Alas, Poor Darwin...?

Alas, Poor Darwin…? may be officially listed as a ‘spoken word’ event, but don’t let that make you think it’s a poetry show. No, this is a biology and psychology lecture delivered by two academics, Lewis Dean and Kate Cross, on the subject of evolutionary theory. It forms part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas series put on by collaborating Scottish universities; other titles in the series include Cocaine Conspiracy and Back To The Statistical Future!. If this brief introduction has you yawning, or perhaps fretfully anticipating a return to your school days, fear not - this is no normal lecture.

The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas breaks down boundaries between academia and the masses, momentarily bringing researchers down from their ivory towers and into a fun, public space.

Dean and Cross are the best science teachers you never had. They are fantastic at explaining “the good, bad, and the ugly of applying evolutionary theory to things” in engaging and understandable ways. Dean uses obscure acronyms and jargon, but also refers to Charles Darwin as Chucky D. This combination of fact and fun proves a winning formula throughout and the pair’s efforts at accessibility never become patronising.

The show covers two main questions: do women’s sexual preferences change over the menstrual cycle? And why do men tend to be more aggressive? These are tackled through the medium of a game, the very-slowly-over-many-generations game to be precise. Cross first presents a range of responses to these questions, self-consciously disclosing her biases and allowing us to make up our own minds. The perceived veracity of each theory is then rated by the audience’s clapping. Finally, the audience is invited to ask questions.

This part is presided over by the hilarious compere Susan Morrison, who creates a relaxed atmosphere ideal for encouraging participation. Though slightly chaotic at times, the audience’s curious questioning was one of the most successful aspects of the show. Dean and Cross finish with a deliberately underwhelming conclusion, or rather no conclusion at all. They aim to leave us with more questions than answers, and they certainly succeed.

The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas breaks down boundaries between academia and the masses, momentarily bringing researchers down from their ivory towers and into a fun, public space. I hope events like these continue to grow.

Reviews by Kate Wilkinson

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The Blurb

If Darwin was alive today he’d be very, very angry about what we’ve done with his idea. Evolutionary theory can be used to explain pretty much any human behaviour, but that doesn’t mean it should be. Is it natural for married men to have affairs? Are good novelists more evolutionary? Does the pill make you more attracted to your brother? Psychologist Kate Cross and biologist Lewis Dean will use sketches, debate and game shows to explore the data behind the headlines and help decide: evolutionary just-so story, or evolutionary just-right?

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