Williams Prize for 2018 Winner Announced

Williams Prize for 2018 Winner Announced

The International Society for Evolution, Medicine and Public Health is proud to announce the award of the $5000 George C. Williams Prize for 2018 to “Is antagonistic pleiotropy ubiquitous in aging biology?”  by Steven Austad and Jessica Hoffman.

The Prize Committee–Dan Blumstein, Sarah Reece and Richard Bribiescas–was unanimous in its decision. Warm thanks to them and to Andrew Read, Chair of the ISEMPH publications committee for all the work to make this decision, and to Doris Williams who has helped to support this prize.

One of the authors will give a related talk at the August 2019 5th Annual Meeting of the Society in Zurich. Submit your abstract and register now!

The prize is awarded each year to the  first author of the most significant article published in the Society’s flagship journal, Evolution, Medicine and Public Health. Oxford University Press publishes the journal open access. Charles Nunn is the editor. All articles published in 2018 were automatically considered for the Prize. The Prize is made possible by donations from Doris Williams, Randolph Nesse, and other supporters of Evolution Medicine, & Public Health

George C. Williams


The Prize recognizes the contributions of George C Williams to evolutionary medicine, and aims to encourage and highlight important research in this growing field. In a seminal 1957 paper, Williams initiated work on several problems central to medicine, including an evolutionary theory of aging and life history traits including menopause. He did important work on the problem of why sex exists. Perhaps his most lasting contribution is his 1966 book Adaptation and Natural Selection, a critique of group selection that transformed how biologists think about the evolution of sociality. In the 1990’s he collaborated with Randolph Nesse on a series of papers and a book that inspired much ongoing work on how evolutionary biology can help us understand disease and improve human health.

To submit an article see http://emph.oxfordjournals.org.

TriCEM Evolutionary Medicine Summer Institute

TriCEM Evolutionary Medicine Summer Institute

We are excited to announce that we are now accepting applications for the 2019 Evolutionary Medicine Summer Institute (EMSI) May 20-24. The goal of EMSI is to introduce core evolutionary concepts to a wide range of topics in human health and disease, including public health, and to train physicians and medical scientists in computational methods used in evolutionary and ecological research.

EMSI will bring together internationally recognized experts in evolutionary biology with students and health practitioners who want to apply these perspectives to cancer, infectious disease, evolution of microbial resistance, neurology, autoimmune disease, the microbiome, and more. Lectures on key concepts will be complimented with hands-on computational exercises. Our goal is to give participants the background on evolutionary principles and the tools to apply evolutionary biology to questions of medical importance. For more information and the application form, please visit our EMSI website.

This year, EMSI will be held at North Carolina State University.

To apply, and for more information, please fill out this form.

Please direct questions to Grace Farley (grace.farley@duke.edu), James Herrera (james.herrera@duke.edu), or Charles Nunn (clnunn@duke.edu)

New book by Randy Nesse

New book by Randy Nesse

Good Reasons for Bad Feelings: Insights from the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry was published on Darwin Day by Dutton (Penguin Random House)

Book Website  Full Information Advance Praise Reviews TOC Buy on Amazon

About the book

Slow progress in finding causes and cures has inspired a growing chorus of calls for new approaches to mental disorders. GOOD REASONS FOR BAD FEELINGS asks a fundamentally new question. Instead of asking why some people get sick, it instead asks why natural selection left all of us so vulnerable to mental illness. The limits of natural selection offer one kind of answer, but several others are equally important. Our environments are vastly different from those we evolved in, making us vulnerable to addiction and eating disorders. Bad feelings like anxiety and low mood are, like pain and cough, useful in certain situations, but they often help our genes, not us, and, like smoke detectors, they are prone to false alarms. Social anxiety is nearly universal because our ancestors who cared what others thought about them did better than other people. Guilt makes morality possible, and grief is the nearly unbearable price of love. Recognizing the evolutionary origins of such symptoms helps to distinguish them from diseases. Trying to understand an emotion requires understanding individuals as individuals.

Topics discussed in the book include:

  • How emotions were shaped to benefit our genes, not our health or happiness: Jealousy increases fitness, even as it wrecks lives; it hurts to hear babies cry, so parents tend to them; sexual feelings get many people to do things good for their genes but disastrous for them.
  • How the smoke detector principle explains useless anxiety: should you run if you hear a noise behind a hill that could be a lion? The cost of running is likely to be small compared to the cost of not running if a lion is really there, so false alarms are normal and necessary.
  • The price we pay for deep, meaningful relationships: Grief and guilt are the price of love and goodness. They exist because we have been domesticated over thousands of years by individuals choosing partners and friends who are honest, trustworthy, kind and generous; worry about what others think of us and the pain of loss are the price of deep relationships.
  • Why addiction is an unavoidable consequence of our ability to learn: We adapt our behavior as a function of our experiences, doing whatever works. Drugs our ancestors never encountered hijack the system, turning some people into zombies.
  • Why sexual problems are common: Sexual systems evolved to benefit our genes, at big costs to us.
  • Why eating disorders are common: Many studies ask why certain individuals are prone to eating disorders but Nesse asks a different question: how do mechanisms that evolved to cope with famine generate uncontrolled eating in modern environments?
  • Why genes for schizophrenia and autism persist: Some are mutations, but others keep a system close to a fitness peak, despite the risk of catastrophic mental failure.
  • Why it is usually safe to relieve emotional pain, even when it is normal: Sometimes painful emotions help us, but usually they are excessive or useless. An evolutionary perspective encourages respect for our emotions, but also determined efforts to find new strategies for prevention and treatment.
  • How an evolutionary foundation can help put psychiatry on the same biological foundation as the rest of medicine: Evolution is a basic science for medicine. GOOD REASONS FOR BAD FEELINGS shows how it offers a way forward in our quest to understand, prevent and treat mental illness.

About the Author

Randolph M. Nesse, MD is a founder of the field of evolutionary medicine and coauthor with George C. Williams of Why We Get Sick. He served for many years as Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology, and Research Professor at the University of Michigan. He currently is the Founding Director of the Center for Evolution and Medicine at Arizona State University, where he is also a Foundation Professor in the School of Life Sciences. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

ISEMPH 2019 in Zurich

ISEMPH 2019 in Zurich


Abstract submission and registration are now open for the 5th annual meeting of the International Society of Evolution, Medicine and Public Health August 13-16 in  Zurich, Switzerland.

ISEMPH 2019 is profoundly interdisciplinary and emphasizes the multiple interfaces between evolutionary biology and human health in the complementary fields of medicine, evolutionary biology, anthropology, evolutionary psychology, behavioral ecology and epidemiology. This meeting will particularly welcome students and clinicians at all stages of professional development. Full information and registration links are here.

April 1 is the abstract submission deadline. All accepted abstracts will be published in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health

May 31 is the deadline for discounted early bird meeting registration.  Register now to ensure getting a spot; if your plans change you can cancel and get a refund.

The meeting his hosted by the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich and a committee chaired by Frank Rühli and Nicole Bender.

Confirmed Keynote Speakers include

Prof. Bernard J. Crespi, Simon Fraser University, Canada: How evolutionary biology can frame a unified theory for understanding human mental illness.

Prof. Dario Valenzano, Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing, Germany: African killifishes shed light on the genomic basis of life history trait evolution in vertebrates.

Prof. Kayla King, University of Oxford, UK: Protectors vs. killers: microbes within the host as drivers of pathogen evolution.

Prof. Verena Schünemann, University of Zurich, Switzerland: Ancient DNA and pathogens: uncovering the past of human diseases

G.C Williams Prize winner: TBA

Gilbert Omenn Prize winner
Nominate your paper or someone else’s for this $5000 prize

Nominate your paper or someone else’s for this $5000 prize


Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Medicine just published

Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Medicine just published

Edited by Martin Brüne and Wulf Schiefenhövel

TOC here Order here

Medicine is grounded in the natural sciences, among which biology stands out with regard to the understanding of human physiology and conditions that cause dysfunction. Ironically though, evolutionary biology is a relatively disregarded field. One reason for this omission is that evolution is deemed a slow process. Indeed, macroanatomical features of our species have changed very little in the last 300,000 years. A more detailed look, however, reveals that novel ecological contingencies, partly in relation to cultural evolution, have brought about subtle changes pertaining to metabolism and immunology, including adaptations to dietary innovations, as well as adaptations to the exposure to novel pathogens. Rapid pathogen evolution and evolution of cancer cells cause major problems for the immune system to find adequate responses. In addition, many adaptations to past ecologies have turned into risk factors for somatic disease and psychological disorder in our modern worlds (i.e. mismatch), among which epidemics of autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity, as well as several forms of cancer stand out. In addition, depression, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions add to the list. 

The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Medicine is a compilation of cutting edge insights into the evolutionary history of ourselves as a species, and how and why our evolved design may convey vulnerability to disease. Written in a classic textbook style emphasising physiology and pathophysiology of all major organ systems, the Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Medicine will be valuable for students as well as scholars in the fields of medicine, biology, anthropology and psychology. It has  a clear structure which makes this volume easily accessible for students and scholars. Also it has over 130 colour images; this book illustrates beautifully the topic of Evolutionary Medicine. With chapters divided into ‘General topics’ and ‘Specific Organ Systems’, readers are able to understand both the relevant evolutionary background information and the application to physiological systems.