Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gary Goodyear, Please Come to the Rap Guide to Evolution!

March 24 2009

Open Letter to Gary Goodyear, Canada's Minister for Science and Technology

Dear Minister Goodyear,

I will be performing a show called "The Rap Guide to Evolution" as part of the Vancouver Evolution Festival in a few weeks, and I would like to invite you to come to the performance free of charge. Allow me to explain.

I have read with interest the recent articles in the Globe and Mail about your misgivings towards Charles Darwin's theory of evolution ("Science minister won't confirm belief in evolution", March 17th). The Globe and Mail interviewer was very misleading when she asked whether you "believe in evolution", a question clearly designed to misrepresent Darwin's theory as a matter of personal belief rather than a scientific fact based on solid evidence. Hence, when you answered her question by saying "I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate", you were only following her disingenuous lead.

However, your follow-up interview with CTV, ("'Of course' I believe in evolution", March 18th), suggests that the problem is a lack of comprehension rather than a lack of belief. Your chosen example of "evolution" was the ability to adapt by "walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment." By this measure, Mr. Goodyear, you are doing an excellent job of evolving your responses under the intense environmental pressure of media scrutiny. But you clearly don't understand Charles Darwin's theory.

However, I think your error is quite common and I have a simple solution: come see my show! I have spent the past few months researching and developing "The Rap Guide to Evolution", which explains and explores modern evolutionary theory through remixes, comedy storytelling, and rap poetry, making the theory simple, accessible, interesting, and fun to learn. The show was commissioned by Dr. Mark Pallen, a Microbiologist from England, who has consulted extensively on the scientific accuracy of the raps. Once you have nodded your head to the beat and laughed out loud at some of evolution's bizarre implications, you will have no reason to fear or avoid Darwin's ingenious theory any longer.

Here is what Science Magazine said about the show: "With lyrics that were sometimes sly, often hilarious, and always smart and thought-provoking, Brinkman married the fast, complex, literate delivery of Eminem with the evolutionary expertise and confrontational manner of Dawkins."
Click here to read the full review.

The Rap Guide to Evolution is presented by the Vancouver Evolution Festival (venues and details are below). I sincerely hope to see you there, both for the sake of your job security and Canada's international reputation, not to mention the reassurance of our scientific community.

Yours truly,

Baba Brinkman

Vancouver Evolution Festival Presents:

"The Rap Guide to Evolution" by Baba Brinkman

Public Performances
Friday 10th & Saturday 11th April, 8pm, Aisle 45 in Gastown (45 W Hastings at Abbott), doors at 7:30pm, running time 1hr.
Tickets $10 ($5 concession)

UBC Student Show
Thursday 9th April, 4pm, The Norm Theatre, SUB (Student Union Building)
Free entry

SFU Student Show
Monday 30th March, 2:30pm, IRMACS Theatre, SFU (Burnaby Mountain Campus)
Free entry

Click Here for Facebook Event Listing

Click Here for Additional Information

Friday, March 13, 2009

Hate It or Love It

March 7 2009


Greetings from the Fresno Rogue Festival. I have now performed "The Rap Guide to Evolution" a total of nine times, and the results are in: people love/hate it! No parent could be prouder than I am of the amounts of kudos and vehemence this show has already generated in equal measure.

The love started early, at the premier performance of the Rap Guide at Cambridge University on February 9th, part of a four-city UK tour to celebrate Darwin’s birthday. The performance was a double-header featuring myself and Lauri Lebo, author of a book called “The Devil in Dover” which chronicles the recent creationism-in-schools court battle in Dover, Pennsylvania. Science Magazine wrote a glowing review of the show complete with extensive quotations and video links, and even published an excerpt in the “Newsmakers” section of their print edition! Please click here to have a read.

By the way, the quotes are mostly from my song “Natural Selection” featuring Richard Dawkins, which can be downloaded from this link: Natural_Selection.mp3

So there’s the love, but as for the hate, my second show here in Fresno is where it all went down. First, the show was very nearly sold out (over a hundred in attendance), so there was a good buzz in the crowd. Second, the lights blew about ten minutes into the show, so the house lights had to be brought up, which means the show was very intimate, lit kind of like a living room. Third, the show got its first standing ovation, which was very overwhelming and humbling, since I’ve been pouring my heart into it for months and wasn’t sure how it would be received. Finally, I have a section in the show where I encourage the audience to give me feedback afterward, so that I can continue to revise and adapt it like an evolving organism.

The feedback was mostly very positive, but at one point I was accosted by two women who said they were very offended by the show, which they found deeply misogynist; they suggested I focus on the “long view” of evolutionary history instead of trying to apply evolution to “short term” subjects like understanding human mating strategies. They said they thought my take on evolutionary psychology was “the equivalent of social darwinism”, and used the example of breast augmentation, which evolutionary psychologists might designate an attention-getting strategy rather than a sad example of female objectification. To this I responded that un-augmented breasts themselves were already an attention-getting strategy, since all other primates have flat breasts that only swell during lactation, whereas human female breasts (and buttocks) have evolved through sexual selection to store fat deposits, making them a prominent mechanism for appraising the fitness (ie youth & fertility) of mates, which was not a popular answer (although technically it was an answer from comparative anatomy rather than evolutionary psych). I found out later that I was speaking to a professor of Women’s Studies from the local university.

Well the whole time we were having this conversation in the lobby after the show, a man was standing nearby listening in, and he finally stepped forward and introduced himself as Dr. Rick Zechman, the head of the Biology Department of CSU Fresno, the same university as my detractors (where the Biology and Women’s Studies Departments are apparently sometimes at odds). When I asked if he had any feedback to add to their feedback, he said “My feedback is that I don’t agree with their feedback”. He then invited me to perform at the university, which I did today, co-sponsored by the Biology Department and the Psychology Department. The Dean of Science was in attendance at the show, as well as about a hundred and forty students, and once again some were very enthusiastic and some not so much, but the response from the scientific community so far has been amazing.

I should add that part of the deal when Dr. Pallen commissioned this show for the Darwin Tour was that he had to vet the script for scientific rigor. So all through January I sent him drafts of the lyrics and he sent me back amendments to ensure that the content was based on the current state of evolutionary biology, and to ensure that I didn’t misrepresent any of the core concepts of his discipline (the part about breast evolution is from The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller). This of course gives me a solid foundation when it comes to answering critics, since the show and current evolutionary science supposedly speak with one voice (although I try to represent both sides of certain controversies within evolutionary biology, such as the question of group selection). One reviewer who posted on the Rogue Festival website was unimpressed with my claims of scientific rigor; apparently the show made her feel “disgusted” and “sick to her stomach”, and she found it “racist, sexist, and offensive”. I disagree with this review, but it’s definitely interesting to experience such a range of responses.

In other news, I will be back in Vancouver soon to work on my next solo rap CD, due out in May or June. I am also working with the Vancouver Evolution Festival to get a venue for the Rap Guide in early April, possibly over Easter weekend. How sweet would that be? Darwin rises from the dead and busts a rhyme!

Yours, once again, from the trenches,