CEM Seminar - Philip Gingerich

Epidemics Past and Present: What Historic Diseases Tell Us About Future Threats

Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
The University of Michigan 
How fast is evolution?

Darwin thought evolution to be slow because geological time is long.  He was right about geological time, but wrong about evolution.  Evolution as a process is fast (we will settle on an empirical number in appropriate units for the time scale of natural selection).  Rates are ratios, with numerators and denominators.  When rates are quantified and compared for different scales of time it becomes clear, counterintuitively, that the denominator is more important than the numerator. Case studies are helpful:  anthropology's secular trend in human stature, biology's laboratory selection experiments, and paleontology's fossil lineages.  Finally we will consider how time and temporal scaling affect such widely accepted theories as punctuated equilibria and molecular clocks.  


Philip Gingerich received his A.B. degree from Princeton University in 1968, Ph.D. from Yale University in 1974, and has taught paleontology and evolution to geology, biology, and anthropology students at Michigan for the past 40 years.  He is well known for studies of Eocene primates and whales, and for pioneering work on the Paleocene-Eocene global greenhouse warming event known as the PETM.   His most interesting research is on quantification of rates, especially rates of evolution.