EvoS Seminar Series

EvoS Seminars (Spring 2022)


The EvoS seminar series brings distinguished speakers and alumni to campus each semester to share their work on all aspects of humanity and the natural world from an evolutionary perspective.

While visiting campus, the speakers meet with faculty and researchers to share ideas and explore opportunities for collaboration. In many respects, the seminar series is the hub of EvoS, both as an educational program and a pathway for interdisciplinary research.

EvoS Seminars are held on Mondays from 5:15 pm - 7:15 pm throughout the semester when classes are in session. The seminars are open to the campus and local community.

Lectures are typically less than an hour, followed by Q&A by guests, and a longer discussion with students. Some speakers will be via Zoom and others in-person in Science Library 212.

Every semester, a 2-credit course titled "Current Topics in Evolutionary Studies" (EVOS451/ANTH 481/BIOL451/580S) is based on the seminar series. Every week, students read scholarly articles and write a commentary to prepare for the seminar and discussion. This course is frequently rated among the students' best intellectual experiences at Binghamton.

See detailed schedule below for more information and links to Zoom.

Monday, Feb 7 | 5:15 pm

Yaneer Bar-Yam, New England Complex Systems Institute
Implications of the Pandemic for Values and the Survival of Humanity
Remote Lecture
  • Seminar Details

    Zoom Link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/92483026611 or SL 212

    Abstract: Two years after the start of the covid pandemic, what have we discovered about the challenge of effective societal response to pandemics? What role is science playing and why hasn't scientific knowledge better served public good? What is the unique role that evolutionary studies can serve? And most importantly, what can we do to emerge successfully?

    Bio: Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam is the founder of the New England Complex Systems Institute. He is an MIT-trained physicist and complexity scientist. Since the late 1980s, he has contributed to founding the field of complexity science, introducing fundamental mathematical rigor, real-world application, and educational programs for new concepts and insights of this field. His work quantitatively analyzes the origins and impacts of market crashes, social unrest, ethnic violence, military conflict and pandemics, and the structure and dynamics of social networks. Recently he has founded endcoronavirus.org, the Covid Action Group and the World Health Network.

    Article: https://necsi.edu/the-impact-of-travel-and-timing-in-eliminating-covid-19 

Monday, Feb 14 | 5:15 pm

Rolf Quam, Binghamton University, Anthropology/EvoS
Mystery of the Pit of the Bones
SL 212
  • Seminar Details

    Zoom Link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/92483026611 or SL 212

    Abstract: The origin and evolution of Neandertals, our closest evolutionary cousins, have long been topics of fascination for anthropologists. The earliest appearance of Neandertal features occurs in human fossils from the subterranean cave site of the Sima de los Huesos (Pit of the Bones) in the Sierra de Atapueca in northern Spain. Over 7,000 human fossils have been recovered from the site to date, making it the richest human-fossil-bearing deposit in the worlod. The Sima hominins show many Neandertal features in the face, teeth and skeleton, clearly linking them with the later Neandertals. Ancient DNA also indicates a close relationship with the Neandertals. The site documents the earliest manifestation of mortuary practices in the archaeological record as well as evidence of interpersonal violence and perhaps symbolic behavior. The fossil and archaeological evidence from the Sima de los Huesos shed light on the earliest stages of Neandertal evolution.

    Bio: Dr. Rolf Quam (PhD, Binghamton University, 2006) is a paleoanthropologist who focuses on the evolution of Neandertals. In particular, he has collaborated on a long-term research project to reconstruct the hearing capacities in our fossil human ancestors as a proxy for language abilities. For the past 25 years, he has participated in the ongoing fieldwork being carried out at the Pleistocene locality of Atapuerca in northern Spain. During the course of his research, he has personally studied a wide diversity of original human fossils from Europe, the Middle East and Africa spanning the last 3 million years of human evolution.

    Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University and Director, Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) Program, Binghamton University

    PhD, Binghamton University (2006), Postdoctoral Fellowship, American Museum of Natural History (NYC) (2006-2008)

Monday, Feb 21 | 5:15 pm

Allen MacNeill, Binghamton University, EvoS
On Purpose: The Evolution of Intentionality
SL 212
  • Seminar Details

    Zoom Link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/92483026611 or SL 212

    Abstract: The concept of purpose (often referred to as “teleology”) – what it is, where it comes from, whether it exists, and how we know – has been a perennial topic of analysis and controversy in philosophy for three millennia. Edwin Arthur Burtt asserted that the modern sciences, especially physics, are characterized by a complete lack of teleological explanations. Charles Darwin extended this idea to evolutionary biology, asserting that the theory of natural selection eliminates purpose from explanations of the origin of evolutionary adaptations. Ernst Mayr proposed that teleological processes can be divided into two types: teleomatic processes, which are driven by natural forces (such as gravity) alone, and teleonomic processes, which are regulated by goal-directed onboard programs. Natural selection has resulted in the evolution of intentional agents, which are distinguished by the ability to react teleonomically to events in their environment. All living organisms and only living organisms (or their creations) function as intentional agents. There are two main types of teleonomic programs in intentional agents: teleogenetic programs (which Mayr called “closed programs”), which are encoded primarily in the form of nucleic acids, and teleomental programs (which Mayr called “open programs”), which are encoded primarily in the form of action potentials in nervous systems. Teleonomic processes include virtually all human behaviors, with teleomental processes predominating in such human behaviors as courtship and mating, child rearing, economics, education, ethics and morals, law, psychology, science, and virtually all forms of creative art, music, and literature.

    Bio: Allen taught evolutionary biology at Cornell University for forty years. He now teaches evolution at Binghamton University. His current research interests include evolutionary psychology and the history and philosophy of biology.

Monday, Feb 28 | 5:15 pm

Jeremy DeSilva, Dartmouth College, Anthropology
First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human
Remote Lecture
  • Seminar Details

    Zoom link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/92483026611

    Abstract: Humans are the only mammals to walk on two, rather than four legs—a locomotion known as bipedalism. But why, and how, exactly, did we take our first steps? And at what cost? This talk will take a deep dive into recent discoveries at Laetoli, Tanzania and explore how unusual and extraordinary the seemingly ordinary ability to walk bipedally actually is. In a seven-million-year journey, this talk will investigate how upright walking was a gateway to many of the other attributes that make us human—from our technological abilities to our dietary diversity-- and may have laid the foundation for our species’ traits of compassion, empathy, and altruism.

    Bio: Jeremy "Jerry" DeSilva is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. He is a paleoanthropologist, specializing in the locomotion of the first apes (hominoids) and early human ancestors (hominins). His particular anatomical expertise-- the human foot and ankle-- has contributed to our understanding of the origins and evolution of upright walking in the human lineage. He is the author of the 2021 book First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human and editor of A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin’s Descent of Man Got Right and Wrong about Human Evolution. From 1998-2003, Jeremy worked as an educator at the Boston Museum of Science and continues to be passionate about science education.

    Article: https://lithub.com/on-the-link-between-great-thinking-and-obsessive-walking/

Monday, Mar 7 | 5:15 pm

Antonio Lazcano, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
Origin of Life
Remote Lecture
  • Seminar Details

    Zoom link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/92483026611

    The origin and evolution of cells: a brief historical review

    Antonio Lazcano, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México & El Colegio Nacional

    About the seminar

    The heterotrophic origin of life proposed by A. I. Oparin in the 1920s was part of a Darwinian framework that assumed that living organisms were the historical outcome of a gradual transformation of lifeless matter. The famous 1953 Miller-Urey experiment which demonstrated the easiness of the synthesis of amino acids under possible primitive conditions has continued to influence our descriptions of the appearance of life, and was rapidly connected with the development in the late 1960s of Lynn Margulis endosymbiotic proposal of the origin of nucleated cells. Although it is true that the times were ripe, the timely publications of these two intellectually bold young scientists demonstrate that our current understanding of the origin and early evolution of life was shaped by wide range of issues ranging from the birth of molecular biology, the development of planetology, the recognition that bacteria are not only pathogens but also descendants of the oldest life forms, as well as by the extraordinary social and political investment in science and science education that took place in the USA as a reaction to the launching of the Sputnik and the development of the Soviet space program. 

    Antonio Laczano

    About the speaker

    Antonio Lazcano Araujo is Professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where he is dedicated to research and teaching on the origin and early evolution of life. He has worked on chemical aspects of the primitive Earth, analysis of meteorites and the evolution of microorganisms. He is the author or co-author of nearly 200 research articles and book chapters on cell origin and evolution, and several popular books, including The Origin of Life, with more than 800 thousand copies sold, as well as the The Spark of Life and Three Darwinian Essays. He has been member of several NASA Advisory Committees for studies of the origin and evolution of life, and twice President of the International Society of the Study of the Origins of Life, being to date the the only Latin American scientist to access this position. He has three honorary doctorates: one awarded by the University of Milan (Italy) in 2008, another by the University of Valencia (Spain) in 2014, and another in 2015 by the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo. In 2013 the Third Summit of Evolution awarded him the Charles Darwin Distinguished Scientist Award, and in 2018 the College de France awarded him the Guillaume Bude Medal. In October 2014, he entered El Colegio Nacional, the most important cultural institution in Mexico. 

Monday, Mar 14 | 5:15 pm


Monday, Mar 21 | 5:15 pm

Steven Brown, McMaster University, NeuroArts Lab
The Origins of the Vocal Brain in Humans
Remote Lecture
  • Seminar Details

    Monday, Mar 21 | 5:15 pm

    Steven Brown, McMaster University, NeuroArts Lab

    The Origins of the Vocal Brain in Humans

    Zoom link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/92483026611

    About the seminar

    The evolution of vocal communication in humans required the emergence of not only voluntary control of the vocal apparatus and a flexible vocal repertoire, but the capacity for vocal learning. All of these capacities are lacking in non-human primates, suggesting that the vocal brain underwent significant modifications during human evolution. I will describe neuroimaging research on the neural organization of the larynx motor cortex, the major regulator of vocalization for both speech and song in humans. I will describe changes to the location, structure, function, and connectivity of the larynx motor cortex in humans compared with non-human primates. I will explore a number of models of the origins of the vocal brain that incorporate findings from comparative neuroscience.

    Steven Brown

    About the speaker

     Steven Brown is the director of the NeuroArts Lab and an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He got his Ph.D. in the Department of Genetics and Development at Columbia University in New York, and did postdoctoral research at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. His research deals with the neural basis of the arts, including music, dance, acting, storytelling, cinema, drawing, aesthetics, and creativity. He is co-editor of two books: “The Origins of Music” (MIT Press) and “Music and Manipulation” (Berghahn Books). He has author of the recently-released book “The Unification of the Arts” (Oxford University Press).

Monday, Mar 28 | 5:15 pm

Sage Gibbons, Northeastern University
Collective Efficacy and Neighborhood Adaptability to COVID-19
In-person lecture and Zoom
  • Seminar Details

    Zoom Link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/92483026611 or SL 212

    About the seminar

    Just as genetic traits are selected based on their fit with the environment, behaviors within a lifetime are also shaped in an adaptive process by physical and social surroundings. In humans, these behaviors - as well as the beliefs and expectations that underpin them - are transmitted socially to form cultural traits that can be inherited and reinforced over generations. 

    In urban neighborhoods, poverty and crime can, over time, weaken social cohesion and normative expectations for intervention (i.e. “collective efficacy”) such that communities become trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy of concentrated disadvantage for decades. On the other hand, communities able to nurture the capacity to actively resist disorder can stave off the worst outcomes and even meaningfully improve their environment despite other structural challenges.

    The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic provided a unique test of the adaptability of Boston communities when faced with a novel threat. Of the new social norms created based on public health guidelines, social distancing was one of the most universally adopted. Although easily enforced in businesses and other public institutions, monitoring and enforcement in private residences is much more difficult. Thus, maintaining social distancing in these spaces fell mostly to the public writ-large. 

    Using 911 noise complaints and other big data, I examine how Bostonians acted as the “eyes and ears” of the city to effectively crowdsource the identification and enforcement of social distancing violations and the effect these gatherings had on weekly COVID-19 transmission. I discuss this in relation to collective efficacy theory and how the capacity to maintain is interwoven with the capacity to adapt.

    About the speaker

    Sage Gibbons is completing his Masters of Science in Urban Informatics at Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. He is a researcher with the Boston Area Research Initiative and with the non-profit Prosocial World which uses evolutionary science to help groups become more successful, healthy, and adaptive. More importantly, Sage is a Binghamton and EvoS alumni and is excited to occupy the other side of the EvoS stage for the first time.

Monday, Apr 4 | 5:15 pm

Wendy Jones, Author and Independent Scholar
The Attachment System: How and Why We Find Safety in Close Relationships
In-person lecture
  • Seminar Details

     About the seminar

    Social intelligence is one of evolution’s most adaptive capacities, and although it is not unique to humans, it is certainly more complex for us than for any other species. This talk will focus on the aspect of social intelligence known as the attachment system, designed to help us survive by prompting us to turn to others for safety and security.  It is an innate system that begins to operate in infancy between caregiver and infant, but which persists throughout the lifespan. The kinds of attachment bonds a person forms, especially although not exclusively in infancy and childhood, influence personality, behavior, and relationships. Theory and research on the attachment system will be considered, as well as examples from Jane Austen’s novels that show its mechanisms in action.

    About the speaker

    Wendy Jones received her doctorate in English from Cornell and her MSW from Binghamton. After a career in teaching English literature and writing at Cornell and other colleges, she returned to school to become a psychotherapist. She is the author of books and articles written for both scholarly and general audiences. Most recently, her publications include “Jane Austen and the Social Sciences” in The Routledge Companion to Jane Austen, “Mapping Love in Mansfield Park” in Jane Austen and Sciences of the Mind, and Jane on the Brain, Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence with Jane Austen, a NY Times “New and Noteworthy” selection and an Amazon bestseller that has been translated into Mandarin. She blogs for Psychology Today on the ways that various literary authors illustrate psychological phenomena: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intersubjective

Monday, Apr 11 | 5:15 pm

Paul Ewald, University of Louisville, Biology
The Evolutionary, Historical and Epidemiological Context of COVID
  • Seminar Details

    Zoom Link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/92483026611 or SL 212

    Title: Virulence of SARS-Cov-2: past and future 


    The threat posed by zoonotic diseases depends on the evolution of transmissibility and virulence after the causal pathogen enters human populations.  The agent of the current COVID19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, was transmissible and virulent when first discovered in the human population.  Evolutionary theory predicted that transmissibility would increase and virulence would decrease to a level associated with its moderate durability in the external environment.  The trajectory of the evolution to reduced virulence depends on the timing of increased replication in human cells (which would tend to increase virulence) and the decreased replication in cells that do not result in transmission (which would tend to decrease virulence).  Changes in transmissibility and virulence indicate that this virus is adapting to humans in accordance with these expectations, with the evolution of increased virulence due to increased replication preceding the evolution of decreased virulence due to restriction of infection to cells relevant to transmission, leading to an overall temporary increase in virulence followed by a decrease in virulence toward the level associated with its moderate durability in the external environment. 


    Paul W. Ewald, PhD,   is a Professor at University of Louisville, holding appointments in the Department of Biology and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.  His books -- Evolution of Infectious Disease, Plague Time, and Controlling Cancer-- and his scientific articles integrate evolutionary principles with medical issues.  He was identified by Utne Reader as one of the "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World" for his cancer research and the first recipient of the Smithsonian Institution’s George E. Burch Fellowship in Theoretic Medicine and Affiliated Sciences for pioneering advancements in health sciences.  

Tuesday, Apr 19 | 5:15 pm

(Monday classes meet - No seminar)

Monday, Apr 25 | 5:15 pm

David Schaffer, Binghamton University, Visiting Research Professor
Evolving artificial brains
SL 212
  • Seminar Details

    Zoom Link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/92483026611 or SL 212

    Title: Evolving Artificial Brains

    Presenter: J. David Schaffer


    In this talk I will attempt to give an overview of a challenging research project aimed at using evolutionary computation (also called genetic algorithms) to produce a new class of computing machines that attempt to work like human brains: spiking neural networks (SNNs). The approach aims to start with very simple brains for simple toy robot tasks and learn how to scale up to brains that can show ever increasing cognitive abilities. The project has been running for many years now, and I will show some of the failures as well as some recent modest successes, with the hope that some useful insights will emerge into the difficulties of evolving intelligence. Our long-term goal is to discover if there are neural motifs that might make valuable building blocks for artificial brains.


    Dr. Schaffer retired as a Research Fellow after 25 years with Philips Research. He now advises graduate students and initiates research projects at Binghamton University in the domains of bioinformatics, evolving intelligent machines, and Alzheimer’s disease. He believes that evolutionary computation is one of the most valuable technologies for mastering complexity. Dr Schaffer holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Notre Dame, M.S. in Systems Engineering from Widener University, and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Vanderbilt. He has published about 100 peer-reviewed papers, serves on the editorial board for the Evolutionary Computation Journal, and the steering committee for the Evolutionary Multi-objective Optimization conference series. He holds forty-four issued US patents. In 2012, he was named a Pioneer in Evolutionary Computation by the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society. In 2019 he published, “The Art and Science of Machine Intelligence” with Professor Walker Land (retired).

    Background material

    Introduction to Evolutionary Computation, J.David Schaffer (October 2013)

    The lecture starts at 1:30 min, animation ends at 22:40 min:

Monday, May 2 | 5:15 pm

Tyler Murchee, McMaster University, Anthropology
Ancient DNA and Pleistocene Megafauna Extinctions
Remote lecture
  • Seminar Details

    Speaker: Tyler J. Murchie

    Title: No bones about it: using ancient environmental DNA to understand the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna

    About the seminar

    An animal only ever leaves behind one body when it dies. Most of the time these remains simply decompose, and of the few that end up preserving in deep time, even fewer still are ever found and studied by scientists. The ice age palaeontological record of the Arctic and Subarctic is substantial despite such taphonomic biases. But even in regions such as these with exceptional fossil records, there are resolution limits that make it difficult to understand the relative timings and causative factors that drove the global loss of megafauna at the end of Pleistocene (11,700 years ago). What would be helpful here is a larger dataset to complement the macro-fossil record of predominantly bones and teeth.

    As such, researchers are increasingly turning to micro-fossils of DNA preserved in sediment to help flesh out this mosaic of ecological turnover. Sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA) research has progressed rapidly in the past decade to the point now where we can not only identify the shifting cast of organisms in an area solely through fragments of DNA preserved in ordinary sediments, but we can also reassemble these disseminated fragments into genomes to address deeper evolutionary questions—all without any surviving visible tissues. In this presentation I will discuss recent progress in sedaDNA research, focusing on how these methods can help us understand the nuances of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, and how tiny micro-fossils of DNA can help refine our estimates of when the last great giants of the ice age disappeared. 

    About the speaker

    Tyler Murchie, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher at McMaster University, Canada where he primarily studies ancient environmental DNA to address questions at the nexus of archaeology, palaeontology, and palaeoecology. Tyler’s dissertation was focused on the application of ancient DNA (aDNA) methods to understand the human ecodynamics of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in Beringia. Current research of his includes late megafaunal survival, aDNA methods development, panarctic archaeology, and palaeo-parasitology among other ongoing projects. Tyler received a Ph.D. in Anthropology–Archaeology from McMaster University in 2021, along with Master’s and Bachelor of Science degrees from the University of Calgary in archaeology in 2015 and 2012, where he focused on archaeological science, zooarchaeology, lithics, and hunter-gatherers in western North America.

Monday, May 9 | 5:15 pm

Cai Caccavari, Binghamton University, Anthropology
Graduate Student Presentation
SL 212

About the seminar series

EvoS Seminars are held on Mondays from 5:15 pm - 7:15 pm throughout the semester when classes are in session. The seminars are open to the campus and local community.

The EvoS seminar series brings distinguished speakers and alumni to campus each semester to share their work on all aspects of humanity and the natural world from an evolutionary perspective.

While visiting campus, the speakers meet with faculty and researchers to share ideas and explore opportunities for collaboration. In many respects, the seminar series is the hub of EvoS, both as an educational program and a pathway for interdisciplinary research.

Every semester, a 2-credit course titled "Current Topics in Evolutionary Studies" (EVOS451/ANTH 481/BIOL451/580S) is based on the seminar series. Every week, students read scholarly articles and write a commentary to prepare for the seminar and discussion. This course is frequently rated among the students' best intellectual experiences at Binghamton.

  • Archived Seminar Series (by semester)

    Spring 2021

    MARCH 1 - (5:15 - 6:15 pm)

    Abstract: Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are a globally distributed baleen whale species well known for their diverse acoustic behavior. Breeding age male whales produce ‘song’, a highly complex acoustic display associated with reproduction, while whales of all age and sex class produce ‘calls’ throughout their migratory range. Despite decades of research into the field of humpback whale acoustics, investigation into the role of calls in the ecology of humpback whales is relatively new. In this presentation, I will discuss research focused on calling behavior of humpback whales on Southeast Alaskan foraging grounds. I will address drivers of humpback whale call use (innate vs. learned calls), call function, and shifts in the acoustic habitats of Alaskan whales associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Speaker Bio: Dr. Michelle Fournet is a postdoctoral researcher with the Cornell Center for Conservation Bioacoustics and the Director of the Sound Science Research Collective. As an acoustic ecologist, Dr. Fournet uses sound to investigate how manmade perturbations, including anthropogenic noise and climate change, alter ocean soundscapes in critical marine mammal habitats. She received her MS and PhD from Oregon State University where she was a SeaGrant Fellow and National Park Scholar. Dr. Fournet has studied humpback whales for over 10 years and is a globally recognized expert in humpback whale social communication. Her research portfolio is complimented by a commitment to science education and public engagement –  highlighted by an extensive list of presentation awards, general audience articles, and public lectures. Her current research focuses on ice seals, bowhead whales, and humpback whales in Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystems.

    MARCH 8 - (5:15 - 6:15 pm)

    Abstract: In our current global food system there is a conundrum about the origins and continuity of a very narrow range of seed plants and other leguminous plants that underlie human diets at a time when the disruptive effects of climate change are facilitating an even greater dependence on a plant-based food system.  Right now, about half of all the calories that over 7.8 billion humans now consume are from three monocot grass seeds, and a combination of a total of 17 plants provides well over 90% of our total diets.  Although domestication processes have resulted in plants whose natural defenses are slowly lowered by human selection over time, the plants we still consume retain many naturally evolved defenses in the form of chemicals that make it nearly biologically impossible for predators (us) to consume and digest them raw without serious adverse short and long-term health consequences. These plant defenses consist of various toxic and/or anti-nutrient compounds that prevent and otherwise thwart digestive and metabolic processes. While the vast majority of plant predators have evolved the "genetic capacity" to consume the plants, humans have primarily evolved various "cultural/behavioral capacities" through their recipes and cuisines that are shared from one generation to the next to adapt to the plant defenses. The cause and effect relationship between the evolved traditional "knowledge" concerning plant defense and the human response is critical to understanding the evolutionary dynamics of the Biocultural Evolution of Cuisine. Dr. Katz’s presentation will illustrate these dynamics with work he began 50 years ago.  He is currently investigating and addressing these evolutionary problems through the “World Recipes Project”

    Speaker Bio: Professor Solomon H. Katz is Professor Emeritus (Orthodontics) at the University of Pennsylvania, and Director, Krogman Center for Research in Child Growth and Development.  Trained as a biological anthropologist he has written, presented and organized symposia resulting in over 200 major scientific papers, chapters, and books in a wide range of topics including molecular biology and genetics, cybernetics, nutrition and biocultural evolution. He has conducted extensive field studies on neuroendocrinology, diet, physical and mental health in children and adults; and on the biocultural evolution of cuisine and nutrition in many regions of the world. Dr. Katz also served to redefine the biological concept of race and chaired the task force for the American Association of Physical Anthropologists that informed the UNESCO statement on race. Dr. Katz has been elected fellow, officer, and president of many professional organizations and the recipient of many awards and grants (e.g., NIH, NSF, MacArthur Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, Kellogg Foundation, and the John Templeton Foundation). His most recent project is the World Recipes Project, seeking to leverage what we know about the evolutionary significance of human diets in ways that are sensitive to and respectful of the needs of indigenous peoples around the globe. 

    MARCH 15 - (5:15 -6:15 pm)

    Abstract: Cancer began at the dawn of multicellular life. It arises from cheating in the cellular cooperation that usually defines multicellularity: division of labor, restrictions of cellular proliferation and resources use, controls on cell death and more. Because cancer arises from a breakdown of multicellular cooperation, this means that humans are not alone in their struggle with cancer; cancer affects all multicellular life forms from humans to elephants and from coral to cacti. Multicellular life has evolved to keep cancer under control, through mechanisms like the gene TP53, which detects cellular cheating and responds by halting the cell cycle or initiating apoptosis to protect the organism. Treating cancer effectively also requires an understanding of the evolutionary processes among cells within the body. Cancer cells evolve to overproliferate and overconsume resources inside the body. They also evolve resistance when cancer is treated aggressively. By using an evolutionarily informed approach to treatment we can transform cancer from being a disease that threatens our lives to one we can live with, as our multicellular ancestors have for millions of years.

    Speaker Bio: Athena Aktipis (http://www.athenaaktipis.org/) is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University and co-director of the Human Generosity Project, the first large-scale transdisciplinary project to investigate the interrelationship between biological and cultural influences on human generosity. Professor Aktipis also works on cooperation and conflict in biological systems including cancer evolution and the human microbiome. She is a cooperation theorist, social psychologist, theoretical evolutionary biologist, and cancer biologist who now works at the intersection of these fields. Dr. Aktipis is also the co-founder and director of Human and Social Evolution at the Center for Evolution and Cancer at the University of California, San Francisco.

    MARCH 22 - (5:15 - 6:15 pm)

    Abstract: If a modern human met a Neandertal back in the Pleistocene, could they understand one another? This question, and the evolution of language more broadly, is one of the oldest topics in human evolutionary studies. Many attempts have been made to infer when language first appeared during the course of our evolution. In particular, anthropologists have tried to identify skeletal indicators of language ability or the presence of symbolic representations in the archaeological record. This has led to a split in present thinking with one side seeing language abilities emerging long ago and evolving gradually over time and the other side seeing language as a relatively recent phenomenon and exclusive to Homo sapiens. The present lecture will discuss the findings (or lack thereof) from several of these approaches and outline when language may have first emerged. In particular, the findings of a recent study examining the hearing abilities in Neandertals, and their implications for language evolution, will be discussed.

    Speaker Bio: Rolf Quam is associate professor of anthropology at Binghamton University. He is a paleoanthropologist who specializes in the evolution of the Neandertals. One of his main research lines also examines the evolution of hearing and its relationship to language emergence. For the past 25 years, he has participated in the field excavations at the Pleistocene locality of Atapuerca, leading to the discovery of thousands of fossils of our human ancestors. These sites contain some of the richest human fossil bearing deposits in the world and represent the earliest evidence for incipient mortuary practices in the fossil record. During the course of his research, Quam has personally studied a wide diversity of original human fossils from Europe, the Middle East and Africa spanning the last 3 million years of human evolution.

    MARCH 29 - (5:15 - 6:15 pm)

    • Seminar Title: Ecological Adaptation and the Origin and Maintenance of Biodiversity
    • Speaker: Thomas Powell, Binghamton University, Biology/EvoS
    • Zoom Link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/96085934899

    Abstract: Understanding how new species arise and how biodiversity persists in the face of a changing world are central questions in evolutionary biology. Ecological adaptation to either novel niches or shifting environments is constrained by the same factors, and the plausibility of rapid adaptation in either scenario likely depends complex interactions among specific ecological parameters, trait covariance, standing genetic variation, and genome structure. Here, I will discuss insights from a model system for rapid evolution and speciation-in-action, Rhagoletis pomonella, the apple maggot fly. These flies are best known as a textbook case of sympatric speciation, after a population of these flies shifted form infesting a native host plant to one introduced to North America during recent historical times. Divergent adaptation to this new host has led to the rapid evolution of reproductive isolation between the two populations. In this seminar, I will discuss some of the fundamental open questions about ecological speciation and describe recent work in R. pomonella aimed at addressing some of these questions. I will focus on one of the key traits involved in this system, seasonal timing, from two perspectives: the evolutionary genomics of divergent adaptation in seasonal timing and using this system and an experimental model for adaptation to climate change. 

    Speaker Bio: Tom Powell is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. He came to Binghamton University in 2016 after postdoctoral research positions at the University of Florida and the University of Toronto, and he completed his PhD at the University of Notre Dame, under the direction of Jeff Feder. While an undergrad at Shepherd University, he started his research career as a technician in a conservation genetics lab at the USGS Leetown Science Center.  His research program at BU is broadly focused on understanding the origin and maintenance of biodiversity. He is interested in the role of ecological adaptation in the formation of new species and the role of on-going evolutionary processes in the response of ecological communities to global change. His lab takes an integrative approach to investigating how ecological processes, biogeography, physiological systems, genetic variation, and genomic architecture interact during the origin of species and adaptation to novel niches and changing environments. The majority of his lab’s work is focused on the most diverse groups of animals on Earth: plant- feeding insects and their parasitoids. The Powell lab is particularly interested in understanding insect life history adaptation and its role in both speciation and rapid adaptation to climate change. 

    APRIL 12 - (5:15 - 6:15 pm)

    Abstract: In this talk I will discuss the first chapter of what will be a book on self-governance. The goal of the chapter is to argue against the default assumption that social actors are unitary: that they have a single self-interest and lack internal heterogeneities and conflicts of interest. This assumption is commonplace in our informal discourses, and has been applied to states, markets, firms, communities, households, and individuals. I discuss these examples in turn, arguing that we need to view each as a collective actor. The recognition of the collective nature of the self then motivates an exploration of the dynamics of self-governance. Time allowing, I will also discuss the In Common Podcast project, which I co-founded and co-host (incommonpodcast.org).

    Speaker Bio: I am currently an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College. I am also the co-chair of Dartmouth’s Ecology, Evolution, Ecosystems and Society (EEES) graduate program. My research and teaching are rooted in the concepts of the commons, collective action and community resource management. I have conducted fieldwork focused on community-based natural resource management in New Mexico, Colorado, Peru, Kenya, South Africa, and most recently in the Dominican Republic. I am currently a consultant for a USAID-funded project on fisheries governance in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. In 2019 Stefan Partelow and I co-founded what is now known as the In Common Podcast, which is formally affiliated with the International Association for the Study of the Commons as well as the International Journal of the Commons. We conduct long-form interviews with scholars and practitioners about their work on commons governance and related topics.

    APRIL 19 - (5:15 - 6:15 pm)

    • Seminar Title: The Evolution of Belief: Meaning-making, belief, and world shaping as core processes in the human niche 
    • Speaker: Agustin Fuentes, Princeton, Anthropology
    • Zoom Link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/96085934899

    Abstract: Humans are not unique in the world. But we are quite idiosyncratic. Across the Pleistocene the genus Homo developed a distinctive suite of cognitive, behavioral, ecological, and technological processes and patterns; in short, a human niche. This niche eventually included a core role for meaning making, augmenting the capacity to engage with more than the “here and now” to develop novel ideas and concepts, share them, and convert them in material reality. Today humans represent an infinitesimally small percentage of all the life on this planet, yet despite being such a tiny part of the great diversity of living things, humans are among the most significant forces affecting ecosystems and all other life on this planet. Why and how this came to be are two of the most pressing questions one can ask about what it means to be human. I suggest that extensive and distinctive capacities for meaning-making, belief and world shaping (or better put, niche construction) are at the heart of the answers to these queries. 

    Speaker Bio: Agustín Fuentes, trained in Zoology and Anthropology, is a Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. His current explorations include the roles of creativity and belief in human evolution, multispecies anthropology, evolutionary theory, and the structures of race and racism. Fuentes’ books include “Race, Monogamy, and other lies they told you: busting myths about human nature” (U of California), “Conversations on Human Nature(s)” (Routledge), “The Creative Spark: how imagination made humans exceptional" (Dutton), and “Why We Believe: evolution and the human way of being” (Yale).

    APRIL 26 - (5:15 - 6:15 pm)

    Title: Schooling and the cultural foundations of cognition: Variable formal education exposure in two natural experiments.

    Abstract: A growing body of evidence from neuroscience, psychology, and economics suggests that human minds adapt themselves ontogenetically to the culturally-constructed and institutionally-incentivized environments that people encounter while growing up. Drawing on this broad constellation of findings, we examine a suite of hypotheses regarding specific aspects of cognition related to one particular Western institution, which has spread across the globe, particularly during the 20th century—formal schooling. Using data from two natural experiments—along the Namibian-Angolan border and within lowland Bolivia—we focus on understanding how relatively small “dosages” of formal schooling influence fundamental aspects of cognition, including fluid intelligence, executive function, analytic thinking, and spatial abilities. Prior efforts in testing and establishing these causal connections are often hampered by an extreme reliance on Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic (WEIRD) populations, where schooling has been mandatory and nearly universal for generations. In such ontogenetically novel environments, the impact of schooling on cognition can easily be confused with species-wide maturational processes.

    Speaker Bio: Helen Davis is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University where she codirects the Culture, Cognition, and Structured Schooling (CCLASS) research project. Davis’s work uses theoretical perspectives of behavioral ecology and cultural evolution to better understand cognitive development and cognitive decline in humans. Davis has conducted her work among transitioning populations in the Bolivian Amazon and in the Kunene region of northern Namibia and southern Angola since 2008 and 2016, respectively. She is also the co-founder and CEO of One Pencil Project, a 501(c)(3) non-profit focused on long term funding for school construction and school supplies in both regions.

    MAY 3 - (5:15 - 6:15 pm)

    Abstract: There has been much debate over whether humans, and especially Americans, are "naturally" monogamous or polygamous. Recent research has clarified the issues involved and may suggest an answer to this question. This presentation will begin with a brief review of the various types of mating systems observed among vertebrates, especially mammals. We will then look more closely at the evolution of sexuality in humans, concentrating on the evolutionary dynamics of monogamy and polygamy. Data on the observed patterns of mating and reproductive success of 20th century Americans indicates that a significant fraction are polygamous according to the standard definitions used in evolutionary biology. The implications of these findings for 21st century American society will complete the presentation.

    Speaker Bio:  Allen MacNeill taught introductory biology, comparative physiology, cell and developmental biology, and evolutionary biology at Cornell for 40 years, retiring in 2016. More recently he has taught human physiology at SUNY Cortland and evolutionary psychology at Ithaca College. His research interests have included the evolutionary dynamics of human mating systems, the evolution of the capacity for religious experience, the evolution of purpose (teleology), and the metaphysical foundations of the biological sciences. He has published numerous articles on evolutionary biology, both in print and online, and is the author of three best-selling audiobooks (at Amazon.com) on evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology. He is currently scheduled to teach Evolution for Everyone and the Evolution of Human Behavior (Evolutionary Psychology) at Binghamton University during the 2021-22 academic year. His online blog, The Evolution List (http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/), is among the top 100 science blogs at Blogspot.com. He is currently working on several books, including a semi-autobiographical novel, a textbook on evolutionary biology for John Wiley and Sons, and is seeking a publisher for a textbook on evolutionary psychology. He is also an actor, a long-time member of the Ithaca Ballet, and a cadré for the Eastern Farm Workers Association in Syracuse. He lives in Ithaca with his best friend, Reeda Toppin, PhD, and their two cats, Hamlet and Ophelia.

    MAY 10 - (5:15 - 6:15 pm)

    • Seminar Title: The evolutionary ecology of monument construction: a Rapa Nui (Easter Island) case study
    • Speaker: Robert “Beau” DiNapoli, Binghamton University, Anthropology
    • Zoom Link: https://binghamton.zoom.us/j/96085934899

    Abstract: Monumental architecture, such as pyramids, temples, mounds, and statues, was an important and widespread component in the emergence and dynamics of past human societies. Despite the ubiquity of monuments in the archaeological record and their importance in dialogues about the evolution of social complexity, there have been only limited attempts to build evolutionary hypotheses for why these behaviors were so common among human communities. Here, I discuss an evolutionary ecology model called costly signaling theory (CST) as one potential explanation, which proposes that monument construction served as an honest signal of community collective action and competitive ability. I evaluate expectations of this CST model with a series of spatial and chronological analyses of the archaeological record of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), a location with an impressive record of monumental religious architecture.

    Speaker Bio: I am a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Harpur College at Binghamton University. My research focuses on using archaeology, evolutionary ecology, and quantitative modeling to address questions related to past human-environment interactions, particularly issues of mobility, settlement patterns, and large-scale cooperation and competition. My work explores these topics in island societies in the Pacific and Caribbean islands, and all my published work can be freely accessed here: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Robert-Dinapoli-2

    Spring 2020 Seminar Series


    • January 27: Introductory lecture by David Sloan Wilson, Binghamton University
      Tinbergen's four questions and others


    • February 3: Introductory lecture by Barrett Brenton, Binghamton University
      Biocultural Evolution of Cuisine
    • February 10: Darwin Day Panel discussion with Binghamton faculty
    • February 17: Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel, University of Buffalo:
      Modern human cranial variation: An evolutionary morphology approach


    • March 2: Daniel T. O’Brien, Northeastern University
      The Urban Commons: How Data, Technology, and Behavioral Science Can Help Us Rebuild Our Cities
    • March 9: Glenn Branch, National Center for Science Education (NCSE)
      Twists and Turns in Teaching Evolution over the Years  
    • March 16: Rolf Quam, EvoS Director, SUNY Binghamton
      The Evolution of Language: Part 1 
    • March 23: Rolf Quam
      The Evolution of Language: Part 2 
    • March 30: David Sloan Wilson
      Nothing about the Coronavirus Pandemic Makes Sense Except In the Light of Evolution


    • April 6: Spring break - No Classes
    • April 13: Adam van Arsdale, Wellesley College
      Race, Ancestry, and Populations in the Pleistocene and the Present
    • April 20: Robert Pennock, Michigan State University
      An Instinct for Truth: Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science
    • April 27: Mark Urban, University of Connecticut
      Eco-evolution in communities