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Dean's Lecture, 4/11

Originally Posted on admin, April 11, 2008

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Dean's Lecture, 4/11: “Gene, Organism and Environment: Good Biology and Bad Metaphors”

WHAT: The Steiner Lecture – Dean’s Lecture Series

WHERE:  Great Hall, Peterson Student Center, St. John’s College

WHEN: Friday, April 11, at 8 p.m.

TITLE:  “Gene, Organism and Environment: Good Biology and Bad Metaphors”

WHO: Richard Lewontin, Alexander Agassiz Research Professor, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

DETAILS: This event is free of charge and open to the public.

CONTACT:  St. John’s College Switchboard, 984-6000

Biology is filled with metaphors such as “Genes have the ‘information’ that ‘determines’ the organism” or “Organisms ‘develop’ from the egg to the adult” or “Organisms ‘adapt’ to their environment in evolution.” While these sound innocuous and evident, they are, in fact, incorrect characterizations of what happens in actual biological processes. “Information,” “development,” and “adaptation” carry with them a large burden of implicit assertions about the world that give a false and sometimes contrary view of what actually happens in the formation of individuals and the history of life. The talk will unpack these metaphors and explain how they give an incorrect understanding of what actually happens.

Richard Lewontin is an evolutionary and population geneticist who is Alexander Agassiz Research Professor in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. He has been both an experimentalist, showing how much genetic variation actually exists among organisms; and a theoretician, developing analytic tools for an understanding of how natural selection, and various aspects of genetic inheritance, influence the amount and population distribution of genetic variation. He has also written, together with philosophers of science, a number of papers examining various epistemological issues in biology.

The Steiner Lecture honors the memory of Andrew Steiner, alumnus of the college and husband of Lenny Steiner, a former member of the St. John’s Board of Visitors and Governors. Friends and family of Mr. Steiner perpetuate his memory via the Andrew Steiner Visiting Scholar Fund, which brings to campus people of distinction with fresh perspectives on the work done at the college. These scholars, in addition to their scheduled lecture, meet with students and faculty in a more informal seminar context to further develop ideas introduced in the lecture.