Southern Miss hosts Darwin Day

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

The University of Southern Mississippi will host its first Darwin Day Friday, Feb. 14 to celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin.

The event will feature short lectures from Southern Miss faculty as well as a keynote address from Massimo Pigliucci, chairman of the philosophy department at The City University of New York and former biology professor at University of Tennessee.

On Friday afternoon, there will be a jeopardy-style Darwin Quiz that will pit faculty members against teams of graduate students on topics having to do with Darwin’s research. The event will conclude with a teaching workshop that will be open to the public. The workshop will discuss issues in teaching evolution to a diverse student body.

The day-long event is intended to provide an interdisciplinary look at how the work of Charles Darwin has affected modern academics. “We wanted to showcase not only (Darwin’s) contribution to science, but how his work touches so many other fields,” said Donald Yee, a primary organizer of the event. Yee is an assistant professor of biological sciences at USM.

“Our hope is to do this on an annual basis and involve more people as it goes on,” Yee said. “This is actually something that is done not only at other universities across the country, but also internationally.”
Friday’s events will feature short lectures from Southern Miss faculty as well as a keynote address from called “Science, Pseudoscience and All That Jazz.”

“(Pigliucci is) more of a philosopher-thinker now, rather than working in hard science research,” Yee said. “The themes he’ll talk about will be more about the thought processes that we have, and how to tackle issues that are outside of actual hard sciences.”

Marie Danforth, professor of anthropology and sociology, will give a talk Friday morning called “3% Neanderthal: Recent research on our closest relatives.” Danforth said she hopes to mesh anthropology with the hard sciences in her talk. “Human evolution is very much a part of evolutionary science,” Danforth said. “Darwin took so much heat for his suggestion that humans are related (to) other primates, and putting human evolution as part of the big picture, with every other organism. It’s nice to have (human evolution) in the picture as well for Darwin Day.”

“I’m very interested in the workshop on how to teach evolution,” Danforth said. “That’s one of our biggest challenges; it’s not something that, a lot of times, (students) were introduced to in high school or junior college. I expect that the workshop will be a helpful community discussion on that topic.”

Every Darwin Day experience will be open to the public, and attendees are welcome to come and go between individual events. A complete Darwin Day schedule can be found at