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Audience questions about evolution and medicine
A selection of talks on Clinical Practice
Behavioral medicine: what it is and what it does
- Dr. Gina Touch Mercer
- University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix, USA
The history and foundations of medical research ethics
- Prof. Dr. Christian Lenk
- Ulm University, Germany
This is the final talk in the Henry Stewart series about evolution in medicine. I'm your host and editor of the series Randolph Nesse, and it's been a great pleasure to work with people to get this series together. Over the course of the years, I've had a chance to give lectures to hundreds of audiences and every single time, good questions come up. Some questions are just plain creative and interesting, others I'm afraid reveal just how completely I have not communicated important points to the audience. And so a lot of questions reveal just how interested people are in evolution and medicine, and how little they understand about evolution. This talk offers an opportunity to wrap up loose ends for the lecture series by giving you some of the questions that come up often after talks about evolution and medicine, and the answers that I have come to give fairly routinely.
The first question I get at most lectures is, so how is evolution useful to medicine? This is pretty understandable. Medicine is after all not a branch of science, but a practical field that tries to help people. It's more like engineering, than it is like physics. And also I try to respond practically to this question. Usually, early on at least, to giving very practical examples such as how evolution helps us to prevent antibiotic resistance, how it helps us to better design vaccines, how it helps us to understand things like why your uric acid levels are high, that is to prevent oxidative damage even though it causes gout. But the audience members often would come back to me and say, that's not that practical in the everyday clinic work of each doctor. We want to know examples of how it's really practical. And the audiences will gradually help me understand that just trying to give very specific examples about how every doctor uses evolution in the clinic every day, sells the field short. Embryology and biochemistry don't try to justify themselves by saying that they lead to new ways of doing medicine in the clinic every day. They're recognized as fundamental scientific knowledge for medicine that every doctor should have in order to understand the body, so that practical kinds of applications can be better developed. So it seems to me that we shouldn't just answer that question about how evolution is useful in very simple terms. We should point out to people that evolutionary biology is a basic science, at least as important for medicine, as embryology or even biochemistry.