Monday, April 19, 2010

Your Inner Fish

At the recommendation of Teacherninja I recently read Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. Thanks for the recommendation. I really enjoyed it.
Shubin is a paleontologist and it was his research that discovered Tiktalik, a fossil animal that was almost exactly what was predicted to have existed halfway between fish and land animals. Much of the book describes that expedition and the others that lead up to it.
The book does not stop at just Tiktalik. He builds on the similarities and spends a great deal of time showing how so much of biology is based on remarkably similar structures. He show how early in the development of nearly every embryo, chicken, fish, squirrel or human the same organs form from the same rows of cells in each species even though they may have drastically different uses in the final creature. I found these chapters very fascinating.
Shubin avoids pretty much entirely that political debate that is currently going on about teaching evolution in schools. I guess from his perspective evolution via natural selection is such an established fact he felt no need to defend it. I agree with this position. It was a science book and I don’t fault him for setting all politics aside and just speaking to the science. I would like to point out that Shubin’s discovery of Tiktalik was predicted by evolution and that Tiktalik made his appearance during the middle of the Dover school board’s attack on teaching evolution in school. I’m sure Shubin didn’t plan it this way, but at the same time the Dover school board had “experts” testifying that no transitional fossils had ever been found, Shubin was uncovering yet another transitional fossil.
I listened to this book on CD while working. I plan on going back and reading it for real when I get a chance. Some of the details in the middle of the book deserve more attention than I could give them just listening while working.


  1. Glad you liked it! Although Shubin himself would go to great pains to point out that he did not discover Tiktalik, but was part of a team that did. That was one of the things I loved about the book, his humility and willingness to point out his own struggles/challenges, like even learning to "see" the bones in the field.


  2. Very good point. I agree. The parts where he was learning to walk along the plain and learn to "see" which pieces were bones were really cool.