"Evolving the Future," 28 September 2010

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An exploration of how evolutionary thinking can inform public policy

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Organised by the Centre on the Human Aspects of Science and Technology & the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, University of Sydney

Keynote Speakers

  • David Sloan Wilson, Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology, SUNY
  • Rick Shine, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and ARC Federation Fellow, University of Sydney
  • Sir Peter Gluckman, Head, Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland and New Zealand Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor
  • Stephen Simpson, Professor of Biology and ARC Laureate Fellow, University of Sydney
  • Roland Fletcher, Professor of Theoretical and World Archaeology, University of Sydney

About the workshop

Evolution is an essential theory for understanding the living world–including our own species. Even our capacity for open-ended learning and culture evolved, and culture itself is an evolutionary process. With understanding comes the capacity for improvement. This workshop examines three fields in which the understanding offered by contemporary evolutionary theory may offer practical guidance: conservation, public health, and the urban environment.

The workshop will be led by evolutionary biologist Prof. David Sloan Wilson, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University.

Professor David Sloan Wilson
portrait of Prof David Sloan Wilson

Prof Wilson is well-known for his development of multi-level selection theory and his rehabilitation of group selection. He applies evolutionary theory to all aspects of human affairs, both in his research and by directing programs designed to reform higher education and public policy formulation. Wilson is a director of the Evolution Institute, the first think-tank that uses evolutionary theory to address the important policy issues of our day and the author of three books on the application of evolutionary theory to human affairs:

Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society (Chicago, 2002) proposes that religion is a multi-level adaptation, a product of cultural evolution developed through a process of multi-level selection for more cooperative and cohesive groups.

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives (Bantam, 2007) attempts to give an introduction to evolution for a broad audience, detailing the various ways in which evolution can be applied to everyday affairs.

His forthcoming book is titled The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block At A Time (Little, Brown).

Attendance at the workshop is limited to 50, to ensure that all participants are able to participate in a meaningful way in our discussions. Amongst the key questions to be addressed are:

  • Is evolutionary theory genuinely mature enough to guide practical policy formulation on any or all of these three topics?
  • What are the steps that evolutionary scientists can take to get their ideas onto the policy agenda?
  • What are the potential pitfalls facing evolutionary scientists as they begin to take their ideas out of the academy and into the policy arena?

To lead the discussion alongside Prof Wilson we have invited four very distinguished scientists, each with expertise on one of our focal topics.

Professor Rick Shine
portrait of Prof Rick Shine

Rick Shine is Professor of Evolutionary Biology and an ARC Federation Fellow at the University of Sydney. His research spans a wide range of species, ecosystems and conceptual areas, but focuses most strongly on the ecology and evolution of reptiles and amphibians. In particular, his recent work explores ways in which fundamental field-based ecological research can be used to develop innovative approaches to conservation challenges. He has published more than 700 papers in scientific journals, and is among the world's most highly cited authors in his field. Rick has received numerous awards for excellence in research, including the E. O. Wilson Award by the American Society of Naturalists, the Mueller Medal by ANZAAS, the Eureka Prize for biodiversity research, and the Macfarlane Burnet Medal by the Australian Academy of Sciences. He was elected to the Australian Academy of Science in 2003, and received an Order of Australia (AM) in 2005. He contributes regularly to media debates, and was included in the Sydney Magazine’s list of Sydney’s 100 most influential people for 2008.

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman FRS
protrait of Professor Sir Peter Gluckman

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman was the founding Director of the Liggins Institute in Auckland and is one of New Zealand’s best known scientists. His research has won him numerous awards and international recognition including Fellowship of the Commonwealth’s most prestigious scientific organisation, The Royal Society (London). He is the only New Zealander elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science (USA) and the Academy of Medical Sciences of Great Britain.

In 2009 he became a Knight of the New Zealand Order of Merit replacing the 2008 Distinguished Companion of the NZ Order of Merit, for services to medicine and having previously been made a Companion of the Order in 1997. In 2001 he received New Zealand’s top science award, the Rutherford Medal, and in July 2009 he was appointed as the first Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Sir Peter is an international advocate for science, promoting the translation of discoveries in biomedical research into improvements in long term health outcomes and at the interface between evolutionary biology and medicine. He remains head of the Liggins Institute’s Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease. He is the author of over 500 scientific papers and reviews and editor of eight books, including three influential textbooks in his subject area.

Professor Roland Fletcher
portrait of Prof Roland Fletcher

Over the past thirty years Roland Fletcher has developed a global and interdisciplinary perspective in Archaeology, that integrates research, teaching and service. His fields of expertise are the theory and philosophy of archaeology, the study of settlement growth and decline and the analysis of large-scale cultural phenomena over time. In 1995 he published The Limits of Settlement Growth: a theoretical outline - an analysis of the past 15,000 years of settlement-growth and decline - with Cambridge University Press. Roland has an international reputation as a radical theorist and as the instigator of the Greater Angkor Project, which derives from his theoretical work and is part of a major research program in Cambodia. As well as teaching across a wide spectrum of archaeology, Roland has initiated new teaching programs in the Archaeology of Asia and has taught a generation of diverse, innovative professional archaeologists. His combination of teaching and research has created a multi-disciplinary research team of local and international research students and staff, linking the Humanities and the Sciences. This program of research on Angkor has developed international collaborations for the University and has enhanced its public profile through media presentations, such as the National Geographic International TV program “Lost City”. The Angkor research team also serves the international community through the applied research of the Living with Heritage Project at Angkor, in collaboration with the Cambodian government and UNESCO.

Professor Stephen Simpson
portrait of Prof Stephen Simpson

Steve Simpson is an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney, having returned to Australia in 2005 after 22 years at Oxford where he was Professor of Entomology and Curator of the University Museum of Natural History. His research spans why and how locusts swarm (from events within the brains of individuals to mass migration) to the dietary causes of human obesity and ageing. In 2007 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, in 2008 he was awarded the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, and in 2009 he was named NSW Scientist of the Year.


New Law Seminar Room 102, University of Sydney
Click here for a campus map. The Law School is located in the bottom left hand corner of L4.


$30.00 non-refundable


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09.00. Welcome and opening remarks: Paul Griffiths (University Professorial Research Fellow, Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science)

09.15 - 10.45 Session 1. Evolution and conservation
Discussion leaders:
David S. Wilson (Distinguished Prof. of Biology and Anthropology, SUNY Binghamton)
Rick Shine (Prof. of Evolutionary Biology and ARC Federation Fellow, Sydney)

10.45-11.15 Coffee

11.15 -12.30 Session 2. Evolution, lifestyle and disease
Discussion leaders:
David S. Wilson
Sir Peter Gluckman, FRS (Head, Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease, Liggins Institute and Chief Science Advisor, New Zealand) 12.30 Lunch

1.30-2.45 Session 2 continues
Discussion leader:
Stephen Simpson (Prof of Biology and ARC Laureate Fellow, Sydney)

2.45 Coffee

3.15-4.45 Session 3. Evolution and the urban environment
Discussion leaders:
David S. Wilson
Roland Fletcher (Professor of Theoretical and World Archaeology, University of Sydney)

General Discussion 4.45 – 5.15.

Public Lecture
Prof. Wilson will also deliver a CHAST Templeton Lecture at the University of Sydney on Wednesday September 29th at 6.00 pm in the Eastern Avenue Auditorium:

"Evolving the City: Using Evolutionary Theory to Understand and Improve the Human Condition"

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