To say it is an interesting time, particularly in the western world, is an understatement. We are seeing potentially seismic shifts in governments, with growing nationalism and, one could say, even tribal-like forces becoming very influential across many western nations. While much can, and will, be written about the so-named ‘identity politics’, it is a force that has deep roots in human nature, and evolutionary science has much to say about such groups’ collective identities and the consequences when mismanaged and misdirected. However, one aspect I want to focus on is the anti-science bias that seem to emerge when such highly charged beliefs and emotions become activated. The Evolution Institute, partly by design, and partly by circumstances, is now in the forefront of the effort to engage science with policy in a meaningful way.
While the best known examples of anti-science relate to the physical sciences, such as the dismissal of global warming as a Chinese plot or the persistent attack of climate scientists on a website managed by the future White House chief strategist, it also includes our now Vice President-Elect passionately affirming that “only the theory of intelligent design provides even a remotely rational explanation for the known universe”. This anti-intellectual streak extends to the social sciences and makes fundamental assumptions that impact policy at the programmatic level. Decisions about education are developed with little or no regard to the facts. For example, ‘school choice’ by itself generally does not impact academic performance and has unintended consequences that may lead to increased disparity. It is a movement fueled by financial interests rather than what works. Other variables play a much more significant role in academic outcomes. Evolutionary models can offer strategies that are measurable and that tie into science that relates to learning and group performance. This is the focus of our Early Childhood Learning Center. Even more fundamental, this disregard for facts as well as basic theoretical framework has a significant impact on the discourse around our understandings of the social fabric of society, including how humans cooperate, compete, and manage free riders. The Evolution Institute works to overcome this anti-science rhetoric that is driven by motivations that, in some cases, are sincere and in other cases, financially driven. Our Norway project examines what makes Norway almost unique among nations in terms of the quality of life and how that is measured. Our Historical Databank project, Seshat, provides an empirical tool to look at historical patterns that influence governance, social unrest, and a number of other factors that relate to cultural evolution. A number of media outlets, such as Salon, NewScientist, and the TV show Through the Wormhole, have realized Seshat’s relevance to today’s social and political environment. Our Prosocial project is developing a research-based technique for group efficacy and our Evonomics work investigates and highlights emerging economic paradigms on economics. Together with you, we are moving the needle in applying and implementing important research in evolutionary science to policy as well as applied work. We are addressing pressing social issues in a way that leads to an improved quality of life for children, families, and communities.
We want to thank our supporters. Both your intellectual and financial support keeps the light burning. We all must keep focus on the effort to improve the planet at the grand scale and our lives at the community level. Our approach is through Thinking, Saying, and Doing: we research, exchange information, and implement effective and valuable programming that is vital to improving quality of life. If you have been a supporter of this work, I want to extend a personal thank you. You have made this organization grow from an idea to one that is now working around the world in just over 6 years. If you are new to us, please reach out to us and let’s engage. Now more than ever, we need to work together if we are to make a difference. Become a partner in this effort. Your donation will help keep the light shining.