The evolution of truth

7.00pm to 8.30pm, Thursday 8 November


The Royal Institution of Great Britain GB United Kingdom W1S 4BS 21 Albemarle Street London

This event has already taken place


Free for Ri Patrons

Standard £16

Concession £10

Ri Members £7

About the event

"We, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world."1

As humankind enters the era of post-truth politics, Richard Byrne and Evan Davis discuss why people lie, and how this trait has become a global phenomenon.

Bringing together the fields of human evolution and current affairs, our expert speakers will discuss whether the ability to communicate evolved to pass on facts or to deceive, why deception is so widespread in modern public discourse, and what we can do about it.

Stojan Steve Tesich, The Nation, 1992

About the speakers

Richard Byrne is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of St Andrews, where he has worked since 1976 after completing has MA and PhD at the University of Cambridge. Richard received the British Psychology Society’s Book Prize in 1997 for The Thinking Ape, and was awarded the society’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Richard Byrne

Richard’s research has ranged over animals as diverse as domestic pigs, woodpeckers, people and elephants, but he is chiefly known for the study of non-human primate cognition and its use in reconstructing the evolution of the human mind. Richard’s collaborative work on primate tactical deception contributed to the acceptance of the “Machiavellian Intelligence” theory – that subtle social manipulation of fellow group members was a key driver of intelligence in the human lineage.

Evan Davis is the main presenter of the BBC2 current affairs show, Newsnight. Before taking up that role, he was a presenter of the Today programme on BBC Radio, where he hosts weekly business discussion programme the Bottom Line.

Prior to the Today programme he was the Economics Editor of the BBC, the most senior economics reporter in the corporation.

Evan Davis

Before joining the BBC in 1993, Evan was an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and at the London Business School. He is also a co-author of the Penguin Dictionary of Economics and the New Penguin Dictionary of Business. Evan's latest book is called Post Truth: Why we have reached Peak Bullshit and what we can do about it, which sets out to explain why there is so much mendacity and nonsense in public discourse and why it became more of a concern in 2016.

Evan studied at St John’s College Oxford (1981 to 1984) and at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (1986 to 1988).


The discussion will be chaired by Rachel Wheeley, former producer of the Today show and co-creator of Level Up Human, a podcast in pursuit of good ideas for the next stage of humanity.

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'Ri Patrons present' events explore the intersection of science, culture, innovation and society with leading thinkers and decision makers. These events are supported by Ri Patrons, a group of philanthropically motivated individuals that help to ensure that people of all backgrounds can build a lifelong interaction with science.

After this event, there will be a private drinks reception for patrons. 


The doors will open at approximately 6.30pm, with a prompt start at 7.00pm. There will be time for questions after the talk.

Following the talk, a private drinks reception for Ri Patrons will start at 8.30pm. 

Latecomers will be admitted into the gallery.

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