Next Event: LERN Debate 2010

Resuscitating Lamarck: Do we need a new evolutionary theory?

The issue of epigenetics has sparked some discussion about the mechanisms by which evolutionary change arises. Some scientists believe that epigenesis has been an important factor in evolution, and propose a reformulation of the evolutionary theory as we know it, while others do not see epigenesis as a mechanism by which permanent adaptive changes can occur, and thus do not consider the evidence compelling enough to warrant rethinking the tenets of neo-Darwinism.

We at the London Evolutionary Research Network think this is a fascinating topic, and we are pleased to announce our forthcoming debate.

Four eminent speakers in the field will be discussing the motion:

‘Epigenetic inheritance compels an extension of the Modern Synthesis’

Eva Jablonka (for)
Professor at the Cohn Institute for the History of Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Troy Day (for)
Professor in Mathematical Biology, Queen’s University, Canada

Vincent Colot (against)
Group Leader at the Unité de Biologie Moléculaire des Organismes Photosynthétiques, Ecole Normale Supérieure, France

Ben Dickins (against)
Postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Comparative Genomics and Bioinformatics, Penn State University, USA

This is the second debate hosted by LERN. Each speaker will get 20 minutes to present their ideas followed by 10 minutes rebuttal time. There will be a substantial Q&A period at the end of the talks. Tea and biscuits will be served during a break. This event is free.

Date: 14th September 2010,

Time: 16.00 – 19.15

Location: AV Hill Lecture Theatre, Medical Sciences Building, UCL, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT

LINK TO MAP Entrance via Gower Street or Malet Place.

[download event PDF here]

[download event schedule here]


For information on last year’s debate please click here.

For videos of last year’s debate please click here.

Upcoming Events: Field Trip + Debate

LERN will be organizing a trip to the London Zoo followed by a picnic in Regent’s Park in July (details TBA). Last year, LERN organised a tour of the Natural History Museum’s mammal collection. For information on field trips from previous years, follow the links on the left.

In mid-August/mid-September, LERN will host its second annual debate. This year’s topic will be on epigenetics. There will be a motion and four guest speakers. Two speakers will be asked to present arguments for while the other two will present arguments against. It will be held in the form of a proper debate, with rebuttal time for each speaker and an extensive Q&A session in the end. More details about this event will be available soon. For information on last year’s debate, including videos, click here.

For any questions or suggestion email us at

Next Event: December Talk

‘On the use and misuse of epigenetics in evolutionary psychology’


Brian Garvey

(Philosophy, Lancaster University)

Abstract: In recent decades, there has been much work on the role of non-genetic factors in inheritance, development, and evolution. This has led to a re-evaluation of some traditional ideas, and in particular to a questioning of the traditional distinction between innate and acquired traits. The rejection of this distinction has been a central feature of developmental systems theory, as found in the work of Susan Oyama and others of this school. Leading evolutionary psychologists, such as Cosmides and Tooby, have also frequently asserted that the distinction is meaningless. In this paper, I will argue that there are indeed good reasons for rejecting the distinction, and that this does indeed force us to reconsider some cherished notions. However, I will also argue that the evolutionary psychologists are misusing the rejection of the innate-acquired dichotomy, in that they use it as a means to bypass perfectly legitimate questions. To show this, I will examine the kinds of questions people typically ask about the implications of evolutionary psychology – questions such as: How difficult is this or that evolved trait to change? How do we explain the variation that exists in this or that trait? The rejection of the innate-acquired dichotomy does not render these questions meaningless, so it is necessary to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate uses of epigenetics in evolutionary psychology.

Date: 2nd December 2008, at 18.00

Location: Drayton Ricardo lecture theatre, UCL

This event is free and everyone is welcome!

* Information on how to reach UCL by public transport can be found here. Click here to see a map of UCL.