Lecture Notes: Your Inner Fish


Some people collect stamps, others collect bugs; I collect autographed science and medical books. My newest addition is a book by Dr. Neil Shubin, a fish paleontologist and author of “Your Inner Fish: A journey into the 11-million-history of the human body” who spoke at Harvard Book Store this evening. 

Dr. Shubin made the news in 2004 with the discovery of Tiktaalik, which he described as a “fishapod,” the intermediary between life on water and life on land. After spending a few summers in the Canadian arctic searching unsuccessfully for such a species, he uncovered a site rich with fish skeletons. A team member came across an unidentifiable snout sticking out of the rock and soon multiple skeletons of the proto-amphibian were available to science.

In addition to being a fish paleontologist, Dr. Shubin is a professor of anatomy. He calls his book, which goes into detail about his discovery, its implications and his personal story, a book about our bodies. He says his background gives him an advantage as an anatomist. Many of the structures seen in primitive organisms, from worms to fish are the same structures in humans. “We unlock this history as we compare ourselves to creatures living and dead,” he said.

After his talk, it didn’t take long for audience members to raise questions on creationism and evolution, to which Dr. Shubin gave soundbyte-worthy responses. “I need a theory that allows me to work,” he said and with science he can ask questions. “ID [Intelligent design] feels like a philosophy of failure,” he added, “a retreat to superstition.”

Someone inquired on whether or not Dr. Shubin believes his discovery will change the minds of creationists. “I doubt it,” he responded and continued to defend the science. “If I found a human skull next to a Tiktaalic skull I’d be devastated,” he said, but we have 1000 years worth of evidence that evolution is correct.

He had not originally intended his book for non-science audiences. It was with the help of his father, a mystery writer who Dr. Shubin joked never understood what his son did for a living, whos comments allowed him to write a better book. His father’s main advice was simple but effective, “No one ever lost money writing a page-turner.”

Posted by Joseph, under lecture notes, reviews  |  Date: January 24, 2008

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