Darwin Day Lecutre at the ROM

Who will be the next Darwin and how can science communication increase awareness?

I had the privilege of seeing Dan Riskin, one of the hosts of Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet speak at the the ROM last night about the future of science and who could be the next Charles Darwin, given it’s Darwin’s birthday on Friday the 12th.  

 Dan Riskin of Daily Planet

Dan Riskin of Daily Planet

It was an engaging talk about how the conditions were so right for the great names of science like Darwin, Newton and Galileo to come up with their game changing ideas.  It was not that these men were all super geniuses, there were other people that came up with very similar ideas to Darwin and Newton around the same time, but because the conditions were right for these ideas to come about.

Dan gave a great analogy that it was similar to convergent evolution.  Convergent evolution is when we see a similar structure in two very different types of animals.  For example, a bat wing and the wing of Pterodactyl (a flying dinosaur), where they both are made of skin stretched along fingers and attaching at the ankle.  Convergent evolution is amazing as two vastly different groups of animals evolve such similar structures to solve the same problem.  


It seems like the conditions are similar today, and it’s more open now for anyone, women and people of colour (not just old white men) to come up with the next big idea.  Hopefully some of those ideas will be to help the immense issue we are facing with climate change and how to get us on a better track so we don’t burn the only planet we have.  

There was also a great panel discussion with science journalists, Kate Allen of the Toronto Star and Hannah Hoag of Arctic Deeply talking about science communication and how to get the wider world interested in science.  Dan had a lot of interesting ideas, hooking kids with videos of dirt bikes to help explain the physics of motion.  He even took an idea from one of my favourite podcasts, Radiolab, where they get the audience to figure out the problem before the host does, which make your audience feel smart.  People engage more when they feel like science is not being talked down to them and full of jargon and technical terms.

Kate brought up the issue of “sexy” vs “unsexy” science and how the sexy science tends to get communicated more as that has more of a hook.  It is not necessarily a bad thing but that balance needs to be there so the big discoveries, sexy or not get decimated to the public.

It was really inspiring to hear them talk about the importance of science communication and getting the public interested and excited about science.  One of Primate Tales’s main goals is to engage students about science, through the amazing lens of primates and our evolutionary heritage.  I can think of nothing cooler than learning about all the human-like species that lived and went extinct before us, yet we survived and thrived, though I may be a bit biased.  


By inspiring more young people to engage with science, be it through becoming scientists themselves or by becoming science communicators it all leads to the greater chance of discoveries to help save our planet.  From climate change, to the energy crisis, to increased extinction rates, there are many problems that we have caused as humans to this planet and the animals and plants we share it with.  Hopefully with our big brains and amazing interconnectedness at this moment in time we can come up with the solutions.

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