Darwin sought to not only produce a new scientific truth, but also to put an end to polygenism, the current scientific discourse on human origins that gave tacit and at times explicit support for slavery: ‘... when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death.’ (Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 235)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

SLAS Faculty Research Seminar: Diversity, Culture, Theory, and Data: Science on Human Variety. Monday, November 7th from 12:30-2:00.

Please join us for this semester's faculty research seminar, which is being held on Monday, November 7th from 12:30-2:00 in Dekalb 206. This is a brown bag affair, so bring your lunch. We will provide coffee. Below you will find a description of the seminar. I hope to see you there.
Andrew W. Barnes, Ph.D.
School of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Pratt Institute
200 Willoughby Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205

Diversity, Culture, Theory, and Data: Science on Human Variety
B. Ricardo Brown and Christopher X J. Jensen

Human variety plays a pivotal role in history: how we interpret human diversity dictates what kind of society we construct. Over the last three hundred years, science has played an increasingly influential role in explaining and interpreting human variety. How has the rise of science influenced our conception of human variety? Does science shed light on the nature of our differences or simply legitimize prevailing cultural conceptions of difference? Through this talk, we will address these questions by considering the historical trajectory of how science conceptualizes human variety. Starting with the battle between the monogenists and the polygenists of the 18th and 19th centuries, Ric will describe how the cultural conflict over slavery was reflected in battles between scientific camps. He will discuss how prevailing culture influenced the questions scientists asked, the theories they posited, and the way they used data to validate these theories. Ric will explain how increasing access to information about the natural world -- paired with changes in the way science was pursued -- eventually led to the key insights of Charles Darwin, whose theories in large part displaced previous conceptions of human variety. Chris will then consider how post-Darwinian science has conceptualized human variety, beginning with eugenics and ending with the revolution in genomic technologies. Shifts in the culture of science and the culture in which science operates, as well as increased access to genetic data, have all transformed how we interpret human variety. Nonetheless, echos of past scientific shortcomings still reverberate through the present-day science of human genomics. The talk will conclude with the opportunity for the audience to discuss how present-day science influences our understanding of human variety.