CEM Seminar - Marlene Zuk

Center for the Evolution of Medicine - Zuk

Professor, College of Biological Sciences
University of Minnesota
Models on the Runway: how do we make replicas of the world?
Models are universal in science, both as theoretical formulations of reality and as model systems, representatives of other organisms. A recent paper on how scientists view the world divides our work into the mind, the lab, and the field, and suggests that models must not be conflated with reality. But in practice, these distinctions are blurred. For example, are flour beetles a model system for other insects, when their natural habitat is the same as the way they live in the lab?  In addition, models can become restrictive when they are viewed as archetypes, making us over-generalize about the world and ignoring meaningful variation. Nowhere is this risk more apparent than in medicine, where an evolutionary approach can give perspective to the kinds of model systems used and their limitations. An awareness of the limitations of model systems can also shed light on the reliance of males in biomedical research.
Marlene Zuk is a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota, where her research focuses on animal behavior and evolution, mostly using insects as subjects.  Dr. Zuk is interested in the ways that people use animal behavior to think about human behavior, and vice versa, as well as in public understanding of evolution.  She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on many topics, including a seminar on “What’s the Alternative to Alternative Medicine?”  In addition to publishing numerous scientific articles, Dr. Zuk has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chronicle for Higher Education, and Natural History magazine.  She has published four books for a general audience: Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can’t Learn About Sex from Animals; Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are; Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love and Language from the Insect World (a New York Times “Editor’s Choice”); and most recently Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and the Way We Live.