Darwin Lecture 2011

This year’s Darwin Week festivities in the Lexington area featured a talk by Jack Horner.  It was part science and part entertainment, very well attended.  (The organizers must have remembered Horner’s last visit to Lexington,  when the room he spoke in was overflowing, and probably as many people were outside as in the hall.  This time, the main hall of the Singletary Center was used, and it was pretty full.)

The talk itself had its highlights and low points.  I found Horner’s discussion of his “dissection” of fossilized dinosaur bones to be riveting, and I think his mock “extinction” of dinosaur species (actually, the revision of the fossil record so as to recognize that many supposed species are probably just juvenile versions of the same species) was presented in a clever and accessible fashion.

The stuff about the “chickenosuarus”?  Not so much.  I’m not sure about the idea of telling a generation of elementary and middle schoolers (a large and rapt part of the audience) that we’re going to be able to modify chickens so that they will have dinosaur-like tails, “hands”, and teeth, all in about 5 years or so.  I couldn’t tell if he really believed this or not – he’s a pretty good showman and has a knack for drawing the younger members of the audience into the subject.  But if he does, well, um, no.  (To paraphrase what I suspect would be my daughters’ reaction.)

I’ll admit that this talk was a bit more special for me, since it gave me an excuse to spend some time with my older daughter, Heather.  She’s back in the area, and was able to get back to Lexington to attend the talk (and actually be an usher for the event).  A nice dinner at Banana Leaf and some back-and-forth about the subjects (Heather giving me some inside scoop from the perspective of an MSU grad student, and me panning the chickenosaurus schtick) made for a fun time.

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