Sunday 13 March 2011

1781 – William Herschel discovers Uranus... I am reading Laura Snyder's excellent book about John Herschel, William's son, and three friends; including William Whewell mentioned in this blog, who collectively reshaped science in the 19th century. 

The author points out that William came to England penniless after the Seven Years war and eked out a living as a musical director, and later an organist at Bath.  With no science training he began reading, then ground his own telescope lenses...and on this day in 1781 he discovered what he thought was a new comet.  It was Pierre-Simon Laplace who realized that Herschel had discovered a new planet. It was the first discovery of a planet not visible to the naked eye. For his discovery, Herschel was named the personal astronomer to George III (the bad guy in the American Revolution).  He and his sister Caroline were both given annual stipends for life and moved to Windsor. 

Amazingly it was the same day that science took a setback in the state of Tennessee when the Senate passed the Butler Act in 1925 (Yeas: 24; Nays: 6).  The law prohibited public school teachers to teach anything which denied the Biblical account of man’s origin. "The law also prevented the teaching of the evolution of man from what it referred to as lower orders of animals in place of the Biblical account."  Within two months this will lead to charges being filed against John Scopes

Teacher John T. Scopes

How appropriate that it should again be on the 13th day of March in 2003 that Nature Magazine reports that 350,000-year-old footprints of an upright-walking human have been found in Italy.

And the question of evolution in education is still under attack on March 13 of 2011. From the Memphis Flyer..

As you probably know, House Bill 368—which allows teachers to critique such "controversial" theories as the theory of evolution—is coming up for a vote on March 16 in the general subcommittee of the House Education committee.
Although the bill also attacks global warming and human cloning, the primary aim of the bill's sponsor (Bill Dunn) is to gut the teaching of evolution in public schools.

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