Boston University Arts & Sciences

CAS News: September 15 2010

Join Dialogues in Biological Anthropology, Online and In-Person

On October 20-21, BU will host five internationally famed experts on the evolution of social behavior in the second in a series of conferences on human biology, using a novel format designed to show students what scientific discourse is supposed to be like. These Boston University Dialogues in Biological Anthropology will spotlight exciting current issues through public exchanges of ideas between people who are susceptible to reason and interested in listening to each other.

The dialogues are intended to provide a model of civilized and productive scientific argument, and to show how arguments alter opinions. The dialogues' organizers want them to serve as an antidote to the poisonous media convention of staging hot, inconclusive verbal fights between two unshakeable opponents. Dr. Kaye Brown (CAS Anthropology), who conceived these conferences and their format, insists that "We want viewers and participants to learn from the dialogues that science is, or ought to be, collaborative, social, cumulative, and–most importantly–anti-authoritarian."

The subject of the upcoming dialogues is "Biology and Human Altruism." During the two-day meeting, the conferees will join with BU faculty in private retreats to discuss the issues surrounding this topic. The conferees will also participate in three public events. Carel van Schaik, Director of the Anthropological Institute at the University of Zü rich and one of the world's foremost authorities on the biology and behavior of primates, will moderate two hour-long one-on-one dialogues on the biology of altruism, which will be webcast live to the BU community. In the first webcast at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 20, Kern Reeve (Cornell), a leading expert on the evolution of eusocial altruism in insects and other social animals, will join the renowned social theorist Herbert Gintis (Santa Fe Institute) in confronting the problems surrounding the origins of human and animal altruism. In the second webcast at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 21, two top experts on the evolutionary psychology of apes–the anthropologist Joan Silk (UCLA) and the psychologist Felix Warneken (Harvard)–will debate the roots of human altruism in primate behavior. The Thursday webcast will be followed at 5:30 p.m. by a public panel discussion and a reception at the BU Castle on Bay State Road.

Students and other members of the BU community are invited to participate in all these events. The audience can participate in person at the concluding roundtable discussion, and will be able to submit questions for the preceding webcasts via email and Facebook. A general description of the conference, a schedule of events, position papers from the participants, and instructions for sending in questions will be available on the website of the Department of Anthropology by October 13. Video recordings of the two public events from the previous dialogues, which were held in April on the topic of the mysterious "hobbit" skeleton from the Indonesian island of Flores, can be viewed now on that website. If you have questions or suggestions for the conference organizers, please email Dr. Kaye Brown ( or Dr. Matt Cartmill (

Return to the October 15, 2010 Newsletter

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Let us know about news or upcoming events. Please send news items to, or call Patrick Farrell at 617-358-1185. Announcements about upcoming events can also be submitted online. Events geared toward students should be submitted to the Student Programs Office.

For all matters regarding your alumni, please contact Associate Director of Alumni Relations Kirsten Lundeen at 617-358-5525 or Alumni Relations Coordinator Lauren Hall at 617-353-1060.

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