the secret societies were Han Chinese, who considered the Manchu as foreign as if they’d been European.)

Ultimately, the military that was supposed to strengthen the Empire against foreign powers and subversive ideas was the cause of its downfall. The uprising itself broke out largely by accident. Revolutionaries intent on overthrowing the Qing dynasty had built bombs and one accidentally exploded. This led police to investigate, and they discovered lists of Literary Society members within the New Army. At this point, the military revolted rather than face arrest and certain execution. The governor fled Hubei, and within two days the Division occupied the neighboring cities of Hanyang and Hankou. (Years later, Wuchang, Hanyang, and Hankou merged to form the modern city of Wuhan.) As word of the rebellion spread, other provinces followed suit.

Future President Sun Yat-Sen has often been called instrumental in the Wuchang Uprising, but he was in fact in the United States at the time, garnering support for the underground movements. He returned to China on 29 December 1911. By 1 January 1912, the revolutionaries had declared the new Republic of China. After the Qing court transferred power to the newly founded republic in February 1912, a provisional coalition government was created along with the National Assembly.

Major Events in the Xinhai Revolution

Major Events in the Xinhai Revolution

Today, both the Republic of China in Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China on the mainland consider themselves to be successors to the Xinhai Revolution and continue to pay homage to the ideals of the revolution including nationalism, republicanism, modernization of China, and national unity. October 10 is commemorated in Taiwan as Double Ten Day, the National Day of the Republic of China. In mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau, the same day is usually celebrated as the Anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution.

Unfortunately, the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in China in 1911 ushered in 38 years of Civil War and warlordism, and provided an opportunity for a Japanese invasion. In 1949, the bloodbath of the interregnum gave way to a greater bloodbath as the Communists consolidated power under Mao Zedong, who died in 1976. When seen as a continuum, this phase of Chinese history was a 65 year nightmare which took some 75 million lives.

References:

February 12, 1809 (a Sunday)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin!

On this date, the English naturalist Charles Robert Darwin, second son and fifth of six children of Robert Waring Darwin, successful physician, and Susannah Wedgwood, daugher of Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the Wedgwood Pottery Works, was born in Shrewsbury. He is one of the most famous men who has ever lived. He presented evidence to support his theory of the mechanism of evolution whereby favorable variations would be preserved, which he called “Natural Selection” and has become known as Darwinism. His two most important books were On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871).

Happy Birthday!

[On Monday evening, Feb. 11, 2008, the New York State Assembly unanimously passed a resolution honoring Darwin Day 2008, the first state legislature in history to do so.]

February 9, 1849 (a Friday)

On this date, Richard Owen gave a public lecture entitled “On the Nature of Limbs,” at an evening meeting of the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. This lecture laid out to a general audience Owen’s notion of homology in general, and his account of vertebrate limbs in particular. Earlier, in 1843, Owen had defined a homology as the “same organ in different animals under every variety of form and function” (Owen 1843, p.379). The 1848 book On the Archetype and the Homologies of the Vertebrate Skeleton had introduced his sophisticated theoretical and observational framework in comparative morphology. Now in the 1849 lecture, Owen forcefully argued for fins as found in different groups of fish and limbs as occurring in different tetrapod taxa being homologous, by pointing to homologies among the individual skeletal parts of fins and limbs. Published in the same year under the title On the Nature of Limbs, this lecture, together with On the Archetype, marks Owen’s most innovative contribution to comparative biology, which made him the most prominent naturalist in Britain before Darwin.