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Dan Gebo to discuss evidence behind evolution during Sept. 27 BOT Professorship Seminar

September 20, 2011
Dan Gebo

Dan Gebo

The paleontological record of primates clearly supports the theory of evolution, but public support is a different story entirely, according to Dan Gebo, a Board of Trustees Professor of anthropology at NIU.

During an upcoming Board of Trustees Professorship Seminar, Gebo will discuss this paradox and review a vast number of discoveries over the past 25 years that demonstrate how organisms do indeed evolve.

The seminar is open to the public and will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, in the Capitol Room of the Holmes Student Center. Refreshments will be served at 11:30 a.m.

According to a 2010 Gallup poll, four in 10 Americans believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. The dominant scientific view, however, indicates humans evolved over millions of years, with modern humans arising 150,000 to 200,000 years ago, Gebo says.

“Ask the same people if they believe in dinosaurs and they say ‘yes,’ ” he says, adding that it’s not uncommon to encounter anti-evolutionary views in university classrooms.

“Many students who come in contact with the theory of evolution for the first time just don’t believe it,” Gebo adds. “You have to be patient. I’m not here to convert them, but for some of them, college is the first time they get real science thrown at them. At the high school level, some schools will cover evolution in a cursory manner or avoid it entirely because it’s controversial.”

Gebo is recognized as a world expert on the anatomy and evolution of monkeys, apes, humans and lower primates.

He joined the NIU faculty in 1987 and now holds a joint appointment in anthropology and biological sciences. Gebo also serves as a research associate at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Gebo was among the inaugural recipients of NIU’s Board of Trustees Professorships in 2008. The university had previously recognized his expertise in both the classroom and field with the Presidential Teaching Professorship and the Presidential Research Professorship.

“During the seminar, I’ll talk about what’s happened over the last 25 years since I began studying the origins of higher primates,” Gebo said. “Lots of new fossils have been found, and it’s a completely different game.”

Gebo himself has been a key player.

Throughout his career, his work has captured headlines, including in 2000 when he led a research team that discovered the fossils of 45-million-year-old, thumb-length primates. The find made the front page of the New York Times, Washington Post and newspapers worldwide.

He currently is working in northern China on a quest to illuminate primate origins dating back 60 million years.

Gebo also has conducted fieldwork in Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Mali, Madagascar, the Philippines, Uganda and the United States. He has won more than a dozen grant awards, made more than 25 presentations in national and international venues and authored or co-authored more than 60 publications in top-tier professional journals, including Nature and Science.

The seminar is sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. Call (815) 753-0595 for more information.