Brian Regal of Kean University produced my favorite scientific paper this week, when he released details on Darwin Killed Off The Werewolf, a paper he’ll present at the annual meeting of the British Society for the History of Science next month.

A bit disappointingly, the paper does not reveal the facts behind Darwin’s little known second life as one of the nineteenth century’s premiere werewolf hunters. Rather than enacting a brutal anti-lycanthrope pogrom, the thesis of Regal’s paper is that Darwin killed the werewolf like kind of like video killed the radio star. In proposing the theory of evolution, he changed the paradigm of unexplained sighting of hairy beasts in the woods. As people thought more about evolution and the notion gained traction, the underpinnings of it colored their perceptions. They looked differently at what they saw (or thought they saw), and as a result, one myth died out, or at least faded into the doldrums of cryptozoological obscurity and accepted fiction. In it’s place rose another myth more in line with new modes of thinking. Thus a hybrid of man and wolf, which doesn’t jibe with the theory of evolution, becomes a missing link between ape and man which dovetails nicely with the science of the day.

Now, an exceptionally cynical skeptic would point out that this isn’t exactly a huge step forward in rational thought. Frankly, it doesn’t say much that, after 150 years of scientific study since the advent of the theory of evolution, we as a society are more prepared to believe that rare and elusive ape men roam our forests than that some people, either cursed by wizards or using dark magic to transform themselves into terrible creatures are out there waiting to pounce. But it’s a bit of progress in the right general direction, and who are we to look down our noses at progress, however little it may be. People don’t believe in werewolves any more, and it’s because we can all look at a shared, mostly accepted set of facts and agree that believing in werewolves is fundamentally and profoundly ludicrous. That’s a good thing.

Unless, of course, it’s exactly what the werewolves want us to think…

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