Being an evolutionary biologist, I have great reverence for the past. We scientists of history are a proud and motley crew, including many geologists, astronomers, climatologists, archaeologists, and others. In this first post, which falls on the anterior end of 2014, I’d like to hearken back . . . not to 2013, but to a bygone era when my scientific discipline was just burgeoning, an era when exploration was tantamount and amateur wasn’t a bad word.
You see, I study the evolution of diatoms: microscopic unicellular eukaryotic algae that were first discovered alongside innovations in microscopy in the eighteenth century (Round et al, 1990). By the nineteenth century, Darwin was laying the groundwork for what is now evolutionary biology (not to forget Wallace). Coincidentally, amateur microscopists were seeking out diatoms—and amateur Diatomists, microscopes—as an uptick in diatom research accompanied a huge frenzy of citizen science undertaken by “the working-man naturalist(s)” (Carrington, 1894). Publications that catered to these citizens were also on the rise, as were rigorous treatments of specific diatom groups and habits.
In fields of biology other than mine, most foundational publications were transcribed or digitized long ago, but with diatoms, there is still a great deal of important early work that can be found only in print. Many of these early diatom journals and books are originals and rare. For this reason, I’ve spent a lot of time poking around library stacks in natural history museums, trying to figure the cypher that Latin and german are to me. Now, don’t mistake my realism for complaining, there is something magical about being around all those centuries old books. I am both charmed and frustrated with this analog aspect of my field, for fringe benefits include amazing literary gems run across while hunting through old tombs.
There have been many such golden nuggets, but there is by far a standout in my eyes, a special rainbow unicorn of Science publication I first found in the diatom collection at the California Academy of Sciences. Replete with most expertly executed vintage scientific illustration, quirky topics, and token snarky, perfumed language, I call to your attention Hardwicke’s science-gossip: an illustrated medium of interchange and gossip for students and lovers of nature.
Now, I ask you, how great is that name? Published between 1865 and 1902 in two installments, Science Gossip is popular-science at it’s best. Although I am one to embellish, I hereby swear that I cried laughing at some of the science tips and scientific quarrels documented in the magazine’s pages. I will, henceforth, share with you just a small selection of the amazing tidbits that await you:
ON CLEANING GUANOS FOR DIATOMS
Yes, my dear reader, they did just tell us to taste the bird poop slurry!
ON EATING MARMOT a.k.a Rock Whistler
Now that I have wetted your appetite with all that hair, guano, and marmot, I imagine you’re going to feast and then promptly travel to your nearest natural history archives to wrangle up a copy of this wonderful publication. What’s that you say? You haven’t access to a local archive? Despair ye not, pour souls, The Biodiversity Heritage Library has the original Science Gossip series digitized for your perusal including the second equally titilating installment.
I encourage you to go down the rabbit hole that is Science Gossip, as it should lend some levity to your day and, perhaps, some insight or inspiration to your science.
Now, raise a glass to popular science being popular, and toast your fellow “working-man naturalists” if you can find them.
Round, F. E., R. M. Crawford and D. G. Mann. 1990. Diatoms: biology and morphology of the genera. Cambridge University Press.
WMB. “On Hairs.” Science Gossip 1865, v I: 29
A.J. Roberts. “Cleaning Diatomaceae.” Science Gossip 1865, v. I: 52
J.S.T. “On a dead spider in water.” Science-Gossip 1865, v.I: 133
J.K. Lord. “The Rock Whistler.” Science Gossip 1865, v. I: 243
Dr. J.E. Taylor (Editor 1837-1895). Science Gossip 1891, V. 27: Preface
John T. Carrington (Editor 1894-1902). “To our readers.” Science-Gossip 1894, v.I