I convinced my friend and colleague Briana Pobiner to come down to Greensboro from Washington, D.C. to present on her education and outreach work with the Smithsonian. Briana's major research interests focus on the evolution of the human diet, but recently she's become deeply involved in public outreach and the teaching of evolution, particularly human evolution. Her presentation "Communicating Human Evolution" drew a good crowd (including a couple of university donors) and outlined the efforts of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian to explain human evolution to the public. A couple of salient points/observations:
- Briana presented a bunch of data on public attitudes to science, scientists, evolution, and human evolution. Perhaps the most surprising number was 42. This is the percentage of Americans that do not accept organic evolution as an explanation for biological diversity. Even more troubling is the fact that this number has not really changed much since 1982! A sobering realization given how much time, effort, and money has been devoted to improving science education in the U.S.
- One of the most important points that Briana made was that convincing people of the fact of evolution requires open dialogue−brow beating simply causes people to dig in their heels. One of the things that the Smithsonian is doing is to make their scientists available to the public.