Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Darwin: Society and Health

Day Two
Tuesday, July 7th

My favorite session so far! Possibly because it was organized by the excellent science author Matt Ridley (Red Queen, Nature Via Nurture) who acted as a very witty session chair. He first introduced psychiatrist Randy Nesse, co-author of Darwinian Medicine, who gave a very engaging, funny, and fascinating talk on that very subject. He expressed an overview of how evolution can shed light on medical issues ranging from fever, infection, disease, aging on to the subject of the evolution of pro-social behaviours like altruism and kindess. The noted primatologist and sociobiologist Sarah Hrdy then continued that theme using examples from monkeys, apes, and hominins (direct, extinct human ancestors) to examine the question of why humans make use of alloparents, group members that help to rear children.

Panelists (who gave shorter presentations after the two main speakers, but sat on the panel answering questions and debating points) included Evelyn Fox Keller (history of science) talking about the reconceptualization of Darwin with new factors of inheritance including epigenetics and cultural transmission, Sir Paul Nurse (Nobel Prize winner for cell cycle work and yeast genetics) addressed the natural selection of cells and its applications for adaptive immunity and understanding cancer. Then I was thrilled to see one of the most daring, brave and engaging talks by Nobel winner Sir John Sulston (won for determining the fate of every single cell in a developing worm called C. elegans). Professor Sulston gave an impassioned and ringing call for scientific knowledge to be used to fix global social problems of justice and economics. He also stressed how science is to be shared and not horded by corporations or private interests.

Next up – The Changing Views of Evolution, dinner and drinks at the famous pub The Eagle, where Watson and Crick announced the discovery of the secret of life, and hanging out with Baba Brinkman, the Canadian creator of the Rap Guide to Evolution. And tomorrow my 40th birthday! (which is right now, while I blog this, but there’s a day lag with my posts since I’m summarizing the previous day)

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