Visions and Insights in Biology: Stephen Colbert and Ötzi the Iceman


A number of years ago I took part in the development of an Introductory Biology course with several of my colleagues. Our concept was to create the materials for a course that any instructor could use, and pool resources, such as examination questions or the updating of lessons, so that all instructors could benefit from each other. In such a framework, naturally, the autonomy of the instructor is sacrificed to some extent. Concern about this leads some instructors to decline to participate, or to just partially participate. I decided to initiate a series of short lessons to begin each class, drawn from the popular press, which would be purely for motivation and entertainment, not subject to examination or grading. I call it Visions and Insights in Biology. The very first of these is a video clip of Steven Colbert interviewing the evolutionary biologist Spencer Wells a few years ago on the Colbert Report

Spencer Wells On the Colbert Report

In this clip, in a humorous way, Wells lays out the basic facts of our origins: stemming from Africa, and then migrating into the Middle East and beyond starting about 80,000 years ago. Wells introduces the concept of a haplogroup – a set of mutations unique to a particular population – making it almost intuitive. The piece finishes up with some details on Colbert’s own genetic background, and his relationship to Ötzi the Ice man.

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