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Acclaimed scientist and broadcaster Alice Roberts appointed President of Humanists UK

Acclaimed science writer, broadcaster, and humanist Alice Roberts has today been named as the next President of Humanists UK and will lead a national push to promote humanism to the many millions of people in the UK who hold humanist beliefs but haven’t yet heard the term.

The anatomist, author, and well-known TV science host will prioritise promoting awareness of humanism to the British public. Alice sees humanism as a powerful force for good: promoting human togetherness, and forming an important alternative to religious segregation, division and tribalism.

Alice, who has been a patron of Humanists UK for seven years, will also help steer Humanists UK’s national campaign to call into question state funding of religious schools and will campaign for a fairer education system with no religious discrimination for millions of UK children.

Alice previously helped lead Humanists UK’s successful campaign for evolution to be taught in all state schools but she is concerned that, in some schools, creationism is still being taught as an ‘alternative’ and that humanism doesn’t feature in most primary school curricula, giving children ‘the strange impression that everyone in Britain adheres to one faith or another’.

Born in 1973, Alice studied medicine and anatomy at Cardiff University and worked as a junior doctor before becoming an anatomy lecturer. She has studied the evolution, structure and function of humans, and is interested in the relationship of humans with the rest of nature. She has a PhD in evolutionary anthropology, and has been the recipient of five honorary degrees. She has been Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham since 2012.

During her career Alice has combined academia with broadcasting and has presented a wide range of biology and archaeology programmes on television, including a landmark series on BBC2, The Incredible Human Journey, as well as Origins of Us. She presents the long-running archaeology series Digging for Britain on BBC4, and Britain’s Most Historic Towns on Channel 4. This December, she is presenting the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, to be filmed for BBC4 – exploring identity from a biological, evolutionary and genetic perspective.

She is the author of nine popular science books including The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2015. She recently compiled a selection of science writing for the Folio Book of Science, out this month – and the first such compilation to contain equal representation from male and female science writers.

Alice will take over the post from outgoing President Shappi Khorsandi from 1 January 2019 for a three-year term. She is the 13th president of Humanists UK and the fifth woman to take up the role.

Welcoming the appointment, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘Alice’s field of study is the long story of humanity itself and her commitment to communicating the facts about that story in her broadcasting and writing has ignited the curiosity of people of all ages and from all backgrounds. At a time when our work in bringing non-religious people together is more important than ever, we are delighted to welcome such a clear communicator with such insight and depth.’

Accepting the appointment Alice Roberts said:

‘As an anthropologist, I believe strongly in our common humanity. We can rise above the tribal divisions that have caused so much anguish and real damage in the past. The real hallmarks of humanity are: curiosity and an amazing ability to cooperate. If we can use science wisely and work together, I believe we can overcome the huge challenges facing us this century.

‘I find humanism to be the most rational and positive philosophy for life. And it’s not a new thing at all – the history of humanist thought is deep and inspiring.

‘I am so honoured to become the next President of Humanists UK – to be joining a community of like-minded, thoughtful and compassionate people in this way. I will be working harder than ever to promote humanism. Our ‘good news’ is not that there is life after death to look forward to – but that this is the one life we have – and we need to make it meaningful, by looking after each other and the planet better than we’ve ever done before.’

Alice also paid tribute to her predecessor Shappi Khorsandi, saying

‘Shappi has really helped to advance the causes of humanism, and she’s highlighted how religion can create very deep divisions in society, as well as precipitating existential crises for individuals. Shappi’s a hard act to follow, and I know I won’t be anywhere near as funny – but I’m excited to take up the challenge and take our momentum even further.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07 393344293.

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

1. More about Alice Roberts:

Alice is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham. From September 2019 she will also be President of the British Science Association. Alice is an anatomist and biological anthropologist, author and broadcaster. She’s interested in the evolution, structure and function of humans, and our place in the wider environment.

Having originally studied and practiced medicine, she then became a university lecturer, focusing on biological, evolutionary anthropology. She is passionate about public engagement with university research and teaching, and advocates a wider role for universities in society and has worked extensively with the Wellcome Trust in public engagement roles. She was a member of the Advisory Board of the Cheltenham Festival of Science for ten years, and currently sits on the Visitor’s Board of Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Board of Trustees of The Conversation UK. She is also Patron of the Association of Science and Discovery Centres.

Alice has presented a wide range of science and archaeology programmes on television. Her television debut came as a human bone expert on Channel 4’s Time Team, in 2001. After presenting Coast on BBC2, she went on to write and present a range of BBC series, including The Incredible Human Journey, Origins of Us, Prehistoric Autopsy and Digging for Britain, as well as several Horizon programmes. She also presents the archaeology and history series, Britain’s Most Historic Towns, for Channel 4.

Alice has written nine popular science books, including The Incredible Human Journey, Evolution: The Human Story, The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being, and Tamed: Ten species that changed our world.

Her website is: https://www.alice-roberts.co.uk/

2. More about Humanists UK:

At Humanists UK, we want a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We work to support lasting change for a better society, championing ideas for the one life we have.

We do this because we’re humanists: people who shape our own lives in the here and now, because we believe it’s the only life we get.

Our work helps people be happier and more fulfilled, and by bringing non-religious people together, we help them develop their own views and an understanding of the world around them.

Humanists UK started out in 1896 and now has more than 70,000 members and supporters and over 70 local and special interest affiliates to promote humanism. We’re committed to putting humanism into practice. Through our ceremonies, pastoral support, education services, and campaigning work, we advance free thinking and freedom of choice so everyone can live in a fair and equal society.

On stepping down as President, Shappi Khorsandi will join her two immediate predecessors, the physicist and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili and the journalist Polly Toynbee, as a Vice President of Humanists UK. The moral philosopher A C Grayling is also a Vice President. Other previous Presidents of Humanists UK have included jazz musician and author George Melly, agony aunt and broadcaster Claire Rayner, comedian and broadcaster Linda Smith, cosmologist Hermann Bondi, anthropologist Edmund Leach, and evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley.

3. More about Humanism:

Throughout recorded history there have been non-religious people who have believed that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. They have trusted to the scientific method, evidence and reason to discover truths about the universe and placed human welfare and happiness at the centre of their ethical decision making.

Today, people who share these beliefs and values are called humanists and this combination of attitudes is called Humanism. Many millions of people in Britain share this way of living and of looking at the world, but many of them have not heard the word ‘humanist’ and don’t realise that it describes what they believe.

It is one of the main purposes of the Humanists UK to increase public awareness of what Humanism is, and to let the many millions of non-religious people in this country know that, far from being somehow deficient in their values, they have an outlook on life which is coherent and widely-shared, which has inspired some of the world’s greatest artists, writers, scientists, philosophers and social reformers, and which has a millennia-long tradition in both the western and eastern worlds.

We also hope to give greater confidence to people whose beliefs are humanist by offering resources here and elsewhere that can develop their knowledge of humanist approaches to some of the big ethical, philosophical, and existential questions in life.

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