Interview with an Evolutionary Biologist

We recently interviewed Dr. Massimo Pigliucci for Darwin Day. Dr. Pigliucci is an associate professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolution at SUNY-Stony Brook and founded Darwin Day at the University of Tennessee. We at the thumb would like to thank Dr. Pigliucci for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.

Can you tell us a little about your scientific background and current lab research?

I have a PhD in botany (University of Connecticut) and one in philosophy (University of Tennessee). My interests include research on gene-environment interactions (nature-nurture), as well as philosophy of science. My lab’s web page is

Can you tell us a little about the history of Darwin Day? Why did you start Darwin Day?

A good intro to the history of D-Day can be found in the Wikipedia. I started one of the first versions at the University of Tennessee in 1997, in response to a misguided (and fortunately failed) attempt of the Tennessee legislature to pass an anti-evolution law demanding equal teaching time for creationism.

What did you do this year for Darwin Day?

We had a daylong information booth on campus with exhibits on evolution (including live animals), and graduate students and faculty answering questions about evolution. We also showed several documentaries on evolution, followed by brief discussion sessions. The two main events were a keynote speech by Eugenie Scott, of the National Center for Science Education, as well as a panel discussion following a presentation of the documentary Flock of Dodos, by Randy Olson, on so-called “Intelligent Design.”

Do you have any stories of memorable Darwin Day events?

The first time we decided to do it (February 1997 edition) we started organizing it a bit too late to find a high-profile speaker. Nonetheless, I asked Doug Futuyma at SUNY-Stony Brook (who is now my colleague in the same department) if he could come on short notice. Doug published one of the first books critical of creationism, “Science on Trial,” back in 1987, and his graduate-level textbook on evolutionary biology is the standard in the field. Doug fired back an email to tell me that, yes, he was indeed very busy, but that he heard that we in Tennessee “really needed help,” so he would drop other things and come. It was very nice of him, and it turned out to be a wonderfully attended and informative event.

Have you heard about the Evolution Sunday Project? What do you think about it?

I think it’s a good idea. We certainly don’t need more conflict between science and religion, and a project like that can help.

You’ve written on the anti-evolution movement. Do you think ID will change at all in response to its defeat in the Dover trial?

Not likely, I have a sense that Dover was ID’s Waterloo. But not to worry, I’ve already heard the newest buzzword used by creationists: you see, it’s not “intelligent design theory” anymore, it’s “sudden emergence theory”…

Any suggestions to our readers on starting their own Darwin Day activities?

Check out our web page ( for ideas and documents to download (copyright free!) to get something started.

Massimo Pigliucci is an associate professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolution at SUNY-Stony Brook. We would once again like to thank him for answering our questions.