Tonight Professor Dame Anne Johnson delivered the prestigious Humanists UK Darwin Day Lecture 2022, on ‘People and Pathogens: the evolution of infections’, an exploration of the dynamic interplay between pathogens and human populations, informed by her lifetime of work in the field of infectious disease. As in previous years, the Darwin Day Lecture was chaired by its regular chair, evolutionary anatomist and Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts.
Humanists UK’s Darwin Day Lecture is the centrepiece of national Darwin Day celebrations in the UK. Since Humanists UK first created the lecture series in 2003, it has grown to become a major event in the national calendar. At the same time, Darwin Day has become widely celebrated around the world, with hundreds of thousands of people each year participating in events exploring the life, work, and ideas of Charles Darwin.
For the first time ever, the Darwin Day Lecture was available to watch both online and in-person, with over 1000 people attending or remotely viewing for the reduced-capacity event in London in 2022. It was the first in-person Humanists UK lecture since March 2020, and, fitting its theme on how infections travel in human populations, made use of Covid-19 safety measures such as face coverings, NHS Covid Passes, lateral flow testing, and ventilation.
Dame Anne explored the early history of disease and virus prevention, how novel pathogens take root and thrive in our busy modern environments – and the modern public health tools we must use and develop to prevent the epidemics of the future. ‘There will continue to be outbreaks that sweep through human society. The nature and magnitude of those pandemics will depends on the world in which they emerge and the ecological niche they come to occupy,’ said Dame Anne.
Following the lecture and an expansive question and answer session, Alice Roberts presented Dame Anne Johnson with the prestigious Darwin Day Medal in recognition of her academic research and her significant achievements in the fields of epidemiology and public health.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:
‘Evolving viruses – and how humans respond to them – have never been more present in our minds. And this area of research and understanding has never been more essential to the happiness and flourishing of people around the globe.
‘This year’s Darwin Day Medal recognises Dame Anne’s enormous contributions to epidemiology and the fight against infectious disease.’
The Darwin Day Lecture was recorded and will be uploaded to YouTube at a later date.
About Professor Dame Anne Johnson
Dame Anne Johnson is Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Co-Director of Health of the Public, at University College London (UCL). She has led a distinguished career in epidemiology and public health, focusing on topics including HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, influenza, and diagnostics for infectious diseases.
She joined Middlesex Hospital Medical School at the start of the 1980s HIV epidemic, subsequently directing the Medical Research Council UK Centre for coordinating epidemiological studies of HIV/AIDS. In 1990 she was funded to complete the UK’s first National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles by the Wellcome Trust, work that has since been repeated every 10 years and continues to inform key policy on sexual health around the world.
She is a member of the Royal Society’s Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE) group, a member of the SAGE transmission subgroup, and Chair of the UK Committee for Strategic Coordination of Health of the Public Research (SCHOPR). She became President of the Academy of Medical Sciences in December 2020.
About Professor Alice Roberts
Professor Alice Roberts has been President of Humanists UK since January 2019. She is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, Director of Anatomy for the NHS Severn Deanery School of Surgery, and holds honorary fellowships at Hull, York Medical School, and the University of Bristol.
She is an honorary fellow of the British Science Association, a member of the Advisory Board of the Cheltenham Festival of Science, Patron of the Association of Science and Discovery Centres, and a member of the Council of the British Heart Foundation.
She combines her academic career with one as a science presenter on television. She has appeared as a human bone specialist on Channel 4’s Time Team and in various projects on BBC2, including Coast, Don’t Die Young, The Incredible Human Journey, Wild Swimming, Digging for Britain, Horizon, and Origins of Us.
About the Darwin Day Lecture series
The Darwin Day Lecture explores humanism and humanist thought as related to science and evolution, Charles Darwin, or his works. The Darwin medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields.
The lecture and medal are named and held to mark the annual global celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin, held every 12 February.
About Humanists UK
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.