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For much of Human history, including today in many areas and regions, there is a disconnect of sorts between the common person, and those in what we like to call the “Ivory Tower”, or the world of Academia. One is not better than the other, not by far, in fact, many think that the Ivory Tower is a group of stuck-up snobs who think they know better than everyone else. In many cases, both sides are correct. But it is when those in Academia, use their brain power, and what they learn and understand, to better humanity for the whole, and not just for themselves, or some sort of personal, or even financial gain. Those that are truly in it for the progression of the Human race as a species, set themselves apart from the rest of the pack. It is these individuals, who become what we deem “Science Communicators”, such as Professors, Teachers, Educators, Media Personalities (think Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, etc.). This paper is about the story of a science communicator, and their efforts in bringing a field of science, Paleoanthropology, one of the slowest fields to adapt to change in the STEM fields, and bring it to the modern world, to modern people, and not just to academics. Rather, to everyone who has an interest. By breaking down complex ideas and theories, we can help communicate specific ideas and thoughts to those anywhere, using the right tools and mindsets. SciComm (Science Communication) is one of the most effective ways to bring this knowledge out of the Ivory Tower, and down into the hands of the people, where it will be employed for the betterment (hopefully) of our species. Today, we will be discussing, as mentioned a particular field, and one project that is trying to bring SciComm to a whole new level. Today we will be discussing a project deemed “The World of Paleoanthropology” a science communication website, and a project that was founded, and run by myself, Seth Chagi, and has helped many people realize that yes, we (meaning all modern Humans (AMH)) share a common, and shared recent African origin. We are not different, there is no such standing for biological race, and so much more that is misunderstood and needs to be conveyed properly if our modern day societies are ever going to tackle some of our most prevalent problems, such as systemic racism, economic inequalities, negative stigmas that cause mistrust and seeds dissent within all ranks of our society. Using what we have learned about Human Evolution, our Origins, we can learn about not only our past, and where we are today, but about our future as well. It is crucial to communicate this future in terms that everyone can understand. But does it work? Will what I created have any lasting effect or presence once I am gone, or even just no longer operating it? We shall see in the following pages based on my observances from a non-biased, open point of view. Does the World of Paleoanthropology affectively communicate the complex ideas of human evolution to the public? Let us find out!
So to properly begin, I think it is important for us all to be on the same page, and that means understanding just exactly what Paleoanthropology is! Paleoanthropology is the study of Human Evolution or Human Origins. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, as some of you may know, we, being Homo sapiens, are Anatomically Modern Humans, but we are not the only “Humans” to ever walk this earth, not by a long shot, not even in the last 50,000 ka. (Years ago). There have been many species of “proto-human” named hominins taxonomically, to date (depending on whom you ask) there are twenty-five known species of hominin, with even more Hominids (which we will save for another paper). These creatures, while not all being ancestors of ours, are most surely cousins, just like we are cousins to the Great Apes of modern times, the Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Bonobos (Pan paniscus), Gorillas and Orangutans of various species, as well as the Gibbon. All of these apes, share with us many common features, not only genetically, but in appearance, behavior and can reveal to us much about how our distant cousins and ancestors acted and how they survived to evolve unto us, or for the most part, to die out somewhere in the fossil record. Some of these hominins, we can determine are direct ancestors of our species, such as many of those in the Homo genus, H. habilis, H. erectus, etc A. afarensis, just to name a few. So to summarize, Paleoanthropology is the study of all of these creatures, their remains, whatever that may be, (genetic, fossil, or archaeological), and how they relate to us, modern-day humans, as well as dabbling into where we are headed as a species as well! Studying this science, this field, allows us to understand who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. It shows us who we are to each other, that we are not as different as was once believed. We are all Human.
Now that we have a general understanding of that, let us move on! Why is communicating this field, and the method in which we do it so critical? What is SciComm? Science Communication, it the challenging, but often very rewarding act of taking complex ideas, of a scientific nature, I.E the Theory of Gravity, or how a neutron star is formed, or, more about us in this situation, how Homo naledi evolved, and why it deposited (it is almost safe to say now, buried!) their dead deep in the caves of Rising Star! Biology and Evolution are by no means an easy set of topics to understand, and it does not help that they seem to change every other day as new and relevant discoveries poor in from the various fields that call Biology their home. Being able to explain these ideas, without delineating them, and taking out important aspects of their understanding is an important skill and talent for any researcher and scientist to have. And it is critical for educators to have, and to have access to said research, etc. through Open Access education. But again, that is for another paper. SciComm is how we learn about our world, how we fix our problems, and how we become informed about ourselves. How can we fix the problems that face us, those mentioned above, if we do not understand them, even from a basic level? By communicating those intense topics methodically in a way that anyone who wants can understand, and dare I say, find entertaining and even fun. Bill Nye, “The Science Guy” as my generation so fondly knows him, is one of the best examples of this, inspired by Carl Sagan, perhaps the greatest science communicator of modern times. And yet, despite these great individuals, this particular field has seemed to lack a champion of science communication. There have been many who have attempted to bring the field to light, and yet it was only this year that the majority of Americans have accepted Evolution as the origins of Man vs. creationism (ScientificDaily.com). This is of course a major step in the right direction, but there is much more work to do before we are even close to reaching the lofty goals of a well-educated and informed populous. SciComm, despite all the challenges that are faced, is the key to combatting these challenges, however.
So, one may be asking themselves at this point, how does a Science Communicator communicate science? What are the tools, and methods that are employed to help everyone, from children up to adults, learn about science, and in this case; Paleoanthropology. The number one thing that someone can keep in mind, according to the American Association of the Advancement of Science, is, “do not dumb the science down”. Often, scientists believe that they need to take an approach where they make things more simple for the “layperson” to understand. Everyone is capable of the same understanding and knowledge if given the right tools and education! Methods that can be employed, are making science fun, as Bill Nye is well known to do, Carl Sagan was known for making difficult information, such complex ideas, into easy to digest packages that never lost any of the detail that was involved. It has been shown by the National Institute of Biotechnology, that SciComm is an effective method of communicating science, and as we know, the more educated a population is, whomever they are, the better off they end up being, the more bright their future looks. Teaching SciComm is passing on the history of our species, all that we have discovered, learned, and created, to the next generation. It is one of the major things that makes us different from our non-human primate relatives. We can pass on information to our descendants, thousands of generations into the future. What we have discovered, and rediscovered throughout human history, is that Science, is a key to understanding the natural world around us, and without it, the world seems to be a much more bleak place.
“Have you ever sat, looked up at the stars and wondered, where did I come from?” (World of Paleoanthropology) This is often a question that many of us come to us at least one point in our lives, some of us spend our entire lives attempting to answer this question, not even just for themselves, but for our species together as a whole. Some people, rightly or wrongly, I will leave that up to you, the reader to decide, that evolution, and Human Origins are not something we need to spend time and resources worrying about. Rather we should spend time working on the problems we face today, and in the future. In the opinion of many STEM educators, is that we cannot combat the challenges that we face as a species today, without knowledge of the history of our people. Our people, as we are all one species, all with a recent African Origin, are not a mix and match of different animals, but cultures and societies. People need to know about our shared human origins, and we can share that using our tools and SciComm skills. We must support the continued use, and even the expansion of SciComm in our educational systems, and even in our everyday lives. So then, to answer the original question, what will the lasting effects of the World of Paleoanthropology be? Of course, I have no answer that I can give that is definite, but based on the ideas, opinions, and information shared with me from various Professors, and Researchers, famous Paleoanthropologists, and the like, this is something different, that has not been offered before. That the World of Paleoanthropology fills a niche gap that has been there since Anthropology became a study. The future, to me, for W.O.P.A as this project is known, is bright. People are interested, and the audience grows and grows, as more and more people become interested in learning about what makes us alike, versus what makes us different. It is time for people to come together, and to stop tearing each other apart. We can only do this once we understand who we are and where we came from, using the tools that SciComm provides, and the knowledge and information of those involved with W.O.P.A, we are effectively educating people all over the world in a way that will be remembered for years to come. It is our hope, and our goal to educate people in such a way that things are fun and memorable, easy to understand, but full of information. To that end, I think we have succeeded.
Let me know what you think!