There’s been a bit of a rumpus echoing through the blogosphere following a series of pop sci articles about Darwin and his legacy (see for example this review of recent stories).  Generally, and presumably to attract readers, many make some kind of provocative claim in the title, such as "Was Darwin wrong?" or similar.

In contrast, the February 2009 edition of National Geographic features a rather excellent article by Matt Ridley: Darwin’s Legacy. In a refreshing change from the tabloid-style hatchet jobs often seen in the press, this is a measured view of how modern biology has built on Darwin’s foundations, and quite responsibly points out that Darwin, for all his breadth of knowledge never knew the physical basis for inheritance.

As one might expect from National Geographic, the accompanying photographs are both beautiful and inspiring. The picture skowing the ray skeletons in particular made me want to know more about the research it illustrates. i would have liked to include a thumbnail here, but the gallery is flash animated. The opening paragraph is particularly striking: 

Just two weeks before he died, Charles Darwin wrote a short paper about a tiny clam found clamped to the leg of a water beetle in a pond in the English Midlands. It was his last publication. The man who sent him the beetle was a young shoemaker and amateur naturalist named Walter Drawbridge Crick. The shoemaker eventually married and had a son named Harry, who himself had a son named Francis. In 1953, Francis Crick, together with a young American named James Watson, would make a discovery that has led inexorably to the triumphant vindication of almost everything Darwin deduced about evolution.

The main feature article, Darwin’s First Clues – he was inspired by fossils of armadillos and sloths is by David Quammen and is also well worth a read, as an exemplar of science writing.