Do You Want to Become an Expert in Darwinian/Evolutionary Medicine?

doctorsDarwinian/evolutionary medicine is a fascinating and emerging discipline. Over the past couple of decades, more and more people, including many scientists and health practitioners, have started to recognize that our current health-care system is bleeding and diseased; a malady has taken hold at its roots. Some of these observant individuals make the case that the best medicine for this sick system is an injection of evolutionary science. I concur. 

Based on the e-mails I’ve gotten over the years, many others hold this belief as well. I’m frequently contacted by people who are fascinated by the evolutionary health/medicine concept and recognize that Darwin’s theories can help shed light on the origins of disease. Some of these perceptive individuals tell me they want to learn more about epigenetics, the human microbiome, hunter-gatherers, Darwin’s theories, and other similar topics; they want tips on books to buy, videos to watch, and articles to read.

Typically, I respond to these people by sending them a handful of links to articles and books that I like and think they’ll enjoy as well. The stuff I’ll send over varies from time to time, depending on what the person I’m in contact with seems interested in, as well as his/her current level of knowledge.

Most of those who contact me are only looking for a light introduction to Darwinian medicine; they quickly back away if they are presented with long scientific papers or books. However, a select few seem to be willing to put in quite a bit of work and time to understand what the whole evolution thing is all about. Some may even be thinking about pursuing a career in this field, becoming a Darwinian medicine specialist.

It warms my heart to see that level of commitment. I think it’s great that some people step in with both feet, thereby adding mass to the foundations of Darwinian medicine.

Today’s article is devoted to these people – those who want to become “experts” in the field.

What is the best course of action for someone who wants to become a Darwinian medicine specialist?

I certainly don’t claim to know everything about Darwinian medicine; however, I do think I’ve built up a decent amount of knowledge over the years. Also, I’ve assembled many tools and resources, some of which I’ve shared here on the site in the past. In today’s article, I thought I’d try to organize and compile this material into a neat package that consists of the basic tools, resources, and information I believe a person who’s on a quest to learn about Darwinian medicine will need.

As I see it, there are three main ways to learn about a subject: 1) You can enter into the educational system and follow organized courses. 2) You can learn by yourself, for example by reading books and articles and seeking out knowledgeable people. 3) You can do both of the above. Below, we’ll have a look at these three possibilities.

Before we jump in I want to point out that Darwinian medicine is a broad and complex field. It takes time and work to become well-versed in its many sub-areas. Experts aren’t made over night. If you’re not fully committed to the task at hand and don’t want to spend hour upon hour reading about biology and evolution, then becoming a Darwinian medicine specialist is probably not the right thing for you.

Option 1: Go to school

In school, I learned a lot about chemistry, anatomy, physiology, statistics, and conventional approaches to medicine; however, I barely learned anything about evolution. Not many students do, with the obvious exception of those who study evolutionary biology, anthropology, and other disciplines that are tightly linked with evolutionary sciences. These fields have evolutionary theory built into their backbone.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for health-related fields such as nutrition and medicine. Darwin hasn’t yet entered into the pool that holds these disciplines. He’s dipped a couple of toes into the water, but he has yet to submerge himself completely, despite the fact that a lot of scientists have been urging people to push him in.

It seems unlikely that the plunge will happen in the very proximate future, given that conventional medicine is notoriously slow at picking up new science and information. That said, over the past couple of years, positive things have been happening, largely because a growing number of people have been trying to drag Darwin into the water.

In 2011, Durham University, a collegiate public research university in Durham, North East England, became the first school in the world to offer a MSc in Evolutionary Medicine. It’s still the only school that has this course, but hopefully more universities will soon follow suit.

Here’s a description of the course content derived from the school’s website:

Evolutionary Medicine is a growing and exciting new field that is highly interdisciplinary in nature. We currently offer the only MSc in Evolutionary Medicine in the world, taught by a unique grouping of world-class researchers specialising in evolutionary approaches to the study of health and disease. A major theme of the course is the mismatch between the environment in which humans evolved and the contemporary environment, and implications for obesity and related metabolic disorders, reproductive health and infant care. Optional modules previously offered included palaeopathology and cultural evolution, and in the wider anthropology of health.

Sounds like a great course, don’t you think? I certainly think so. I haven’t done the course or talked to any of the students or teachers, so I obviously can’t make a firm recommendation either way as to whether this course is something people with an interest in evolutionary sciences should apply to. That said, based on what I’ve read about the course online, I would say it looks like a great fit for students who want a thorough understanding of Darwinian medicine.

A BSc in nutrition, evolutionary biology, or medicine, followed by the aforementioned MSc in evolutionary medicine, may represent the best educational path for someone who seeks to become a Darwinian medicine specialist. The courses you have to go through on this journey won’t provide you with a full-bodied, mature understanding of Darwinian medicine, but they should equip you with a pretty solid foundation of knowledge about health, medicine, and disease.

Option 2: Learn by yourself

You don’t have to go to school to learn about health and disease. Much thanks to the internet, self-education has become much easier. This is true pretty much regardless of which topic you are interested in learning about. As long as you know roughly where to look, you can find what you’re looking for.

That said, not all of the information that gets spread on the internet is of high-quality. I would argue that the vast majority isn’t. This is particularly true for information about health, disease, and medicine – subjects that a lot of people are interested in and have an opinion about.

I suspect that to someone who is new to Darwinian medicine, the amount of information and material I’ve shared here on the blog can seem overwhelming. All of the videos, articles, and science may seem too much to take in. In an attempt to make everything easier to digest, I’ve compiled a couple of lists below that contain links to articles, books, and videos on Darwinian medicine. Keep in mind, this list is by no means exhaustive. I’ve tried to boil things down to the essentials, so as to make the entry into the science of Darwinian medicine as easy and non-frightening as possible.

Note: If you don’t already possess a basic understanding of biology, chemistry, and statistics, you should strongly consider reading up on these topics before you delve into the science on Darwinian medicine. 

A collection of resources

Review papers on Darwinian/evolutionary medicine

Review papers on evolutionary nutrition and health

Books

Articles and videos

Scientists

Option 3: Do both!

The best option! In school, you’ll likely not learn much about Darwinian medicine (unless you study evolutionary biology or do the MSc in Evolutionary Medicine offered at Durham University); however, you’ll probably learn a lot about chemistry, human physiology, statistics, and anatomy, given that you study a health-related topic such as nutrition or medicine of course. This knowledge will undoubtedly prove useful when you proceed to delve into the science on Darwinian medicine.

Just make sure you remain critical, not blindly believing in everything your professors tell you. Remember that conventional medicine/nutrition lags behind when it comes to adopting the latest science on evolutionary nutrition and health. This is something I quickly discovered when I started studying nutrition and sports science. I haven’t been able to put that negative experience behind me. Although I’m no longer in the midst of it all, it still really nags me that nutrition and medical students learn virtually nothing about evolution. This is part of the reason why I decided to write today’s post!

Okay, that’s it. I hope you found the suggestions and tips useful. Let me know in the comment section if there’s anything you feel I should change or add or if you have any thoughts or questions related to the article. 

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Trackbacks

  1. […] everyone views medicine this way though. If you ask an evolutionary biologist or Darwinian medicine specialist about what the origins and causes of diseases such as colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, and […]

  2. […] links to articles, books, and videos that delve into the science of Darwinian medicine (e.g., here, here, and here). However, I have yet to put up a post that contains both a list and short […]

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