Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Darwin at 200, Human Nature at a Few Million, A Myth Dispelled

Saturday, Feb 14, 1:30 pm Public & FREE

Dennis K. McBride, Ph.D., Potomac Institute for Policy Studies,
Georgetown University Medical School
Georgetown University Public Policy Institute

National Science Foundation, Room 110
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA (Map)

This talk first reviews some of the least known but important elements of Charles Darwin’s portfolio as he published “Origins” in 1859, and “Descent of Man” in 1871. (For example, Darwin was, fortunately for us, very prone to sea sickness.) Focusing on the evolution of humanity and on natural selection’s counterpart, sexual selection, Darwin’s 1871 book re-fueled a firestorm, one that still burns today. Poll numbers show that a significant proportion of today’s population does not accept Darwinism as applied to humans. Darwin foresaw and actually embraced this resistance. More importantly, a significant proportion of adults, including academics, accept human evolution but eschew the idea of a DNA-supported (i.e., not genetically determined) “human nature.” At least three evolved characteristics of human evolution make the species very different from its closest relatives: the opposable thumb, bipedalism, and the encephalized brain (which increased in size by a factor of 3 over the past few million years). Dr. McBride will touch on interesting examples of evolved human nature, including pregnancy sickness and male preference for mates with certain waist/hip ratios. With these, we will examine the way in which the realities of bipedalism and encephalization explain birth-related injury, and how this consideration undermines one of the most troublesome socio-legal myths of our time: the myth of shaken baby syndrome.

Dennis K. McBride, Ph.D. is Academic President of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington area think tank dedicated to the provision of science and technology policy expertise to the administration, congress, and the judiciary. Members of the Institute remain actively engaged in the scientific disciplines for which they provide expertise. McBride is an evolutionary psychologist with an extensive background in the science of human evolution. His most recent book, Quantifying Human Information Processing (Rowman & Littlefield) is followed by a soon to be released, co-authored treatment of Best Available Science. As an active adjunct faculty member at Georgetown University’s medical school and Public Policy Institute, he has also held appointments as professor in colleges of engineering and arts and sciences.

* NSF is one block south of the Ballston-Marymount University metro stop on the Orange Line. For most drivers the easiest route is to exit Route 66 onto Fairfax Dr. eastbound to N. Stuart Street. Enter the NSF building at the corner of N. Stuart Street and 9th St. N. Parking is available in the Ballston Common mall, in the NSF building, and at other area parking lots and garages. Metered parking is also available on the surrounding streets. (Map)