Iowa City Darwin Day Events

Thursday, February 18, 2016 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm

Humans live in a golden era where the genetic code has been cracked open. Scientists can sequence, analyze, and even alter DNA—the instruction manual for all living things. Their findings have yielded many, but not all, answers to the age-old question of where do we come from and have revealed what remains unknown.

“Understanding how humans evolved will hopefully convince people we’re all family,” says Maurine Neiman, associate professor in biology at the University of Iowa. “The more we learn about human evolution, the more we realize how complex it is, and how much more there is to discover.”

Leading scientists in the United States will give a series of talks on human origin and evolution at Iowa City Darwin Day, which runs from Feb. 18 to 20. The annual event, held at a variety of locations on the UI campus, also will feature discussions on advancing science education in rural areas.

“It will be a broadly interesting event that will be fun for all audiences,” says Neiman, chief organizer of the event, which started in 2008.

Tim Weaver, professor at the University of California, Davis, will address human evolution from a paleontologist perspective, talking about why Neanderthals look the way they do, and revealing the surprising role that chance played in the history of human evolution.

“I think most people, at least at some point in their lives, are curious about questions such as: ‘Where do we come from? What makes us human?’” says Weaver, who has worked in anthropology since 1998.

Briana Pobiner, human origins research scientist and educator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., will give two talks on how humans have changed. In the first lecture, she’ll focus on three instances of human evolution in the past 10,000 years: the ability to digest lactose, resistance to malaria, and adaptation to living at high altitudes. In her second talk, "Ancient appetites: What was the real paleodiet?" Pobiner will discuss how human diets have changed over the past few million years with a focus on the origin and evolution of eating meat.

Iowa City Darwin Day also will feature talks on science education. According to Emily Schoerning, director of community organizing and research at the National Center for Science Education, language choice is important in the public discourse about evolution. “I'll help participants learn to encourage dialog about scientific topics, and develop inclusive environments where people can really speak and understand each other,” Schoerning said.

In a related presentation, Ann Reid, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, will address science topics that are socially, but not scientifically controversial. “My talk will explore why there is so large a disconnect between the views of scientists and the general public on certain scientific topics,” Reid says, “and how scientists, science teachers, and anyone else who cares about the integrity of science education can do about it.”

On Saturday, K-12 teachers are invited to participate in a workshop designed to help them teach about hot-button topics, the first time the event's organizers have sponsored this kind of session. Sign-up forms are on the Iowa City Darwin Day website, and teachers get continuing education credit for attending.

All Darwin Day events are free and open to the public.