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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Neuroscientist Michael Egnor to lecture on Why We Got Eugenics

A friend writes to say that neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, who has said kind things about The Spiritual Brain, is speaking at the University of Alabama at Birmingham late next month:
Michael Egnor will be coming on Thursday, November 20 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to speak on "Why We Got Eugenics: The Old and New Science of Evolutionary Medicine." The lecture will be held on the third floor of Lister Hill Library, 1700 University Blvd., Birmingham, AL from noon to one and is being presented as part of the Reynolds Historical Lecture series. The lecture is free and open to the public.
I'm told Egnor is a good speaker; here's a podcast. He's certainly entertaining: In "P.Z. Myers’ Neurons Give Talk to Minnesota Atheists on Non-Existence of the Soul," he offers advice on giving a talk on the non-existence of the soul.

Re "evolutionary medicine": It strikes me as just another project based on the idea of looking for something for "evolution" to do in the present day, to demonstrate that enquiries into evolution are useful. But it doesn't sound as though a lot of people agree that evolution is much use in clinical medicine.

As I put it recently, evolution doesn't have to be useful to be worth studying:

... consider the example of heart attacks: What if the lemur-like creature from which humans are said to descend never had heart attacks? What if it usually did, under stress? How does such information help the medical interne whose patient presents with cardiac arrest? Whatever the interne decides to do must work in half a minute, not half a billion years.

Yes, evolution is very interesting - like any other type of ancient history - but no, it is not essential. I think it should definitely be studied, along with the cave paintings, ancient Egypt and theories about the origin of life and the universe and all that. But the burden of pretending that evolution is useful in a concrete way is tiresome and surely avoidable.

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