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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Darwin Day Dinner Celebrates Science and Humanity

Darwin Day Dinner Celebrates Science and Humanity
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Fairfield, CT – There’s a movement afoot, spurred by supporters of science education, who have declared a “Darwin Day” to celebrate their ideals. A good occasion to bring together like-minded local folks for an exchange of ideas, it also provided an excuse for a pleasant sit-down meal.

Held Saturday evening at the Inn at Longshore, 260 Compo Road South, the Darwin Day Dinner drew 140 people of varied professional backgrounds, who also enjoyed a cocktail hour, science quiz and presentation by Rene Almeling, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Yale University.

“This is our 4th annual event,” noted Cary S. Shaw, co-chairman of the Southern Connecticut Darwin Day Committee. “The first was in 2009 and marked the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth.”

Darwin first described biological evolution via natural selection.

“Our mission is to celebrate science, promote science education, celebrate the benefits that rational thinking and scientific endeavors have brought to mankind and mark the birth of Darwin,” Shaw elaborated. “Last year, we had a professor talking about viruses; the previous year, astrophysics; the first year, sexual selection.”

Shaw thought it ironic that, “Americans have holidays that celebrate various aspects of our national life but none that mark rational thinking with the aim of helping mankind. Darwin Day is that representation and it’s growing nationally and internationally. In the New York Metro area, there are now five such celebrations including ours.”

The evening speaker, Almeling, has just published a book titled Sex Cells: The Medical Market for (Human) Eggs and Sperm. “I went to egg agencies and fertility programs around the country and interviewed staff to do research on how we value eggs and sperm,” she said. “I look at the way our ideas about gender – namely the ways women are expected to be altruistic and caring and men are expected to be devoted to the workplace – and fuse the market for eggs and sperm. Egg donors and sperm donors are paid to provide sex cells -- for women this is considered compensation for the gift of life; for men, it’s payment for a job well done. Reproductive technologies are helping to reshape how we define motherhood, fatherhood and the meaning of family.”

Mitch Kalmus, a biology teacher at Carmel High School, developed the science quiz for the Dinner. Consisting of 10-15 questions, it is given to each table, who must agree upon their answers. Answers are reviewed via a PowerPoint follow-up.

Teaching Darwinism is a touchy pursuit in this day and age, Kalmus pointed out. “It’s ironic with all the new evidence we have that supports the theory of evolution that we are still in a hostile climate about teaching it in public schools,” he said. “I’m aware of teachers prefacing its teaching with an apology.”

Among the Dinner crowd were several public high school students with a thirst for this information. Kate Buellesbach, 17, from Brien McMahon High in Norwalk, was one of them. “I’m taking a couple of a.p. classes and plan to pursue biomedical engineering,” she said. “A program like this is very interesting.”

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