Science for the people

Each year, the Festival of Research is held in Denmark. It is an important day. All over the country, you have the opportunity to meet devoted scientists who are passionate about their field and about conveying what they do and why they do it. It also acts as a reminder that taking the communication of research seriously is not only an obligation for the Danish universities of the 21st century. It is also a necessity.

Don’t Reach Out. Engage.

The Danish words for research communication are quite similar ("forskningsformidling"; and the one used today: "forskningskommunikation"). But there is a significant difference between the two. Americans call it “outreach”. The Danish universities have fallen in love with this word. You must reach out. However, this is only the first step and still conveys solid ivory tower arrogance. Presently, the English expression is “public engagement”. You have to engage the public. And herein lies the difference. We have to think English not American. We have to engage not just reach out.

Communicators are great storytellers. And that can be a good thing. But if it really has to make a difference, communication is the key. Thoughts and ideas have to be shared. Questions have to be asked and answered in a conversation in which everyone participates and contributes and everyone gains from it. In this way, we not only learn about the present research at the Danish universities. We also make it relevant. Not only do we understand what the research is about but also why it is important.

Naturally, the same goes with regards to evolution. At the Festival of Research in 2009, you could meet some of the many devoted people behind and at both Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen. Here, you could talk to us about what evolution is, what we do, why we do it, and hear some great stories. We appreciated everyone who turned up and talked to us.  It is not a secret. We are passionate about our field and we love to talk about it. This is also one of the most important reasons why we established and

Evolution for the people is a giant encyclopaedia of evolution. Free for everyone to use and written by scientists who know what they are talking about. All you need is as computer with an internet connection. Evolutionary experts from widely different fields have come together to open up the exciting world of evolution for everyone.

Here you can read about what evolution is, what it means for the myriad of life on earth, in which contexts it is used, and you can learn about the various myths and misunderstandings about evolution that pop up everywhere. And you can get the answers to all of your burning questions: do apes have morals? What do we know about the origin of life? How has man evolved? Does evolution exclude religion?

“Evolution” is the short answer to what humans, apes, porcupines, bats, squid, dinosaurs, mammoths, moss, mould, the flue, and Christmas trees all have in common. We all know this. But many of us do not know enough: That life on earth is the result of the gradual evolution over millions and millions of years from one simple common starting point when life first came to be approximately 4 billion years ago. This means that all living things are connected and that man is related to all the animals and plants around us as well as the viruses and bacteria that infect us.

But in evolutionary research we work with much more than biological evolution. Evolutionary research is an interdisciplinary field and crosses over from the natural sciences to the humanities and the social sciences. This too is an important message. Evolution is everywhere.

The threat against the school system

That is the good message. But evolution is also a subject that has caused heated reactions over the last 150 years and still does to this day. No other scientific theory has caused so much public debate. Today, there is no scientific doubt. Evolution is a fact alongside gravity.

But we are facing a great challenge. The poor common knowledge about evolution is being exploited by fundamentalist groups that are trying to implement religiously motivated alternatives into the school system all over Europe. Globally, there is a lot of money in the antievolutionary movements and they are good at what they do. We have to do better and join forces on all levels of the educational system as well as in the world of research. That is one of the other important reasons for establishing

In the fall of 2007, the European Council put out a warning against the increasing influence of these fundamentalist groups. At the universities, we share this responsibility. And it is an important issue which first and foremost concerns the education of our children, the basis of knowledge for the future generation, and a proper understanding of the science that we rely on in the society of the future.

Passionate volunteers

We have taken the warning from the European Council to heart and gathered some of the best people in the country to ensure that students and teachers in public schools and high schools have access to the best educational material available. All the work is done on a voluntary basis. This shows how seriously we as scientists take this assignment.

It is an assignment which no one can do alone. has been established as a result of collaboration between more than 40 scientists of evolution from a series of different fields at the country’s universities alongside the major Evolution exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. The project is supported by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation but is carried by passionate volunteers. is a sister project to It is the same energy and ideology of making our knowledge accessible to everyone who needs it that drives both project.

Peter C. Kjærgaard

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