Coercion and Autonomy in Contemporary Global Family Planning; Special Sunday Edition on Predator Insects; Darwin Days Edition on ‘Finding Other Ancient Minds Across the Human Evolutionary Tree’

“Wednesday Nite @ The Lab” Public Science Talks

Wednesdays at 7pm CT

Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, Madison WI, 


Stream by zoom at


For 1 February 2023

Hi WN@TL Fans,

As a gardener I am drawn to the elegance and ambiguity found in some versions of the Eden story, those where there are two key plants:  The Tree of Life and The Tree of Knowledge.  In the versions most intriguing to me the latter tree is not just any ol’ arbor of know-how, but rather The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil.  In this long-ago story, humans reached for both immortality and discernment.

This week, we get to explore how in our own era family planning brings together the scientific fields of biology, demography, and public health (among others) and injects fundamental questions of compulsion, volition and justice.



On February 1 Leigh Senderowicz of the Department of Women’s & Gender Studies and the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology speaks on “I Was Obligated to Accept: Coercion and Autonomy in Contemporary Global Family Planning.”

Description:  This talk will explore the ways that the ideology of fertility reduction permeates the design and quantitative evaluation of contemporary family planning projects, 25 years after the International Conference on Population and Development called for an end to population control. The talk will draw from the Contraceptive Autonomy Study, a project designed to explore various dimensions of autonomy and coercion in family planning and to develop new theories about why and how adverse experiences with contraceptive coercion manifest. This presentation will focus especially on modes of measurement, and the challenges to designing new measures that better assess person-centered and justice-based approaches to contraceptive care.

Bio: Leigh Senderowicz is a global health researcher and critical demographer, focusing on global sexual and reproductive health and rights. Leigh is currently an Assistant Professor of Gender and Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a joint appointment in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She completed her doctorate in global health at Harvard University and earned her masters in public health from Johns Hopkins prior to that. Leigh’s research focuses on reproductive autonomy, exploring the ways that new approaches to measurement and evaluation can promote person-centered care and reproductive freedom.

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On Sunday February 5 at 3pm we’ll have a Sunday Afternoon Special Edition of Wednesday Nite @ The Lab as Ben Iuliano of the Claudio Gratton Lab in Entomology speaks on “Predator Insects and Wasps: Their Role and Benefits.”


This special edition is co-organized with the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve.   Come to our regular venue, Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, or watch on our regular zoom or WN@TL Youtube livestream.Description:  Ben Iuliano joins us from the UW Entomology Gratton Lab to discuss wasps and other predatory insects in our gardens. In understanding these misunderstood insects, we gain a better sense of how to maximize the health of our urban ecosystems. He suggests as preparation we should check out the article in the New York Times on “Why you should plant a garden that’s wasp friendly” (They are the best organic pest control around!)

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On February 8 we’ll have a special “Darwin Days” presentation in association with the JF Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution as John Hawks of the Department of Anthropology speaks on “Finding Other Ancient Minds Across the Human Evolutionary Tree.”

Description:  Humans are the only living members of a diverse branch of ancient relatives. We have not been alone for long. Many extinct populations accompanied our species through most of our evolution. Recent work in many parts of the world has shown the remarkable behavioral complexity of some of these ancient relatives. This lecture will outline many of these discoveries, with special focus on the exploration work by Professor Hawks and coworkers in South Africa. Many of these discoveries show that brain size is not the powerful factor in behavioral complexity that scientists once thought, posing new and exciting problems within the broader landscape of neuroscience and evolution. In honor of Darwin Day celebration, the talk will recognize the ideas and contributions of Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace toward understanding the behavioral and cognitive aspects of our origins.

Bio:  I’m an anthropologist, and I study the bones and genes of ancient humans. I’ve worked on almost every part of our evolutionary story, from the very origin of our lineage among the apes up to the last 10,000 years of our history.

My work has taken me to Africa, Asia, and Europe, where I have measured thousands of bones and investigated dozens of archaeological sites. In my lab, we use bioinformatics methods to work with whole genome sequences from thousands of living people (and a few ancient ones). We’re interested in uncovering the patterns of relationships that connect people, and the subtle changes by which we adapted to ancient environments. I’m an expert in population dynamics and the process of natural selection on both genes and morphological traits. I’ve used my work in genetics and skeletal biology to form rich collaborations with colleagues in a dozen countries.

I’m passionate about the potential of technology to transform science into a more open and public enterprise. I am building and pioneering new open science projects in human evolution. My most recent fieldwork as part of the Rising Star Expedition has shown the potential of open science approaches during paleoanthropological fieldwork. In 2013 we recovered more than 1200 hominin specimens from the Rising Star cave system in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa, in an expedition led by Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand. In May 2014, we convened a workshop of early career scientists to carry out the first description and analysis of the fossils. With more than 30 early career scientists from 15 countries, we had an exciting time opening this exceptional sample in the new vault at the University of the Witwatersrand. We are now preparing our research for publication.

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Hope to see you soon—in person, by zoom, or by YouTube livestream—at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Tom ZinnenBiotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H

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