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Meet the Men and Women Uncovering Inconvenient Truths

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Posted on October 10, 2016 - 12:49pm

Written by Origins Project Staff

On October 19, the Origins Project will host a conversation with leading public thinkers and writers Elizabeth Kolbert, Michael Shermer, and Curtis Marean. This unscripted and candid conversation, moderated by Lawrence Krauss, will uncover Inconvenient Truths: From Love to Extinctions, as our guests discuss aspects of skepticism, power, deceit, climate change, and the environment.

We invite you to get to know more about Elizabeth, Michael, and Curtis below, and encourage you to join the conversation by using #InconvenientTruths on Twitter and Facebook.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s career as a journalist and author began in 1983 when she worked as a political reporter for The New York Times. Her stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and Mother Jones, among others.

A collection of her work, The Prophet of Love and Other Tales of Power and Deceit, was published in 2004. In it, Elizabeth dissects and writes about the often surprising and provocative portraits of the people who make New York City run. The Prophet of Love was written during a defining period in the city's history, one that includes the mayoral campaign of Michael Bloomberg, the senatorial race between Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani, and September 11th.

Elizabeth most recently wrote The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, discussing mass extinctions and weaving intellectual and natural history with reporting in the field. The book demonstrates that the Earth is in the midst of a modern, man-made, sixth extinction and chronicles previous mass extinction events, comparing them to the accelerated, widespread extinctions during our present time. The Sixth Extinction won several awards, including the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in the General Non-Fiction category.

Want more? Watch Elizabeth's appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart or send her a tweet.

Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society and Editor in Chief of Skeptic magazine, debunks myths and explains why we believe them. He has exposed fallacies regarding intelligent design, 9/11 conspiracies, the low-carb craze, alien sightings and other popular beliefs. However it's not just debunking for debunking's sake, as Michael defends the notion that we can understand our world better only when we match good theory with good science. "Science is not a thing," Michael States in his TED Talk Why people believe weird things. "It's a verb. It's a way of thinking about things. It's a way of looking for natural explanations for all phenomena."

In a 2006 Scientific American article, Michael, who was once a skeptic of climate change, made a "cognitive flip," stating that eventually four books brought him to that tipping point, one being Field Notes from a Catastrophewritten by the aforementioned Elizabeth Kolbert. Michael goes on to say, "Because of the complexity of the problem, environmental skepticism was once tenable. No longer. It is time to flip from skepticism to activism."

Want more? Watch Michael's other TED Talk, The pattern behind self-deception, or send him a tweet.

Curtis Marean is a Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the associate director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. His interest is in the relation between climate and environmental change and human evolution, both for its significance as a past force and future challenge.

In a 2010 Scientific American article, Curtis wrote that, "it is difficult to imagine that Homo sapiens was once an endangered species. Yet studies of the DNA of modern-day people indicate that, once upon a time, our ancestors did in fact undergo a dramatic population decline. Although scientists lack a precise timeline for the origin and near extinction of our species, we can surmise from the fossil record that our forebears arose throughout Africa shortly before 195,000 years ago."

Curtis’ early interest in ancient climates and environments has recently been revisited in a major international project, for which he is the principal investigator and project director, to develop a complete climatic and environmental curve for southern Africa spanning 400,000 to 30,000 years ago. This project includes about 40 scientists from 10 countries, and has published in Nature on the earliest evidence for people exploiting coastal resources (shellfish), and very early evidence for the use of pigments and bladelet technology.

Want more? Watch Curtis at the Nobel Conference 2008, presenting research on archaeological studies of the earliest Homo sapiens found to date in South Africa.

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