"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin

Jan 31, 2000

Eric's Bio

Eric Michael Johnson has a Bachelors degree in Anthropology and a Masters in Evolutionary Anthropology. He pursued his PhD in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University before joining the University of British Columbia to complete a doctorate in the History and Philosophy of Science.


Eric was born and raised in Northern California. After two years of film school in Los Angeles, where his short film "The Peace" was honored as a finalist at the Hollywood Black Film Festival, he set his sights on the study of anthropology and biology. In 2000 he traveled to Chiapas, Mexico as part of a delegation to visit the Zapatista villagers who were being targeted by the military for their efforts to improve conditions for indigenous people. Following the attacks of 9/11 he became increasingly concerned with the crackdown on civil liberties during the so-called "war on terror". In addition to writing regular op-ed pieces he became more and more active in the social justice movement.

His studies in evolutionary anthropology soon focused on primate (including human) evolution and neuroscience. His laboratory research on hippocampal synaptogenesis was subsequently the topic of a university colloquium presentation. He published his first professional article, for Discover magazine, while he was in his junior year. This article, "The Laughter Circuit", focused on the neurological correlates of humor and how scientists have come to understand this network through cases of brain damage and fortuitous discovery.

The following year, in 2002, he petitioned his university and was permitted to organize and teach a course entitled "Corporate Globalization and Democracy". Topics included the structure of global economic policy (such as the World Bank, World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund), the military-industrial complex, the dual rise of pharmaceutical/GMO industries and intellectual property protections, as well as the resistance movements that people worldwide have created in response. This focus on the interconnections between global structures and local activism has remained an important part of his work. The class reached its maximum enrollment and, due to popular demand, he taught the course a second time following his graduation in 2004.

He was accepted to graduate school at Washington State University where he conducted research on bonobo (Pan paniscus) social behavior. His research on female maternal strategy showed for the first time that mothers will make trade-offs between investing in their infants and gaining status in their social groups. This research was subsequently presented before the American Association of Physical Anthropology as "Career or Family?: Maternal Style and Status-Seeking Behavior in Captive Bonobos". His concern for bonobo conservation led him to found the Northwest Primate Conservation Society at WSU. His article, "Behind Enemy Lines", on the dire threat to bonobo survival was published in Wildlife Conservation magazine.

During graduate school he founded the Progressive Student Union, a campus activist organization that served as an umbrella organization connecting progressives and activists from throughout the Northwest. While finishing his thesis he helped to coordinate the annual Northwest Progressive Conference with a dedicated group of volunteers and NGOs.

As the result of his research he was accepted into the PhD program at Duke University's Department of Evolutionary Anthropology. He continues to engage in activist work and is currently focusing on a book project investigating the evolution of cooperation and what natural history can teach us about the prospects for social change. His essay, "The Sacrifice of Admetus", which was published in the 2007 edition of The Open Laboratory: The Best Science Writing on Blogs, will be expanded to become one chapter in this work.

He has taught and spoken on his work at universities, conferences and community centers across the country. He can be contacted at

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