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Celebrating Science Seasonally

Olivia Judson's column today is great, as usual. But I have some reservations about her proposal to celebrate Dec. 25 to January 4 as the Festival of Newton.

Dec. 25 is already taken. It is, of course, Family Day, although the name is used mainly in Uruguay. The date also has religious significance to many. And the connection between Newton's birth anniversary and Dec. 25 is a mere fluke of human attempts to impose a calendar on a year with an uneven number of days.

Newton was born on the perihelion, the day when the earth is closest to the sun, and that is when we should celebrate him. This is approximately January 4, depending on the year. Taking that day as given, I see two logical time-spans for a winter festival celebrating science.

1) Winter solstice to perihelion. If astronomy were the whole of science, this would be a great choice, but it's not. This period is already enriched with family get-togethers and religious celebrations with generally positive themes and there's more to life than science. Furthermore, US scientists are frantically revising grant proposals to NSF, due the beginning of January.

2) Newton's birthday (and perihelion) to Darwin's birthday (Feb. 12). Most scientists would agree that these two changed our understanding of the universe and ourselves as much as anyone before or since. We could use the time between their birthdays to celebrate past scientific advances, but also today's most exciting frontiers, across all of science.

I'll spare you the words to We All Evolved from One, sung to the tune of All Creatures Great and Small.

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