Photo by: Purwo Kuncoro

Communicating about human evolution

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Briana Pobiner showing casts of fossil hominin skulls to students.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Evolution can be a controversial and sensitive topic in America. According to a 2019 survey from the Pew Research Center, 36% of American adults say they do not accept evolution. How can scientists and educators help shift public understanding and acceptance of human evolution? Dr. Briana Pobiner will answer this question in a talk entitled “Engaging with Public Audiences on Human Evolution” on June 22 at 5:00 pm Pacific Time. 

“Engaging the public is really a two-way street,” said Dr. Pobiner. “It’s not just about providing people more scientific information; it’s about listening, being respectful, and finding connections.” Pobiner’s approach to science education is a result of her many years of leading education and outreach at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History Human Origins Program and her position as a research professor in the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology at the George Washington University.

In addition to her education and outreach work, Dr. Pobiner is a paleoanthropologist whose research centers on the evolution of human diets with a focus on meat-eating. She has done fieldwork in modern ecosystems, conducted excavations, and studied fossil collections in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Indonesia, Romania, and the US. She helped create the museum’s Hall of Human Origins, and she is part of the team that curated a traveling exhibit on human evolution called “Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean To Be Human?” This exhibit was installed in 19 public libraries across the US between 2015-2017. She is currently leading a National Science Foundation-supported research project that is studying the teaching and learning of evolution in introductory high school biology classrooms in Alabama.

Dr. Pobiner is the 2021 recipient of the American Association of Physical Anthropology and Leakey Foundation Communication and Outreach Award in Honor of Camilla Smith. The award was first established in 2019 to recognize the importance and urgency of promoting scientific literacy, clarity of message, and efforts to foster respect and understanding for the variation, adaptation, and evolution of human beings and their living and fossil relatives. In 2021, the award was renamed to honor Camilla M. Smith, the outgoing president of The Leakey Foundation’s board of trustees. 

“I’m so honored to have been nominated for this award, and to receive it.” said Dr. Pobiner. “It’s heartening to see that public engagement and outreach are being valued and rewarded in this way. But it really takes a village to do this. I don’t do it on my own. In reality, I share this award with the teachers, students, volunteers, scientist and educator colleagues, and so many others that I work with.” 

Additional information about the event:

  • “Engaging with Public Audiences on Human Evolution” will be held online on June 22, 2021, at 5:00 pm Pacific.
  • Registration is free.
  • Link for registration:

About the Leakey Foundation:  

The Leakey Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that funds human origins research and shares discoveries. The Leakey Foundation was formed in 1968 with a mission to increase scientific research, education, and public understanding of human origins, evolution, behavior, and survival.

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