Sunday, November 30, 2008
Much ado about banknotes
Incidentally, since Bob and some of the lecturers who have visited Stanford this quarter (e.g., Niles Eldredge, Janet Browne) have made mention of Charles Darwin's portrait gracing the new British ten-pound note, I thought that this recent piece in the Guardian might be of interest: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/nov/16/darwinbicentenary-currencies
In it, Professor Steve Jones of University College, London, points out that on this portrait, Darwin is shown facing an image of a hummingbird on the opposite side of the banknote, suggesting that Darwin received inspiration for the development of his theories through the study of such birds. Jones points out, though, that it was finches and mockingbirds that attracted Darwin's interest, and not hummingbirds, since none of the latter existed on the Galapagos Islands, nor were they mentioned in The Origin of Species. When asked why this bird appeared on the banknote, Jones suggested that the artist may have simply liked them. For Jones, however, such an apparent misrepresenation is no small matter, as he notes that "We are surprised by the numbers of people who believe in creationism and rubbish like that only to find the currency in which we place our trust is telling us lies about evolution."
For anybody interested in the Bank of England's take on this, their spokesperson simply said that the hummingbird was representative of birds found "in the region" of the Galapagos, while the Bank of England's web article about the currency (http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/current/current_10.htm) states that the illustrations on the note represent "the flora and fauna that [Darwin] may have come across on his travels."