Joining the throngs celebrating Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday today leads me to reflect, how do we get sound, creative science into the policy and judicial process?  Stephen Jay Gould, the revered Harvard paleontologist, observed

“Science does not deal in certainty, so ‘fact’ can only mean a proposition affirmed to such a high degree that it would be perverse to withhold one’s provisional assent.”

The fluid nature of knowledge challenges the preference of courts and legislatures for a more static breed of fact – a real concern for climate change policy. Advances in evolutionary biology precede, build upon, verify and modify Darwin’s insight. Tributes to Darwin in the New York Times describe ongoing debates over group-level selection and new Google Earth-like attempts to visualize the evolutionary tree of plants.

Regrettably, when Darwin’s great discovery of the mechanism of evolution – natural selection – appears in court, it betokens culture wars. It is associated with the Scopes Monkey Trial and the Dover School Board lawsuit – efforts by people who find it easier to understand mythology than microbiology. Happily, the rest of the world doesn’t share this preoccupation; the newspaper, Le Monde, notes that more than 80% of the French public accepts evolution.

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