Over 200,000 people have paid the ultimate 21st century homage to Charles Darwin by signing up on social networking site facebook to wish him a happy birthday. Facebook itself is celebrating its fifth birthday and appears to be winning the struggle for survival of the fittest (or coolest, or most addictive) against other social networking sites such as Bebo and myspace.
So what does it mean – is Darwin just a poster child for people who want to look intelligent? Is signing up to the facebook group just a bit like having an unread copy of Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” on your shelf? I felt compelled to sign up, even though I do have to admit I didn't quite make to the end of "On the Origin of Species".
Darwin is not the only genetics figure with a facebook presence – Gregor Mendel has 780 fans and Barbara McClintock, discoverer of transposable elements, has 81 fans. Some facebookers have signed up to somewhat eclectic statements about their genetics heroes such as "Mendel, Watson, and Crick are my Home-boys!" (45 members), or "Watson and Crick ripped off Rosalind Franklin, and you know it" (813 members).
There is even a group called facebook Darwinism with the guiding principle “Each week de-friend someone. Soon you should have a strong lean group of friends!” However, a contributor has challenged the principle as more like the teachings of Herbert Spencer, a forerunner of Darwin, saying that "biodiversity is always a good thing. Culling friends diminishes the gene pool, eradicating any possible beneficial" Some might argue that those who spend a lot of time on facebook are unlikely to be contributing to the gene pool at all.
There are several anti-evolution on facebook. The “wish Darwin a happy birthday” site organisers make the point that “This is a forum for paying tribute to a great scientist NOT for religious debate” However, Darwin himself might have been encouraged to see that the group “1 Million People for Creationism” is struggling somewhat with 569 members.