Women scientists talk about evolution

by Matthew Cobb

Interesting set of comments from women scientists about the importance of evolution and why it should be taught in public (= state) schools. It’s clearly aimed at high school kids or general members of the public, and does a good job. I’m bemused by the very first comment – ‘Accepting evolution doesn’t mean abandoning your personal beliefs’ (surely that depends on what you believe – what if you were a creationist, for example?), but the rest seem pretty spot on to me:

via Ed Yong on Twitter @edyong209


  1. Posted November 24, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t the whole point of an evidence-based knowledge that beliefs are irrelevant and, in fact, have been found to be destructive bases for predictions and policies? duh

    Who cares what anyone believes? Show me the data!

  2. Marella
    Posted November 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    If your personal beliefs are nonsense then they should be given up.

  3. Alexander Hellemans
    Posted November 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink


  4. Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    Posted November 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think Dr. Coyne would approve of ‘Accepting evolution doesn’t mean abandoning your personal beliefs’ either. It sounds like accommodationism.

  5. Alex
    Posted November 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    My impression is that the “abandoning personal beliefs” statement is more of an emotional appeal – it is supposed to tell you that you can still be yourself and don’t have to give up your values if you “accept evolution”. It’s for all those who are afraid that the body snatchers are coming.

  6. Linda Jean
    Posted November 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I dont know about you, but i feel uncomfortable with the “women scientist” distinction. When it is about male scientists it is just scientists. Arent we rowing together? maybe not.

    • Joanna
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Someone had said that this was just to promote female role models in science, especially around the time of Miss Universe where most of the contestants were against teaching evolution in school.

    • Marlene Zuk
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      I was originally asked to be part of this and didn’t have time to do so, which means I communicated with the maker about the idea. I agree that calling out the “women scientists” is not the point here, and was definitely not the original intent or at least not all of it. I also agree that if all of the scientists had been male, or the title had just been “scientists,” no one would have commented.

      As I was told, the makers of the video wanted to get an easily accessible pastiche of several different scientists expressing support of evolution. The “Miss Universe” answers had also spurred the thought among the creators of the video that it’s always nice to showcase female role models in science, so a lot (but I believe not all) of the people they contacted were women. Apparently the responders were all female, but I don’t think it was intended to be a gender statement except that it seems to have caused some reflection in some of the viewers.

      • Danno
        Posted November 25, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        Our intents don’t always reflect our image. Words are always left up to interpretation and for proper communication to take place (especially in a one-way medium such as a headline) care must be taken to choose words wisely. While I understand that it wasn’t intended to demean, it is perceived that way. Either way, kudos to the “women scientists”! They deserve much adulation for their efforts to bring the light of truth to the classroom.

        • Marlene Zuk
          Posted November 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          Yes, sorry if *I* was misunderstood here — I agree that it seems demeaning to refer to them as “women scientists” rather than just “scientists”, and thought the point that the creators of the video weren’t intending for it to be billed that way would support that notion.

  7. Danno
    Posted November 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I would like to know why the word “women” is even necessary? If it was a panel of black scientists, would the headline have read “Black scientists talk about evolution”? I doubt it. The veracity of their statements is not determined by their genetalia. Appalling. It’s 2011 people.

    • TrineBM
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 12:22 am | Permalink


    • Joanna
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      See above comment.

    • Posted November 27, 2011 at 3:59 am | Permalink

      I agree.
      I find it really annoying that a strategy used to pursue equality (whether gender, race, whatever) is to actually make new separations. (My Uni’s Student Union has a “Women’s Officer” – why??)

      Apart from that, nice video, but would have been better mixed – just scientists, male or female

  8. MosesZD
    Posted November 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s true from the perspective that people can believe contradicting things at the same time. It, of course, doesn’t make both things believed in right… But it is possible.

    • Posted November 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Ignorance is bliss. People have for centuries explained things that they did not understand with gods. I don’t see anything wrong with people living in ignorance unless of course said people are trying to force their believes on others. I mean I believe in elves, the buggers are always taking my socks! Believe gives life color, makes it fun and blissful.

  9. Posted November 24, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    MosesZD – You said a mouthful. Brain studies do indeed indicate we humans have the ability to honestly hold multiple contradictory beliefs at the same time. And, of course they can’t all be correct. But, if it makes religious folk happy and feel secure they are likely to do it. Secular humanists might even do it unknowingly. About women scientists: Does gender effect the outcome of research? Does gender hold any hidden biases? Don’t be too quick to answer. I read somewhere that everyone, including scientists have hidden biases.

    • Danno
      Posted November 24, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

      @cgosling I know that gender can be a factor on an individual basis. A female scientist in a predominantly male environment may not be taken seriously, or feel she has something to prove, or any other number of gender oriented insecurities. That does not allow us to use such a wide brush when speaking about the industry in general however.

  10. Mettyx
    Posted November 24, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Can somebody please explain something to me:

    1.Evolution/other sciences absolutely determined that Adam and Eve couldn’t have possibly existed.

    2.If there were no Adam and Eve there was no sin, if there is no sin the foundation for Christianity/Jesus falls apart.

    3. If you say that Adam and Eve were metaphors you have to say that Jesus also was not a real person because Paul referred to Adam and Eve as real persons just like he referred to Jesus.

    What am I missing here, am I just being horribly naive/stupid/misinformed about something?

    • Rob
      Posted November 24, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

      You obviously don’t know how to think like a theologian (aka ‘making shit up’).

      We learned from Catholic apologist Edward Feser that at some unknown time in the past by some unknown mechanism God injected undetectable souls into two hominids, which made them the first real humans.

      Ancient myth saved from science! Hallelujah!

      As long as you are willing to make up ever more elaborate and idiotic just-so stories, any belief system is salvageable, no matter what science discovers.

    • Danno
      Posted November 24, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

      @Mettyx Although I agree wholeheartedly with Rob, I may have chosen a less barbed way to word it. It appears as though you are a believer with questions, nothing wrong with that. The problem truly lies in ones interpretation of the bible. The bible is supposedly the word of god, and it states that the world was created in 6 days, around 6000 years ago. When it was written, that was taken as literal truth. As science has uncovered the truth about the past, the interpretation of the bible has shifted over time from a literal word-for-word belief to a metaphorical interpretation. Therein lies the problem: When taken as a metaphor, the interpretation allows wiggle room for the theist to breathe, giving them the opportunity to bend their beliefs to align with current trends and knowledge. The bible states that Adam and Eve were the first humans: Period. However now that scientists have been able to prove that we descended from ape-like ancestors, the theist is now forced to say that at some point during our evolution god chose one couple as the “starting point” for Homo Sapiens Sapiens. This battle will continue to be waged as long as there are people who are willing to embrace all aspects of science except the ones that conflict with their religious preferences. I hope this helped. If you would like to learn a bit more about the current state of scientific knowledge, look up the 11 part “made easy” series by potholer54 on youtube. There are many others, but I find his to be comprehensive, and at around 2 hours total, is digestible in one evening. (I am not affiliated with potholer54 in any way)

      • Posted November 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        I much more prefer people that change their believes a little to fit better with science then the ones that insist on the world being 6000 years old. Annoys me to no end when people say science is wrong because it doesn’t fit the bible.

    • Sigmund
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      “1.Evolution/other sciences absolutely determined that Adam and Eve couldn’t have possibly existed.”

      Population genetics have shown that there was never a time when the entire human population consisted of just two individuals. Therefore saying that a single couple (Adam and Eve or whatever name you care to give them) were the first humans is factually wrong.
      If Adam and Eve existed they would have existed as part of a large population of other humans – and in terms of the bible timeline, 6000 years ago, that population would have consisted of tens of millions of people.

      “2.If there were no Adam and Eve there was no sin, if there is no sin the foundation for Christianity/Jesus falls apart.”

      If you are treating Adam and Eve as a real couple and ancestors of humanity then the story does appear to fall apart.

      “3. If you say that Adam and Eve were metaphors you have to say that Jesus also was not a real person because Paul referred to Adam and Eve as real persons just like he referred to Jesus.”

      Actually that is not a logical inference.
      Paul was wrong about Adam and Eve but it doesn’t follow that Jesus was not a real person. Paul went along with the prevailing stories about Adam and Eve – that they were real. Jesus might not have been a real person but Paul thinking he was is no proof either way.

  11. Irene
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Impossible to have everyone agree on this subject. As individuals, we each have habits, beliefs, customs, and ideals that we call our own and protect at all costs. This is one subject that some may agree on in part, completely, or not at all and there is no way that any stance will change unless the individual wishes to and deliberately does it! Just the way things ARE.

    • Danno
      Posted November 26, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      While that is true, the facts remain the same.

      • Irene
        Posted November 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Of course, Danno. The problem perhaps lies in interpretation of words. All of your comments above are well thought out and helpful if those who read them THINK. I haven’t looked up ‘potholes54’ yet, but trust that you have given a good lead. I am personally very depressed about the enormous lack of knowledge, curiosity, and creativity out there and the powers who work to maintain that state….at the same time I am so proud of these female scientists and others like them as well as similarly minded male and think this video would have been better if there had been a mixture of genders discussing the subject and its meaning to the human race. Taking that step firmly and proudly is the only hope we have of survival, considering the fate of any population if allowed to grow without thinking about waste products…..which become toxic and soon end that population.

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