Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh
Physics, an older discipline than biology, is still searching for a theory of everything but in biology we have had one since 1859. In the words of Dobzhansky’s famous remark, “Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution”. This is so axiomatic to any biologist that we sometimes have difficulty comprehending why this might not be self-evident to others. Does such lack of interest or ignorance even matter? You can drive a car without knowing how it was constructed and run a marathon without ever considering the evolution of bipedalism, so why care? The answers to this question are fundamental to any strategy for evolution teaching and outreach. It always pays to know why one is doing something.
I think that the answers can be classified under three headings 1. education, 2. culture and 3. citizenship. 1. Evolution needs to be something everyone learns about during their formal education because it is a fundamental and verifiable fact about ourselves and our world. Everyone should know that we are a young, African species and what this means. 2. Science is a part of western culture, as much as art, music or history and the theory of evolution is a triumph of science that is to be appreciated and celebrated, 3. An understanding of evolution and genetics is needed for any citizen to make informed decisions about a whole range of issues that affect everyday life such as reproductive rights, health, education, the environment and genetically modified food. After some brief thoughts along these lines, I will share my experience of trying to interest a general audience in evolution through popular science writing, citizen science and teaching. My bottom line is, we have a lot to be very positive about.