Speaker Series

Fall 2021

  • Martin Daly
  • 09-13-2021
  • Martin Daly
  • McMaster University
  • What explains the immense variability in homicide rates across time and space?
  • Homicide rates vary by orders of magnitude. Why? One thing we know is that income inequality is the best available predictor of the variability at various spatial scales. Arguably, that’s because economic inequality is a major component and determinant of the intensity of competition among men, and most homicidal violence reflects male-male competition. When outcomes are equitable, there’s little to fight over, but when payoff variance is high, the appeal of escalated competitive tactics, including potentially dangerous tactics, rises.

    Of course, other factors account for some of the variability, too, including the availability of dispassionate third-party justice, impunity (the likelihood that crimes will go unpunished), inequality between visible subgroups over and above that among individuals, an insecure future, and the perceived legitimacy of the governments that identify and punish crimes. These predictors of homicide are all related, more or less directly, to injustice and grievance, the relevance of which is underlined by the fact that many - perhaps most - killers see themselves as moral agents engaged in rectifying wrongs.

    Criminologists have hitherto focused on trying to assess each predictor’s impact when the others are “controlled”, but further progress will require more complex models that incorporate time lags, feedback loops, mediating variables, and perhaps most importantly, a more serious effort to incorporate an understanding of human psychology than sociologists have yet been willing to countenance.

  • Jessica Riskin
  • 10-04-2021
  • Jessica Riskin
  • Stanford University
  • Lamarck’s Giraffe, A Political History
  • This lecture addresses the political history of evolutionary theory, focusing upon the naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) and his science from his day through the 20th century. Such a history can revise established views not only of the development of evolutionary theory, and conceptions of living organisms, but also of science, what it is and isn’t, how it came to be this way, and how it might otherwise be. Lamarck’s ideas were foundational to modern biology. He coined the term “biology” in 1802, defining the science of life as a discrete field, and proposed the first theory of species-change, or what we now call evolution. Yet Lamarck’s theory languished in exile for over a century, between roughly the 1880’s and the 1990’s, when the Lamarckian possibility that organisms might transform themselves heritably began re-entering mainstream biology in areas such as epigenetics. The emblem of Lamarckism became the giraffe who, in stretching to reach high branches, lengthened its neck and forelegs by tiny yet heritable amounts; these incremental changes, Lamarck proposed, added together over many generations, produced the giraffe’s distinctive form. Lamarck’s giraffe embodied a mode of science featuring causal complexity, a diversity of agencies, and the interpretive nature of knowledge. Banishing the giraffe was crucial to establishing certain assumptions about living beings, evolution, biology, and the nature and authority of science that have persisted to the present.

  • Hanna Kokko
  • 11-01-2021
  • Hanna Kokko
  • University of Zurich
  • Good reasons to live shorter lives
  • Lifespans vary to an astonishing degree. I will outline some theoretical as well as empirically oriented work in my lab: how lifespan might covary with plasticity and/or sociality, and also examine how unique phenological problems – such as that of Clunio marinus: how to time adult emergence with lowest low tides, using moon phases as a cue – will give rise to intriguing problems of coexistence between different timing morphs.

  • Heidi Colleran
  • 12-06-2021
  • Heidi Colleran
  • BirthRites Max Planck Research Group, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig
  • There's no such thing as 'Natural fertility'
  • The idea of a naturalized state of human reproduction (‘natural fertility’) permeates evolutionary anthropology and demography, and is foundational for most population modelling. In this talk I’ll provide an overview and a critique of this approach. I’ll argue that natural fertility creates unnecessary ethical, theoretical and conceptual problems for evolutionary researchers. Putting pressure on this core assumption opens up new areas of research and builds collaborative links to socio-cultural anthropology. Drawing on a range of anthropological examples, I will argue that if we are to take cultural evolution seriously, there can be no such thing as natural fertility.