The 2015-2016 Series


Bill Nye

“The Importance of Teaching Evolution”

September 28th, 2015, 7:00 PM

Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.

Bill’s fascination with how bicycles, airplanes and other things work led him to Cornell University and a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1977. Soon after, Boeing recruited him as an engineer, so he went to Seattle. “I’ve always loved airplanes and flight. There’s a hydraulic resonance suppressor “Quinke” tube on the 747 horizontal stabilizer drive system that I like to think of as my tube,” he says.

It was in Seattle that Bill began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Eventually, Bill quit his engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s homegrown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live” in 1986.

This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate. With fellow KING-TV alumni Jim McKenna and Erren Gottlieb, Bill made a number of award-winning shows, including the show he became so well known for, Bill Nye the Science Guy.

While working on the Science Guy show from 1992-1998, Bill won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five kids’ books about science.

“Big Blast of Science”
“Bill Nye’s Consider the Following”
“Bill Nye The Science Guy’s Big Blue Ocean”
“Bill Nye The Science Guy’s Great Big Dinosaur Dig”
“Bill Nye The Science Guy’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs”

After a debate with a creationist who believes the world is only 6,000 years old, Bill wrote his first book for a general audience, “Undeniable – Evolution and the Science of Creation,” featured on the New York Times’ Bestsellers List. He considers it a primer on the discoveries and principles of evolution. With this book and all his writing, Bill hopes to change the world.

Bill is working on his next book for a general audience on the subjects of energy and climate change. His next kids’ book will be about space exploration. With over 7 billion people breathing and burning an atmosphere that is barely 100 kilometers thick, humankind is changing the Earth’s heat balance faster than ever in the planet’s history. Climate change is the biggest challenge we face, and finding ways to do more with less energy is a key to our future.

Bill strongly believes the most effective way to reduce the world’s human population of people over the next several decades is to raise the standard of living for women and girls. To do that, he says, we need to educate people as effectively as possible. So with his former partner Disney, Bill wrote and produced “Solving for X,” a series on DVD where he shows us how to do algebra along with the P, B, & J – the Passion, Beauty, and Joy – of math. It turns out that algebra is the most reliable indicator of whether or not a student will end up pursuing a career in science. With more kids, girls especially, engaged in math, Bill hopes we’ll have more scientists and especially engineers to make the world healthier for all of us.

Along with his Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell, Bill joined his astronomy professor Carl Sagan when he was elected the American Humanist Association’s Humanist of the Year in 2010. He was also the honored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers with the Ralph Coates Roe Medal in 2012. Bill holds Honorary Doctorate degrees from six universities: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Goucher College, Johns Hopkins University, Quinnipiac University, Willamette University, and Lehigh University. He has delivered commencement addresses at most of these schools along with the University of California Santa Barbara, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Harvey Mudd College, and Caltech.

Bill currently speaks at colleges regularly, appears on news and television about a variety of topical science matters and remains the CEO of the Planetary Society. He fights to raise awareness of climate change and the value of critical thinking, science, and reason. Through all his work, Bill hopes to inspire people everywhere to change the world.

Linda IvanyLinda C. Ivany – Syracuse University

“The Pace of Life – The (often) Missing Element in Studies of Evolution Using Fossils”

Thursday, October 15, 2015, 7:30 PM

Linda C. Ivany is Professor of Earth Sciences at Syracuse University.  Her research lies at the intersection of paleoecology and paleoclimatology.  She works mainly on fossil mollusks, particularly those from the US Gulf Coastal Plain and Antarctica, and is broadly interested in relationships among ecology, evolution, and environment.  She often uses the chemistry of accretionary skeletons (e.g., shells, coral, teeth) to understand the growth and life histories of organisms and the temperature and seasonality of ancient environments through time.  She is particularly interested in times of greenhouse climates in Earth’s distant past, and uses fossils to constrain their conditions.  Ivany received her PhD from Harvard University and was a Michigan Society Fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for 3 years before moving to Syracuse in 2000.  She is a Fellow of the Paleontological Society and the Geological Society of America.

Ron_numbersRon L. Numbers – University of Wisconsin at Madison

“Baptizing Dinosaurs: How Once-Suspect Evidence of Evolution Came to Support the Biblical Narrative”

Thursday, November 12, 2015, 7:30 PM

Ron L. Numbers, Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine, recently completed his thirty-eighth year in the department and anticipates retiring at the end of the calendar year. He continues to edit, with David Lindberg, the eight-volume Cambridge History of Science (2003- .), five volumes of which have appeared and a sixth is in press. His Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Harvard University Press, 2009), has already been translated into Korean, Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese, and is forthcoming in Chinese and Greek. He has recently finished co-editing Gods in America: Religious Pluralism in the United States (Oxford University Press, in press), with Charles Cohen; and Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet (under review at Oxford University Press), edited with Terrie Aamodt and Gary Land. In retirement he plans to complete Science and the Americans: A History (for Basic Books), a biography of John Harvey Kellogg (for Harvard University Press), and three other unfinished books. During the 2012-13 academic year he will be traveling to Brazil, Greece, and Abu Dahbi, while continuing to serve as past president on the executive committee of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science/Division of History of Science and Technology.

100211_mlk_award_0006 Rebecca Burch – SUNY Oswego

“Semen Chemistry: Implications, Innovations, and Controversy”

Thursday, December 3, 2015, 7:30 PM

Becky Burch‘s main research interests are the evolution of sexual behavior, sexual signaling, and domestic violence. However, recent academic pursuits have ventured into cultural differences and similarities in a variety of human behaviors, including sex, parenting, play, gender, and development.

Dr. Burch has publications on the topics of seminal composition and human physiology, psychology, and behavior, genital morphology (specifically penile morphology and its function), intimate partner violence (focusing on the role of sexual jealousy and prevention strategies), sexual signaling (verbal and nonverbal), and other research in sexual behavior.
These publications have garnered a considerable amount of interest from the media, including nonfiction books (Why is the Penis Shaped like That?, Bonk, The Dangerous Passion, and others), fictional novels (The Hitchhiker’s Child), and innumerable websites, blogs, new outlets, and magazines (,, Psychology Today, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Men’s Health, to name a few).

She is an Associate Professor in the department of Human Development and the Conference and Programming Coordinator for the Hart Global Living and Learning Center at SUNY Oswego. She received her Ph.D. at SUNY Albany in Evolution and Human Behavior.


Morten H. Christiansen – Cornell University

“Darwin’s Insight: The Cultural Evolution of Language”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016, 7:30 PM

Morten H. Christiansen is Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Cognitive Science Program at Cornell University as well Senior Scientist at the Haskins Labs and Professor in the Department of Language and Communication at the University of Southern Denmark. He is the author of more than 170 scientific papers and has edited four books. His research focuses on the interaction of biological and environmental constraints in the processing, acquisition and evolution of language, using a combination of computational, behavioral, and cognitive neuroscience methods. He is a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and delivered the 2009 Nijmegen Lectures.

McCorkle William “Lee” W. McCorkle Jr. – LEVYNA/Masaryk University (Czech Republic)

“Religion, a Cultural Virus: Evolutionary Approaches in the Historical, Anthropological, and Scientific Study of Religion”

Thursday, March 31, 2016, 7:30 PM

William “Lee” W. McCorkle Jr. is a cognitive and evolutionary anthropologist that specializes in ritual, language, and communication. He served as the Director for the Laboratory of the Experimental Research of Religion ( and Associate Professor in the Department for the Study of Religions at Masaryk University from 2011-2013. He is the managing editor for the Journal of Cognitive Historiography (Equinox), and is a co-editor, along with Luther H. Martin and Donald Wiebe, for the “Science and Religion” academic book series with Bloomsbury Publishing. His books include Ritualizing the Disposal of the Deceased: From Corpse to Concept (2010), and the co-edited volume Mental Culture: Classical Social Theory and the Cognitive Science of Religion (2013) He is also a Distinguished Fellow at the University of Aarhus and currently a Senior Research Fellow at LEVYNA. Dr. McCorkle’s latest research includes a robust program of connecting institutional centers internationally into a collaborative research agenda, including the foundations for “innovative methodologies” in cognitive historiography, cognitive science of culture, economic and behavioral games, developmental and evolutionary psychology, learning and creativity, eye-tracking and movement, sound and synchrony, and an overall research focus on experimental anthropology (both in the field and in the lab).

Julia Clarke – University of Texas at AustinJuliaClarke

“The Evolution of Birds”

Thursday, April 14, 2016, 7:30 PM

Julia Clarke is an Associate Professor and John A. Wilson Fellow in Vertebrate Paleontology in the Jackson chool of Geosciences. Her research focuses on using phylogenetic methods and diverse data types to gain insight into the evolution of birds, avian flight and the co-option of the flight stroke for underwater diving. She is particularly interested in understanding shared patterns and potential causal factors in the evolution of living bird lineages.